We have our evangelical superstars but none of these luminaries have reached the brightness of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944). Most of them can walk the streets in any city undisturbed by crowds but not Sister Aimee. At the height of her popularity it was difficult for Sister to go out in public without a disguise. From a human point of view she must have seemed immortal.1 Celebrated in Broadway song, greeted by thronging crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, preaching to packed houses—she preached her final sermon to 10,000 people— hounded by the press, Sister was a star, a true evangelical celebrity. Die, however, she did in 1944. It all came to an end. Today we’re all stars of our own shows. When we die someone will have to curate our digital presence. For some that seems like a kind of immorality but, of course, it’s ephemeral. With a few key strokes it can all go away. The truth is that, until the return of Christ, we all must die. Why? After all, has not Christ conquered death in his own death? Yes, he has. Scripture says,
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (Rev 5:5; ESV).
Jesus has indeed conquered death. Paul celebrates that reality in 1 Corinthians 15:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:20–26; ESV).
Nevertheless, the resurrection of Christ was not the end of all things but the beginning of the end of all things. In his resurrection he inaugurated a new order, a new creation (1 Cor 5:17). The consummation of the new order is not yet. This is still the time for planting seeds in the ground (1 Cor 15:42). A principle is at work but it is not yet fully realized. This is why Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment.”
This is also why we confess:
42. Since then Christ died for us, why must we also die?
Our death is not a satisfaction for our sin, but only a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life.
In contrast to the new age gurus, the Christian Science movement (i.e., the Church of Christ Scientists, not Christians who study or practice science), and Gnostics of every sort, we affirm that death is real and not an illusion. Against the Platonists we affirm that our bodies were created good (Genesis 1:31). Created matter is not intrinsically evil or deficient. God’s affirmation of its created goodness refutes all the pagan attempts to blame God for the corruption that is. He did not introduce it, we did. Is not God sovereign? Yes. Does he not superintend all things? Yes. Does not his providence include all things? Yes? How then is it not the author of sin, death, and corruption? First, there is no sin, death, or corruption in him. Second, he did not sin. Third, he is righteous in all that he does. There is no unrighteousness in him nor can there be. Fourth, the narrative in Genesis makes clear that we made a free, uncoerced choice. No one held a gun to our head. That free choice was comprehended in God’s sovereign providence. Fifth, Scripture always holds us liable for sin and death and never God. If you must know more than that then you shall have to take it up with God but I suspect that, even in glory, you will not be able to understand. There are mysteries in the Christian faith.
Until Christ’s return, our real bodies, corrupted by the fall, shall die. That was the promised judgment and the sentence passed on sin: “The day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). We did and we did.
Christ’s death, however, has changed the meaning of our death. For everyone who is united to Christ by his Holy Spirit, by grace alone, through faith alone, our death cannot be a payment or a satisfaction to God’s righteous judgment. Because Christ has satisfied God’s righteous judgment “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
Our death is not an act of justification but a part of our sanctification, a final step in our conformity to Christ and an entrance into our glorification (Rom 8:17, 30). In this life, until we die, we shall struggle with sin. Note that I said struggle. We have won the war but our life is a series of battles to be fought against sin by grace alone, through faith alone, with the Spirit’s help. Through these struggles he is bringing us into conformity to Christ. Through them we come to see more clearly our utter dependence upon Christ for his righteousness imputed and upon the Spirit for his gracious work in us. Through them we come to see more clearly what we, if left to ourselves, are and how righteous Christ is. Through them, however, we are also being given a love for his law, for true righteousness, for conformity to Christ.
At death the struggle with sin ends. At death we enter into glory but don’t despise the struggle. As the football coaches keep saying, it’s part of the process. You and I aren’t Sister Aimee but, in the ordinary providence, we too will die. In glorification there will be only one star, the Morning Star who came for our justification, our salvation, and our glorification. For us death is not only death (it is that) it is also life. There is no need to rush toward it and some reason to respect it—it is the last enemy—but no need to fear it. Christ has gone through for us and we, by his grace, shall follow him (Heb 2:10; 12:2). His death is for us and our sin and our death, in him, is to sin and a joining to him in his glory.
1. See the essay on Sister Aimee in Always Reformed.