With these words the Bible sets forth the power of Christ working within the believer. Again, with these words the Bible sets forth the controlling victory that is the birth right of every believer. Furthermore, the abiding assurance with which Paul speaks can only be found in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you, who but a Christian can say, “to die is gain?”
As you know, most of mankind lives with a gnawing fear of death in their spirit. Death for the average person is filled with uncertainty. Even those who mask their fear with false spirituality cannot say to die is gain. Death remains a hindrance to their aspirations all of which are centered in this world. Not so for those who have victory over the fear of death through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Please take careful note before Paul speaks of dying, he talks about living. He says, “For to me to live is Christ.” Paul’s victory over the fear of death and his anticipation of departing this life to be with Christ rested in his personal relationship to the Lord Jesus. Many years earlier Paul surrendered his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. His faith in the Lord Jesus was the source of his victory over the fear of death.
However, at one time in his life Paul only possessed a generic knowledge of God. While he appropriately respected God and sought to do what was right, he nonetheless lived in bondage to fear (Rom. 8:15). He lacked a personal relationship to God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. At the root of his spiritual struggles lay the same problem all men wrestle with.
What is that problem? Hear me well: ultimately every man comes face to face with his guilt before God. It is that guilt and the corresponding alienation from God which produces the fear of death. Interestingly, the current pandemic we face is bringing the fear of death to the surface for many individuals. The thought of an unseen enemy invading the body and thrusting one into the ICU where life hangs by a thread on the effectiveness of a ventilator is producing waves of fear in the hearts of many.
But listen to Paul after he trusted Christ as his Savior. He says, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15-17a).
Upon surrendering his life to Christ and trusting the Lord Jesus for his salvation, Paul traded uncertainty for a settled future. He traded fear of death for the glorious assurance to depart this life to be with Christ is far better than anything this temporal world can offer.
The important thing to see in this passage is the absence of fear in the face of death. Paul knew he possessed eternal life. Paul knew the Lord Jesus would not fail him.
Paul possessed the freedom that is only found in a personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, whether it be by life, or by death, Paul was ready to magnify Christ in his body. The settled conviction "to die is gain" possessed his heart.
Likewise, all believers can say the same. Our fear of death is gone. Indeed, to die is gain!