6:11 In Rom. 6:1–13, three essential elements of the sanctification process are given: (1) know what salvation means (v. 3); (2) reckon or consider yourself to be dead to sin (present imperative); and (3) present yourself and the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness (present imperative, v. 13). We are called to live experientially what we are positionally. That sanctification requires our active involvement is clearly evident.
6:11 consider yourselves. Recognize that what has been said in vv. 1–10 is already the truth about yourself.
6:11 alive to God Like Christ, believers live for God and are empowered to do His will.
6:11 Dead to sin means dead to the pervasive love for and ruling power of sin. Christians must realize that the mastery of sin has been broken in their lives (see note on v. 6).
6:11 Even so. This implies the importance of his readers’ knowing what he just explained. Without that foundation, what he is about to teach will not make sense. Scripture always identifies knowledge as the foundation for one’s practice (cf. Col 3:10). consider. This word was often used metaphorically to refer to having an absolute, unreserved confidence in what one’s mind knows to be true—the kind of heartfelt confidence that affects his actions and decisions. Paul is not referring to mind games in which we trick ourselves into thinking a certain way. Rather he is urging us to embrace by faith what God has revealed to be true. dead to sin. See vv. 2–7. in Christ. Paul’s favorite expression of our union with Christ. This is its first occurrence in Romans (cf. Eph 1:3–14).
6:11 — Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One day, the sin that still dwells in our unredeemed bodies will be eradicated. Until then, we are to draw on the power of the Spirit to put to death the sin that still wants to express itself, and obey God for His glory.
6:11 Reckon is an accounting term that means “to take into account,” “calculate,” or “decide.” Verses 3–10 reveal the truth that believers have already died to sin because they have participated in Jesus’ death. Since believers have died with Christ and have also been raised with Him, Paul now urges Christians to consider themselves dead … to sin. Although before conversion they were still enslaved to the power of sin, now they are free to resist it.
6:11. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin. Believers must adopt an attitude by reckoning themselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul does not only mean to draw an inference from v 10, but to the entire set of truths mentioned from vv 1–10. Christians are commanded continually to “calculate” (logizesthe; cf. 4:3) the reality of being positionally dead to sin in Christ Jesus, and alive to God’s new, powerful realm of existence (v 10).
6:11 Paul has described what is true of us positionally. Now he turns to the practical outworking of this truth in our lives. We are to RECKON ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To reckon here means to accept what God says about us as true and to live in the light of it. Ruth Paxson writes:
[It means] believing what God says in Romans 6:6 and knowing it as a fact in one’s own personal salvation. This demands a definite act of faith, which results in a fixed attitude toward “the old man.” We will see him where God sees him—on the Cross, put to death with Christ. Faith will operate continuously to keep him where grace placed him. This involves us very deeply, for it means that our hearty consent has been given to God’s condemnation of and judgment upon that old “I” as altogether unworthy to live and as wholly stripped of any further claims upon us. The first step in a walk of practical holiness is this reckoning upon the crucifixion of “the old man.”
We reckon ourselves dead to sin when we respond to temptation as a dead man would. One day Augustine was accosted by a woman who had been his mistress before his conversion. When he turned and walked away quickly, she called after him, “Augustine, it’s me! it’s me!” Quickening his pace, he called back over his shoulder, “Yes, I know, but it’s no longer me!” What he meant was that he was dead to sin and alive to God. A dead man has nothing to do with immorality, lying, cheating, gossiping, or any other sin.
Now we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. This means that we are called to holiness, worship, prayer, service, and fruitbearing.
6:11. Here, for the first time in Romans, Paul gives a true command, the first application of the entire book. Consider means “to count, compute, calculate, take into account, to make account of” something, and here means “a deliberate and sober judgment on the basis of the facts one has.” The believer is not commanded to “put the old sin nature to death” as he is in Eph 4:22 and Col 3:9 (see the comments there), for this is done for him and her by God at the moment of conversion. Rather, believers are commanded to understand these profound facts, and failure to do so amounts to sin (cf. Jms 4:17).
6:11. In the simplest of terms, Paul says that the way we are to experience what Jesus experienced (in the same way that he is free from sin to live to God) is to count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God. Count yourselves—so far, this has been something that God has done to us, and now Paul says we are to do it to ourselves. For instance, in Romans 4:3 Paul says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him [counted to him] as righteousness.” That forms the basis of Paul’s argument in Romans 4 that God likewise will credit righteousness to the account (count yourselves) of those who exercise faith like Abraham did.
