Posts Tagged 'dead to sin'

Your Amazing Faith, Part 3

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How amazing is your faith? It’s so amazing only you and other Christians possess it. No unbeliever has faith. Only Christians have faith because faith comes with a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. No unbeliever has a relationship with God. Granted, an unbeliever may say he believes in God – and he may mentally assent to the existence of God – but believing in God isn’t the same thing as being in a relationship with Him. I believe that Kim Kardashian exists, but I don’t have a relationship with her. This is the essence of Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

So, faith comes from hearing the Word of God; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When you couple that verse with another one, you’ll understand why unbelievers don’t possess faith:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | NIV84)

That’s why faith comes from the Word of God. And that’s why the unbeliever doesn’t have it; he doesn’t have the Word and therefore he can’t have faith.

Faith also has nothing to do with what you think or feel. Nor does it have anything to do with the circumstances you may find yourself in. Faith exists outside of your mind, emotions, feelings, and circumstances. Paul discovered that –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Paul, in the midst of a life-threatening storm at sea, was able to say that because his faith wasn’t in the sailors or the ship he was on or in his hope that the weather would change; his faith was in God. Too many Christians haven’t figured this aspect of their amazing faith out. They foolishly think that their circumstances indicate how much faith they have. Or, they allow their feelings to dictate how much faith they have. So when times are good, they “feel” like they have a lot of faith but during bad times, they “feel” like they have less faith. That’s crazy thinking. Our amazing faith has everything to do with God, not us or our circumstances. Our faith is objective, not subjective. And the Object of our faith is God.

That brings us to the third aspect of our amazing faith, and it’s found in Galatians 2:20 –

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | KJV)

This single verse is the most significant theological statement on the new birth in the Bible. Let’s take a look at why Paul wrote it in the first place. The reason behind the verse makes it even more profound.

The old switch and bait

It all started back in Galatians 1:10 –

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 | NIV84)

Not only the Galatian Christians, but those in other churches of the day had been accusing the apostle of sacrificing the truth of God or of sugar-coating the Gospel so that he might win more people over to his way of thinking. In other words, Paul was being accused of lowering the standards of the Gospel of salvation; of making it too easy for Gentiles to become Christians.

The fact was, at one time Paul really did try to “please men,” particularly when he was running around persecuting Christians. But he stopped that when he became a servant of Christ. After his conversion, his concern was pleasing God, not man.

The essence of Paul’s preaching was freedom from sin – salvation by grace. Sinful man is freed from the clutches of this evil world by the power of Christ alone. You’d think people would be clamoring to hear a message like that. Some were, but many wanted him to shut up and keep his grace and freedom to himself. They did that by lying about what he was saying.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 | NIV84)

That’s his defense, and it’s a simple one. Not only was Paul not trying to please man in his preaching, but his sermons didn’t come from any other man’s notes and he didn’t learn it in school. His sermons – his message of grace and freedom in Christ – came directly from the Source: Jesus Christ. Beginning on that dusty road to Damascus and continuing through three years of seclusion in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17, 18). Paul was in no way a bandwagon preacher, glomming onto the popular ideas of the times and incorporating them into his preaching and writing, as happens so often today.

Now, he wasn’t the Lone Ranger evangelist, either.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 | NIV84)

So Paul made it clear that while he wasn’t a loose canon, but his preaching wasn’t influenced by anybody or anything, either. He preached Christ and Christ alone. His credentials – his apostleship – didn’t descend from the mother church back in Jerusalem. He was called to preach by Jesus Christ. For Paul, Christ was truly was his all-in-all.

Peter’s problem

But not all the apostles were like that. Take the case of Peter. Paul certainly did and he raked his friend over the coals.

