Can a person be alive and dead at the same time?

Paul stated rather bluntly in Romans 8:10 that “your body is dead because of sin.” So the body we live in can be fully alive physically, but fully dead at the same time. We’re living but we’re dead. It’s like living in the body of a zombie. Like some awful living corpse in a horror movie we stagger through life in a trance-like state. We’re just walking dead people – “because of sin.” 

It’s a horrible picture of what sin has done to us, but as Paul explains in verse 13, “if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” It’s the sinful nature in us that’s the problem. While our sinful nature controls what we do in our bodies, that’s what kills us.    

But, Paul adds, “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” God has given us the ability to stop what our sinful nature is doing to us. “By the Spirit” we can come out of our zombie trance-like state, and live like the real human being God designed us to be instead.

So how do we know if we’re “living by our sinful nature” or “living by the Spirit?”

Simple. Our sinful nature has no desire to obey God (verse 7). Fortunately, Jesus dealt with that by offering his own body “as a sin offering,” which “condemned sin in sinful man,” verse 3. Jesus died to shatter the power of our sinful nature. God then “raised Christ from the dead” to “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you,” verse 11. The same power that gave life to Christ’s dead body gives life to our dead bodies. And Paul calls that power “the Spirit of Christ,” verse 9, so it’s really Christ living his nature in us.

In verse 10 Paul puts it this way, that “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” verse 10. Our spirit lay dormant and lifeless while it was controlled by our sinful nature, but when Christ died he freed us from our sinful nature and sent the Spirit to fill us with his nature instead. So now we’re alive just like he is alive, with his nature in us – and his nature loves God and everything about him.

And there’s our evidence that we’re “living by the Spirit.” and we’ve come alive from our zombie-like state – in this life now. With Christ’s nature, or Christ’s Spirit, in us, we can and want to obey God and trust him, and live by every word of his, just like Christ did. 

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We experience death before we die?

It’s an odd thing being a Christian because we experience death before we die. That’s probably why Christians aren’t phased much by dying, because, as Paul said, we die daily, so we’re old hands at death long before our physical bodies die.

We die in the same way we die physically too. When we die physically the vital systems in our bodies that kept us alive start shutting down. It’s like turning off the lights in a large room. As each switch is clicked off, the room slowly darkens, until one final click and the lights go out entirely.

And isn’t that what happens in our Christian lives too? Jesus’ death provided us with the switch to turn the power of sin off, and the Spirit now turns the lights out one by one. The systems that kept us alive before, therefore, like ambition, competition, making a name for ourselves, being popular and liked, self-preservation and security, start shutting down. The room they occupied in our heads slowly darkens until the lights make a last fizz and splutter, and die.

It’s quite something when an old attitude that animated our lives before makes its last splutter and dies, like the attitude of being critical and condemning. For much of our lives, putting others down really got the blood flowing. It made us feel good and alive, and it gave our sagging ego a boost when others made glaring mistakes and we could laugh and scoff at their expense.

But the Spirit’s at the switch gradually shutting that kind of nonsense down, until one day it’s of no interest to us anymore. We don’t need to condemn and judge others to feel better about ourselves. It doesn’t have the same appeal. It becomes a horrible thing we don’t want hanging around in our heads anymore. Get rid of it. Turn it off. And turn it off we do, daily.

And what about those other attitudes that lit up our emotions before, like getting all hoity-toity if someone cuts us off in traffic, or a well-known gossip says things behind our backs that aren’t quite true, or our great knowledge on a subject is exposed as faulty by a snotty know-it-all?

Those things probably squirted all sorts of highly inflammable fuels into our systems before, stirring up fiery anger and heated replies. But the Spirit has been let loose on us now, and he’s at the switch turning that stuff off until it’s dead, and it stays dead, daily. As Christians, then, we experience death many times before we die, as the lights go out on what made us feel alive before.

Why does God let good people die so young?

We could also ask the question: “Why does God let bad people die so old?” It doesn’t seem fair, for instance, that a man still alive at 113 years old attributes his longevity to ‘Cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women,’ while Job, who was “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8) was reduced to a pitiful wreck of a man, having lost all his children and his livelihood to a deal Satan made with God. Or that Jesus, who obeyed and trusted God perfectly, was sent to an early death by conniving, power-hungry, religious hypocrites.

Surely good people deserve to live to a ripe old age as proof that God rewards people for living good lives. It’s hardly good advertising on God’s part instead to let good people suffer from persecution, accidents, all the usual diseases everyone else gets, and premature death, because why would anyone be attracted to Christianity when it clearly doesn’t guarantee immunity from all the things that take humans to an early grave?

