To Live Is…
Study Guide, November 3, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
In our recent Life Group we gave a couple of suggestions on investments…in a ‘not really’ sort of way. Or, maybe, who knows? But anyway, it was in connection with some start-up companies in the UK and in the US that some investors are pouring millions of dollars into because of what these companies are working on. And what they are working on is ‘age-reversing gene therapies’. These companies are supposedly developing ways to regenerate tissues that deteriorate in old age, and therefore allowing people to live longer. Which is certainly a good thing, right? Regenerating damaged parts sounds pretty good. I would have much preferred regenerated cartilage of the original joints over replaced hips, that’s for sure.
Also, anything that increases life spans and a healthier existence throughout life is great. But the old adage remains: It’s not how many years that are in your life that counts – it’s how much life is in your years. And as Christians, we would add: What really counts is if Christ’s life is also in your life. And really, if Christ is not in your life, then regardless of how many years of life you have, you’re actually already dead while you live.
But it’s also kind of ironic about how consumed many are about extending their mortal lives. Like, let’s say they were able to extend life spans to 125 years or 150 years or 175 years. Here’s the irony: Recall before the flood, like in Genesis 5, we have the accounts when life spans were…well…you find this: ‘and all the days of Seth were 912 years’, and ‘all the days of Enosh were 905 years’, and all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and then of course the oldest man that ever lived… ‘and all the days of Methuselah were 969 years’! That’s a whole lot of years in a life, right? But I can imagine these guys getting up into their nine-hundreds and going: “You know, life seems so short. If we could only figure out a way to extend our lives a bit more…like maybe to 1500 years. That would be great!” And we were joking about some of these 900 year old guys saying things like: “Man, if only to be 500 again! I was feeling really good in my 500’s! Oh, to be young again!”
But really, when would it ever be long enough to satisfy anyone? And the answer is? 1 Cor 15:53-57- “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” NLT
We can count on the immortality of the body one day. It is coming, but it’s not for this world, it’s for when we are living in the land of the new world…in the New Heavens and New Earth. But for now; there is no escaping mortality. But the real issue about how ever many years anyone has in this mortal body in these short years on this dying planet is: Of however many days and years you have of life now, what are you doing with them? How are you living out your mortal years now? What are you living for now? Or, rather, how would you fill in the blank of this statement? “To Live Is __________?” What would you say?
Some might say, “To live is fame”, or to make a name for themselves. Some might say, “To live is fortune”, or to attain great wealth. Some might say, “To live is power”, or to have a powerful position in life. Some might say, “To live is pleasure”, or to experience the pleasures of life. And some might just say, “To live is happiness”, or to just be happy. And most people want to be happy. Actually, there is nothing wrong with any of the others as well, as long as they are the result of doing honorable things to bless others, of course. But if they are seeing these things for the purpose of self-pride and self-centered living, well then that’s a big problem.
But back to the blank…so what really is the best answer to how would you fill in the blank of the statement: “To live is _______?” Or, let’s put it this way: If you want a bottom line summary statement and an all-encompassing theme by which to live and think about your life, the Apostle Paul gave it to us when he said: Phil 1:21- “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” NASU
In the movie, ‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’, when Paul said to Luke “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, Luke said, “Oh, that’s good!” And Paul said to him, “Write it down”. Friends, when that is your purpose and the goal of your life…when that is your focus and the conviction of your life, then it will also become the joy and even the motivation of your life, as well as your peace and assurance in your death. And we are going to explore both. But for now, let’s explore: “For to me to live is Christ.”
What if we were to ask how you would fill in another blank? What if we said: ‘Life is ___________?’ What would you put in the blank? What do you think Paul would put in the blank? He would put ‘Christ’. ‘Life is Christ!’ Remember what Jesus said to the Disciples? “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What is the source of ‘life’ in the first place? Christ! And since Christ is the very source of life, Christ should also be at the very center of everyone who has been given life. And how strange is it really, that so many who do not acknowledge Christ as Creator of life or as Savior for their life, are still living out a life that has been given to them by Christ? In fact, each day of their life is even being sustained by Christ through His general grace to all people.
That was the passage that Sam Bruce pointed to when he talked about helping the Asmat people come to better understand that Christ was both Creator and Savior. Col 1:15-17- “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.” NLT So people the world over need to come to realize who Jesus Christ really is: He is the only Creator of physical life itself, and He is the only Savior who can give us eternal spiritual life.
But then, for those of us who have come to know our great God and Savior, and have received the gift of eternal life from Christ, then like Paul, we are to also commit to a new focus in life and about life, as in… ‘For to me, to live is Christ!’ And of course, this is not only the most rewarding way to possibly live life, it is also the most logical and reasonable way to live life. Think about it: Since we have received eternal life from Christ, and since we forever have a life that is in union with Christ, and since it is Christ who is now sustaining the very life that we are living; it simply just makes sense to now live our life FOR Christ. Or, we could put it this way; to live our life for any lesser reason would not only be foolish…and not only be faithless…and not only be unfruitful…it would also just not make good sense at all! It would actually be living a form of ‘nonsense’. Again, just think about the sheer logic of it all. The Apostle Paul explained it like this: 2 Cor 5:14-15- “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
NASU That just makes sense.