Once, on a visit to the church’s headquarters in Jerusalem to justify his ministry among the Gentiles, Paul dragged poor Titus along as an illustration of the kind of preaching he engaged in:

Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. ˻This matter arose˼ because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. (Galatians 2:3-4 | NIV84)

And herein was the problem. These false brothers – Jewish troublemakers – thought that Paul should have been preaching elements of Judaism along with Christ to the Gentiles. These people – false brothers – believed that while law-keeping didn’t save a sinner and wasn’t necessary, it did bring about a higher state of perfection. That’s the point behind this verse in Galatians 3:3 –

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:3 | NIV84)

This was a big problem in the early church and the Judaizers, the false brothers by name, could have ruined the fledgling church by intimidating its members and it’s preachers into caving into their demands to introduce elements of Judaism, particularly circumcision, thereby making Christianity just another sect of Judaism.

Sounds crazy, right? Who’d be foolish enough to go along with that? Remember the aforementioned Peter? He was one who was intimidated by these Judaizers. Here’s how Paul dealt with Peter’s problem:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11-13 | NIV84)

Paul opposed Peter in his unseemly behavior. I’d love to have been a fly on the way when that happened! Here was Peter, one of those closest to Jesus, the one so brash and rash in the early days of his faith, now cowering in the face of these false brothers. It’s astounding that a such a minority of people could wield such influence over so many. But that’s the way it’s always been with false teaching and certainly it’s the way it is today.

That’s the background in behind the verse that opened this message:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

Paul’s perspective

Here’s the thing. Unlike Peter, Paul never gave into these Judaizers for a second. Paul’s perspective was the right one. He had a new life under Christ. He wasn’t that man that persecuted Christians years ago. This new life in Christ set Paul free from the hindrances of the law – that law that encouraged him to persecute Christians; the same law that insisted Gentiles be circumcised or obey other stipulations of Judaism!

That first phrase, “I have been crucified with Christ” sets the foundation for Paul’s perspective. When a person becomes a Christian, he is identified with Christ – His life and His death. This isn’t a clever turn of phrase, it’s a statement of faith. By faith, a sinner makes Christ’s death his own. What that means is profound. In the future sense, it means that a redeemed sinner will never face eternal death for his sins. Somehow, when Christ died on then Cross, so did the sinner. This spiritual fact is something we take on faith.

The present benefit is astounding. The power of sin is broken in the believer’s life because he died to sin with Christ. As Christ died to the world around Him, so we died to world around us. Our old, inner self, hopelessly addicted to sin and depraved by sin, doesn’t exist anymore. That’s an objective truth that must also be taken by faith because more often than not it feels like our old self is still alive and kicking. It isn’t. But sin still is and it’s up to us to live in such a way as to put truth to the spiritual fact that our old self is dead and gone.

The counterpart to dying with Christ is the second phrase: “Christ lives in me.” Paul and all believers are living a new life.

just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 | NIV84)

Death to sin – death to the world around us – opens the door to this new life in Christ. The Greek is far more emphatic than our English translations. Here’s how one Bible scholar paraphrased what Paul was trying to get across:

I live no longer as I once did, but in a new way – no longer I. Now Christ lives in me – He is the Lord of my life.

I like that. Paul wasn’t the same man he was before he fell off that donkey on the road to Damascus. He was different; he was different because he was no longer running his life. Christ was now in charge of Paul the apostle.

In spite of that, he still needed faith. This wonderful new life in Christ is lived in the here-and-now, or “in the body,” as Paul put it. And to live a life worthy of Christ takes faith. Paul was justified by faith and now he must live by faith in Christ. Think about what that means. First, everything in the believer’s life comes from Christ. He is the source. In fact, His love for sinners caused Him to die for them. But secondly, Paul discovered that while salvation was free and and the result of God’s amazing grace, living the Christian life was entirely up to him. He couldn’t’ afford to attempt to live righteously by simply obeying a bunch of man-made rules or regulations. He wouldn’t do it, and he wouldn’t tell others to do it. Paul had discovered something every believer in Jesus Christ must: we live by faith in Jesus Christ and in what He did on the Cross.

Real Live Zombies!

