I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but has not given me over to death.
There is freedom for the believer when life is lived in the center of God’s will. By the center of God’s will, I am not referring only to career choices – being at the right place doing the right things. As important as those are, living in the center of God’s will is more about our daily thought life than about where we are on the planet earth. The real issue of life is what is going on between our ears, not just where we are between the poles.
The Lord chastens those He loves, as the son a father delights in. If you have felt the chastening of God, this is not a signal that He has abandoned you – just the opposite – that He cares about you. Surrendering our lives to the higher purpose of God brings freedom and relief to our hearts. Holding on to our self-wills in defiant individualism is inviting misery and unhappiness.
Does God ever kill those He loves? Actually, yes, sometime, according to the Scripture. This does not mean that every death is because someone displeased God – flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God and we each have our rendezvous with death (1 Cor. 15:50). And many have been allowed to die by God to be spared pain and misery in life (Isaiah 57:1-2). Paul said that death was gain (Phil. 1:21) and that he desired to depart this life to be with Christ. Certainly for the Christian, since heaven is our eternal home, we are looking forward to the time when we will be with Him for eternity.
There are a few Scriptures that address the subject of the death of a believer as an act God in judgment against his sins. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 mentions that some members of the church in Corinth had become sick and some even died because they had practiced the Lord’s Supper in such an irreverent manner. These individuals did not lose their salvation, for it described their death as having “fallen asleep” – a euphemism for the peaceful death of a believer. We see something similar in Acts 5:1-11 in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira; there is no suggestion that they had lost their salvation but that God took their earthly lives in judgment against their hypocrisy. When it suits God’s purposes He has the option to remove a Christian from this earth who is bringing shame to the name of Christ. Certainly the patience of God is long in this matter, for which of us has not, at one time or another, acted in the wrong spirit and brought a bad reputation to Christ?
We also read of the “sin unto death” in 1 John 5:16-17. The passage, in clear language, says “there is sin that does not lead to death.” That is, God does not strike us down the first time we stray from the narrow path. But it also says, in equally clear language, that there is a sin that leads to death. Yet despite this clarity, there is quite a bit of disagreement. Biblical scholars are divided over whether John refers to believers or to non-believers. Many scholars believe the word “brother” is used in a general sense, for humanity, and the “sin unto death” is the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, or rejecting the witness of the Spirit to the truth of the gospel (Mark 3:28-29). Our prayers for a lost person’s spiritual development all hinge on the issue of his salvation. God cannot give life to the unbeliever, so prayer must focus on his salvation, not merely his improvement. To appeal to God through Christ for salvation is an admission of our moral failure and our need for grace.
Some scholars see this passage as describing the apostasy of a believer, rejecting the faith, and turning away from the gospel. Others see this as describing the issue similar to Ananias and Sapphira and those in Corinth. Some have even seen this referring to civil law, that a Christian was capable of committing a crime that brought the death penalty. In application in all instances, however, it is less confusing and it means to pray for the will of God to be done within the boundaries of how God deems best to handle a situation. John does not condemn the one who prays for the individual who has committed the sin unto death; he only says that he is not saying that he should pray about it. It is in keeping with the statement made in 5:14, that we should pray according to the will of God.
There is a profound mystery for us to understand in our daily lives all the ways that God deals with us. Though we can gather the biblical principles easily enough, in the midst of the spiritual warfare of daily living, amid the “fog of war,” we can get off center. The passage calls us back to the sovereignty of God, back to that cardinal doctrine of the Bible. He determines the days of our lives and He holds the keys to death (Rev. 1:18). Our duty is clear, to praise Him and to serve Him for as long as He gives us breath.
Lord, we praise You and thank You for this day to walk with You. Let the prayer of our heart be as Paul, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Amen.