Fear of Death

Lifelong slavery, whether it is political, economic, or social is unjust and oppressive. Walter E. William’s, in his foreword to Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the condensed version, defines slavery as: the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another. Humans worldwide have fought over the centuries for freedom from this recurring scourge.

However, though they might gain release from earthly masters, all are still subject to one final master: death. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking about Christ, those in the church, and those outside, wrote:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Clearly, scripture acknowledges this slavery which still oppresses us no matter how free we might think we are apart from Christ. In his exposition of the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, Calvin says:

Forasmuch then as the children, etc., or, since then the children, etc. …[This] passage deserves special notice, for it not only confirms the reality of the human nature of Christ, but also shows the benefit which [therefore] flows to us. “The Son of God,” he says, “became man, that he might partake of the same condition and nature with us.” What could be said more [suited] to confirm our faith?

Here [is] his infinite love towards us…; but its [overabundance is seen] in this — that he put on our nature that he might thus make himself capable of dying, for as God he could not undergo death.

And though he refers but briefly to the benefits of his death, yet there is in this brevity of words a singularly striking and powerful representation, and that is, that he has so delivered us from the tyranny of the devil, that we are rendered safe, and that he has so redeemed us from death, that it is no longer to be dreaded…

And deliver them who, etc. This passage expresses in a striking manner how miserable is the life of those who fear death, as they must feel it to be dreadful, because they look on it apart from Christ; for then nothing but a curse appears in it: for [where does] death [come] but from God’s wrath against sin?

Hence is that bondage throughout life, even perpetual anxiety, by which unhappy souls are tormented; for through a consciousness of sin, the judgment of God is ever presented to [those persons’] view.

From this fear Christ has delivered us, who, by undergoing our curse, has taken away what is dreadful in death. For though we are not now freed from death, yet in life and in death we have peace and safety, when we have Christ going before us.

But if any one cannot pacify his mind by disregarding death, let him know that he has [little understanding of what] faith [in] Christ [means]; for [since] extreme fear is [due] to ignorance [of] the grace of Christ, so it is a certain evidence of unbelief.

Death here does not only mean the separation of the soul from the body, but also [eternal] punishment which is inflicted on us by an angry God…; for where there is guilt before God, there immediately hell shows itself.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, before it’s too late.

P.O.D. – Southtown (Video shot to LP Version), YouTube, Atlantic Records, Lyrics

Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States

The Lord Is Always Before Me

Can you make the claim in the title like the psalmist David did? I find I can’t; at least not consistently. But I want to. I want to very much.

I have set the Lord always before me;

    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

    my flesh also dwells secure.

Psalm 16:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says with regard to verse 8:

…The meaning, therefore, is, that David kept his mind so intently fixed upon the providence of God, as to be fully persuaded, that whenever any difficulty or distress should befall him, God would be always at hand to assist him.

He adds, also, [always], to show us how he constantly depended upon the assistance of God, so that, amidst the various conflicts with which he was agitated, no fear of danger could make him turn his eyes to any other quarter than to God in search of succor.

…David then reckons himself secure against all dangers, and promises himself certain safety, because, with the eyes of faith, he beholds God as present with him.

And with regard to verse 9:

In short, calmly to rejoice is the lot of no man but of him who has learned to place his confidence in God alone, and to commit his life and safety to his protection.

When, therefore, encompassed with innumerable troubles on all sides, let us be persuaded, that the only remedy is to direct our eyes towards God; and if we do this, faith will not only tranquillize our minds, but also replenish them with fullness of joy.

…Farther, although the body is not free from inconveniences and troubles, yet as God defends and maintains not only our souls, but also our bodies, David does not speak groundlessly when he represents the blessing of dwelling in safety as extending to his flesh in common with his soul.

David’s statements in verses 8 and 9 pertain to us if we’ve trusted in Christ. However, verse 10 does not.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

    or let your holy one see corruption.

Psalm 16:10 (ESV)

This verse didn’t even apply to David as the Apostle Peter rightly points out in his sermon at Pentecost. Peter uses this psalm (esp. verse 10) as a testimony of Christ’s resurrection. The passage is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verses 25-28 (ESV).

We serve a risen Lord always ready to provide mercy and grace in our time of need. Call to Him.

View from the Cross

What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, 1886–1894, by James Tissot (1836–1902), in the public domain in the US

Prayer – Why do it?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin addresses why anyone should pray to God:

For there is a kind of [communication] between God and men, by which, having entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to his promises, that when necessity requires they may learn by experiences that what they believed merely on the authority of his word was not in vain.

Now, he takes as a given that we hold to this:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

And have done this:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (ESV)

Calvin goes on to say that it is both necessary and useful to pray to the Lord for every good thing that He promises us. God reveals His promises to us in His word. Therefore, we should know the bible well.

Calvin points out that our only safety is in calling upon our heavenly Father:

Since by it we invoke the presence of His:

Providence to watch over our interests,

Power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, and

Goodness to receive us into favor, though miserably loaded with sin.

Through prayer, we call upon Him to make evident to us all his excellent attributes.

As a result of calling upon Him, Calvin states:

Admirable peace and tranquility are given to our consciences; for the straits by which we were pressed being laid before the Lord, we rest fully satisfied with the assurance that none of our evils are unknown to him, and that he is both able and willing to make the best provision for us.

Next week, we’ll consider the question: “Why Should We Pray If He Is All-knowing?”

The Conversion of Paul - Caravaggio

Conversion on the Way to Damascus, circa 1600-1601, Caravaggio (1571–1610), public domain in the US