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Zombies are big business these days. I will admit that I don’t get why people like zombies so much. The idea of “the living dead” going around eating the living is a little hard to swallow. I prefer my monsters a little more believable. Give me a good vampire or werewolf and I’m happy. And yet, in a sense, zombies are Biblical. Read this:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… (Ephesians 2:1 NKJV)

In other words, before we were saved, we were dead. Non-Christians are “the living dead.” They may not look like the zombies in the movies – yet – but they’re dead all the same. Non-Christians, no matter how alive and vital they may appear, are no better than zombies prowling the land, biding their time until their deteriorating bodies catch up to their already dead souls. But Jesus changes all that. When He enters your life, He restores your soul; He breathes the breath of His eternal life into you.

Let’s explore this idea by looking at what the Bible has to say.

Dead to sin, Romans 6:5 – 11

For you have become a part of him, and so you died with him, so to speak, when he died; and now you share his new life and shall rise as he did. Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin; for when you are deadened to sin you are freed from all its allure and its power over you. (Romans 6:5 – 7 TLB)

In this paragraph, Paul is reinforcing some things he wrote about earlier:

We have died to sin—how then can we go on living in it? For surely you know that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. (Romans 6:2, 3 GNB)

Paul’s thesis is this: when we were “the living dead,” we went around sinning all the time because sin was “alive to us,” it had power over us. But when we found Jesus, He gave us new life. By making us alive to Him, we became dead to sin; sin lost the power it once had over us. At verse 5, the apostle explains how this is possible: when our Lord Jesus Christ died, we did too. Looking at this verse in the NASB, it looks like this –

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…

In the Greek, “united with Him” comes from symphutoi, which means “grown together.” That idea, coupled with “in the likeness of His resurrection” becomes easier to grasp when we understand that “grown together” may also be used to describe a graft, like a tree graft. Paul is giving us a vital piece of theology here. When Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross, thereby breaking the world’s hold over Him, we who are saved were joined or fused to Him. It’s not that we died physically with Jesus. We didn’t. We weren’t even born then! Paul is speaking about a spiritual death accomplished through a spiritual joining or fusion which occurred at the moment of our conversion. At that moment, when Jesus died to the world, we did too. A “spiritual change” took place when we became united to Jesus – or, if you will, identified with Him.

And we know that our old being has been put to death with Christ on his cross, in order that the power of the sinful self might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin. (Romans 6:6 GNB)

The “old being” refers to the person we used to be; the zombie husk trolling around looking for sin to get into. At our conversion, what happened to Jesus physically on the cross happened spiritually to us – the world of sin lost its sway over us. That certainly doesn’t mean Christians won’t or can’t ever sin again. Experience proves Christians are pretty deft at sinning. What Paul is teaching is that while Christians may sin, they no longer must sin.

How is this possible? For starters, our new ability to avoid sin has little to do with our resolve or determination to stop sinning.

So look upon your old sin nature as dead and unresponsive to sin, and instead be alive to God, alert to him, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11 TLB)

The secret to being “dead to sin” is simply being alive to God! Being “alive to God” is only possible when God, through Jesus, makes it possible. A non-Christian can’t be alive to God.  He is, in fact, dead to God. That’s why the non-Christian has to rely on good fortune instead of God’s blessings. Being alive to God means you know God and, most importantly, God knows you. And when you know God, you shouldn’t want to sin.

Of course, while we may be dead to sin and alive to God, sin is still very much alive to us; sin still wants to reclaim us. Our new relationship to God through His Son means that we will exercise significant, substantial, and measurable obedience to God’s will.  Though we may fail from time to time in holy living, we will keep on seeking God and keep on living lives that please Him.

