We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Newness of life! Paul clearly anticipated a believer’s victory over sin because of what Jesus had accomplished. He taught that since we have been crucified with Christ, we have been liberated from sin as our old master. Neither sin nor death has any further authority over us. In our inner most beings we have been liberated from their tyrannical reign. In light of these truths, has it been your experience that sin no longer reigns in your life? For many of us the answer will be, “No, sin still seems to reign.” Why is this? Let’s explore this question and another related one.
Since coming to believe in Christ nearly four decades ago, I have kept an ongoing question before the Lord. It has been, “What is Your part Lord? And what is mine?” I’ve never heard the Lord say, “Robert,” (that is my legal name), “This is My list and here is yours.” His answers to my question have come slowly through an ongoing process of living continually in His presence in the light of His Word. If that sounded super-spiritual let me comfort you: it has also been messy! The fact is we can never escape His presence, even if we were to go to the remotest part of the sea. As to hearing God’s voice, this dynamic has been a moment-by-moment, day-in-day-out affair of living with Him. This experience has been far more intimate than hearing an occasional string of words, which He is more likely to speak if I pray adequately or get real, real quiet.
As I read Colossians 3 this morning, I could not help but see Paul’s consistency in the way he addressed these questions. His comments dovetail perfectly with Romans 6 where he put it like this: “Keep doing the calculation. Recall as often as necessary the irreversible fact that Christ is our new master. Now that we have been included into Christ’s very own death and His resurrection, our ties to sin’s regime have been permanently severed. Once for all men, once for all time, to all those who trust in Christ.” (My paraphrase).
So…. what is our part? In Romans 6 Paul says, since you are now serving a new Master, having become slaves to righteousness, “present the members of your body to God as those alive from the dead as instruments of righteousness from God.”
If he were standing here among us, what would Paul have to say? Would he see us doing our part? I believe he might think we had misunderstood some things about grace, which have led us to an unhealthy passivity. I think he might wonder where our zeal and intentionality were in the doing of our part. He might wonder where are all the testimonies of those who have been liberated were. He might be so bold as to say, In case you missed it, here is your part…
Persevere in the calculation. Realize continually that the members of your earthly bodies are actually dead to sin; set your mind and keep thinking on the things above. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you. And while you are doing the math and regularly calculating that it is no longer you who live but Christ lives in you and that Christ is now your life, live like this… Put aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the word of Christ rule in your hearts. Be thankful. Admonish one another. In summary, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. (my paraphrase of Colossians 3:1-17)
Note; I do not paraphrase to improve upon the scriptures. The condensing of ideas required by paraphrasing helps renew my mind. It rescues the scriptures from remaining just words upon a page – somebody else’s revelation.
Back to our original question—why then does sin still have stroke in our lives? Is it because we are just like Paul and have found that the principle of evil is present in us, making us slaves once again to sin? When we stumble and sin (and we all do), what calculations do our minds perform? If we do depravity-math (see Friday’s MwM post, Grasping–Romans 7:14-25), can’t we excuse ourselves from any victorious life he seemed to have been proclaiming and anticipating in Romans 6?
Let’s just fast forward to that moment when we have stumbled and have sinned. Shall we do depravity-math? I’m of the flesh + I’m sold into bondage to sin + Sure enough, I practice the very things I hate + It’s not really me doing it + It’s sin indwelling and reigning over me + There is nothing good in me + I practice evil + Again, I remind myself, I’m not the one doing it = What a wretched man I am!
Does this really sound like Paul to you? Can you reconcile this reasoning with Romans 6 and the balance of Paul’s victorious New Testament instruction and commentary?
Oh how familiar this math is to me! For much of my Christian life, when I would sin, this was my calculation: I have proved it yet once again + Yes, its true (with much self loathing): I am nothing but a wretch + My heart is utterly depraved + In fact, my heart is exactly as Jeremiah has said, more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 is my old life verse. I’m not kidding.)
