Dying Before You Die: A Reflection

A Sumarai Reflection on Romans 6 by Josh Davis

There’s an old word which, like all great words, has deep meaning. Words like this have a life of their own. It was born quietly somewhere in Japan several centuries back and grew into something powerful. Then like a great investment, it split multiple times, increasing in value far beyond its original, literal meaning. The word is Zanshin (残心).

Meaning of Zanshin 

Literally, Zanshin means “mind with no remainder,” nothing uncontrolled or unintentional. Zanshin is a fundamental focus, where every body system is held in precise, calm alertness. Eventually it came to describe an archer’s stance after loosing an arrow or a swordsman’s fighting stance after striking. Upon executing a maneuver, Zanshin kept the warrior from losing himself.

This was directed, mindful execution of the process and positions of warfare, an instant return to readiness. 

Yet, Zanshin was not a position itself. Rather it was an essence—achieved through muscle memory and the warrior’s awareness of his own death. The Samurai warrior achieved incredible focus and fierce execution because of Zanshin. And he could achieve Zanshin because he did not consider the outcome of the battle. Winning was not the point.

Dying or not dying didn’t matter. He had already died. Only the process of battle mattered.

In a way it makes sense: why would the outcome matter?

There were only two possible outcomes: death now or death later. The Samurai warrior journey was a lifelong path with a violent end. When they signed up, they died. Samurai walked the earth as those already dead. Winning did not matter; only honor and identity mattered. 

So why the nerdy history lesson?

Zanshin & Death

Check out Romans 6:10, 11, 13: “For the death he died he died, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”   

It seems that Paul is asking you to presume yourself as one who is already dead yet alive in Christ. So what does that mean: to have died to sin and live as instruments of righteousness? What does it mean to fight battles as if what happens (outcomes) matters little? Could you achieve a Zanshin-like Christian life by realizing our own death while focusing only on the process of communion with the Trinity?

Application to Us

Are you like me: with habitual sin, performance insecurity, or fears of not bearing fruit? What abundant life, peace, or grace might we find if we were not committed to outcomes like sinning less, performing better, or evangelizing everyone – but to dying daily yet living in communion with the Trinity?

What if you lived as if the victory was already decided? Or perhaps better, as if the victory wasn’t the point? Might this be the hope of having the Mind of Christ – a “mind with no remainder” – whose victory was in His passion, in His own death? Did Jesus walk the earth knowing that He had already died? 

How about you?

Where are you too much alive to yourself? Do you realize you are dead (& alive) already in Christ? Share your thoughts below.

Josh 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Dying Before You Die: A Reflection

  1. Josh, thanks for this post. It’s a great perspective. I think the notion of dying to sin also applies toward dying to our own plans and purposes for our lives, and taking hold of life in Him. From this perspective, turning down an attractive path that conflicts with God’s will for our life is no longer difficult, because we’ve already died to ourselves and our own best plans for our time on earth.

    • Hi John,

      I agree: in “You are What You Love,” author James K. A. Smith talks about “re-habituating” ourselves to the things of God. As we draw closer to the Trinity, our love shifts such that we desire God’s will and recognize our inability to set our own paths or plans. Then, in communion with the Trinity we can say “Lord, have mercy on me,” and in so doing submit ourselves to the process of transformation that God has for us.

      I’m convinced that they way to “die to self” is through “reorienting our loves” through liturgical practice, contemplative prayer, alms-giving, and fasting (see: https://www.theuncommonjourney.com/3-essential-practices-on-your-journey-to-godliness/).

      What about you? How has God met you in ways such that you can willingly cry “…not my will, but yours be done”?

      – J

  2. Interesting fact about the Sumarai is that they also practiced homosexuality as part of their warrior code. They felt that it weakened them to have relationships with women.

    • Good call, Randy; thanks for highlighting that. I hope the metaphor’s limits didn’t trip anyone up.

      For clarity sake to any reader, the post does not intend to draw any direct parallels between Samurai and the life that pursues the Trinity. Rather the goal was to talk about one aspect of their code: living life as if death were already determined. From there we can draw limited parallels to our life as being “crucified with Christ” (Galatians ch2) or “dead to sin” (Romans ch6).

      Thanks again!
      – J

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