Yielded to God, Romans 6:12 – 14; 12:1, 2

Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires. Do not let any part of your bodies become tools of wickedness, to be used for sinning; but give yourselves completely to God—every part of you—for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes. Sin need never again be your master, for now you are no longer tied to the law where sin enslaves you, but you are free under God’s favor and mercy. (Romans 6:12 – 14 TLB)

Here’s why it’s hard to be a Christian sometimes. Paul advises his readers NOT to let sin control their bodies anymore. It may seem odd that he would write verse 12 after what he wrote in verse 6, but he did and we need to see why. Our old zombie-selves are dead and gone, but sin is continually trying to drag us back into the dark world where zombies dwell. Not letting that happen is up to us; we have the power to stop sin from gaining that foothold. Here’s the thing, though:  When we are suddenly free to stop sinning, what will we do to occupy the time sinning used to occupy? At our conversion, a vacuum is created; the need to sin is gone. Like the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” Sin wants desperately to flow back into our lives to be our number one pursuit once again. The solution is simple: live your life in God’s hands; let Him use you for His purposes. This is obviously something only we can do for ourselves and it’s something we must do all the time. John Wesley’s thoughts on the matter are worth considering:

Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low by You. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.

The transformation from zombie to child of God happens immediately at our conversion in the spiritual sense but what about in the physical sense? In the physical sense, it takes a little longer and requires a lot more effort:

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you. (Romans 12:1, 2 TLB)

Maybe the best commentary on these two powerful verses comes from Chrysostom:

How can the body become a sacrifice? Let the eye look upon nothing evil, and it becomes a sacrifice. Let the tongue speak nothing shameful, and it has become an offering. Let the hand do nothing unlawful, and it has become burnt offering. Nay, this is not sufficient, but we need the active practice of good – the hand must do alms, the mouth must bless them that curse, the ear must give attention to divine lessons. For a sacrifice has nothing impure, a sacrifice is the first-fruit of other things. And let us therefore with our hands, and our feet, and our mouth, and all our other members, render first-fruits unto God.

In essence, the life a true believer in Jesus Christ lives must be markedly different from the life described in 1:24 –

So God let them go ahead into every sort of sex sin, and do whatever they wanted to—yes, vile and sinful things with each other’s bodies. (Romans 1:24 TLB)

Paul uses the word “plead.” Why was he so adamant? It’s because the draw of the zombie-world is powerful and our old zombie-nature, redeemed as it may be, naturally wants to be go back to the way things were before. That’s why Paul pleaded and begged with his Roman friends. That’s why changing your habitual ways of thinking is absolutely essential if you want to remain living in the new life Christ gave you.

Set free by grace, Romans 6:15 – 23

Having been set free from living the life of a spiritual zombie, what are we supposed to be doing? To begin with, we have not been set free from sin to sin. Our much-vaunted freedom in Christ has nothing to do with doing as we please. Only the most carnally-minded Christian would think that. Paul tells us precisely what we former zombies have been set free to do:

And now you are free from your old master, sin; and you have become slaves to your new master, righteousness. (Romans 6:18 TLB)

Or to put it another way, we have been set free to obey God. I know that sounds paradoxical; we have been set free from one form of servitude (to sin) only to become embroiled in another kind of servitude (to righteousness). But, there is a difference.

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a TLB)

Being a zombie with no choice but to sin will always end badly. It will always end in death. But then there’s this:

...the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23b TLB)

Who wouldn’t want to “serve” righteousness knowing the reward of eternal life is awaiting them?  “Serving” righteousness is simply putting forth the effort to live righteous lives.  Let’s face it.  If, as a believer, you spend your time looking for ways to serve God and performing acts of righteousness, you’ll have less time to get in trouble!

Paul understood how difficult this concept of “being free to serve God” was, so he added this:

I speak this way, using the illustration of slaves and masters, because it is easy to understand… (Romans 6:19a TLB)

Indeed.  We can be pretty thick, sometimes.

We have also been set free to bear fruit:

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. (Romans 6:22 TLB)

In their previous lives, these Roman Christians had been pagans and they lived their pagan lifestyle for all to see. But now, as Christians, they were to live their new lifestyle of holiness for all to see. That’s the idea behind “bearing fruit.”

Once we were zombies, wandering around the countryside, engaged in all manner of vile sinfulness. But now, as Christians, we have been set free from that horrible living death.  We are zombies no more.

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