When do we die?

Is it when we take our last breath? Is it when our minds go? Is it when we give up on our dreams, or just on ourselves? I have had several conversations with friends about elderly parents or grandparents who have dementia and they always say how their loved one is not really there anymore. It’s like they’re already gone. There’s a Benjamin Franklin quote I’ve heard a few times in the last year that says, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” Which implies that people die when they give up on life, not when they breathe their last. So I ask again, when do we die?

From a biblical standpoint, I’d say we die when we lose our innocence to sin. In the Garden of Eden the forbidden fruit was from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – in other words, the loss of innocence. The consequence of eating that fruit was death. Adam and Eve didn’t die on the spot, their physical death came later. I believe something inside them died then in the Garden. (Genesis 3)

Maybe all the definitions about death are true. Maybe there are many stages to someone’s demise. The first death is the loss of innocence. The second death is giving up on life. The third death is a loss of one’s mind. And the final death is physical death.

There is potential for a fifth death, Paul talks about the old man, the sinful nature, dying when Christ is accepted. 2 Corinthians says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 2:17 NKJV) Galatians says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 NKJV)

Romans is the most comprehensive in what Paul is getting at. It starts in chapter 6, “Or do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death … our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, what we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:3-4, 6-7) Paul is pretty clear that there is a spiritual death that happens at baptism. The “old man” of sinful nature is dead and buried when we go under the water.

There is good news, when we die with Christ we can expect to be raised with Christ in new life, “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life … Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Rom. 6:4, 8-9 NKJV) The same resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life is at work within us. When we come out of the water of baptism we are resurrected into new life, a new man lives in the place of the old man.

The death that happened in the Garden of Eden that we all carry within us through sin, is reversed, undone. We can have new innocence in Christ. Our minds are renewed, our hearts are rebuilt, the dead dreams can have new life, and if we gave up on ourselves we can take up new effort. Many of the deaths listed earlier can be resurrected through the same resurrecting power of Jesus.

We are resurrected at once, but also resurrected over time. Philippians 2 tells us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) Resurrecting over time is what “working out your salvation” means. I’ve heard Pricilla Shirer say that working out salvation is like unpacking a suitcase, taking one thing out at a time. Sammy Greig calls it “the slow gospel.”

Part of us comes to life instantly and other parts take time and I think the time is actually a grace. No one wants to hear that anything takes time in our instant-everything culture. But it is a mercy.

Consider this: you fall asleep in a weird position and when you wake up one of your arms has completely fallen asleep. Like, you have to move it with your other arm because you can’t feel it enough to move it at all. The arm feels dead, but as you move it and work the blood back into your arm it comes back to life. First it tingles, it feels kind of good. But when your arm falls asleep that badly the tingling soon turns to pain. It hurts a lot for a minute or two until finally your arm is back to normal.

Sometimes when God is applying resurrection power to something in our life it hurts. In my experience, a lot of the time being brought back to life, out of sin, hurts very much. If God didn’t resurrect our hearts over time, give us the slow gospel, we would be overwhelmed. It hurts to let go of comfortable sins, it hurts to let go of grudges that have been held so tightly for so long they feel a part of us. It hurts to admit ugliness in our hearts. It hurts to revisit old wounds so God can meet us there and bind up that wound. I thank God that He allows me to work out my salvation, to be resurrected and resurrecting.

There is also an intentional element to this resurrecting. During the low points and shortcomings, it can be really easy to stay down. I personally love to wallow. God recently brought to my attention a verse in Proverbs that says, “The righteous may fall 7 times, but still get up.” (Prov. 24:16 CEB) It came up 3 or 4 times in one week. That is the equivalent of flashing lights and a megaphone when it comes to God trying to get my attention. Whenever we fall, through resurrection power in Christ we get back up.

In the bible the number 7 means complete. So I take that to mean falling 7 times means falling in every way, the complete gambit of falling possibilities. I could fall every day, but if I get back up the day is not lost. I could fall in every way, but if I get back up the time is not wasted. When I step out in the working of my salvation and get back up God uses every fall, every wound, and every failure for good. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 NKJV)

When Jesus rose from the dead His wounds were still visible. Thomas put his hand in Jesus’ side and felt where the spear had pierced him (John 20:24-29). Yet Jesus was alive, the wounds no longer dictated His life or death to Him, He was alive by the power of God. God now dictates that Jesus is alive. In the same way our wounds might still show when we are resurrected in that area, but the wounds will no longer dictate whether we live or die in that area. The wounds no longer kill us while we are living so that we are dead at 25. Through the resurrection power of Christ we are enabled to live despite those wounds. We get back up.

My pastor recently told us about Scott Hamilton, a professional ice skater during the 80s, as an illustration in for not giving up. During an interview he was asked about how many times he fell during training and competition. Mr. Hamilton obliged and shared the number: 41,900 times. But he didn’t stop there, he pointed out that he got back up 41, 900 times and that’s what made the difference. Scott Hamilton won 4 consecutive U.S. championships, 4 consecutive World Championships, and a gold medal in the 1984 winter Olympics.

If Scott Hamilton can get up 41,900 times and do what he did for the glory of ice skating, imagine what we could do for the glory of God if we embrace resurrection power in our lives and always get back up.

-Etta Woods