Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Final words

The four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; each capture unique pieces of the final words Jesus spoke while he was dying on the cross, except for Matthew and Mark who both recorded the same question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, ESV). The Greek word translated forsaken, egkataleipo suggested God deserted Jesus while he was hanging on the cross (G1459). The separation that occurred was likely the result of a curse that prevented God from looking at anyone that was crucified. Under the miscellaneous laws recorded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 it states, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross meant that even though he had not committed any crime himself, God treated him as if he was guilty of every sin that had ever or still will be committed by the human race. The Apostle Paul explained this transaction in Galatians 3:6-14 where he stated:

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, dying for the sins of the world, a man that was hanging next to him realized the significance of what he was doing. Luke’s gospel captures the irony of the moment in a conversation between the two men that were hanging beside Jesus. Luke stated:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Jesus knew that his condemnation by God was only temporary. His act of obedience would ultimately put an end to the curse of sin that separated him from his Father. In his last statement from the cross, Jesus declared his belief that he would shortly be reunited with God in Heaven. He succinctly stated, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” then Luke reported, “and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46) revealing his expectation to be by God’s side momentarily.

Upside down religion

The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to keep the Israelites from being separated from God. Over the years, the content of God’s message to his people was transferred from generation to generation by means of a religious system that focused on purity or “cleanness” (Psalm 18:20), which meant you were undefiled or without blemish, i.e. perfect, complete, whole in God’s sight. At the time of Jesus ministry, the Jewish religious system had gotten so far off track from God’s original intent that Jesus called its leaders hypocrites (Matthew 15:7). They pretended to know what they were talking about, when in actuality, they were blind to the truth of God’s word. Jesus said of these religious experts, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

What was happening among God’s people could be referred to as upside down religion. In other words, they were doing the opposite of what God wanted them to. An example Jesus used to illustrate his point was the fifth of God’s Ten Commandments, which stated, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). The Jews were being taught that it was lawful for them to take resources that could benefit their parents and give them to God as a gift or sacrificial offering (Matthew 15:5-6). Jesus said about this practice, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6). The Greek term Jesus used that is translated none effect is akuroo (ak-oo-ro’-o), which means to invalidate.

Jesus described this upside down form of religion as the blind leading the blind. He told his disciples, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Even though the Pharisees false teaching was harmful to those that believed it, Jesus knew it was useless to try and change the minds of those who were unable to see the error of their ways. Instead, Jesus presented them with the truth and left it up to each individual to believe or not believe what he said. Mark tells us of Jesus’ response, “And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 7:14-16).

The problem with the Jews upside down religion was that it took the emphasis off of being separated from God and put it on cleanness or what could be described as self-righteous religiosity. When his disciples asked him to explain what he had said to the people, Jesus asked them, “Are ye so without understanding also?” (Mark 7:18). This remark revealed that even Jesus’ twelve apostles had been influenced by the Pharisee’s false doctrine about the importance of making sacrifices to God. In order to set the record straight about what actually separated them from God, Jesus stated, “Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart…for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).