The word is logizomai which can mean “to count,” “to credit,” “to think.” In the numerous times Paul uses the word in his epistles, the NIV translates it with the following semantic range: “think” (Rom. 2:3; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:6; Phil. 4:8), “regard” (Rom. 2:26; 9:8; 14:14; 1 Cor. 4:1), “maintain” (Rom. 3:28), “credit” (Rom. 4:3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24; Gal. 3:6), “count” (Rom. 4:8; 6:11; 2 Cor 5:19), “consider” (Rom. 8:18, 36; 2 Cor. 10:7; Phil. 3:13), “keep a record” (1 Cor. 13:5), “reason” (1 Cor. 13:11), “claim” (2 Cor. 3:5), “expect” (2 Cor. 10:2), “realize” (2 Cor. 10:11), “hold” (2 Tim. 4:16). Anyone who ever doubted the richness of the English language will appreciate the depth and variety of terms used to translate a single Greek word.
Logizomai is from logos, an idea embodied in a word (or, in the case of Christ, a person). Logizomai here is present middle imperative, a command to be carried out upon oneself: count yourselves. In essence, logizomai says that words have meaning. When believers in Christ arrive in heaven one day, they will see Abraham, Why? Because God declared that Abraham was righteous. What God said had meaning, and the results of it will be shown when we arrive in heaven and see Abraham, just like God said. In the same way, if God says those who have died and been raised with Christ are dead to sin, they are dead to sin.
This is not a word game, or a matter of positive thinking. It is a matter of conforming our minds and renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2) to the truth from God’s perspective. It is a matter of believing (and coming to understand experientially) that when God speaks truth … because his words are alive they bear fruit and produce results (Isa. 55:11; Heb. 4:12). God’s words change things (Mark 4:39) and people (Mark 2:9–12). So when God says that the believer in Christ is dead to sin as a result of identification with the death and resurrection of Christ, that person has, in fact, been changed from being a person alive to sin to being a person dead to sin.
Because words are how we communicate and think, and because different words will strike a responsive note in different people different ways, the entire semantic range of a concept like logizomia is helpful to meditate upon:
|[that is …]
|that this is true.
|count yourselves …
|think for yourselves, regard yourselves as, maintain for yourselves, credit yourselves, consider yourselves, keep a record for yourselves, reason with yourselves, claim for yourselves, expect for yourselves, realize for yourselves, hold onto for yourselves …
|… dead to sin.
6:11 “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin,” This is a PRESENT MIDDLE (deponent) IMPERATIVE. This is an ongoing, habitual command for believers. Christians’ knowledge of Christ’s work on their behalf is crucial for daily life. The term “consider” (cf. 4:4, 9), was an accounting term that meant “carefully add it up” and then act on that knowledge. Verses 1–11 acknowledged one’s position in Christ (positional sanctification) while 12–13 emphasized walking in Him (progressive sanctification). See Special Topic at v. 4.
11. So then you yourselves should also consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
At this point doctrine makes way for exhortation. What has been established, namely, that believers are in principle dead to sin and alive to Christ, must become the abiding conviction of their hearts and minds, the take-off point for all their thinking, planning, rejoicing, speaking, doing. They must constantly bear in mind that they are no longer what they used to be. Their lives from day to day must show that they have not forgotten this. They are “in Christ”: chosen “in him” (Eph. 1:4), redeemed “in him” (Eph. 1:7), living “in him” (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:12). Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to them. His Spirit has been poured out into their hearts. In a sense it is true that when Christ died, they died with him. When he arose, they arose with him. Cf. 2 Cor. 5:14, 15.
What may well be the best commentary on Rom. 6:11 is Paul’s own: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. On the things that are above set your minds, not on the things that are upon the earth. For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ (who is) our life is manifested, you also will be manifested with him in glory” (Col. 3:1–4).
We must count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (11)
We could put it in this way. If Christ’s death was a death to sin (which it was), and if his resurrection was a resurrection to God (which it was), and if by faith-baptism we have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection (which we have been), then we ourselves have died to sin and risen to God. We must therefore ‘reckon’ (av), ‘consider’ (rsv), ‘regard’ (neb), ‘look upon’ (jbp) or count (niv) ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in, or by reason of our union with, Christ Jesus (11).
