The goal of the Christian life, and thus the goal of biblical counseling, is to be increasingly conformed to the life of Christ (Ephesians 4:15; Romans 8:29). Paul expresses the desire of any true believer when he writes, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10). What a glorious experience it would be to feel within ourselves the resurrection power of God!
There’s just one problem. There is a prerequisite to resurrection. Death. Paul continues his sentence above by saying that the path to experiencing resurrection power is “being conformed to His death.”
In order to live like Christ, we must die like Christ.
Jesus’ Call to Die
While Jesus walked with His disciples, He repeatedly taught that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34). This command is well understood as leaving behind the old life and starting a new life.
But on one occasion, Jesus used one additional word that should provoke our thinking on the matter: “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In other words, the call to discipleship is not a one-time, fork-in-the-road turning point. It is a lifestyle—a daily putting to death of self.
Decades after Jesus He took up His own cross, Peter wrote, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The Apostle confirmed that the suffering and death of Christ has not only purchased your salvation, it has also paved the path for your life.
Jesus’ Model of Death
Meditating on the final hours of Jesus’ life, we can observe at least eight ways Christ’s death gives us a model so that we may follow in His footsteps.
Christ died by giving control of His life to the Father
As Jesus fell to the ground in the garden, overwhelmed with the anticipation of suffering, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). In that simple prayer He acknowledged that His human will did not want to go to the cross. But He ceded control of His life to the Father’s ultimate purposes. He did not live for Himself, but for the Father. We, too, must live for God’s purposes, and not our own (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:15).
Christ died by going against His natural desires
Jesus had no sin and His body did not have sinful tendencies or desires. But He did have natural impulses such as hunger, thirst, and self-preservation. Jesus’ prayer in the garden reflects the natural human impulse of self-preservation that anyone would have. Every physical fiber of His being wanted to do anything other than be beaten, crowned with thorns, scourged, and crucified. But Jesus chose to die to His natural desires and impulses. We, too, must die to our bodily impulses and commit our bodies to the Lord (Romans 6:12; 1 Corinthians 6:13, 20).
Christ died by giving up His rights and desire for justice
As the perfect God-man Jesus knew the law, and His nature is truth and justice. As the soldiers led him to Caiaphas’ home in the middle of the night, Jesus knew His rights were being violated. As one witness after another made up lies, twisted the truth, and falsely accused Him, Jesus knew that justice was being perverted. But Jesus died to His rights for proper jurisprudence in order to accomplish a higher purpose. We, too, must be willing to be defrauded for the sake of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:7; Matthew 5:38-42).
Christ died by giving up the right to be served in order to serve
The night that Jesus was betrayed, He had every right to be served. After three years of serving others to the point of exhaustion, no one would have questioned Jesus if He asked the disciples to focus on Him, care for Him, pray for Him, and have a quiet, relaxed evening in preparation for His suffering ahead. Not only did Jesus minister to His disciples by washing their feet, Jesus went on to spend the evening preparing them for His departure. His focus was not on Himself, but on them. We, too, must serve others even in suffering (John 13:12-15; Philippians 2:3-5).
Christ died to forgive others
The purpose of Christ’s death was to take the shadow of forgiveness and make it a reality. For centuries God had overlooked and covered the sins of His people. The wrath of God had been held back by the patience of God. But as Jesus hung on the cross, the Father released the full fury of His wrath and Jesus drank the full cup down to the dregs. Jesus absorbed death in Himself so that He could offer forgiveness freely. We, too, must forgive others, even to our own hurt (Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Colossians 3:13).
Christ died for the sake of the gospel
This seems like a rather obvious point. There would be no gospel apart from the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus died to ensure that the gospel would go forth. He forsook His own life for the sake of the gospel. We, too, must die to ourselves for the sake of proclaiming the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12).
Christ died enduring extreme injustice
The previous point about improper jurisprudence is true because Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. This point highlights the unique and extreme prejudice perpetrated on the God-man—the One who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus did not simply die because legal processes were violated. More than that, Jesus died because men hated Him from the core of their being. They executed Him with extreme prejudice. We, too, must die to ourselves even in the face of personal injustice (1 Peter 2:18-20; 3:13-17).
Christ died as an act of worship
With each step Jesus took, he suffered and died actively, intentionally, and purposefully, and He offered Himself as “an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). Unlike the sacrificial lambs who died wholly passive deaths, Jesus did not need to be led to the slaughter—He voluntarily went there. He offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14). We, too, must die to ourselves and offer our whole life, body and soul, as an act of worship to God (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5).
This list is not exhaustive, nor is an article adequate to consider the multitude of implications for your life and counseling. Dying is the most counterintuitive way to live, but for those who want to live for Christ, it is the only way to live.
Whether for your own life, or for someone you’re ministering to, perhaps the question that should be asked is, In what way should I conform to the death of Christ in this situation?