What the Scripture means about somebody dying in their sins is that it describes that person who up until the very last moment of their lives, until they pass over the line, they refuse, they absolutely refuse to submit to their Creator. When a public figure or a celebrity dies, often one of the first questions we ask is, how did they die?
But that's not the question we should be asking. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. When the Bible speaks of death, it's less concerned with the manner of death and more concerned with whether or not the individual died in sin or died in faith. When you die, which will be true for you?
Here's R.C. Sproul with a message titled, Dying in Faith. It's a cliché in our culture and in our language that there are two things that we cannot avoid and they are death and taxes. But I think all of us know certain people who have been clever enough or astute enough or crooked enough to avoid or evade taxes, but none of us has been able to find a method yet to evade death. That's one thing that we understand as adults that we are going to die if the Lord tarries. And so the question is not if we shall die, and at this point I'm not even going to address the question why we will die.
We've already looked at that a little bit. But the two questions I think that haunt all of us are these two, the questions when and how. But I notice when I read the Scriptures that when the Scriptures talk about the how question of death, it's not so much concerned about whether or not I will die through a heart attack or by an accident or through a gunshot wound or by cancer or some other disease, but rather what the Scriptures are most interested in in terms of the how question of our death is what will the state of our souls be when we pass from this planet. I remember the last words that my mother ever spoke in this world. It's one of those ironic things that my mother happened to die the day that my son was born, early in the morning of that day our son was born, and I picked my mother up from her job, and we went to the hospital, and I showed her this newborn grandson of hers, and she was thrilled beyond words, and I brought her back to her apartment, and she said she wanted to retire early that night. She was somewhat tired, and so just before she went into her bedroom to go to sleep, she looked at me and she smiled, and she said, you know what, and I said what, she said, this is the happiest day of my life, and she went into her bedroom and went to sleep and died in her sleep. I mean, would you like to die like that?
I would certainly like to die. I know of a theological professor at Princeton University who had a distinguished career for many, many years, and the story is that he was out for his afternoon constitutional. He was walking down the street in Princeton and just quietly slumped over and left this planet. It was over just like that, and I thought, I wonder if it goes with the profession. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this is the way God has ordained that theologians would die? Because that's how I would like to die. But my mother died peaceably, without suffering, without struggling, saying, this is the happiest day of my life. Those were her last words.
But when the Scriptures talk again, as I said, about the how of death, they're concerned about what our relationship is to God at the moment we breathed our last. I would tell a little story here about two men who have the same last name. Their last name is Graham. A few months ago I received a letter from my professor of theology that I had in seminary, and he was reporting in that letter about a mutual friend that we had whose name was Tom Graham. Tom was a clergyman in the northern part of the United States, and he had been sick for the last couple of years with cancer. And I got this note from my professor, and he said, I just wanted to write to let you know that Tom Graham passed away this week.
And then he wrote one more sentence in this note. He said that Tom died in faith. See, my theological professor wasn't concerned about whether or not Tom was going to die through heart failure, through suffocation, through whatever medical cause of death there might be. The how question that my professor was concerned about was, would this man die in faith? And to say this was to echo a statement that is made again throughout the Scriptures about heroic persons whose lives are set forth before us in the pages of the Bible when the Scriptures say of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of David, these all died in faith.
That is, they were people, men and women, who trusted God not for a moment or not when it was convenient but for the long haul up to the very point of their deaths. Now the other man named Graham I'm sure you've all heard of. His name is Billy Graham. And this past summer I had to speak in North Carolina, and I had an opportunity that I never thought would happen to me to have dinner with Billy Graham. And I was impressed, first of all, by how big he is. Have you ever seen Billy Graham in person? I mean, wow, he was just a huge fellow there, and I'm not all that big. And we were sitting at the dinner table and talking over certain things, and I said, you know, Dr. Graham, there's something I'll always remember about your ministry, something that stuck in my mind that I'd like to ask you about. And he said, what's that?
I said, when I was in college, as a freshman in college, there were a group of us fellows that were gathered in the rec room of our dormitory, and we'd been playing ping pong pool and whatever else college freshmen play. And the TV was on over in the corner, and the big deal of that night that the press was making something of a sensation over was that Billy Graham was going to appear on national television on the Jack Parr show. Now imagine it, Jack Parr and Billy Graham. I mean, that just didn't seem to fit together very well, and I thought, goodness sakes, Jack Parr is such a master of repartee and witticism and jocularity.
He's never serious for a second. How in the world is Billy Graham going to relate to an interview by Jack Parr? Well, we watched it, and as soon as Billy came out and was introduced, Jack Parr started messing around and playing all kinds of games and joking and keeping Billy Graham as far as arm's length as he could about anything serious about religion. And right in the middle of all the jokes, Billy just stopped and looked him straight in the eye and said, Jack, have you settled things with God?
