The eighth and last characteristic of the radical disciple which I have chosen is death. Let me explain. Christianity offers life—eternal life, life to the full. But it makes it plain that the road to life is death. It underlines this in at least six areas, as I will go on to show in this chapter. Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life.
Both life and death have always fascinated human beings. There can be no doubt that we are alive and that we will die. Life and death are two incontrovertible facts with which we have to come to terms. But they are also mysteries and hard to define.
Let me give you an example from a sphere of experience of interest to me, namely ornithology.
Roger Tory Peterson, who died in 1997, was the doyen of twentieth-century American birdwatchers and bird artists. He used to tell how he got started. On a walk in the country at the age of eleven he spotted a Flicker (a species of Woodpecker). It appeared to be just a bundle of brown feathers, clinging to the trunk of an oak tree.
Gingerly I touched it on the back. Instantly this inert thing jerked its head around, looked at me with startled eyes, then exploded in a flash of golden wings, and fled into the wood. It was like a resurrection—what had appeared to be dead was very much alive. Ever since, birds have seemed to me the most vivid expression of life … Birds are an affirmation of life.
Elsewhere Peterson described this as ‘the crucial moment of my life’. ‘I was overwhelmed,’ he continued, ‘by the contrast between something that was suddenly so vital and something I had taken for dead.’
My concern in this chapter, however, is not with life and death in nature, but rather with death and life in Christ. The radical biblical perspective is to see death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life.
For what Scripture does is to set before us the desirable glories of life, and then insist that the indispensable condition of experiencing them is death. In short, the Bible promises life through death, and it promises life on no other terms. So the apostle Paul describes Christian people as ‘those who have been brought from death to life’ (Romans 6:13). This perspective is so different from the assumptions of the secular mind, so novel, so revolutionary in its implications, that we need to see it illustrated in the six different situations in which according to the New Testament it operates.
John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010), 19–21.
I have just completed a series of lessons based on John Stott’s book, The Radical Disciple. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series. In addition, you get access to lessons like The Radical Disciple
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