To live is to die

Joseph Koh // October 9, 2018, 1:45 pm


It’s been a whirlwind month since switching jobs. I’ve worked past midnight on consecutive days, with to-do’s bleeding perniciously into the weekends.

In the throes of this madness, I finally caught a mid-week breather on a precious Wednesday evening, heading to the gym and sauna.

Ironically, in the silence of the sauna, I am often reminded of my unease. As I shut my eyes, everything else within me comes alive, not unlike a scene from Night at the Museum. To make matters worse, when I pulled open the door to the tiniest sauna I’d ever seen in my life, it was already occupied.

Gawkily, I took my place beside him and sealed my eyes, as if to pretend that I was alone within the tight space. In the most peculiar way, the man’s presence felt like God was seated right beside me, as the slightest sound I made would be noticed. Every move and every thought was inescapable from His sight.

If you were to die today, would you regret how you’re living your life?

As the quietness lodged into the caverns of my heart, God — to my surprise — spoke to me, “If you were to die today, would you regret how you’re living your life?”

All I wanted was to relax, not contemplate the chaos within. As with most of His questions, it was a rhetorical one: beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew that there were matters in my life that needed immediate attention. There were specific things in my life that needed to die.

For if they were left unattended, my soul would gradually decay — spiralling downwards into death.


Romans 7:18 is a sobering reminder of the disease in us that needs to daily die: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Paul calls it an indwelling sin, one that persists in us.

Digging deeper into the terroir of my heart, numerous characteristic sins had been produced: self-dependence, passivity, pride, and a desire to prove my worth. As a whole, my life in that past month had been lived on auto-pilot mode. I wasn’t cognisant or convicted about the magnitude of my sins.

It may not seem intuitive, but when we die to ourselves, we are in reality choosing life.

For having recently pressed the restart button on my career, I was focused on cultivating it and indulging my flesh, rather than rooting myself in a relationship with God.

Not only had I been proffering mere scraps of my life to Him, I had shoved a couple of valuable pursuits in my life to the sidelines, such as volunteering. I had been thinking about pouring more of my weekends into helping the disadvantaged in society, but nothing was being done. Instead, I had spent my weekends gratifying my flesh with worldly pursuits.

Resisting the demands of our carnality is a kind of dying (1 Peter 2:24). Colossians 3:5 unwaveringly calls us to die to this corrupted and deceitful nature — “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” It may not seem intuitive, but when we die to ourselves, we are in reality choosing life.


I’ve come to learn that the starting point of our dying to self, must begin with understanding what the Gospel means for our lives. The Gospel often lives at the back of my head instead of being lived out in my behaviour.

I have a proclivity to be quite hard on myself, whereafter guilt, shame and self-pity would typically follow. Despite of my failures, the Word became flesh (John 1:14) to pay the penalty of my sin. The Gospel means that God pardons my sins when I ask for forgiveness and help to follow after Him wholeheartedly.

Here, Romans 5:20 is of continual assurance to me: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

If we live apart from the leading of the Spirit, sin will easily find reign in our being (Romans 6:12).

God has also given us the Holy Spirit, enabling us to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Only by the Spirit are we able to rise against the compulsions of our sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).

I had lost the determination to partner the Holy Spirit in living a life of power and authority. In many ways, I had even forgotten that the Spirit is meant to help me walk in holiness and obedience to God’s commandments. Romans 8:13 elucidates the crucial role of the Spirit, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

If we live apart from the leading of the Spirit, sin will easily find reign in our being (Romans 6:12). The Spirit needs space to speak and steer us; a life spent living out the Gospel is one that fulfils the destiny that God has for us.

When life starts to feel like I’m onboard a hurtling train and all I want to do is head in the opposite direction, I’ve learnt to consistently remind myself where I am headed. God prompted me to take a hard look at my life and excavate the very things that needed to die, because I had bought a train ticket that wasn’t going to take me to a destination that counted for something.

I didn’t even know where I was going. But God did, and He always will.

This article was first published on and is republished with permission.