Rachel Gilson on to Truly Live, I Needed to Die

Rachel Gilson serves on Cru’s leadership team for theological development and culture. She recently completed her MDiv (Gordon-Conwell) and is the author of Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next.


“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We’re dead either way. The grace is that we get to choose which death we die.

Lent, the season of solemnity and contemplation, has become this year a global grappling with sickness, loss, and death not seen in generations. There is no spiritualizing away this novel coronavirus, tying it up in neat religious packaging. Yet there remains opportunity to be confronted not just by headlines and disease, but by God’s Word and the depths of mortality.

Scripture is clear: Before Christ comes into our lives, we’re dead in our trespasses, even while we live (Eph. 2:1–3). We’re not injured, not dirty, but dead. It’s offensive, for we can be so proud of the lives we construct. I know I was.

Yet even without the Bible telling us so, sometimes we can suspect that what we’re experiencing is death-life—that there must be more. Desperate activity and disappointment creep into the corners of our lives like clouds of mustard gas, reeking of mortality. We exhaust ourselves trying to gain or prove or establish, sometimes finally giving up.

Perhaps some of us are indeed chasing righteousness, hoping it will bring life. More likely, we’re addicted to something else that promises the same: CrossFit, essential oils, or something garden variety like money, sex, or a particular relationship that’s captured our attention. We 21st-century Westerners love self-improvement, ever seeking the next upgrade for our lives and selves. We believe in it; we deeply believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Before knowing Christ, I wanted to live—the verb’s meaning emphatic, hard to pin down, something more than merely existing. Perhaps I could sense the death I was living in without being bold enough to name it. Passionately, purposefully, I sought to grab life by the shoulders. Yet I was only half right (that most seductive kind of wrong). I did need to live. But to get there, I needed to die.

Jesus knew we needed to die before we were ever born, and he provided the means for that in dying for us. That’s the gift. Look at how Paul framed it in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul spoke here in metaphor that isn’t really metaphor. Paul was not literally on Jesus’ cross with him that Good Friday. But Jesus’ death in literal history was just as much Paul’s crucifixion as it was the Lord’s.

In an inverted way, it mimics how Eve and Adam didn’t physically drop dead when the fruit hit their tongues, though they died all the same. And not only that, but we died too in Adam’s death (Rom. 5:12–18; 1 Cor. 15:22)! This is the source of our death-life. We weren’t there when our first parents ate the fruit. Yet our continued pattern is to act just as they did, eagerly, with the same deadly results. We’ve got their moral DNA, their terminal disease.

But Jesus came to offer a death to undo that death. For us, as for him, the only way forward is through. Because Adam’s death has claimed us, we must, like Paul, fully abandon ourselves to Christ’s death as well. Paul could have hardly been more emphatic: He was crucified, and he no longer lived. A crucified man can languish for hours, but his fate is sure. Nailed in place, it’s done.

We, too, need to fully identify with this death to self. If we posture ourselves as if all we need is a little scrubbing up, we’re deluded. We need so much more than an upgrade. Programs to make us smarter, fitter, or even more morally excellent all ultimately fail to bring us the life we need. We’re simply too corrupted, image-bearers though we are.

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Source: Christianity Today