Flipping that coin, through faith
Let’s dive into another devotional drawn from nature! Our topic: life and death.
Some may question whether that’s two topics, and perhaps they are, on a cultural level. But in the Christian faith, life and death present two sides of the same coin: God’s amazing creation. As Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us, in death, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Christ touched upon this continuity while on the cross, as recorded in Luke 23:43, when He told the repentant criminal, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In other words, that criminal would die on his cross, but because of his faith in Jesus as the son of God, that man would live on that day with Christ in Heaven.
Many people, even among believers, focus on just one side of that coin. Those who follow my Facebook and Instagram posts know I love sharing photos from my daily walks. These usually feature enchanting flowers, trees, creeks, ponds, leaves, shadows, and most anything else I cross paths with, all in the prime of life. Even the autumn and winter trees I capture, though bereft of leaves, remain generally healthy. I focus on life, for the diverse beauty of God’s magnificent creation fascinates me. It reveals ever new examples of His “invisible qualities,” as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:20 – “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
But from time to time my camera eye captures aging lovelies, like this yellow white rose, which remains stunning even in its last stages. Or I discover a family of beautiful flowers that, like the photo below, displays every phase of life – a young bud about to open, some very healthy blooms caught up in the excitement of existence, and at their center, one withered remnant.
I almost didn’t save that photo, simply due to that crumbling decay. Then I wondered, why should I turn away from death? That is a central part of life, one with opportunities all its own, as 2nd Corinthians 4:16 reminds us – “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us to respect this, for “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” As Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 17:6 brings it home – “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.”
Yet death often proves difficult to discuss, a subject that wounds or offends some audiences. As we age, it’s near impossible to not miss the vitality of youth. We fear the way aging diminishes our abilities and self-image, those disturbing diseases that target the elderly, and that hated specter of dementia, a fate no one should have to endure.
Photos like these may prove painful reminders of this. Having just passed my 61st birthday, I know I’ll never match this white rose’s fading splendor. I wasn’t that good looking to begin with, and now… well, that’s another subject.
And like this rose, I sometimes fear I am destined to finish my life alone. As Job 1:21 notes, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Such self-pity humbles and shames me, for I also know in my heart that nothing will separate me from Christ. The apostle Paul wrote of this in Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That returns us to our two-sided coin, and the foundation of our Christian faith. You see, Jesus flipped that coin with His death and resurrection. He suffered this pain for us, as stated in what is perhaps the New Testament’s most popular verse, John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Believers equate this to God’s sacrifice, one that fulfills the requirements of His law, allowing Christ to save us from a lifetime of sin if we simply choose to accept and believe in Him as the risen son of God. Paul brought this into clarity memorably with Romans 5:8 – “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Yet that Old Testament concept of sacrifice repels many people today, expressed in such sentiments as we as a species have “evolved” above such things. This logic leads skeptics to dismiss biblical concepts of law, morality, sin, and judgment, which sometimes proves difficult when they come face to face with their own mortality. For throughout our lives, our Lord uses our trials and tribulations, whether deadly or not, as signposts to point us towards Him.
It’s difficult for unbelievers, and sometimes even the faithful, to think a loving God would work through diseases or acts of violence and hatred, and yet several scriptures tell us that our Lord can and will make use of all things in this world, even the wrongs perpetrated by others, to touch our hearts and souls. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” James tells us in the second verse of his self-titled book. These challenges teach us lessons and wisdom that we may benefit from and share with others, as Romans 8:28 reminds us: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Sharing such experiences with others is itself an act of love, as Paul wrote in Titus 3:3-7 – “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Indeed, this sharing fulfills Christ’s charge to us. As recorded in Matthew 5:16, Jesus told us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew’s book ends with a similar command by Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This brings us back to Christ’s death and resurrection. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Emphasize “all,” as in you, me, and everyone else in the world. That’s why Christ died on the cross, His sacrifice making possible everyone’s salvation from God’s laws of creation. For as Romans 6:23 notes, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Calling it a “free gift” represents a bit of poetic phrasing, for that gift does involve one catch: salvation goes to those who choose to believe in Jesus as the son of God, our Savior. We often refer to that with one word: faith. Paul expanded upon this in Ephesians 2:8-9, noting, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
This central truth came from Christ Himself. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus proclaimed, as written in John 8:12. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus offered another angle on this in John 14:6, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And then we have this statement by Christ from John 11:26 — “And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
If indeed we believe this, then we, too, may flip that coin, through our faith in Christ.
Making that choice carries its own trials and tribulations, almost always drawn from those aforementioned skeptics and unbelievers. That brings us full circle in this spiritual devotional, for Christ faced such confrontations all His life, even as He hung on the cross. Luke’s gospel shares that sad yet uplifting history in chapter 23, starting in verse 32:
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him (Jesus) to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the king of the Jews.”
It’s hard to believe the challenges, insults, and attacks could get even more personal, but they did. In some ways they had to, for many of these verses fulfill Old Testament prophesy about the Messiah’s death. But that’s another devotional for another day. Let’s continue with verse 39:
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”