This ‘reckoning’ is not make-believe. It is not screwing up our faith to believe what we do not believe. We are not to pretend that our old nature has died, when we know perfectly well it has not. Instead we are to realize and remember that our former self did die with Christ, thus putting an end to its career. We are to consider what in fact we are, namely dead to sin and alive to God (11), like Christ (10). Once we grasp this, that our old life has ended, with the score settled, the debt paid and the law satisfied, we shall want to have nothing more to do with it.
Let me revert to John Jones. We saw that his life was divided into two halves, his biography into two volumes. Volume 1 ended with the judicial death of his former self; volume 2 opened with his resurrection. He must remember these facts about himself. It is not to pretence that Paul calls him, but to reflection and recollection. He has to keep reminding himself: ‘Volume 1 is long since closed. I am now living in volume 2. It is inconceivable that I should reopen volume 1, as if my death and resurrection with Christ had never taken place.’
Can a married woman live as though she were still single? Well, yes, I suppose she could. It is not impossible. But let her remember who she is. Let her feel her wedding ring, the symbol of her new life of union with her husband, and she will want to live accordingly. Can born-again Christians live as though they were still in their sins? Well, yes, I suppose they could, at least for a while. It is not impossible. But let them remember who they are. Let them recall their baptism, the symbol of their new life of union-with Christ, and they will want to live accordingly.
So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing (6) that our former self was crucified with Christ, in knowing (3) that baptism into Christ is baptism into his death and resurrection, and in considering (11, rsv) that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God. We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. Regenerate Christians should no more contemplate a return to unregenerate living than adults to their childhood, married people to their singleness or discharged prisoners to their prison cell. For our union with Jesus Christ has severed us from the old life and committed us to the new. Our baptism stands between the two like a door between two rooms, closing on the one and opening into the other. We have died, and we have risen. How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?
11. You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is no game of ‘let’s pretend’; believers should consider themselves to be what God in fact has made them. It is no vain exercise but one which is morally fruitful: the Spirit has come to make effective in them what Christ has done for them, and to enable them to become in daily experience, as far as may be in the present conditions of mortality, what they already are ‘in Christ Jesus’ and what they will be fully in the resurrection life. (This is the subject of 8:1–27.)
11. So count ye also yourselves, &c. Now is added a definition of that analogy to which I have referred. For having stated that Christ once died to sin and lives for ever to God, he now, applying both to us, reminds us how we now die while living, that is, when we renounce sin. But he omits not the other part, that is, how we are to live after having by faith received the grace of Christ: for though the mortifying of the flesh is only begun in us, yet the life of sin is destroyed, so that afterwards spiritual newness, which is divine, continues perpetually. For except Christ were to slay sin in us at once to the end, his grace would by no means be sure and durable.
The meaning, then, of the words may be thus expressed, “Take this view of your case,—that as Christ once died for the purpose of destroying sin, so you have once died, that in future you may cease from sin; yea, you must daily proceed with that work of mortifying, which is begun in you, till sin be wholly destroyed: as Christ is raised to an incorruptible life, so you are regenerated by the grace of God, that you may lead a life of holiness and righteousness, inasmuch as the power of the Holy Spirit, by which ye have been renewed, is eternal, and shall ever continue the same.” But I prefer to retain the words of Paul, in Christ Jesus, rather than to translate with Erasmus, through Christ Jesus; for thus the grafting, which makes us one with Christ, is better expressed.
