Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians


Death In Me--Life In You

2 Corinthians 4:12-15 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul is dealing very realistically with the reality of the apostolic message and ministry. He has made it plain what is our treasure: the person of the unveiled Christ in earthen vessels of clay.  At first sight it is a paradox. Such a valuable treasure housed in such an unlikely clay pot! But the reason is transparent: "that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).

But there is more to the treasure than its location in the believer.  There must be a breaking, a death to self in order that the Christ life may spring forth. Here is where the Cross becomes God's dynamic. In his Son we died to the control of the sin nature, the old man, the eternal obstacle to God's working in others.  With that in mind Paul twice repeats the process: "always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body."  With slight but significant changes he twice states the basic principle of life out of death  (4:10.11).

Rarely in Scripture is there an almost verbatim repetition. What is it meaning? There must be a binding cause / effect relationship.  At first sight one could relate the essence of these verses to mean the physical dangers and possible martyrdom that Paul has mentioned frequently: the Asian experience in which "we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8) or "Persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (4:9).                                             

However, that cannot be the whole meaning. Paul gives us the key to its spiritual meaning: "Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead" (1:9).Where are we given the sentence of death so as to not trust in ourselves? In one place only. He died for us (justification) and we died in him and so he could live in us (sanctification) always trusting only him in every circumstance of life. It was our once for all judicial death, the believer's new point of departure - my favorite verse: Our old man was crucified together with Him. . ." (Romans 6:6).

The Twofold Repetition with the Ensuing Result    2 Corinthians 4: 12

There can be no misunderstanding of the cause and now the effect.  The cause is always carrying about the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus might be manifested. The relationship is stated. Now comes the inevitable result: So then death is working in us, but life in you" (4:12).

Here is the very heart of Christian ministry, not in the energy of the flesh, in plans, programs and power point sermons but in the gracious work of the Spirit to bring death to the old life and its spiritual hypocrisy.  Seminary training, degrees of learning, the gifts of the Spirit and even years of experience do not in and of themselves produce the fragrance of the Christ life. More is accomplished by his breaking our pride and our taking our place in his death than anything we can do. It is after all, His doing alone that remains.


Thus through death to self the attraction of the Christ life draws all men to him.  There is more to that statement than what meets the eye. In the context of the coming of the Greeks to see Jesus, he responded to his own disciples: "Unless grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" He went on to say: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will; draw all peoples to Myself" Then John adds the inspired explanation: This he said, signifying by what  death He should die:: (John 12, 24,32, 33). His vicarious death justified the believing saint but our judicial identification with him in his death to sin releases the power of the Holy Spirit and draws all to Him.

Sufferings or circumstances, be what they may be, become doorways to life

Our present circumstances whether related to health, finances, ministry, family or deeply felt personal needs only reveal in whom we trust. Sufferings in any form come to unveil our deep rooted pride or fear. But it is in that precise circumstance we can let death work in us; in ways we cannot understand we will triumph and glorify Him.  Others will be drawn to his life.

This principle of "death in me and life in you" is available to every believer, not only to Christian workers. If I allow him to take me into his death and walk by faith I have no need to evaluate my work by my success, fame or failure or my standing before others. What a freedom is ours when we die and he lives his life in us!

The life of George Matheson (1842-1906), the famous preacher and theologian asked by Queen Victoria to speak on Job, illustrates this principle of life out of our death comes the Christ life. Matheson was engaged to be married, but his fiancé on learning of his inevitable blindness rejected him. By 24 he was blind. Nothing deterred him from his calling. He became a renowned scholar and famous preacher in Edinburgh, Scotland.

At the age of forty on the eve of his sister's wedding, re living the will of God for his life, he composed in 5 minutes the hymn that expresses this truth in peerless fashion. He wrote: ‘I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm . . . this came like a dayspring from heaven." 

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee;

And I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flickring torch to thee;

My heart restores its borrowed ray,

that in thy sunshine's blaze its day may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life's glory dead,

and from the ground there blossoms red life that shall endless be.

Let me ask: does that sound like disappointment?  No, in his blindness others saw the blaze of His glory.

The way of the Cross is open to us all; will we choose it in whatever suffering or disappointment he may allow for our good and his glory?

Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX 78539