Romans 6:8–14 (NET)
6:8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 6:9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 6:10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 6:11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 6:13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 6:14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
I’ve been giving some thought lately about two different concepts for the Christian life: abiding in Christ, and considering ourselves dead to sin. What do these mean, how are they related, and what do they look like in life? As I read this passage in Romans, I can’t help but think about my sin. I think about the sin I both hate and love, and to that which I want to die. But how do I die, and conversely, how do I abide in Christ?
I suspect that part of our struggle with being dead to sin is that we really focus quite a lot on our sin. We feel guilt and shame over it, and frankly, the closer you walk with Jesus, the more you’re in the scripture, the more your own sin becomes apparent, and the more you want to be rid of it. Yet, here we are, and we often let our sin have the mastery over us because we obsess over it. We obsess over our besetting sin, we obsess over our sins of commission, and our sins of omission. We focus on our sins, we beat our chests, we cry out for mercy, and we find none because we still consider ourselves very alive to our sin. We are alive to it in the way we obsess over it, worry about it, strategize ever new plans to over come it.
We become like the obsessive-compulsive person who is certain he has to wash his hands every 5 minutes to ensure their cleanliness. The O/C person first becomes obsessed with the thought that something bad could happen to him. Then he develops a plan to keep the danger at bay. He decides he must wash his hands and keep them perfectly clean or his wife will die. To most of us this makes no sense, but to the O/C person, this makes perfect sense. After the first washing, his hands really are clean, but he doesn’t consider them clean. He is still certain he must wash them or something really bad will happen. So he washes them, and he washes them, and he washes them. Nothing bad happens, so he now knows he must wash them again just to keep death at bay. After a while, the man, trying desperately to keep his wife alive, has now become a compulsive slave to his obsession. Of course, none of his actions will keep is wife from ultimately dying. We all die, but in his mind, he must stop the evil on his own.
Yet, Paul’s instruction is to not be obsessive about our sin by making it the prominent focus of our lives. Obsessing over sin only makes us a slave to it. We simply must stop allowing our sin to dominate our lives and our thoughts. I’m not saying we can stop being concerned with holiness. I’m saying we need to stop being obsessed with ourselves and our sin, because when we do this, we are still making ourselves and our actions the center of attention, and this is not our rightful place. We are under grace, and this categorically means our focus now must be squarely on Jesus Messiah. Sin has no mastery over us because now we know our only hope is in Christ. So instead of constantly obsessing over our sin, and praying for God to give us the strength to overcome, I propose we pray that God causes our eyes of faith to focus instead on the beauty and holiness of Christ. In doing this, we become obsessed not with ourselves, another idolatry, but with Jesus. We abide in him, breathe him in, walk beside him, think his way, act his way, and pray his way. When Jesus the King becomes central to our vision, there is no room for sin, and we experience death to sin. Dead and abiding.
Being dead doesn’t sound so bad, does it?