A few years ago while in prayer, seeking God about something I no longer remember, I saw this vivid and completely unrelated mental picture. There I was, seemingly on the inside of a darkened cave. At the mouth of the cave, with hand extended out towards me was Jesus. He seemed to be inviting me to advance from the murky cave and into open daylight. "No, no, no. This can't be right. Why would God show me this?", I thought. I was a believer. A follower of Jesus. Why would He show me that I was dwelling in a dead place?
I didn't immediately know it but God, in His loving kindness was showing me that I still needed freedom in some areas. Yes, by the cross we are justified but in relationship on the narrow road of following Jesus, we are sanctified and are being continuously made to resemble the One that we follow.
Because there will always be more opportunities to grow closer to Him, there are always opportunities to follow Him more faithfully out of death and into life. Always opportunities to surrender more. To die more.
One of the most dangerous things that can happen to us in our life of faith is to be unaware of the areas where we may still be dead in sin and not yet dead to sin. We sometimes make the tomb our dwelling place and establish a life in dead places. While the blood of Jesus served as the atoning sacrifice that calls us to a greater and more abundant life, we sometimes identify ourselves as having died yet never having left our dwelling place from among the dead.
The cravings of the self-life are obvious; Sexual immorality, lustful thoughts, pornography, chasing after things instead of God, manipulating others, hatred of those who get in your way, senseless arguments, resentment when others are favoured, temper tantrums, angry quarrels, only thinking of yourself, being in love with your own opinions, being envious of the blessings of others, murder, uncontrolled addictions, wild parties, and all other similar behaviour. Haven’t I already warned you that those who use their “freedom” for these things will not inherit the kingdom realm of God!
Galatians 5:19-21 (TPT)
During my campus ministry years, our spiritual advisors would often walk us as the leadership through Galatians 5:19-21. I was not a fan. To make it worse, whenever we would have them as guest speakers at our campus events, somehow this verse would always came up. To be perfectly honest, this verse had always made me squeamish. I'd dart my eyes around the room at those in attendance, some, who were far from God and for whatever reason had chosen to show up on that day. I'd desperately try make eye contact with them with sympathetic eyes, as though trying to apologise for what was being taught and for them being offended or made uncomfortable.
"Why couldn't they just have taught on the love and grace of God?!", I thought, slightly irritated. I wasn't here for that (are you judging me yet? 🤪). These scriptures were explicit, straight to the point, like a knife to the heart. They were not the sweet encouraging scriptures that woo one into deep love or provide encouragement to take on the world. They were the type of scriptures that led one into self examination of one's life.
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin.
Romans 2:4 (NLT)
Over the years, I've come to understand how important the 'hard' scriptures are. Out of love, God's kindness is intended to turn us from sin. What Lover and Saviour would allow us to remain dead in sin; the same way He found us?
I've reflected on that cave encounter with Christ at the mouth of the cave repeatedly over the last few years. As I've meditated and sought clarity from God on the where the dead parts of my heart are, I've found myself constantly needing to respond to the call to live dead to sin and follow my victorious Shepherd King. The One who has conquered death and was leading me to follow Him out of my own tomb into life.
In C.S. Lewis' classic, The Great Divorce, we are reminded the cost of the things we cling to that hinder us from faithfully following the Lord. “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”
Without spending time meditating on and responding to the reality of the empty grave, we find ourselves making excuses for sinful habits and defend the intimate souvenirs of Hell we so affectionately cling to. It's dangerous when we have the wrong definition of death. We can spend our lives thinking we are dead to sin and never realise that we are still dead in sin.
We can spend our lives developing our own mental spiritual accounting system. Recognising areas where we are dead in sin, adding in 'righteous' acts (going to church, reading the Bible, generously giving to the church and the needy) to nullify the parts of our lives that are contrary to the life God's calling us to live. So we look back at our spiritual accounting sheet and almost pridefully pat ourselves on the back for a spiritual job well-done.
Our Lord, however, is constantly calling us to a life laid down and broken by the things that break His heart. Not just the injustices in society but in our own lives and hearts. He's calling us to a life so poor in spirit that we recognise that it's going to take repentance, the power of God, and dependance on His Spirit to get us out of spiritual death. Even if living in the darkness of our tombs is all we have ever known.
Who we were before Christ was never designed to leave the tomb with us. The sinful habits, activities and thought patterns that aren't in line with Christ that we have acquired (even after giving our life to Him) were not supposed to stay with and in us either.
Did anything about the Galatians 5 stand out to you? Is there anything or any area that God is bringing to mind? Things that need to be left in the grave to walk in the fullness of life in Christ?
We desperately (I included) need God to constantly refine our appetites and strip away our desires for the very things that are knowingly or unknowingly killing us or keeping us dead. It's not by our own power that we can live in freedom from the things that lead to death. If a better word was spoken over us by the blood of Jesus, why then would we chose to live dead in the things He died to set us free from?
What does it mean to truly be alive in Christ?
I'm constantly bombarded by the latest statistics on nominal Christianity globally. The number of people who made that decision to follow Christ, but never followed Him out of the grave. The grave representing a past life that was to have been left behind after encountering Christ. There has to be something different about those who love and follow Christ. There must be something about our lives, speech and activities that demonstrates who our allegiance is unto.
I'm looking at Galatians again right now and still recognise places that I am still in one way or another, living dead in sin where Christ is still inviting me to die to and follow Him in a life separate from the things that lead to death. He's calling us to greater. He's calling us to life and life more abundantly as John 10.10 tells us. Consider this an invitation to rise from the dead. To live different. Changed. Transformed.
It's the fact that Jesus is no longer among the dead that stands out to me as a follower of Christ. It's the empty grave for me. It's the reality that the borrowed tomb Christ had once laid in was neither His dwelling place nor His final destination. It wasn't His and as a follower of Christ, it isn't mine either.
If we still ourselves and if we are attentive, we will hear Him and see Him, constantly holding His out for us. Challenging us that death in Him is death to sin. He's always inviting us out of our darkness, even when we don't even recognise that our hearts and minds have been dwelling in darkness.
He invited me out of the tomb once. He is still inviting me, and if you'll lean in and listen, you'll discover He's inviting you out too.