The most important decision to make about living out your life is not to first decide what you will live for, but to first decide ‘who’ you are going to live for! And if that decision is anyone or anything but Christ, or even if you fail to decide, then you have already defaulted to live your life for the messed up mixture of both your conflicted self and the confusing world around you that will pressure you to conform to it, instead of to Christ, your Lord and Savior. And conformity to the world instead of conforming to Christ results in exactly what Solomon said about that: ‘Vanity of vanities’…wasted efforts and meaningless attempts.
On the other hand, when you seek to live your life ‘for Christ’, then the results of that is that all your works to bless God and to bless others in your marriage and family, in your church, in your community, and in your career all count for now and eternity. Living a life of purpose in blessing God and others is what builds up an eternal portfolio of rewards and joys for you. But again, all of this not only just makes good sense, but it is simply the proper thing to do, since we owe it to our Lord to now live for the One who lived and died for you and me. “For to me, to live is Christ…and to live for Christ.”
Now then, it’s very helpful to Biblically describe just how that is done…or to describe how a believer is to go about ‘living for Christ’. And the reason we say that is because it doesn’t come naturally. Rather, we tend to naturally default to faulty thinking about it. For example: Many Christians tend to think that living out their lives for Christ means that Christ is now going to help them live out their lives. Well, thankfully, our Lord does help us wonderfully in all things. But here is the big thing, or the 180 degree difference: Christ did not come into our lives to help us experience more of ‘our life’. He came into our life to empower us to experience more of ‘His life’ in us. Some might say… “And what’s the difference?” Friends, the difference is the difference between us living out our purposes for our lives or us living out God’s purposes for our lives. Yeah, it’s that big of a difference. Let’s let Paul explain more about that as well.
We see Paul describe it in another purpose statement of Paul’s in Gal 2:20- “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” NLT Do you see it? It’s a complete change of focus, particularly about one’s personal identity. Let’s think this through…
There is often confusion in many Christian’s thinking about their ‘new self’. They understand that the problem with their old self was that they were thinking and acting like a ‘separate self’…and they were separated in trespasses and sin from a relationship with their Creator. They were ‘independent’ of God we could say. But then, through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, they received new life in Christ, along with a new spirit, a new self, as the Scriptures put it. However, and here’s the new problem, they then started thinking of their new self in terms of almost like a ‘new me’. But the focus was still on themselves, or on this ‘new me’, when the Biblical focus for their life was not to be one of a ‘new me’ focus and attitude about life, but one of a ‘new We’ focus and attitude about life.
Do you see where we are going with this? You see, when the focus is still on yourself, even your new self, then you are still thinking like an independent person, rather than as one who now shares their life in union with Christ. Plus, again, they are thinking of Christ more like His role is to be their ‘Helper’ in living out ‘their life’. But that is not only a distortion of what the Scriptures reveal, but it detracts from God’s intention to restore and to remake you and me more and more into His image and character…or – to form Christ in us.
The reality is that Christ did not create another independent new self in us. He created a new spirit self that is now in ‘union’ with His Spirit, which, by design, is completely dependent upon Christ. Christ is not enabling you to experience more of your life independently from Him. He is enabling you to now experience more of His life as you live in dependence upon Him, yielding the control of your life each day to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ now living in union with your new spirit, which is your new self.
That’s part of why Christ used the picture of ‘marriage’ to illustrate the relationship of the Christian with Christ. Just like a husband and wife are not to think in terms of you and me, but in terms of ‘we’, in a similar way, in your relationship with Christ, you are no longer to think in terms of ‘me’; you are now to think in terms of ‘We’. In fact, the leading side of that is really to fall on Christ’s side, as Paul pointed out by saying, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ Paul daily deferred to Christ to be in charge in his life.
And so now, as to how that looks in practical terms is something like Paul basically saying to Christ; “Even though I am now in union with Your Spirit, I’m going to just go with Your preference on everything! I’m going to go with what You say about what I should say, and with what You say about what I should do, as well as reforming my character by letting You form Your character in me.”
You see the difference? That is how the ‘new self’ in union with Christ is supposed to think…thinking in dependence upon Christ’s Word and deferring to Christ’s Lordship in all things, instead of thinking independently from Christ’s Word and guidance, and just looking to Him to be our helper in living out a life where we are still acting like we are in charge. And so, in practice, like Paul put it, this life that you and I are now living is now one where we are no longer in charge. Christ is now in charge of you and me. And Christ’s Spirit is now living in us and through us, and is directing us in how to live by His Word and with His Spirit guiding what we say and what we do for however many days and years we have on our way to what Paul said was ‘Gain’. And we’ll explore more of that in our next study.