11 The introductory words, “in the same way also,” indicate that Paul is now drawing a comparison—a comparison between the death and life of Christ and the attitude Christians are to adopt toward themselves. But Paul also states in this verse a summarizing inference from the teaching of the paragraph as a whole. As the death Christ died was a death “to sin” (v. 10), so Christians who have died with Christ (vv. 4a, 5a, 6, 8a) must now regard themselves as being those who are “dead to sin.” And as Christ’s once-for-all death led to resurrection and new life in God’s service (vv. 4b, 9–10), so Christians who participate in that resurrection life (vv. 4b, 5b, 8b) must regard themselves as those who are “alive to God.” Paul uses a present imperative, urging us constantly to view ourselves in this light. As always in Paul, the indicative grounds the imperative. In union with Christ we have been made dead to sin and alive to God; it remains for us to appropriate (v. 11) and apply (vv. 12–13) what God has done for us. As Thielicke puts it, “The imperative does not refer to the dying. Over this we have no control, since Jesus Christ has died for us and we only receive the gift of his dying and are drawn into it. The object of the imperative is that we should take this death into account, take it seriously, and thus make the gift become a gift in which we participate.” It is the “affirmation of a new reality.”453 The last phrase of the verse reminds us that this new state is possible only in union with Christ: we are alive to God only “in Christ Jesus.” Being “dead to sin” and “alive to God” is a state achieved only in union with Christ, who himself died to sin and is alive to God.455 In this context, “in Christ” must be seen in light of the persistent “with Christ” language of vv. 4–10. Both phrases connote that the believer has experienced what has taken place with our representative, Christ. While the “with” language is more suitable to actions (dying, being buried, being raised), the “in” language fits better the continuing relationship of “deadness” to sin and “aliveness” to God of which this verse speaks. Only “in relation to,” “as joined to,” Christ—by faith—can the new life of victory over sin become a reality. (See the excursus following 6:14 for discussion of Paul’s “in Christ” language.)
11 This verse is hortatory. “Reckon yourselves” is imperative rather than indicative. What is commanded needs to be carefully noted. We are not commanded to become dead to sin and alive to God; these are presupposed. And it is not by reckoning these to be facts that they become facts. The force of the imperative is that we are to reckon with and appreciate the facts which already obtain by virtue of union with Christ. The expression “dead unto sin” implies an abiding state or condition resultant upon the once-for-all decisive event of having died to sin by union with Christ in the efficacy of his death. And the complementation of “dead unto sin” and “alive unto God,” as parallel to Christ’s death to sin and life to God (vs. 10), implies that the life to God is of abiding continuance just as being dead to sin is. The security and permanence of this life to God are insured by the fact that it is “in Christ Jesus” the life is maintained.
11 In the previous verses, Paul has been imparting information on the subject of union with Christ, and in keeping with this he has three times used the word “know” (vv. 3, 6, 9), as a way of focusing on what is true. Now he employs a different key word—“count” or “reckon” (logizomai [GK 3357], the same term used so often in ch. 4 in connection with righteousness), used in the imperative. We encounter here the oddity of the juxtaposition of the indicative and the imperative—i.e., something is flatly affirmed to be true, and then immediately we encounter the command to act in a way that manifests this truth. This interesting feature of Pauline thought is the result of the tension between what is sometimes called “positional” truth and “experiential” truth and is not unlike that between present and future eschatology. The challenge of Christian living for Paul can be stated in the maxim, “Be what you are,” or, “Act out your true identity.”
Counting something as true does not create the fact of union with Christ but makes it operative in one’s life. The charge to consider oneself “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” is thus in the present tense, stressing the necessity to keep up the process if one is to avoid reactivating the body of sin. Paradoxically, the Christian is dead and alive at the same time, as in Galatians 2:20—dead to sin and self but alive and responsive to God. The Christian is to give no more response to sin than a dead person can give. On the other hand, all the potential afforded by redeemed life is to be channeled godward: “alive to God.”
Paul seems to lay considerable stress on the importance of this process of counting true or reckoning. It is not a matter of attempting to convince oneself of something untrue, thus amounting to self-deception. Rather, it is a matter of letting the truth of union with Christ have its intended effect. What is factually true must be allowed to become a matter of experience. Christians are “to arm themselves with the mentality that they are dead to sin; for that is what happened to them in the baptismal experience” (Fitzmyer, 438).
You Can Count on It
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
I want to start this study with a brief quiz on the early chapters of Romans, and the question I want to ask is this: How many times in the letter up to this point has the apostle Paul urged his readers to do something? That is, how many exhortations have there been?
More than ten? Thirty? Less than five?
How many imperative statements occurred in chapter 1? Were there more exhortations in chapter 5 than in chapter 4?
What do you think? How many exhortations has Paul made so far?
The answer to this question is that there have been none at all! And the reason I emphasize this is to call attention to the most significant thing to be noted about Romans 6:11. This verse is an exhortation, and it is the first in the epistle. This is the first time in five and a half chapters that the apostle has urged his readers to do anything.
