By: Tony Merida– Death is a topic we don’t like to talk about. When we talk with others about death, we soften the language by using phrases like “passed away” and “no longer with us.” Nobody likes going into a funeral home. The sights, colors, and smells stay with us long after we’ve left.
We don’t like to talk about the death of anything. It’s painful to talk about the death of a dream or the death of a relationship. We don’t like it when our car dies; our refrigerator dies; or, God forbid, our phone dies. When it comes to our spiritual lives, though, death is the way the Bible describes us apart from Jesus Christ. Read what Paul wrote about spiritual death:
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Apart from Christ we’re dead. We can’t even please God. Renewing our minds is a supernatural act. There are activities we can and should do, but ultimately, we rely on the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and minds. Read what Paul wrote about spiritual transformation in Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Living sacrifice” (v. 1) is an oxymoron. It shouldn’t be possible. A sacrifice is something that has died and is being presented as an offering. Yet this is precisely how Paul described us.
The words conformed and transformed are contrasting terms. To be conformed is a passive state in which people, circumstances, and seasons of life are conforming you to themselves. To be transformed is to be changed, and this comes through a renewed mind. It’s the difference between going downhill (conformed) and going uphill (transformed). Another way to think about it is that it’s the difference between swimming with the current (conformed) and swimming against the current (transformed). In our flesh we naturally drift toward conformity. But when we’re united with Christ, we’re being transformed.
According to this passage, we learn God’s will for our lives by testing it (see v. 2). Sometimes this happens individually. Sometimes this happens in community as others who love us and want God’s best for our lives confirm or deny God’s leading in our lives. Transformation is possible. By God’s grace we can be transformed from death to life. Our lives can become acts of worship as living sacrifices. We can wage war against the self-destructive desires of our flesh and set our minds on the goodness of our Heavenly Father. Read Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.
He also said: “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The older brother was bitter and frustrated because although he didn’t rebel against his father, his brother was thrown a party after rebelling and returning home. Check out Ephesians 2:1-5:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient.
We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
John Newton wrote these words in the late 1700s
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. He also serves as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
Editor’s Note: Excerpted from Tony Merida, Ephesians Bible Study. © 2016 LifeWay Press. Used by permission.