In our new book, Church Transfusion, Phil Helfer and I start by claiming that the true expression of Christ's kingdom should stand out as very different from all other religions. To demonstrate the radically different nature of God's kingdom we list 6 ways that the upside-down kingdom stands in contrast from the world's view of what is right. Unfortunately this is often is at odds with the Church as well. In these blog posts I will list those six different paradigms of the upside-down Kingdom. This is the sixth and final one: The way to live is to die.
In God’s kingdom resurrection is meant to be the way to life. In church transfusion we must die to our old ways if we hope to exist in new resurrected ways. This truth is universal and applies to us as individuals and to us as a collective—the church. All change begins with a death. A church that is unwilling to risk death is simply unwilling to live by faith in Christ. Resurrection power is available only to the person or church that is willing to die.
Jesus went on to say, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39b).
Why is death to self so important? Consider this: without death, you cannot have a resurrection. Without death, there would not be any gospel or salvation or even life itself. Perhaps it is time that we embrace a theology of death.
This is what a theology of death looks like:
Die daily to who we are and what we want.
Empowering others, not self, is our life.
Accept risk as normative.
Theology is not just knowledge but practice.
Hold tight to Christ and loosely to everything else.
Unless we are willing to die, we will not live. It is that simple. Death is the path to life. Conversely, holding on to life appears to be the path to death. We are to die to self because it is the only way we can live for Jesus. We can only have one master. Either we will live for ourselves or we will live for Jesus. This is why we must put ourselves to death every day.
Our cultural mind-set in the West places the individual first and foremost. We read verses that use the second person plural and apply them to ourselves as individuals when in fact they are addressed to a community as a whole rather than to us alone.
There are many cultures, however, that do not see the world that way. They immediately regard life as a community first and an individual second.
The words of Jesus having to do with death are most commonly applied to the individual disciple. And granted, the verse should be applied in this way. We have found, though, that the truth in His words is universal and applies to any organization made up of disciples, such as a church.
Death is no longer our enemy, for there is no sting in death anymore. When we place our faith in our own efforts to maintain the life of the church, we have already passed into a place of dying. We of all people should be ready to embrace death as if our life depended on it—because it does. Jesus said, “Whoever clings to his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake gains it.” We follow Jesus to the cross or we do not follow Him at all.
All church transfusion begins with the concept of death. The churches that are more ready to die are the healthier churches. In most churches and ministries of the West, leadership is focused on self- preservation and keeping things going. Decisions are based on how the outcome will help the church continue. Those who are in self-preservation mode are dead already; they just don’t know it yet. As our friend Lance Ford once said, “You need more than buy-in to change a church; you need die-in.”