You know, he started right in on them. You know, I thought he was going to say, look, Jack, if you came on a bus, it'll wait, you know, and you're going to sing a couple more choruses just as I am without one play. But I was – I just couldn't believe that Billy Graham would have the presence of mind on national television in a very polite and yet straightforward way he sort of socked it to Jack Parr. And so on this occasion last summer when I had this opportunity to have dinner with Dr. Graham, I said, you know, that really left an impression on me, and I wondered whatever happened to Jack Parr. His star had a meteoric rise, and then he sort of faded from the scene. Johnny Carson came and took his place. I said, whatever happened to Jack Parr?
Did you maintain a relationship with him? And I'll tell you why. It stuck in my mind. Because when the Scriptures talk about death, they really are only concerned about two ways of dying. The Scripture says there are those who die in faith, and it also refers to those who die in their sins. Those are some of the most tragic words that you'll read in the pages of Holy Writ, to say that somebody died in their sin. I mean, we all are sinners, and there's a certain sense in which we all die in our sins. But the distinction here that the Scripture is making is at the time of our death have we or have we not ever settled things with God.
What the Scripture means about somebody dying in their sins is that it describes that person who up until the very last moment of their lives, until they pass over the line, they refuse, they absolutely refuse to submit to their Creator. I had an uncle, I mean, I had an uncle who was one of the roughest, toughest guys in all the world. He was a laborer, and we used to call him Meat Muscles. He had muscles, and he looked like a page out of Streetcar Named Desire when he would come into our house with the old-fashioned sweatshirt and the muscles bulging his fingernails all black and grimy. And when I decided to go into the ministry, my uncle just about had apoplexy. I might have told him I had a sex change operation. He said that for him, anybody that went into the ministry had to be a bona fide sissy and had just completely abandoned all hopes of manhood. And he said, oh, you're going to wear your collar around backwards and wear a little dress and all. And he just, he rode me unmercifully.
He contracted a fatal disease. And in the last days of his life, in the last weeks of his life when I would go to see him, he would still laugh and mock the things of God and my profession. But I knew he loved me.
I mean, that was, that always came through, all of the fooling around and so on. And I remember the day we, I was in his bedroom, and things were rough for him. And I said to him, are you ready to meet God? And he looked at me, and all the joking stopped, and he said, no. And the tears came, and he said, but I want to be.
Tell me about it. And I had one of those rare and unspeakably precious experiences with a dying man, and he got things settled. And I know that my uncle died in faith. I told that to Billy Graham, and I said, what about Jack Parr? And he said, R.C., I don't know where Jack Parr is right now with his faith, but we're still in touch, and we stay in touch. And he said, and it's my prayer that when Jack Parr's time comes that he will die in faith. Well, I've already told you my mother's last words.
This is the happiest day of my life. It's not the same way with my father's last words. When I was 14 years old, my father was stricken with a stroke that was severe, and that stroke left him paralyzed in half of his body. His one side was virtually useless. He couldn't use his arm. He couldn't use his leg and his mouth drooped. His speech was impaired, and he lost a vision in one eye. And with that devastating stroke, it was the end of his career, it was the end of his income, and the doctors told him and told my mother at that time that there was no cure for the problem that he had and that he would slowly die. Well, it took him three years to die, and he had three more strokes in the course of that time, and he spent the last three years of his life confined to a chair in the den of our home. There's an overstuffed chair, and he had weights there on his legs, and he had this great big magnifying glass that he used for the one good eye he had, and all he did in those last three years was to sit there and read the Bible, which was somewhat surprising to me because he wasn't a particularly religious fellow, and I had no understanding of the Christian faith at that time.
I was as pagan as a young boy could be, and in those last three years, my father began to think about the ultimate meaning of life, and he began to read the book, and he used that magnifying glass. When a man is paralyzed and loses his position of earning a livelihood and taking care of his family, that's extremely difficult emotionally for a man, and as a matter of dignity to my father, he wanted to be able to sit at the dining room table at the head of the table every night at dinner time. Now, to get him from the den up through the living room into the dining room was a Herculean task. When time came for dinner, I went into the den, and I got myself in front of his chair, I sort of hunkered down, and I took his two arms and put them around my neck and squeezed them together at the wrists and then sort of got up in a sort of a semi-fireman's carry, got him on my back and dragged him, as it were, out to the dining room table, and so then sat him down in that chair at the head of the table, and he sat there with this useless one side and sat with the family every single night in his seat at the head of the house for three years. Well, at the end of this three-year period, after dinner, the dishes were cleared, and I went back to the end of the table, and I got him around my neck again and started back towards the den. Instead of just passing through the living room, he asked me to stop.
