When my grandpa (“Papa”) McClain died in September of 2012, my father wrote his eulogy. To this day, I have a copy of that eulogy saved on my computer, and it is something I have read many times since his death. I have yet to grasp the full implications it has for my own life. Death can be a harsh and strange teacher.
Here is a line from the concluding sentences of the eulogy:
“…while there are certain aspects of dad’s life that, as a child of my time, I may never wholly understand, there is so much here for which to be thankful, and I am honored to bear his name.”
My dad was honored to bear my grandfather’s name. There’s something powerful about the passing on of a name, a heritage. As my father’s son, it is a name I bear as well and an honor which I am bound to cherish and respect.
In the Christian life, we are given a new name when we surrender our lives to Christ: Christian, or “Little-Christ.” This is a name we are to honor with our whole lives. Yet, the bearing of this name does not come without a certain cost and sacrifice. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians hints at this sort of cost and sacrifice in the context of death.
In a fallen world, death is an everyday reality. One does not have to look far to see its devastating effects—cancer, murder, war, loss of loved ones. Death was never supposed to be a part of this world. Death does not align with the way things are supposed to be. So why in the world does Paul tell us to “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…”? Isn’t dying antithetical to life?
Paul understood the gospel. He preached and taught it fearlessly, even to the point of his own death. Because Paul understood the gospel, he understood that God’s grace and mercy conquered sin and death through the death and resurrection of Christ. For newness of life to happen, God had to die. In this same vein, Christ calls us, as ones who bear His name, to die as well. And through this death, new life is found.
Because of God’s love, he calls us to die to self. In these few verses of Colossians, Paul grapples with the tension of the old self (3:9) and the new self (3:10). To live into the resurrection more fully requires the death of old-self realities—sexual immorality, impurity, greed, evil desires. Resurrection life is never a celebration of the old self. God desires us to be made new, and through death of the old self, we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10).
The bearing of Christ’s name in fullness of resurrection life is always shaped by the death ultimately signified by the cross. God’s freedom is found in grace-filled restraint—in His throwing off our burdens at mount Zion on the road to the Celestial City.
Martin Heidegger, a 20th century German philosopher, was also someone attuned to learning from death. In his seminal work, Being and Time (1927), Heidegger talks of the importance of human beings understanding their lives in relation to their imminent death. This morbid principle has been titled “being-unto-death”, and Heidegger believed that people would infuse the moments of their lives with more meaning if they understood the fickle nature of their short time on earth.
I understood my life as “being-unto-death” when one of my high school classmates died from a tragic accident this last summer. He was 21. He went too soon. In this horrific and saddening instance, his death helped put my life into perspective. It forced me to deal with my own finitude and demanded that I identify the things which truly matter in life. Death can be a harsh and strange teacher.
Even though Heidegger’s “being-unto-death” can be a helpful way to put things into perspective, it does not necessarily get at the full measure of what death means in relation to life. In the Christian life, dying to the old self brings about newness of life. The type of death Paul is getting at could be referred to as “being-into-death” as it is not focused on the death “out there” at the end of life, but something “in here” which forces our hearts to dismantle sinful desires and wants. God is merciful enough to desire that we die to sin. It is by His grace in Christ that we have been resurrected to new life in Him.
May we, as brothers and sisters of Christ, the bearers of the Christ’s name, continue “being-into-death” that new life may be found as He is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). May we be honored to bear His name.