From Death to Christ

By Francis Frangipane

Jesus warned His disciples about His impending crucifixion. "One of you will betray Me," He said. Yet, instead of turning to God in humble introspection, an argument actually arose among the disciples as to which one was the greatest. Jesus, who sees both the natural and spiritual realms, addressed Peter (who evidently "won" the argument): "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22: 31-32).

This text reveals a profound insight into why the Lord allows battles in our lives. Jesus knows that His disciples are going to fail Him. Yet, think of this: He does not pray that His followers not experience failure. Instead, prays, that their faith not fail. Jesus did not ask that God would keep Peter from battle, but that Peter would come through the battle into a greater spiritual place.

We squirm and squeal and cry for God to save us from certain battles, but if we were able to pierce through, reach heaven and actually hear Jesus, we would probably hear Him praying for us as He prayed for His disciples.

The good news-indeed, our very confidence-is that in everything Christ is praying for us. We will get through to the other side of battle. Yes, there are times when we sin, when we make serious mistakes, when there is pride or jealousy or ambition motivating us toward certain failure. I can guarantee there will be such times, but I also guarantee that the prayer of Jesus will not fail. We may fail, but the intercession of Christ will see us through.

The Old Nature Must Die
The disciples went through the greatest depression and discouragement of their entire lives. As far as they knew, Jesus had died and they did not defend Him. It was His hour of need, and they had slept. With Jesus looking straight at him, Peter denied three times that he ever even knew Christ. The heartache they experienced from their failure was devastating. It was unfathomable. Buried in the tomb with Jesus were their hopes, dreams and desires-and they, by denying Him, had played a part in His death.

Failure. It is amazing what God can do with human failures. Remember, Christ said, Satan has demanded permission to "sift you like wheat." Keep this in mind, Satan is not given permission to destroy, but to sift Jesus' disciples. Each of us has two natures: one, a hard outer husk, which is an old nature; the other an inner softness, which constitutes our true self. The outer husk is that part of us that, while we are flesh-center beings, is used to protect ourselves from the harshness of our world. Before we come to Christ, that "husk" protects the inner softness, which otherwise cannot endure the struggles of life in this hostile, devil-filled world. But when we come to Christ, the husk must be broken and die. We cannot rely on the way of the flesh to protect us; we must become Christ-centered. So, the Almighty allows the enemy to attack. Satan thinks he is destroying us. But God says, "All you can touch is his flesh." God is thinking, "I wanted that removed anyway."

So the battle is designed to sift (remove) your old nature. When something is "sifted," it is filtered: something comes through the filter, while something is removed. So Christ comes forth in our lives through the time of sifting, while our trust in our flesh nature is removed. Our new nature is actually Christ Himself manifested, functionally within us. You should know this about the battle: God has ordained that only Christ in you can survive! Only the nature of Jesus is capable of prospering in this conflict.

We face conflict and pray, "Oh Lord, don't let this hurt me. Protect me." The Lord, though, is saying, "Hurt you? My plan is to kill you." Of course, the Lord does not want to wound your true self; however, He must put to death the false and superficial outer self. God wants to kill the part of you that brags, "I won't deny the Lord." As long as we think of our flesh as being incapable of sin or morally superior to other Christians, God is going to give Satan permission to sift us.

The unbroken husk nature must be destroyed. The shell of our outer selves is closed both to God and to others. There must be brokenness. The battle, even our failure in battle, produces brokenness. Brokenness is openness to God. An unbroken life is an enemy to the Spirit of God.

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24).

If it dies, it bears fruit. We cannot bear true, Christlike fruit without dying. It is almost as though our sincere failure, mixed with God's grace, produces Christ's success in us. The husk surrounding the wheat kernel cannot live or grow or produce fruit. It can protect the wheat, but it cannot release it. The husk must die for Christ to live.

How do you know whether or not you are broken? The husk nature is hard; the spirit nature soft. Are you angry, critical of others, judgmental? Then you are living in the husk and it must die (and Satan is glad to oblige). However, if you are forgiving, praying for those who have hurt you, loving, then you are living the Christ life; the old nature is broken and you are bearing fruit.

I think new Christians suffer a big disservice when we tell them, "Give your life to the Lord and nothing bad will every happen to you." We may not say it that way, but we imply that behind door #1 is eternal life; everlasting happiness is behind door #2; and everything your heart desires is behind door #3. If you give your life to the Lord, you get all three doors. How could you go wrong? We don't tell them about the trap doors and the battles between where they are currently standing and the prizes they expect.

Psalms 119:71 says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Thy statutes."

It may be difficult, but we need to appreciate what God does through our times of failure or affliction. In all things, we should always recall that Christ is interceding for us. We will emerge on the other side, not only stronger but able also to strengthen others in their particular battles.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumph in Christ..." (2 Corinthians 2:14).

No matter what we go through, God will be there to "lead us in His triumph in Christ." What a wonderful promise. Yet, these were not the words of a man who knew no battle. Paul had reported an experience in the first chapter that he and his co-leaders had passed through, such a terrible affliction that they all "were burdened excessively, beyond . . . strength, so that [they] despaired even of life" (Vs 8). It is impossible to imagine what they must have faced. He continued, ""indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves."

Evidently the disciples were certain they were about to die a terrible death. Yet, Paul said that God allowed this to happened so that "we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." Every hardship or battle we go through, no matter how fierce, ultimately causes us to "not trust in ourselves, but in God." This is where God seeks to bring us.

The conflict will always beyond your strength. The enemy always pushes us beyond our personal, inbred, preset limits concerning how far we will go for God: "Here's how far I'm going to love; this is how many times I'll turn the other cheek." The test kills the limits of our humanity, until we are like Christ in everything. We are left with a choice: Become Christlike or gradually shrivel into superficial hypocrites: angry people who have stopped walking with God, who blame others for our bitterness.

Perfection, from God's perspective, is measured in the degree we genuinely trust in Christ. In facing death, Paul learned in a more perfect way to trust "God who raises the dead." He concluded his praise of the Lord by saying that He "delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us" (2 Cor 1:10). God delivered us then and He will deliver us again. Jesus prayed Paul through. As a result, Paul was able to strengthen and comfort vast multitudes with the very comfort he received from the Lord.

Jesus must have been praying for Paul as He prayed for Peter and the other apostles, not to escape the battle, but to escape the limits of the flesh and find perfect dependency upon God. And, my friend, Jesus is praying for you, that in your conflict your faith not fail. When your strength returns, you will strengthen others.