We are looking at six aspects of transformation as part of the Christian walk with Christ. Our sixth and final component asks ‘how do we achieve this attitude of the joyous response of the godly steward?’ The answer may surprise you. We only achieve it through death. It may seem odd to end this series on life-giving transformation with a discussion of death, but in the end our transformation to godly stewards is really all about death. In his classic work Deitrich Bonheoffer writes, “The cross is laid on every Christian. It begins with the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ… When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”[i]
Paul tells the church in Colossae, “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) He reminds them that in following Christ they have “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” (Colossians 2:20) Paul exhorts the Christian in Rome that they “have died to sin” and that in being baptized into Christ Jesus they were “baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.” (Romans 6:2-4) For Paul this death is critical first because, “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” and second, “if we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:7-8) Paul tells the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
With all this talk about death you would think we would feature it more in our preaching and teaching. It is perhaps the single most critical step in our transformation into godly stewards. This death is the abdication of the throne of our own kingdom. It is the death that Secular Humanism cannot understand, as it is a death to control over our lives and futures. It is the first act of submission, obedience, and discipleship. It is selling all we have to purchase the treasure hidden in the field. It is placing the value of our possessions in an eternal balance and finding them valuable only as they are useable for the work of the kingdom. It is a real death, a death to our quest for self-actualization, a death to the value system that measures our worth by what we own and control. It is a death to a sinful nature that values things over people and places our pursuit of happiness ahead of our pursuit of holiness.
We begin our journey of transformation by dying this death, or we do not start it at all. There is no shortcut and no second way. In place of this death, the world wants us to embrace a denial of our real sinfulness. If we can somehow soften our sin, we can eliminate the need for this very real death. Denial is the final lie of the enemy in the guise of a human-centeredness that tells us that we really are OK if we will make some minor modifications. Humanism tells us our future is in our hands and we have the stuff to make a better world. Christ tells us that we are in need of holistic transformation that starts with the confession of our sinfulness and the death to all that keeps us bound by that sin. Regardless of how many ideologies and movements try to tell us otherwise, we cannot set ourselves free. Freedom is a gracious gift of God and not a result of our own works. And as we accept and embrace that gift, our first response is this death to our old nature and all the lies that it regurgitates to us daily.
It is through death to sin and not a denial of our sinfulness that transformation begins. For that reason, the great stewardship question is not, “are you living the Christian life?” but “have you died?” As we answer yes, we start on the journey of holistic, life-changing transformation that daily remakes us into the godly stewards we were created to be. This blog series was an attempt to provide a roadmap to that transformation, and it is my prayer that through them you will be inspired and guided in the glorious calling of the steward in the kingdom of the triune God of grace.
This blog is excerpted from the upcoming book, The Calling to Christian Leadership: Foundations and Practices, Edited by John S. (Jack) Burns, John R. Shoup, and Donald C. Simmons, Jr. Submitted for publication in 2014.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: MacMillan, 1948), p. 73.