Are you tracking with me? What I am trying to say is that I used to do the calculation with the wrong variables and come up, naturally, with the wrong answer. If we sin, the bad math provides a path of least resistance. Here is that fumbling calculation: I am hamstrung (just like Paul supposedly was) by sin + I am saved by grace (aren’t I?) + So, I will get to heaven someday (hopefully) + But until then, my besetting sins are going to be a problem because I am, by nature, a sinner = That’s just who I am (my identity). The problem with depravity-math is that it produces a colossal identity crisis that insures a roller coaster-religious experience.
Are we just sinners as many of our hymns, teachers, and consciences have testified? Is depravity our root identity? Is the deepest truth about us that we are just sinners saved by grace? Or, should we plug in the apparently lost variable that we are now saints, those whom Christ has ransomed out of that old identity in hopes that we too, like Himself, will shine brightly, giving credence to the gospel’s claims of liberty. Here is a very pointed question: other than a hope of heaven, what is the Good News to us, if sin is still ruling in our members?
Oh the religious hamster wheel we spin when we do depravity-math! There can be nothing more exhausting than attempting to live a life pleasing to God as a sinner. With this lie about our identity operating at the foundation of our being we are left cranking out our works, our compliance, our strategies of sin management, and our religious traditions as inadequate salves to soothe a conscience that is never really free of its guilt and shame. How could it be? I’m just a sinner after all (maximum sarcasm intended).
I have battled sin as a sinner and I have battled it as a saint. There is no comparison in outcomes. As a sinner, I was defeated before I began. No matter how well I thought I had strapped on my armor, I was still exposed to a myriad of fiery guilt-producing missiles. It turns out my breast plate of God’s righteousness was not in place while I thought of myself fundamentally as just a sinner. Is this terribly surprising since depravity-math had produced my identity as a servant-slave (only), whom God tolerates, instead of a son, whose company he cherishes?
Even as a saint, I have been knocked down hard. But with my identity in tact as a son, I don’t just lie there concluding a TKO is normal. As familiar as it might feel (for a moment), sin is unnatural to God’s children. So, when I do sin, I no longer view it as my fate or as a confirmation of my fallen identity. Instead, I do a higher math. I calculate that sin is alien to my new nature. I hope you can see how doing the math with the essential variable of ourselves as new creations can, as Christ intended, lead us to our victorious destiny.
Oh how different Romans 6:23 looks in light of our new identities and In light of a true kingdom gospel!
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From the old just-a-sinner identity, eternal life is that life we get only after our physical bodies have expired. From that limited and defeatist position, the great hope of the Christian is the rapture, where our futile attempts at righteousness are no more because we are getting new bodies free of their native connection to sin. From God’s kingdom-paradigm, where Christ is reclaiming the domain of men’s hearts, Christ’s Life is now our life. We have eternal life now! It is unfortunate that we have equated death with that occasion when our bodies finally expire because, in reality, those whom Christ has made right with God are not going to taste death. Remember: sin and death no longer have any claim upon us!
Even now, we can experience and proclaim that we are living out of His Life, which is now our Life (capital “L” intended). He is the free gift of God, who is even now our eternal life. This is the good news of the kingdom of God! This is the full gospel. It is so, so much more than dying and going to heaven. We truly need to crunch the numbers afresh. Here is the problem: How much eternal life do I actually have? Answer: your years yet to live + infinity.
In another place Paul stated it like this:
We’re free of it (that old constricting paradigm)! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 The Message)
It turns out that our part, our responsibility and opportunity, grows where eternal life is a now–life as opposed to an after-death-life. We are now kingdom citizens who are in partnership with the reigning King who will bring about His unending kingdom, one heart at a time. I believe Paul’s writings will make much more sense to us as we look at them through this lens.
I sincerely pray this morning’s math lesson was helpful.
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Father, help us to let go of the ideas which exalt themselves in our hearts, eroding away our new creation-identities. Deliver us from every false religious salve we apply to our consciences where they labor under guilt and condemnation. Persevere with us until we truly are resting in the security of our new identities as your beloved children and friends. Fill your Church with fresh stories of liberation that come from higher math. Thank You that you have done Your part and have empowered us, in Christ, do do ours. Amen.