He said he wanted to sit down on the couch in the living room, and so I sat him down on the couch. I said, What's the matter? He said, I have something to say. He said, Son, I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Friends, I had no idea where those words came from.
I had no idea what their biblical and theological meaning was about. But as uninitiated in religion as I was at that point in my life – now I'm 17 when this is going on, and he's saying those words to me – I understood exactly what my dad was saying. My dad was saying to me, It's over. I'm going to die now. And as a matter of fact, those words that he uttered that night were the last words he ever spoke in this world, because within an hour he had his fourth stroke, went into a coma, and the next day he died.
It's almost like he made a decision. You know, today I've had all I'm going to take. I'm going home now, and I'm telling you goodbye, son, and I want you to learn how to die. I don't know if he taught me how to live, but I sure hope he taught me how to die. It wasn't for a couple of years after that that I became a Christian, and in my virgin reading of the New Testament – it's a long way through the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and Romans, and 1 and 2 Corinthians, and all those Pauline epistles and everything – that I came to the second letter of Paul to his beloved disciple Timothy, and we get to the end where Paul is in prison and he's expecting now to be executed, and we know that he was executed by Nero in 65 AD.
And at the end of this correspondence that he has to his young disciple, he writes these words to Timothy, for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith. And I saw those words. I said, those were the words. Those were the last words. Now I understand what my dad was trying to tell me on his deathbed. And then I understood, ladies and gentlemen, that my father died in faith.
That's how he died. But what does that mean? What does it mean to die in faith? Faith is a word that has become so cheap in our culture.
It's almost become a word that conjures up magic and superstition. But the simplest meaning of the word faith in New Testament language is the word trust, which brings us full circle, doesn't it? It's one thing to believe in God. It's another thing to believe God. It's one thing to trust that there is a God.
It's another thing to trust God for whatever is and for whatever happens and what happens to me. And I notice a way that the apostle brings all these words together. He says, I fought the good fight. Usually Christians think about fighting as something evil. Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers. We're called to be people who are docile, who are meek, who are humble, not who are belligerent and bellicose, people who are contentious and ready to fight at the drop of a hat. But there are certain struggles to which we are called, and when we get a serious illness, God is honored when we fight it tooth and nail, when we fight it as hard as we possibly can fight it. We give it every shot we can.
Again, here at MD Anderson, they go and ask these physicians, they'll tell you, they say they can almost predict who's going to recover and who isn't. There are those who when they get to some of these diseases, they just say, I'm going to fight this thing every inch of the way. And their spirit becomes contagious and inspirational to other people because the fight that they're engaged in is a good fight. Then immediately the apostle changes from the imagery and the language of the contest of fighting to that of a race. And this is something else I notice about the Christian faith, that anybody can be a Christian for five minutes or for five hours or for five days or for five years. But again, the recurring theme in the Scripture is he who endures to the end is the one who experiences redemption. And the race of which the apostles speak is not a hundred-yard dash, it's a marathon.
It's the kind of race that requires that extra courage to keep going when you don't feel like you have any strength. You know, the thing that Judy Greasy said to me in Miami was she said, R.C., I can't take any more. And I thought about when I joined Weight Watchers that they have this little hokey little thing that they do when you join this organization, at least in Florida, they give you a soda straw. They hand that out to you the first night and say, what's that?
You take that home and you put it on your refrigerator, and I say, well, what is that? They say, that's the straw that breaks the camel's back. That every time you look at that straw, you ask yourself what it was that made you come in here and decide to go on this diet. The last straw is what it was. And I thought of the image of the camel, that beast of burden that's loaded down with all of this straw that they have to carry, and there's a certain point at which the camel just can't take one more piece of straw, one more piece of straw, and that camel collapses. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know where that last piece is for me, and I don't know where it is for you. And even Judy Greasy didn't know. She said, I can't take any more, and God gave her thirty more days to take. And she took it.
She finished the course, and she kept the faith. That's how I want to die. I want to die trusting God. I want to die without abandoning hope in Him. The New Testament tells us that the just shall live by faith, but it also tells us that the just shall die in faith.
Well when R.C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord in 2017, he did die in faith. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. As we discuss the difficult topic of suffering this week, it was Dr. Sproul's hope that this series would not only help you live well through life's difficulties and challenges, but that you'd also be prepared for eternity. And this series, along with the companion book by Dr. Sproul, can be yours for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at renewingyourmind.org, we'll give you digital access to all six messages in this series, the digital study guide, and we'll also send you that hardcover book, Surprised by Suffering, The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life. So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343. When suffering comes our way and we face death, one of the most common questions we ask is, is there life after death? That's what Dr. Sproul will answer tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
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