We must choose between life or death before we can be transformed by God. Darkness and suffering is often our self-imposed road receiving the ‘all’ of God.
For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)
Paul’s Damascus road encounter is a powerful moment that lives vividly in the minds of every Christian. It’s bold and life changing, a dramatic event very fitting for the launching of the worldwide church. On some level, we envy Paul. On another, we’re relieved that we escaped that kind of call. We look at what Paul endured for Christ and come to the conclusion that the bigger the encounter, the greater the personal cost. Yet we don’t realise that every believer must, at some point, have a one-on-one encounter with Christ. Even the smallest light that struggles to shine for Him in the darkness must come face to face with life-changing choice. It’s the moment where we choose life or death.
Salvation is our first life or death choice.
Many of us regard salvation as our Damascus road moment. In one sense this is correct. At the point of salvation, we make the same choice given to the ancient Israelites and choose either life or death. In Paul’s case, everything was ‘bundled’ in one unforgettable moment in which Christ confronted him on all levels. What we often miss, however, is that Paul spent three days in complete darkness. Blind and helpless, he neither ate nor drank. In this time, he had nothing to distract him – no purpose, no calling, no daily routine to provide even a semblance of security. Everything was stripped away, and this rich, powerful figure was reduced to nothing. His moment of salvation was simply the first step.
This is often the case with believers. Some of us – and I confess I was one of these – need a time of darkness and despair before we confront the choice we must make after salvation. We assume that our first life or death choice is all there is to it. But our salvation choice is essentially for us. It is the moment in which we receive the life that God has promised and escape the death we deserve. But we then have to ‘work out our salvation’ and this is where we so often overlook the critical truth that as God chose us through Christ, we must also choose Him. Like Paul, we must often have our time of darkness and suffering before we confront the real issue of life or death.
Life or death is the crux of the greatest commandment.
We are told to love our God with all and everything we have. It’s also true that every true believer strives to do so. We do our best to keep our little lights burning and to live righteously and in faith. But how many of us really confront the issue of what the ‘all’ really entails? To be fair, many do. By God’s grace they have teachable spirits and learn the lesson of all quickly and easily. For others, like me, it’s a harder road. We get hung up on the blessings of salvation and our expectation of the good things. Incorrect teaching brings wrong understanding. The reality of salvation – the ‘all’ in the greatest commandment – is lost in the perception that God is there to bless us.
The real truth is that ‘all’ means all. There are no grey areas and no excuses. While it is true that yielding all to God is a process and that it’s not possible for us to get it right all at once, the choice is unavoidable. For many believers, we decide what we’re able to ‘yield’ and expect that will satisfy God. We use our free will to avoid the critical moment of choice and believe we’re giving ‘all’ – or at least all that we can right now. The choice or life or death must be faced, however, if we’re to obey this first and greatest commandment. Our relationship with God is covenant. He gave all, and we must do the same.
Understanding the life or death choice.
In very simple terms, it’s a place of no compromise. The choice of life or death is that where it’s all or nothing. It’s where we realise that life without the all is worth nothing. When we confront the reality that the will of God is all that matters, and that without it, we are not living at all, death is preferable. It’s the place where the distractions, confusions, compromises, and justifications of the world are swept aside and we see God face to face. In that moment, like Paul, we see beyond the empty pretensions of life to a deeper truth.
Sadly, for many of us, we only see clearly in utter darkness. God allows us, in His infinite patience, to endure until the point where our light is all but snuffed out. When we’re tired of blaming Him and others for our sufferings. When our own strength, hope, and abilities are used up and our excuses and justifications swept away. There in the darkness, we have no more time or distraction to avoid the choice between life or death. That is the moment when we, like Paul, see that to life is Christ and death is gain. There is no longer ‘me.’ My light only burns because He is in me. When we truly come to the end of self, life without God is no life at all.
Life or death is personal transformation.
We should never diminish salvation. It is the most wonderful manifestation of grace, mercy, and love and a moment we should cherish and celebrate forever. Yet the reality is that many born again and even Spirit filled believers are never truly transformed. This is a lament rather than a criticism. Many of us live in the expectation that God will transform our circumstances and therefore are continually disappointed. We explain this away with the glib ‘will of God’ theory, which essentially creates the impression that we’re very spiritual while inside, we’re simply confused. The will of God is a critical, life or death matter that impacts us rather than our lives.
Paul lived to reveal God’s glory. He made the life or death choice to live only to do the will of God. Everything else in His life centred around this single truth. He chose to rather die than live less than the absolute will of God. In making that choice, Paul was utterly transformed. It didn’t mean he was no longer tempted. Nor did it mean he had no physical or emotional weaknesses. We love to bandy about the ‘sold-out for God’ declaration, and it sounds wonderful and super spiritual. But living it is an entirely different matter. Paul lived it. He was transformed by it from a virulent and immensely wealthy and powerful anti-Christian into an itinerant preacher, despised and persecuted – and a powerful tool in the hands of God. The absolute truth is that unless we have been transformed, we haven’t confronted the choice of life or death.
Choosing life or death.
Jesus made it very clear that there is no going back from our choice. We can, however, decide to live ‘comfortable Christianity.’ If we do, we’re still saved, but will always be hungry for the ‘more of God.’ This is the fundamental reason behind many of the so-called ‘moves of God’ or alternative gospels that preach love and grace without responsibility. We can pretend to be satisfied, but within us is a yearning, a thirst, to see the power of God at work in and through us and in our churches. Rather than make the transforming life or death choice, however, we substitute with man-made compromises and pretend that God is in it.
The will of God is absolute. Any believer that truly seeks the will of God will confront a life or death choice. When we pray ‘Thy will be done’ do we really mean it? Or will God allow us to endure the terrible darkness and despair that is often the only way we will ever see the truth? If we desire to obey the greatest commandment, we will, sooner or later, have to make the choice to die and be transformed, no matter what the cost.
Lord, grant us grace to choose life in Your sovereign will, and to value Your will more than our own lives. Grant us courage to face the truth that if we desire the ‘all’ of You, we must be willing to yield the all of us. Help us to see that life without this is no life at all, and to take up the challenge to be surrendered and transformed, as Paul was, so that we may truly live for Your glory.