Live Like You Have Died
Galatians 6:14-18 (ESV) But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
The country music singer Tim McGraw had a chart-topping song in 2004 called, “Live like You Were Dying”. The song is about a man who receives a diagnosis of a life-ending illness and his response to it. In the song, the man’s life-threatening illness leads to profound moral changes in him.
Some elements of the man’s change are undoubtedly good and worthy of imitation: he begins speaking more kindly to others; loving more generously; being a better husband; reading the Bible; forgiving where previously he had withheld forgiveness. Other elements are rather trivial and even risky, perhaps even tempting God: skydiving, mountain climbing, bull riding. This has the air of “well I’m going to die soon anyway, so I might as well live dangerously.” In contrast with the better elements, this leaves the listener with a rather worldy message of carpe diem, “YOLO,” do what makes you happy.
But my main beef with the song is in its chorus: “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” This “were” is the helping verb you employ when you want to use the subjunctive mood, which communicates a hypothetical situation, such as, “If I were a rich man,” but clearly I’m not. So when the song says “live like you were dying,” this means, “I’m going to make it a point today to live as if I just received six months to live, but I can be confident that I will have that time, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
But what’s the reality? None of us is promised tomorrow, much less our next heartbeat. Consider the rich fool in Jesus’ parable, who had big plans for the future, yet God comes to him and says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:13-21). Or as St. James says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–15). Which is why God teaches us to pray, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
In other words, God tells you to live like you are dying. It’s just a matter of time, so you’d better be ready at all times, since you have to answer for your way of life as soon as the Lord calls you. This is a terrifying thought, that we will have to answer for our every sinful thought, word, and deed.
But the Good News is that Jesus Christ has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Why has He done this? That you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
But how do you know for certain that you belong to Christ Jesus and that His life, death, and resurrection has benefitted you? How has He claimed you as His own? By Holy Baptism! St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3). That means we have already died with Jesus! In Galatians 2, St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” That means Christ’s death for sin is your death for sin!
So the Christian motto really should be, “Live like you have died.” Yes, the baptismal reality for you is that you have died with Christ and you live under grace, not under law and condemnation. In Colossians 3:1-4, St. Paul says to the baptized: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
God, our Father in heaven, look with mercy on us, Your needy children on earth, and grant us grace that Your holy name be hallowed by us and all the world through the pure and true teaching of Your Word and the fervent love shown forth in our lives. Graciously turn from us all false doctrine and evil living whereby Your precious name is blasphemed and profaned. Strengthen us by Your Spirit according to Your will, both in life and in death, in the midst of both good and evil things, that our own wills may be crucified daily and sacrificed to Your good and gracious will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.