On the 29th of March 1992, my Dad wrote the following words on the inside of a new Bible that I had been given on the occasion of my baptism:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:11 had been hand-written on the inside of my Bible by my earthly Father like a highlighting pen over the eternal, all-powerful Word of my heavenly Father. I was twelve years old and this verse will be significant for me for as long as I live.
Twenty-six years later, I’m still wrapping my mind and my heart around the mysteries of this verse and the wider context of Romans, Chapter 6 ‒ indeed, the book as a whole. I have no doubt that this microcosm of Gospel-glory is, on the one hand, a basic part and staple diet of every believer’s life, but, on the other, a mystery of prayerful meditation and growth spanning an entire lifetime.
To the Church in Rome
In recent weeks, I’ve been digging down deeper into the incomparable book of Romans. Bible-reading plans are an important part of how our rhythms of spiritual discipline should ebb and flow but they don’t facilitate prayerful lingering and studious focus on parts of Scripture that we’d do well not to quickly skip over.
Some parts of our Bible hold keys for significant personal and leadership growth, significant rootedness and, therefore, significant fruitfulness. Romans, Chapter 6 is one of these places where the pages of the Bible should be especially thin from turning and especially smudged from annotating.
Within the previous five chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he has given something of a panorama of God’s dealings with man: His righteous wrath and judgment, His faithfulness, humanity’s inherent sinfulness, the doctrine of righteousness through faith, father Abraham, the wonder and miracle of peace with God and, then, Adam vs. Christ. It’s a heady and very beautiful few pages of the greatest letter ever written.
Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ
But then things get even more glorious as Paul focuses on arguably his favorite phrase in all that he ever writes: in Christ. Paul uses this phrase more than seventy times in the New Testament; it seems to be either in every paragraph, on, above or underneath every paragraph. It’s everywhere.
We are in Christ. Hallelujah!
What’s more, the verse that my Dad had written on the inside of my Bible twenty-six years ago only made sense because of the ten verses before it in which Paul labors to show just how it is that we’re supposed to consider ourselves dead to sin and therefore alive in Christ.
The short answer is found in the four words before this phrase ‒ in the same way or, as the ESV puts it, so you also must. In other words, we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by looking at what Jesus did on our behalf …. Christ died and Christ rose again.
Death & Resurrection
As healthy Christian leaders, often involved in pastoral ministry, we have two primary challenges:
- Persuading those who are under the dominion of sin that they are in fact under the dominion of sin. This is evangelism.
2) Persuading those who have been freed from the dominion of sin that they are in fact free from the dominion of sin. This isdiscipleship.
The mystery of the Christian faith and the joy of the Gospel is that, by faith, we are becoming what we already are! Romans 6 is, in one sense, just an intense focus on this miraculous reality. That just as Jesus has died to sin and risen victoriously, putting death to death, we too should consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus ‒ in exactly the same way. If we have believed in our hearts, confessed with our mouths (Romans 10:9) ‒ if indeed we have been baptized, we share inextricably in the death and life of Christ!
This “same way” isn’t Paul being poetic or clever; it’s Paul teaching that the death of Christ is our death and that the resurrection of Christ is our life. This is how we’re to think about our justified position before God but also how we “relate” to sin as “dead men made alive.”
Becoming by Faith Who We Already Are
All believers, especially those who lead, are aware of the effects of sin. This is specifically what Jesus means when He said that blessed are those who mourn (over sin) for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). One day, we will all be comforted from the gut-wrenching misery of the effects of sin.
Aware of sin though we all are, we are no longer under the dominion of sin, if indeed we are in Christ. This marks an infinite world and point of difference and indeed what Paul refers to in Romans 6:1 where he writes about continuing in sin (ESV).
In Christ, it’s impossible for you to continue in sin as you did when you were not in Christ (See Ephesians 2: Ephesians 2:12). Your relationship to sin is the same as His ‒ He has died to sin, defeating and publicly shaming death. Therefore it’s impossible for you to be under the control of it as a slave-master, as you once were.
Rather, you have been transferred into the kingdom of the son He loves (Colossians 1:13) and, as verse 14 explodes, sin will not have dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace!
Don’t look for perfectionism in yourself ‒ you will still sin, you will still see the effects and feel the lure ‒ but your relationship with sin has been radically and fundamentally transformed.
Romans 6:11 holds the key for our relating to sinful thoughts, words, deeds, temptations, reactions: we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus in just the same way as Yeshua Himself is. This is our inheritance in Christ Jesus.
As healthy leaders, as we believe and live by faith and not sight, we progressively become who we already are … in Christ.