What are they to do? The text says: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
This is an important enough statement in itself, but it becomes even more so when we realize that Romans 6:11 is also a turning point in the letter. I mean by this that, having gotten the first olive out of the bottle, so to speak, the other exhortative olives now tumble out naturally. The next verses are full of them: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body.… Do not offer the parts of your body to sin … but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him …” (vv. 12–14, emphasis added).
What God Has Done
Most modern Americans are activists. So we are inclined to think, as we come to this verse, that we are at last getting to what matters. But, at the risk of prolonging our discussion of the earlier chapters beyond the limits of most people’s tolerance, I need to say that the point I am making—that this is the first exhortation in the letter—is of great practical importance.
Let me approach it this way. We live in an age of self-help books and seminars, in Christian circles as well as in the world at large, and these small books (they are usually small) and short (perhaps weekend-length) courses promise the consumer great things. The Christian versions offer formulas by which we are supposed to be able to move ahead quickly in our Christian lives. They teach us how to become great prayer warriors, perhaps even “change the world” through prayer. They show us how to relate to others successfully. They promise quick and effective methods of Bible study.
I do not want to suggest that these “quick fix” offerings are useless, of course. They are not useless. They are helpful to many, and I am sure they have their place, particularly in our fast-paced, solution-oriented culture. Still, if you have read any of these books or attended these seminars, isn’t it the case that you have generally been disappointed at some level, perhaps even deeply frustrated? Perhaps you have even been frustrated enough to write off completely these methods for growing strong in the Christian faith. You have said, “I am sure they must work for other people, but not for me. They help, but not enough. Probably nothing will help me. I am probably called to be just a normal [read ‘second-class’] Christian.”
What is wrong here? I suggest that because of our characteristic North American impatience with matters of basic substance or with anything requiring hard and prolonged work, we have jumped ahead too quickly to the “exhortation” parts of Christianity and have not taken sufficient time to understand and appropriate the fundamental teachings. If this is so, then Paul’s procedure in Romans should be of great help to us. Was Paul not interested in the spiritual growth of the Roman Christians? Of course, he was. But he knew that there was no use rushing ahead to tell them how to live the Christian life until he had first fully instructed them on what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. This is because the work of God in Christ is foundational to everything else about Christianity.
What Paul principally wanted his readers to understand here is what theologians call the mystical union of believers with Jesus Christ. Paul’s way of talking about this is to say that Christians are “in Christ,” “in Jesus Christ” or “in him.” Those who count such things tell us that those phrases occur 164 times in Paul’s writings. One of them is in our text, and it is the first time this exact phrase has occurred in Romans. Yet it is what Paul has really been talking about for several chapters. Romans 5 dealt with it directly, contrasting our former state of being in Adam with our present state of being in Christ. In Romans 6 this has already been presented indirectly in terms of our having died to sin and having been united to Jesus in his resurrection.
This has been done for us by God. It has been his work, not ours. We have no more joined ourselves to Jesus in his resurrection than we have died for our own sins. If we are Christians, everything that is necessary has been done for us by God.
A Bookkeeping Term
What we learn in a general way, by reflecting on the amount of teaching Paul has given in chapters 1–5 of Romans, is reinforced by the verb he uses in Romans 6:11. It is the word count (or “reckon,” as some of the other versions have it). The Greek word is logizomai, and it is related to the more common term logos, meaning “word,” “deed,” or “fact.”
In classical Greek, logizomai had two main uses:
- It was used in commercial dealings in the sense of evaluating an object’s worth or reckoning up a project’s gain or losses. In other words, it was a bookkeeping term. We have preserved a bit of this in our English words log, logistics, and logarithm. A log refers to the numerical record of a ship’s or airplane’s progress. Logistics is a military term dealing with the numbers and movement of troops or supplies. A logarithm is the exponent to which a base number is raised to produce a given number.
- Logizomai was also used in philosophy in the sense of objective or nonemotional reasoning. We have preserved this meaning in our English words “logic” and “logical.”
The common ground in these two uses of the word is that logizomai has to do with reality, with things as they truly are. In other words, it has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Nor is it an activity that makes something come to pass or happen. It is an acknowledgment of or an acting upon something that is already true or has already happened. In bookkeeping, for example, it means posting in a ledger an amount corresponding to what actually exists. If I “reckon” in my passbook that I have $100, I must really have $100. If not, “reckoning” is the wrong word for me to be using. “Deceiving myself” (or others) would be more like it.
