“Almost dying changes nothing. Dying changes everything.” Dr. Gregory House offered this insight near the end of season five’s premier episode. His employee, Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley, lamented that their patient, after standing at the precipice of death, decided not to change, but to return to her former life, a life that nearly placed her in the grave. Dr. House reminded Thirteen that it is not near death, but death itself that brings about change, and ironically Scripture agrees with House.
Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17, all passages NASB). To the Galatian believers, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). To the Roman church, Paul writes,
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:5-11).
Jesus taught his disciples that “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 10:39). He also reminded them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). The Apostle John explains this concept this way: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. . . . Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 John 2:16-17, 28).
It is an all-too-common practice for a person to profess Christianity, but never be changed by the Holy Spirit. Instead of letting God’s grace work its transforming power in their lives—setting them free from sin, aligning their values and perspectives to be more like his, and letting that change impact those around them—they willingly and openly live like they always did, wallowing in sin, sharing the fleshly values of the world, and remaining focused on themselves and what they have in the here and now. In other words, their old sinful selves never die.
Many might confess their sin and their need for God’s grace. They may attend church regularly and sing with gusto all the latest praise choruses. When the offering plate comes by, they might drop in a large check. However, they’ve never surrendered to God. As such, they may have almost died, but they never really died, and so they never really changed.
All the passages quoted above teach that if we are to be true disciples, our old self must die. We cannot continue walking down the dark, dank, and destructive path of the world. Rather, we must surrender to Christ, and strive to let his love, grace, and life work in and through us. We cannot remain believers who “almost died,” but ones who died to sin and who now live for Christ. Why? Because as Dr. House said, “Almost dying changes nothing. Dying changes everything.”