Living a New Life

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 6:8-14

A skeptic named Friedrich Nietszche once said, “You Christians will have to start acting more redeemed if you expect us to believe in a Redeemer.” Now there’s a criticism that really hurts.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:8-14 NIV

When someone asked G.K. Chesterton why he had become a Christian, he answered, “To get rid of my sins.” Christianity is all about salvation from sin. The gospel offers us both forgiveness of sin and deliverance from it. That is why, before people will become Christians, they must first become convinced of their need to be saved from sin. Conviction of sin precedes conversion to Christ. Someone becoming a Christian without any sense of personal sin and the need of God’s forgiveness would be like a tone-deaf person becoming a composer. It’s not likely to happen; there’s just no motivation for it.

But now we come to a problem. If Christianity is a religion of salvation, if the gospel offer is of the forgiveness of sins, if the fundamental experience of believers is being freed from sin, then why are we still so sinful? Why do Christians still sin so much, and so seriously? Why does it often seem like there is so little difference between their behavior and that of unbelievers? “You Christians are going to have to start acting more redeemed if you expect us to believe in a Redeemer,” sneered the German atheist Friedrich Nietszche. I don’t like to admit it, but he was right. Honesty compels me to say that the worst advertisement for Christianity is the behavior of Christians. Non-Christians look at some of the things we do and conclude, to our considerable shame, that this gospel of salvation we talk about must be a fraud. However, honesty also compels me to say that the best advertisement for Christianity is also the behavior of Christians – when we live up to our calling. And to be completely honest I must add that many who bear the name of Christian are not Christians in fact, so their conduct is no reflection at all upon the gospel.

Still, the continuing presence of sin in us is a real problem, and this is exactly what Paul addresses in Romans 6. Having thoroughly explained justification by faith, the means by which our sins can be forgiven and our guilt pardoned, Paul goes on now to teach how the actual presence of sin in our lives is to be overcome. In other words, to use the traditional Christian term, he turns to the subject of sanctification, which is the Christian’s growth in goodness of character and behavior.

UNDERSTANDING THE TRUTH

You might expect that the way to overcome sin and eliminate it from our lives would be through moral effort or the exercise of will power. Advertisers often appeal to our will power in support of their ideas or products. For example, in America there is an ad campaign against drug use that tells people to “Just say No!” An athletic shoe company urges us to exercise and keep fit by saying over and over, “Just do it.” That makes sense. If something is wrong, why don’t we refuse to do it, just say no to it? If something is right, why don’t we just do that? But it really isn’t that easy, as we all know from experience. What if we don’t want to do what’s right? What if we’re too weak to say no to what’s wrong, even though we realize we should and would like to if we could? Our wills are notoriously weak, and discipline and determination will carry us only so far. Paul suggests that the place to begin is not with our wills but in our minds, that what we need first is a new understanding of Christian truth before we undertake the Christian way of life. Only by grasping the truth will we be able to make progress in the process of sanctification that will ultimately rid us of our sins and cause us to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.

The essential truth we have to understand is this: as believers we have been united with Christ. “If we have been united with him in his death,” says Paul, “we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (v. 5). Like a tree branch grafted into a trunk (an image used by Paul later in Romans and by Jesus in John 15), we no longer live separately or individually but in union with Christ. This union is effected by faith. The characteristic phrase for it is the simple expression that Christians are “in Christ.” The Bible says that Christ lives in believers, and he does. But we also live in him. Our lives have become inseparably linked to his, he is now the sphere in which we live, the locus of our existence. A Christian lives in Christ the way a fish lives in water. A Christian becomes united to Christ the way a wife becomes united to her husband, so that in a profound way the two become one, with one will, one mind, one heart, one experience. Being united with Christ means that our life is his and his life is ours; we are totally identified with him, though not in such a way that our individuality is extinguished.