It will also help us in our understanding of Romans 6:11 to recognize that logizomai has already been used several times in Romans and that in every case it has referred to recognizing something that is factual. In fact, logizomai has appeared fourteen times before now, and it will occur again (in Romans 8 and 9). The chief use has been in chapter 4 (eleven occurrences), where Paul employed it to show how our sins have been reckoned to Christ and punished there, and how his righteousness has been reckoned (“credited”) to us. These two “reckonings” are the two parallel sides of justification, and when we studied them (in volume 1) we saw that their strength comes from knowing that they concern realities. They are not just imaginary transactions. Jesus really did die for our sin; he suffered for our transgressions. Similarly, his righteousness really has been transferred to our account, so that God accounts us righteous in him.
This has bearing on Paul’s exhortation to us in Romans 6:11. For although he is proceeding in this chapter to the area of what we are to do and actions we are to take, his starting point is nevertheless our counting as true what God has himself already done for us.
This is so critical that I want to ask pointedly: Do you and I really understand this? We cannot go on until we do.
Can I possibly say it more clearly?
Try this: The first step in our growth in holiness is counting as true what is, in fact, true.
And this: The key to living the Christian life lies in first knowing that God has taken us out of Adam and has joined us to Jesus Christ, that we are no longer subject to the reign of sin and death but have been transferred to the kingdom of God’s abounding grace.
And this: The secret to a holy life is believing God.
The First Reality: Dead to Sin
In our text Paul says there are two things God has done that we are to count on. First, that we are dead to sin if we are Christians. We have already seen how this is to be taken. It does not mean that we are immune to sin or temptation. It does not mean that we will not sin. It means that we are dead to the old life and cannot go back to it.
That is the reality Paul first stated explicitly at the beginning of Romans 6, in verse 2. “We died to sin,” he said. In verses 3 and 4, he restated it: We were “baptized into his death” and “buried with him through baptism into death.” It was also said in verse 5: “We have been united with him in his death.” Verse 6 said it, too: “Our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 7 again made the point that we “died” with Christ. All those statements have been factual. They describe something that has happened.
On the basis of this truth, Paul now tells us to “count” ourselves as having died to sin in Christ Jesus. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones renders it: “Consider, and keep constantly before you, this truth about yourself.” In other words, learn to think of yourself as one who has been delivered from sin’s realm.
This is such a pivotal text that it is worth adding a number of things that this statement does not mean. Lloyd-Jones lists six of them:
- It does not mean that it is my duty as a Christian to die to sin. The text has nothing to do with duty. It is concerned with fact.
- It is not a command for me to die to sin. How can I be told to do what has already been done to me?
- It does not mean that I am to reckon that sin as a force in me is dead. That would not be true. Sin is a force in me, though it is a force whose effective power over me has been broken (v. 6).
- It does not mean that sin in me has been eradicated.
- It does not mean that I am dead to sin as long as I am in the process of gaining mastery over it. That would make the statement refer to something experimental, and it does not do that. It refers to a past event.
- It does not mean that reckoning myself dead to sin makes me dead to sin. That is backwards. What Paul is saying is that, because we have died to sin, we are to count on it.
The Second Reality: Alive to God
The second reality Paul says we are to count on is that we are now “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This statement completes the parallel to verse 5, in which Paul said, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” It explains how the earlier verse is to be taken. You may remember that when we were discussing verse 5 in the previous study, I stressed that the resurrection referred to there is not the future resurrection of believers at the end of time but rather a present experience of Christ’s resurrection life now. That is exactly where verse 11 has brought us. It tells us that just as we have died to sin (and must count on it), so also have we been made alive to God in Jesus Christ (and must count on that also).
This is the positive side of the matter, the side we were beginning to open up in the earlier study. But we only touched on it there. Here we can ask: “Just what does being made alive to God in Jesus Christ mean? What changes have taken place?” Let me suggest a few of them.
- We have been reconciled to God. In the earlier chapters of Romans there has been a grim sequence of terms: sin, wrath, judgment, death. But God has lifted us out of that downward-spiraling sequence by a set of opposing realities: grace, obedience, righteousness, eternal life. This means that we were subject to the wrath of God but that now, being in Christ, we are in a favorable position before him. Before, we were God’s enemies. Now, we are his friends and, what is more important, he is a friend to us. There is a new relationship.
