Know, Count, Offer
We’re all part of a broken human race because we are in Adam – there’s none righteous no, not one. But God has provided a solution to our broken state. Through one man death came to all, but through a second man, Jesus Christ, life comes. This benefit comes courtesy of God’s grace and is accessible through faith. God’s grace is sufficient for all, no matter how bad we are, his grace can deal with our sin. In fact the more sin there is the more grace there is available. Chapter 6 starts to deal with the question of how we should live having accessed this grace through faith.
At the end of chapter 5 Paul says ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more.’ Grace increases in supra-proportionally to sin. If this is true and if grace is a good thing isn’t this grounds for sinning all the more? As one English poet put it ‘I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.’ If such a thought has ever entered your thinking then chapter 6 is for you!
So then, this grace is wonderful: I exercise faith in God, he forgives my sin – past present and future. The slate is clean and will remain so. I have a blank cheque to do what I like, and God likes to forgive me, after all, more sin means even more grace. No, no, no says Paul! The subject matter of this next section of Romans (chapters 6-8) is all about how we are to live as believers. We will discover that if we are to live right we must start by having an appreciation of what God has done in us when we come to faith. The first thing we need to know is that we have died to sin. This rather sounds like we have no longer anything sin-like within us, does it not? We instinctively know that that such a notion is not true – and no doubt Paul knew that as well, so what does Paul mean? The key word is ‘dead.’ We assume that death means annihilation, but this is not the idea. Death means separation rather than annihilation. I read once about ‘American wakes.’ In Ireland around about the 1840s the potato famine forced many people to emigrate to America. This meant an expensive one way ticket and a sad farewell to loved ones and family. The parents of the young man or woman leaving knew they would never see their loved one again. It was a departure which brought the similar sorrows to the parting that death brings: thus the term ‘American wake’ became common to describe the farewell event. Death is all about separation. And when we come to faith we experience a separation within us: we die to sin. There is a sin nature within us that exercises a controlling influence on our being and actions. Thankfully this sin nature is moderated by external cultural influences and by conscience. We see this in our British society: much of which is influenced by a (sadly diminishing) Christian tradition. When those restraining influences are removed, (and they are being removed by the atheistic, evolutionary thinking of the era) then we see the ugly consequence of unrestrained sin natures (think back to the riots of 2011 which began in Tottenham but quickly spread when young people believed that the police were no longer enforcing the law). The first thing Paul wants us to know is that we are no longer permanently connected to the sin nature within us – we have died to it. It is still there, but we are no longer beholden to it. If this is the case, why should we continue to ‘live in it any longer.’ I was once ‘corrected’ after speaking at church by a couple who scolded me for suggesting that as believers we retain within us the capacity to sin – we’re new creatures they said, everything has become new. That’s all true, our circumstances have indeed completely changed – we’ve died to the sin nature, but since it is still within us we can (and often do) live in sin.
All this talk of dying to sin and disconnecting from the sin nature is all a bit negative. Isn’t there something more positive we could say about what happens when we come to faith? Here’s verse 4: ‘we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ Before we try to understand this we need to remove some preconceptions we are likely to have about baptism. It seems that when we see this word we automatically think about water, either little or lots of it depending on our Christian tradition. Baptism can mean a rite relating to water but the context here makes it very clear that that sort of baptism is not in Paul’s mind at all. Baptism is about any process which involves a change in the object being baptised through a change of environment of that object. Israel was baptised in the Red sea without getting wet: the change of environment was the move from Egypt to the Red sea. And the change in those undergoing the baptism was from slaves to free people. Likewise when we come to faith we experience a waterless baptism (whether we realise it or not). The change in our environment is that we were in Adam and now we are in Christ. The change this brings about is that the sin nature is disconnected and we are plugged into a new life force. The picture Paul paints for a person coming to faith is just like the Easter story: Jesus was killed and laid in a tomb, and on the third day was raised from the dead. In the same wa,y we experience the death (separation) of the sin nature and the wonder of a new life. In view of this how on earth could we ever entertain the idea of living in the squalor of the old sin nature? All of this sets in place the conditions for living a new life, as Paul puts it ‘we too may live a new life.’ Note that this is not automatic; we may live a new life because the conditions have changed, but we don’t always – more on this later.
The death is all about separation from the sin nature and the life is all about connection to a new life, a life to be lived to God. This happens because of the change of environment, we move from being in Adam to being in Christ.
You may be thinking well this is all very well, but I neither feel like it’s true nor do I see compelling evidence for this being true in my own life or in the life of Christians I observe. How we behave is strongly influenced by what we believe to be true. I recall once travelling to the United States, I was in the fortunate position of having a business class ticket. It’s always pleasant whilst waiting for the flight to have some time in the business class lounge. I presented my ticket at the desk and sat down in the lounge – quite happy to enjoy one of their free papers and a nice cup of coffee. But I was interrupted by one of the staff who said that I was not eligible to enter the business class lounge at all! The reality was that British Airways were running a special promotion and my ticket had been fully upgraded to first class. The business class lounge is not at all suitable for first class passengers! I was escorted to the Concorde Lounge and was rather well treated thereafter. I was content with second best when first best was already paid for and available. I went from a false understanding to a real understanding. We must do the same with respect to the death of the sin nature and the implant of the new nature. Paul says ‘count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ Consider this to be a fact says Paul. Count it to be true – why? – because it is! God has done a remarkable thing within us but if we don’t reckon it to be true how can we expect things to change? Having counted this to be true we need to act. Paul gives three specific instructions. 1. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body. 2. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness and 3. Offer yourself to God, in fact offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
There are some far reaching consequences of Paul’s instructions. We are dead to sin, separated from it, but his first instruction is not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. I work with a lot of people from a certain country which shall remain nameless – but these people as a general rule simply want to take over everything. They have no self awareness or embarrassment; they just take over and want things done only one way – their way. The sin nature is just like that. It is forever at our shoulder wanting to take over. I’m reminded of God’s comment to Cain after he killed his brother – ‘if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’ The sin nature is ready and waiting to take over. But we have a choice: we can refuse to let it reign and we can refuse to offer any part of ourselves as instruments of wickedness. How? By offering every part of ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. The problem is that we often flirt with sin, we sort of get as close as we can without being really bad. This is not good enough, in fact we flirt with disaster – sin is indeed crouching at our door and desires to have us. Should we therefore draw up a list of things that are OK and things that are not? I don’t think so, Paul gives us a very simple piece of advice: ‘offer every part of yourself to God.’ If we do this, sin won’t have a chance!
Perhaps we should plan to do that every day, or perhaps every moment – offer every part of our being to God. What an impact that might have!
Paul makes it clear that when we offer ourselves to someone we become slaves to the one we obey. The transformation that faith brings is that we are no longer beholden to the sin nature as its slaves, but rather we have been set free from this and now are slaves to righteousness. Being a slave to anything doesn’t sound like a great deal but the benefits of being a slave to righteousness is utterly breathtaking: the benefit is holiness and the result is eternal life. In view of this why on earth would we want to reconnect back to the old nature? Permanent attachment to the sin nature (our old condition) is the way of death not life. Paul says , know that this is true, count that this is true and offer yourselves to be slaves of righteousness, anything less is like living as a vagrant when there is a lavishly appointed mansion at our disposal.