Next to living for Christ, dying for him is the hardest thing to do. We need all the help we can get. The issue is faith. Will we trust him to the end? Will we rest in his grace, and not panic that we are hell-bound? Will we be able to handle the fear that our dying is punishment, and the prelude to perishing? O how many are the doubts sown by the devil! We must learn how to drive him off with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. So here is another part of your defense.
Let’s assume that you have indeed sinned in a reckless way, and that God is displeased. And let’s suppose that we are “disciplined” or “judged” for this by the Lord with some sickness. Be careful. I do not say “punished” in the sense of bearing the penalty for sin. Christ bore the penalty for all our sins (1 Peter 2:24). Rather, I say “disciplined” in the sense of rebuke and correction and purification and preservation from worse sinning.
But what about death? Would God actually take us away in death as part of such a discipline? The apostle Paul says he sometimes does this. In dealing with sins at the Lord’s Supper, he writes,
He who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [that is, have died]. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:29-32)
In other words, sometimes getting weak and sick and even dying are the discipline of the Lord. And the aim is not condemnation. That happened on the cross. For us there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1). The aim, rather, is that we “not be condemned along with the world” (verse 32). In other words, sometimes death is a disciplinary deliverance to save us from condemnation. “A number [have died]…so that [they] will not be condemned along with the world.”
This is not the reason for every death of God’s precious saints. Don’t jump to the conclusion that your sickness or your death is owing to a trajectory of sinning that God must rescue you from. But suppose that this is indeed what happens?
Is that encouraging? Will thinking about this help you die more peacefully and with greater faith and hope? My answer is that everything in the Bible is meant to help you die and to be encouraging for your faith in the light of truth (Romans 15:4).
How then would this truth strengthen us for a hope-filled death? It would happen like this: is not a great threat to our peace the thought that we are sinners? Does not the thought that God is sovereign and could lift this sickness threaten us with fearful feelings that he must be against us? And how shall we handle these fears when we know that we are indeed sinners and have corruption remaining in us? In those moments, we look for some encouragement from the Bible that God is willing to save believers who have sinned and are very imperfect.
Yet we know that God is holy and hates sin, even sin committed by his children. We also know that God disciplines his children with sorrowful experiences (Hebrews 12:11). We are not among those who say God has nothing to do with the painful experiences of life. So we look for help and hope from God’s utterly realistic Word. And we find it in 1 Corinthians 11:32, that even the death of saints—even the death of saints which is “discipline” and “judgment”—is not condemnation, but salvation. God is taking this sinning saint because he loves him so much he will not let him go on in sin.
This is our solid encouragement. What it says to all of us is this: we do not need to be certain whether the time of our death is owing to our sinning, or to the devil’s cruelty (Revelation 2:10), or to God’s other wise purposes. What we need is the deep assurance that even if my dying is owing to my own folly and sin, I can rest peacefully in the love of God. At such a moment, these words will be precious beyond measure: “We are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned.”
Learning to die with you all,