I love ~before and after~ projects. Through the years, I have been given pieces of furniture from family members I absolutely love, except for the finish. I will never forget the appearance of my grandmother’s beverage cabinet when it first entered my home, dark-kelly green flecked with black spots. Bleh. A robin’s egg blue against the copper top decorated with new hardware turned it into something lovely. It is so much fun to see the beauty in something emerge from under the surface in materials, lines, and shapes with a coat or two of paint.
I also love remodeling programs on TV that take a much older house and make it entirely up to date. The foundation remains but the aesthetics change dramatically and the “they don’t make ’em like they use to”‘s are all over the place.
Once I bought a small table for five dollars. I was so excited! It was kind of terrible looking but solid wood nonetheless and a perfect candidate for a shabby chic makeover. I remember putting a paint brush to it, a deep shade of turquoise, and the pressure caused the legs to disassemble and most of the supporting wood to crumble. There was no amount of paint or hardware that could put that thing together again.
I think my life has been a series of projects in renovation. I know I feel all the time that I should be better. It is subtly (sometimes blatantly) suggested within every “encouraging” statement, on plaques on the walls, even in the Bible… yet, like my table, my results aren’t always successful. Sometimes the project crumbles. Sometimes the finish I try and give myself isn’t long-lasting. Of one thing I am growing increasingly sure, I cannot be the contractor of my own project. I would always keep it low-maintenance, appealing, and without real elbow grease. I would also operate under the presupposition that what is underneath is okay and I only just need an aesthetic change. It is easier that way and absolutely not as painful. It might require work, sure. But nothing too difficult.
The problem isn’t that I, as a human being, made in the image of God, born under the fall, then saved by the grace and mercy of God, need a renovation.
I need resurrection.
Death to life language is all over the Bible. What does that look like? What does it feel like? I would argue that while Jesus’ pronouncement of “It is finished” has begun the work in me, dying to live is the continuation of it. And if it is lasting, it hurts.
There are so many times in life when I realize my lot is different than the one I expected. I don’t even necessarily consider it until I find myself trying to give something a desperate renovation. Instead, what I am learning, is that my thoughts and even my desires may need to be entirely dismantled. Then it hits me, I am dying to *some* of the things I thought would be true. I know… I know… death… that seems terrible. Who likes to talk about death anyway? I don’t wake up each morning proclaiming, “Let’s see how I can die today!” (Side note: If I do , I am pretty sure isn’t really happening). We all know when it happens, it hurts.
Bind up these broken bones ~ Mercy bend and bring me back to life ~ But not before you show me how to die (Show Me, Audrey Assad)
There is a process to this, mysterious and omnipotently prescribed by the Author and Perfector of faith. No amount of paint or nails will patch me up. The problem isn’t with the finish— it is what is within, what is underneath. I might try and clean it up, but it needs to be made entirely new. It (whatever it may be at different times) needs to be laid in the grave.
After so many years of sensitivity toward what should be, what is underneath begins to show through. If I am brave for a second and move as close to the truth as my inward eye can bear, I might look at the reality of what it is or of who I really am. The process brings pain and, yes, I grieve. Sometimes, a situation is different that I would like. The same happens when coming face to face with hard realities. Relinquishing control is hard.
This sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Yet it is the prescription for this life, moving from what is already and what is not yet as Ephesians describes. I have died with Christ, been raised with Him, and am seated with Him at the right hand of God. But clearly, my flesh still resides here. I look forward in hope to the completion of “It is finished” in both my body and soul in entirely new circumstances. Paul writes that until then, he does what he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do what he wants to do (Romans 7).
John Newton puts it this way in regard to this tension, “The knowledge of our acceptance with God, and of our everlasting security in Christ, has in itself the same tendency upon earth as it will have in heaven, and would, in proportion to the degree of evidence and clearness, produce the same effects of continual love, joy, peace, gratitude, and praise, if there was nothing to counteract it. But (I am) not all spirit.” Until my spirit matches that of my flesh fully, there is struggle. There is suffering. There is death at work in my body in all that is attached to it. In a letter to a friend, Newton writes about the mixture of pain and joy in this life and our experience in the hands of the Sanctifier:
…though we change, the Saviour changes not. All our concerns are in his hands, and therefore safe. His path is in the deep waters, his thoughts and methods of conduct are as high above ours, as the heavens are high above the earth; and he often takes a course for accomplishing his purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe. He wounds in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts. These things he does to prove us; but he himself knows, and has determined beforehand, what he will do. The proof indeed usually turns out to our shame. Impatience and unbelief show their heads, and prompt us to suppose this and the other thing, yea, perhaps, all things are against us; to question whether he be with us and for us, or not. But it issues likewise the praise of his goodness, when we find that, maugre all our unkind complaints and suspicions, he is still working wonderfully for us, causing light to shine out of darkness, and doing us good in defiance of ourselves. ~The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, Banner of Truth
This is my experience. Can you relate? As curious the sufferings of those being swept toward God our Father in the current of salvation, we are all in the process of being remade. And most of the time, if real dying is happening, it feels terrible. Maybe if I remember how hard it is and how terrible it feels , I will have more love for those feeling it too.
Yet for those resurrected with Christ, it is not death to die.
Resurrection happens after we die. Not before, not instead of, but after. Sometimes it is abrupt. Beauty arrises from ashes— not from nice-looking parts and pieces but instead burned up, unrecognizable, inharmonious heaps of soot. The result is not better looking and hopefully functional— but true beauty. Sometimes— most often, it happens slowly. Regardless, it is the prerequisite to life in His name. It is the way of the cross.
I keep trying to convince myself that I’m not really that bad. I keep trying to manipulate and gain control. But in the depths of me, I know. My brain needs rewiring. My thoughts need a complete overhaul. My motivations need more than en example to follow. And I cannot do it for myself. I do not need a renovation. I need resurrection.
Maybe if I have some idea that this is what it is going to be like and I can hold on long enough, something beautiful can be born. Even a small glimpse of resurrection whispers exponential possibilities. If you know the story of my family, it is a good example. The remembering and the reality now bring hope. Here, the glimpses aren’t perfect or without hardship, but they give encouragements that what He designs is far better than I could dream. The promise is that even if I don’t see it here, it is coming.
The only person in human history with the innate power to go from death to life is Jesus. No other religious leader can claim it. Our suffering Savior looked quite different after He conquered death on the cross. He was unrecognizable to Mary Magdelene then later his disciples on the road to Emmaus after His body broke. This is the hope of resurrection. Our lives, hidden with Christ in God, will be made new.
As much as I hate it and as painful as it is, dying is the prescription for receiving life. I need it in my life. I need it in my relationships. I need it in my body. May God give mercy as I feel it and as it follows me. In the midst, He promises to never leave or forsake, remember my frame, and not allow me to be consumed. When a glimpse of resurrection shines above the fray, may it give lasting hope and focus my eyes again on the One in whom it is secured.
Lord I believe, help my unbelief.