A few weeks ago my family and I were watching the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof. The main character, Tevye, is wrestling with whether to arrange the marriage of one of his daughters to the local butcher, a much older man named Lazar Wolf. There is drinking and talking and eventually singing and dancing as Tevye consents to Lazar’s proposal (it is a musical after all). The song they belt out? To Life.
Tevye’s life is centered in family, tradition, faith and troubles. These are the elements that make up the lives of many believers. Family makes life bearable. Tradition brings order to our values. The God in whom we put our faith carries us through our troubles. In Tevye’s life, though, community is the framework within which all these elements find their truest and most valuable expression.
I have spent much of my adult life in and around Uria Village, on the slopes of Mount Somau in Papua New Guinea. Cultural differences abound. But there are four broad categories we share in common: family, tradition, faith, and troubles. We have different ways of reckoning family (we value the nuclear family, they the extended [much like Tevye]). Our traditions are different, but are still traditions. Expression of faith depends upon the person or family. Troubles are troubles.
What is Life?
Despite the differences, we all grapple with the question, “What is life?” The Somau Garia have no single word for “life”, but a collection of idioms that hint at life’s meaning. Westerners, especially Americans, talk of “the good life”, referring to ease or wealth or amassing goods, or holding power over others. Experience teaches us that these are hallow pursuits that end poorly–no matter how fun the journey seems.
Satan waves shiny trinkets before our eyes to draw us away from true treasure. If he can distract us just long enough to derail our faith, values, traditions, families, or communities, he has won a battle in this great war.
There is no short way to answer “What is life?” Perhaps we might just catch the slightest essence of its meaning by looking a few passages from the Bible. If we catch just a whiff, we might gain some advantage over our adversary, trumping his lies with capital “T” truth. We might cast off the temporary for the lasting.
A few Old Testament passages might enlighten us. Consider the following:
Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.Genesis 2:7, NLT
From a lump of dirt God formed a magnificent, complex being, made not only of flesh and bone and blood, but also of soul and spirit. Paul later refers to our bodies as “tents” that we inhabit while on this earth. So there is one kind of life in the body, but there is more to us than just body.
Ezekiel has a rather strange vision of a valley filled with dry bones. Despite its strangeness, we gain insight about the nature of life from it.
Ezekiel 37:4-6, NLT
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Notice the consistency in how the beginning of life is referenced. In Genesis God breathes life into Adam’s nostrils. In Ezekiel prophesies that God himself will put breath into the dead, dried up, rotting bones and they would not only have sinews, muscles, and skin but that they would stand on their feet, comprising a vast army! What was dead he would make alive again. What was a chattel house of death would become a living army that would make his name known.
Dead and Raised
Paul writes in Colossians that we were dead in our sins and that we were buried with Christ when we were baptized (2:12). Just as we were once dry bones, dead and wasting away in our sin, God himself buried us in the grave and raised it to life by faith. When he raised us, he didn’t bring us back to life to leave us in the same condition that caused us to be death, he raised us by his mighty power and gave us all that we need for eternal life and godliness. He took our sin away and made us stand in grace.
Satan would have us believe that our ongoing failure and sin defines us. He is a liar. We are defined by the life, death, resurrection, and ongoing priesthood of Jesus Christ. We stand in that place of unmerited favor where God our Father loves us, disciplines us, and makes us holy so that we might know him (and make him known).
Lasting and True
Jesus prays for us in John 17, saying to the Father:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.John 17:3, ESV
So death is marked by slavery to the demands of the flesh, the world, and the devil. It is characterized by lying tongues, sexual immorality, unbridled anger, malice, hatred, covetousness, idolatry and a multitude of others. Death is characterized by a single characteristic that encapsulates them all: selfishness which might also be called devotion to self.
Life is marked by love, compassion, humility, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and a knowledge of God–not knowledge about God, but knowing him in the deepest and truest sense. It’s an intimate knowledge that is shaped by respect, honor, obedience, affection, and love. It is a selflessness that finds its completion in God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.
All is Christ
Have you ever written a love letter? It is common to include the phrase, “You are my life.” It means that a person lives solely for the beloved. Paul reminds us that Christ is our Beloved, the one for whom we live:
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.Colossians 3:4, ESV
God breathed life into us. He gave us a body, soul and spirit. He knew our frailty in being made from dust and, knowing we would fail and fall into sin, created us anyway. He breathed life into us. Having died and been buried with Jesus Christ, he breathed life into us a second time.
For the believer, life is being raised with Christ, hidden in Him, joined to Him, adopted through Christ into God’s family. Life is a transformative experience where we are invited to put off death and put on life. As Paul writes, Christ is our life.
The Hard Road to Victory
You want victory over the adversary? You want to make his name known throughout the nations? You want to shake the gates of Hell in your generation? Live in the reality that this earth and these years are merely temporary. Live with eternity in view. Put off the obscenity and absurdity of this generation. Put on Christ.
After all, Christ is your life. How can you live any other way?