When my American friend John Gillespie was the pastor of Grace Community Church in the English village of Morval, Cornwall, he wrote a weekly pastoral letter to his congregation. In 2010, fifty-two of these were published (under the arresting title Beware of Living Too Long!). So, when Tabletalk invited me to write this article, one of them sprang to mind. In a letter headed “How Well Will You Die?” John wrote, “Study to die well and you will live well.” Here are four ways in which you can do so.

Remember gratefully (and often) when you first came to living faith in Christ. Not every conversion matches the Apostle Paul’s Damascus road drama, but for every believer there was a time when the “old . . . passed away” and things became new (2 Cor. 5:17), a time when they truly made the Christian faith their own. In my own case, there was a day in 1954 when God rescued me from years of religious performance and replaced them with a living experience—and I can never forget it!

In one of his best-known hymns, the occasionally melancholy English poet William Cowper asked: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His Word?” Whenever you seem to be in a slump, wrap your mind around that “blessedness,” that “soul-refreshing view”! Remember again the joy you sensed when your experience matched that of Christian in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress—“his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.” Or, if you cannot remember a time when you didn’t believe in Jesus, recall when you first understood the depth of God’s forgiving grace.

Realize that both in His life and in His death, the Lord Jesus Christ took your place. God’s law makes a double demand on us. First, as His creatures, we are called to obey it in every part. Second, as we have never done so, we must pay its penalty in full. In His perfect life, Jesus met all the law’s demands and was able to say, “I do as the Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). In His death He paid in full the lawbreaker’s penalty: “He bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Now grasp what this means for you as a believer. He became as accountable for your sins as if He had committed them even though He Himself never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21). He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). As J.I. Packer put it, “Jesus Christ has shielded us from the nightmare prospect of retributive justice by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to his Father’s will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place.”

No words more completely capture the believer’s position in God’s eyes than the Bible’s assurance that he or she is “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To put this stunning certainty as simply as possible, it means this: all the righteousness of Jesus shining through His life of perfect obedience to God’s law is imputed to you (counted as yours), and every last iota of your sin is imputed to Him (counted as His), and its penalty paid in full in His death. Grasping this will surely transform your view of death and all that follows.

Reflect that not even your darkest days can dim the light of God’s enabling, sustaining, and unchanging grace. Our lives are littered with problems, pressures, and pains. They are also scarred with sin that, to our frustration and disgust, “clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1). We can sometimes feel that we have taken two steps backward for every one step forward. There can even be times when we wonder whether our assurance of salvation is nothing more than wishful thinking. Yet however low believers sink, they can rely on the precious promise, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). To adapt John Newton’s famous testimony, grace has brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home!

Not even your darkest days can dim the light of God’s enabling, sustaining, and unchanging grace.

Rejoice that as John Bunyan memorably put it, “Death is but a portal out of a prison into a palace.” And what a palace! Details of the celestial city certainly present a palatial picture, with each of its gates “made of a single pearl,” its street of “pure gold, transparent as glass” (Rev. 21:21), and “its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). However, these material features are interpreted, they contribute to the Old Testament description of heaven as being “the perfection of beauty” (Ps. 50:2). Two glorious expressions of this should encourage believers to die well.

The first is that “God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We are sadly familiar with all of these in this life, especially as we approach “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), but they will be unknown in the life to come. As Packer stated: “One day we shall see that nothing—literally nothing—which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing—literally nothing—that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we want than that?”

The second is showcased in the five most amazing words in Scripture (no disagreement accepted!). Writing of our glorified Savior, the Apostle assures us that “We shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Let each word soak into your psyche!

“We shall be like him.” Born “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3), and, even at our best, continuing to “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), we cannot imagine or understand that in the life to come we will be like our glorified Savior—yet it is true!

“We shall be like him.” We would be amazed if John had said that being like our Savior was a possibility for something like exceptionally godly living or outstanding Christian service. But he goes infinitely farther and confirms Scripture’s testimony that all believers, without exception, are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29).

“We shall be like him.” In the life to come, Jesus will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21), which means that we will no longer be subject to wear and tear, injury, illness, disease, or any kind of deterioration. Instead, we will be imperishably perfect.

“We shall be like him.” Our physical transformation will be shared with breathtaking spiritual transformation. The Apostle John says of our glorified Savior that He is “pure” (1 John 3:3), that in Him “there is no sin” (1 John 3:5), and that He is “righteous” (1 John 3:7)—and we shall be like Him! No words can expound the unimaginable reality that we shall be as pure, sinless, and righteous then as He is now. As “fellow heirs with Christ” we will be “glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). We will not be His equal, but neither will we feel out of place in His presence!

One result of his passionate mission to “spread scriptural holiness over the land” enabled John Wesley to claim, “Our people die well.”

I want to do the same; don’t you?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 10, 2020.

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