How should we live in response to our own mortality?

The Scriptures consistently proclaim the eternality of God and the temporality of man. Whether one is in Jesus Christ or apart from Him, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Whether one submits to the Son of God or continues in his sins, each passing day brings him closer to facing the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).

The believer, however, can take heart! He who has been predestined, called, and justified has the unshakable and irrevocable hope of being glorified (Romans 8:30)—because it is God who guarantees and preserves His people unto salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Timothy 2:13, Jude 24). The day upon which the believer sees Jesus is not a day of condemnation, but a day of unspeakable joy.

Nevertheless, we are not exempt from grappling with our own mortality. Speak to the elderly, and they will testify that earthly life lasts for only a moment. Look upon a body at a funeral, and know that your fate will be the same. Take a walk in a graveyard, and remind yourself that your body will likewise rot in the ground. Days go by as a blur, and decades pass in a blink of the eye.

This is the theme of Psalm 90—the only psalm written by Moses. The upright man who was used mightily to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt pours his heart out to the Lord concerning how believers—Old Covenant and New Covenant alike—should live during their spiritual pilgrimage.

Moses begins by praising the Lord for His eternality: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1-2). The creation, in all of its magnitude and glory, was formed in a matter of days by the Author of life. Meanwhile, God remains the same. He is self-sufficient and has no need of creation; the Father, Son, and Spirit are infinitely content with their mutual love and fellowship.

Moses is quick to contrast this reality with his own mortality: “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:3-4). Men are as fragile and impermanent as grass, which flourishes in the morning and is dead by the evening (Psalm 90:5-6, Isaiah 40:8).

Moses likewise confesses that man’s short lives are spent in sin against God: “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed” (Psalm 90:7). The seventy or eighty years of our lives are spent in hardship, toil, and misery because of the curse brought upon creation by sin (Psalm 90:10).

After weighing these realities in his heart, what is Moses’ prayer? “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). 

In essence, Moses is asking that God would continually set his own mortality before him—and that dwelling upon his finitude would change how he lives on the earth. Wisdom, after all, is the art and skill of godly living, rooted in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

All of the Scriptures encourage the same meditations. David prays that God would “make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4). Paul reminds the Ephesians to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

How should one therefore make the best use of these evil days—these seventy or eighty years spent in a broken and cursed world, patiently awaiting our promised salvation?

For one, desire fellowship with God and forgiveness for your sins. Despite the believer’s mortality, he is still invited into precious community with his Savior—which transforms sorrow and fear into joy and confidence. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:14-15).

For another, serve the Lord diligently. God has prepared good works for His people to do—in both their vocations and their sharing of the gospel—such that the name of Christ would be made great among the nations. “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17).

Death is the punishment for sin upon fallen flesh. The Christian neither despairs over the reality of death nor pushes it out of his thinking. Instead, thoughts of his own mortality cause the believer to live all the more fervently during his short stay on earth—in joyful communion with God and others, in service to Christ and His gospel, and in hope of a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). 

In the meantime—“God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). When we lay in the dust, setting down our swords and our trowels after a lifetime spent in service to Christ, we truly rest from our labors—confident that our work was carried out in the Lord. When we close our eyes, our eternal fellowship with Him continues as it was before—though it is made all the more rich due to the complete breaking of sin’s power over our beings.

God, in His kindness, has provided us with words through His servants so that we may consider our own mortality. May we dwell on them and respond in a way that honors Him. My brothers and sisters in Christ, may we always be numbering our days.

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