ACCEPTING THE TRUTH

If we understand the truth that as Christians we are united with Christ, then we must go on to accept all the implications of that truth. Now we come really to the heart of Paul’s argument. The first implication of our union with Christ is that we have died and risen with him. If we are united with Christ, then we must share all his experiences. If a husband and wife are deeply in love and intimately united, then in a real sense what happens to one happens to the other as well. Christ died and rose again – we know that; therefore, because of our spiritual union with him, we too died and rose again. The death is something past (vv. 5a, 8a). The New Testament teaches in many places that Christ died for us, but here in this important passage it says we died with Christ. We are more than mere spectators at the death of Christ; we are participants in it. The resurrection part of Jesus’ experience is something future for us, something we will share in fully when our bodies are raised from death as his was. But it is also present. There is a sense in which we have already been raised with Christ spiritually; we share his life now. Right now, we are, in Paul’s words, “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).

The next point is that Christ’s death was a death “to sin once for all,” and in his resurrection “the life he lives, he lives to God” (v. 10). So Christ’s death is in some way a death with respect to sin, and his life is life with respect to God. What does Paul mean when he says Christ died to sin? He cannot mean that Christ died for his sins, or that he escaped from the presence and influence of sin in his own life, for the Bible teaches that Christ was completely without sin. Paul must mean that Christ died for our sins, taking our place as a substitute, paying the due penalty of our sin on the cross. So in dying Christ has once for all paid for our sin and abolished sin’s guilt, and in rising he has resumed a life which is lived completely with and for God.

Now comes the crucial conclusion: if we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and if he has died to sin and lives to God, then we also have died to sin and we also must live entirely for God, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). To say that we have died to sin does not mean that we no longer have anything at all to do with it or that sin doesn’t affect us in any way. Everyone, including Paul himself (read 7:14-25), knows that’s not how it is. No, Paul means that we have died in the same sense that Christ did – that we have paid sin’s penalty and now are freed from its guilt, and are no longer liable to any condemnation. Our old self was crucified with Christ. The persons that we were apart from Christ are finished and gone. Our sinful nature is in the process of being eradicated, and in the end will be completely destroyed. In the meantime, the powerful hold our old nature had over us has been broken and the present result of all this is that we are no longer slaves to sin. We don’t have to sin any longer, even though we may not always experience a quick or easy victory over sin in practice.

LIVING THE TRUTH

The application of all this teaching begins in verse 11. We are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ; very well, we must consider it so, we must count ourselves to be just that, we must realize the truth about ourselves. You know what it means to “realize” something. It means to make it real. It is to turn theory into fact, to make what is real as an idea also real in our own perception and experience. So let’s start by getting clear in our thinking about sin and our sinful nature. We have died to that. We no longer live under sin’s management. It’s true that I can still sin; sin is not impossible for me. But it is incongruous. For Christians to sin is like people who own automobiles riding everywhere on horseback. It’s an anachronism, a carry-over from the old life that’s died, a throw-back to an old way that’s been superseded. Sin is terribly out of place in any Christian’s life. It just doesn’t belong.

So, the challenge we face is to: 1) understand the truth that we are united with Christ in his death and life, 2) accept the truth that we must therefore count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and 3) live this truth by increasingly replacing sin with obedience in our behavior. This means some practical do’s and don’ts (vv. 12-14). Don’t let sin rule over you as if it were your master because it’s not. Don’t let sin use you as its tool because you’re not. Do offer yourselves to God. Do use everything you have, your bodies, your minds, your faculties, for righteousness’ sake. Our living must be to God and for God alone. Sometimes you will see a sign in a place of business that says, “Under New Management.” That means there has been a death and rebirth, at least in a commercial sense. The old owner is no longer in control; another has come in. Christians need to live with a sign that says, “Under New Management” over every part of our lives. We have a new Lord, a new Ruler. We need to live for him.

So if you’re a Christian, live that way. Live out the truth. If you are not a Christian, why don’t you come and experience it? If you’re struggling with your sins, whoever you are, there is good news. The gospel has more to offer you than mere exhortation. It does more for you than just telling you to try harder and be better. It offers you the power of Christ’s life to overcome your sin.