But if God isn’t interested in guaranteeing a long life, what is he interested in instead? One answer Jesus gave in John 3:21 was this: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” What’s important is opening up what long or short lives we’ve got to God, to make it plain to anyone watching what a human life is like when God is the one shaping and moulding it for his purposes, both now and in the future.

And what makes that so noticeable is the contrast to those in verse 20 who “will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Some people spend their entire lives hiding from God, and don’t want him involved in their lives at all. But others, like David, willingly open their lives to God: “Investigate my life, O God,” he wrote in Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message), “find out everything about me. Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – then guide me on the road to eternal life.”

David knew there was more going on in life than trying to extend it for as long as possible. His focus, instead, was on what God could create in him while he was alive, to prepare him expertly for the life David would be living after he died. And who knows at what age that preparation is complete? Obviously God does, so if he lets a good person die young…

Candles, flowers and vigils

When horrible things happen to people, like being killed in a shooting or a terrorist attack or a tragic accident, people stream to the spot where the deaths occurred to light candles, drop off flowers, and quietly sorrow together. Some huddle in groups to pray, sing together, or simply just cry, and sometimes the vigils last for several days and nights. And no matter how risky it might be after a terrorist attack to gather in a large group at the site of the tragedy, there is no stopping people doing it.

I remember when the 9/11 attacks occurred that my immediate instinct was to be with people. I needed to talk about what happened and why. I needed to hear what other people were saying. I needed to be with people as bewildered and shocked as I was. I needed that, and so did a lot of other people, it seems, because the coffee shop I sat in was packed. Some sat quietly saying nothing, others had to let their emotions run free, but both groups needed the comfort of other people near them, just as I did.

Perhaps the terrorists themselves have noticed this phenomenon, that when they pull off a shocking attack with great success, people come out into the open to be together. There’s fear, yes, and the natural instinct to run to safety and hide during an attack, but soon after the attack is over people come out of hiding to feel the comfort of other people, to show they deeply care for those who suffered and died, and to prove to the terrorists that all they’ve done is draw the world closer together and released more love.

So take a good, hard look terrorists, because what you’ve done is shown us what’s really tucked away inside us when the chips are down – and it’s very encouraging. It’s deeply heartening to discover that, faced with terror or tragedy, we humans naturally band together, we grow in strength from being with each other, we feel compassion, we want to help, and we won’t rest until justice is done on behalf of the victims.

What must a terrorist be thinking, then, when he sees vigils springing up worldwide, and people coming out into the open to light candles, drop off flowers, and be together – in nations that weren’t even directly affected by the attack too? Will it dawn on him that humanity is a family, and threats only bring us closer? And what if we decide as a family to go to our heavenly Father for help, taking into account that terrorists are already causing many people to pray?…

Does God decide the day we die?

Some Christians believe that God decides how long we live, and we can’t change it. Our lives belong to God, they say, so we are totally subject to his will. If he wills the day we die, then so be it, our days are numbered according to however many days God wills for us.

To other Christians, however, the idea that God decides the day we die creates all kinds of problems and neuroses. It’s scary, for a start, knowing we could drop dead at any second for no other reason than “God decided it.” It could make us careless too, because what’s the point of looking after ourselves and making right choices if our actions and choices don’t have any effect on how and when we die? If tomorrow we die only because God decided it and not because of anything we do, then we might as well eat, drink and be merry. We can do whatever we like because there aren’t any consequences, and that surely can’t be right.

So, what really decides the day we die? Is it God or us? Does God simply allot a fixed number of days for us to live, or does he adjust the time of our death according to our choices and actions? If a Christian decides to fight in a war, for instance, and he’s killed, is that because God willed it to happen or because he allows us the freedom to choose? Does God base our death on the consequences of our actions, or on some predetermined plan of his?

Well, in Scripture, the day we die is a total non-issue, because we’re already dead. “For you died,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:3. And when did that happen? We “died with Christ,” Romans 6:8. “Don’t you know,” verse 3, “that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” When Christ died, we died. But God then “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms,” Ephesians 2:6, so not only are we already dead, we’ve also been raised from the dead too, and right now our lives are “hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3.

When it dawned on Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,” Galatians 2:20, it got his mind off death entirely. And when he realized that Christ was now living HIS life in him, then death really did become a non-issue because Christ never dies. Instead of worrying about how and when he was going to die, then, Paul could concentrate on this new life he’d been given that would last and grow forever.