- We have become new creatures in Christ. Not only is there a new relationship between ourselves and God, which is wonderful in itself, but we have also become something we were not before. In 2 Corinthians, Paul puts it like this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ …” (2 Cor. 5:17–18).
Another way of putting this is to speak of regeneration, or of being born again, which was Jesus’ term for it. He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This was a deliberate backward reference to the way in which God breathed life into our first parent Adam, so that he became “a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Before that, Adam was utterly inert, a lifeless form. But when God breathed some of his breath into him Adam became alive to God and all things. Likewise, this is what happens when God breathes new spiritual life into us in the work known as regeneration. We become something we were not before. We have a new life. That life is responsive to the one who gave it.
Before this, the Bible meant nothing to us when we read it or it was read in our hearing. Now the Bible is intensely alive and interesting. We hear the voice of God in it.
Before this, we had no interest in God’s people. Christians acted in ways that were foreign to us. Their priorities were different from our own. Now they are our very best friends and co-workers. We love their company and cannot seem to get enough of it.
Before this, coming to church was boring. Now we are alive to God’s presence in the service. Our worship times are the very best times of our week.
Before this, service to others and witnessing to the lost seemed strange and senseless, even repulsive. Now they are our chief delight.
What has made the difference? The difference is ourselves. God has changed us. We have become alive to him. We are new creatures.
- We are freed from sin’s bondage. Before we died to sin and were made alive to God, we were slaves of our sinful natures. Sin was ruining us. But even when we could see that clearly and acknowledge it, which was not very often, we were still unable to do anything about it. We said, “I’ve got to stop drinking; it’s killing me.” Or, “I am going to ruin my reputation if I don’t stop these sexual indulgences.” Or, “I’ve got to get control of my temper, or curb my spending [or whatever].” But we were unable to do it. And even if we did get some control of one important area of our lives, perhaps with the help of a good therapist or friends or a supportive family, the general downward and destructive drift was unchanged. We really were non posse non peccare (“not able not to sin”), as Saint Augustine described it.
But, being made alive to God, we discover that we are now freed from that destructive bondage. We still sin, but not always and not as often. And we know that we do not have to. We are now posse non peccare (“able not to sin”). We can achieve a real victory.
- We are pressing forward to a sure destiny and new goals. Before, we were not. We were trapped by the world and by its time-bound, evil horizons. Being saved, we know that we are now destined for an eternity of fellowship and bliss with God. We have not reached it yet. We are not perfect. But we echo within what Paul said in describing his new life in Christ to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12–14).
- We can no longer be satisfied with this world and its offerings. To be sure, the world never did really satisfy us. The world, which is finite, can never adequately fill beings who are made with an infinite capacity for fellowship with and enjoyment of God. But we thought the world and its values were satisfying. We expected to be filled.
Now we know that it will never work and that all we see about us, though it sometimes has value in a limited, earthly sense, is nevertheless passing away and will one day be completely forgotten. Our houses will be gone; our televisions will be gone; our beautiful furniture and cars and bank accounts (even our IRAs and Keoghs) will have passed away. So these tangible things no longer have any real hold on us. We have died to them, and in their place we have been made alive to God, who is intangible, invisible, and eternal, and of greater reality and substance than anything else we can imagine.
Therefore, we know ourselves to be only pilgrims here. We are passing through. Like Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
“A Man Like Me”
Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
I think of Nehemiah as an illustration of what this means and of what our attitude should be. Nehemiah had determined to rebuild the wall of the ruined and abandoned city of Jerusalem, and he was being opposed by the rulers of the rival city-states around him. Two of his opponents were Sanballat of Samaria and Geshem the Arab. They invited him to a conference to be held about a day’s journey from Jerusalem on the plain of Ono. This was a ploy to slow down Nehemiah’s project and perhaps even to kidnap or murder him. Nehemiah refused to stop the work and go to the meeting. His words were classic: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (Neh. 6:3).
Later when the same people tried to frighten him with rumors of a plot on his life, Nehemiah replied, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (v. 11).
It is that courageous, self-aware attitude to life that I commend to you. “Shall I go on sinning so that grace may increase?” You should be able to answer, “How can such a one as I do it—I who have died to sin and been made alive to God in Christ Jesus?” For that is what has happened to you, if you are a Christian. You have been removed from your former state to another. Your job is to reckon it so, to count on it. You must say, “A person like me has better things to do than to keep sinning.”
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