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Alive To God (6:8-17)

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Many people have a negative view of religion, and Christianity in particular, because they think of it in terms of prohibitions. In their minds, religions consist of a list of rules which prevent them from doing what they want to do.

It is true that the followers of Christ will refrain from doing many things. However, those who think that religion consists of rules miss something very important. The followers of Christ refrain from certain things, not because of rules but because they have a changed nature. In his inspired letter to the church at Rome the Apostle Paul points out that when someone becomes a follower of Christ, he dies to sin. In the waters of baptism he joins Christ in His death. One of the results of dying to sin and dying with Christ is receiving new life – a life which naturally avoids doing the things which are not pleasing to God. In chapter 6, verses 8 through 17 of his letter Paul writes, “But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Neither present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don’t you know that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto you were delivered.”

In this passage Paul uses three word-pictures to explain why the followers of Christ are free from sin and why they should refrain from practicing sin. The first illustration he uses is that of death and resurrection. He points out that just as the death of Christ and His resurrection are inseparable, so too, are dying with Christ and living a new life. Since Christ rose from the dead, death no longer has any hold or mastery over Him. He cannot die again. In the same way, sin no longer has any hold on the person who has died to it. In Christ he is a new person. Just as living people do not associate with the dead, someone whom Christ has made spiritually alive no longer practices the things which brought him spiritual death. Instead, from now on he is free to live as God wants him to.

The second metaphor Paul uses is that of a king or ruler. A king’s subjects must obey the king’s orders. However, the king’s edicts do not apply to someone who is not part of his kingdom. Paul explains that sin reigns in the lives of those who have not died to it. Sin forces those who live in its domination to obey its evil desires. Their bodies become instruments of wickedness.

In contrast to this, those who have joined themselves to Christ no longer live under the domination of sin. They belong to a different kingdom where sin’s reign no longer applies. In another place Paul writes, “For he (that is God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV) Paul points out that just as the subjects of one kingdom are not obligated to obey some other king, people who do not live under the reign of sin should not subject themselves to its rules. Instead, they should offer their allegiance and obedience to their own king – that is God.

What are the operative principles of the two kingdoms? Law defines the kingdom of sin. As Paul already said in chapter 5, verse 13, “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” (NIV) In other words, without the law we would not know what sin is and no one could be held accountable for breaking the law. However, as Paul also pointed out, since the law was given no one except Christ has been able to keep it. All of us have been declared sinners before God. The law is a continual reminder of our shortcomings.

In contrast, the kingdom of Christ operates on the principle of grace. Not only does grace make up for our inability to meet God’s standards of righteousness, it gives us the power to turn away from wickedness.

Christ takes us out from under the authority of law. As a result, sin can no longer rule over us. Instead, grace empowers us to live righteous and holy lives.

Some might think that living under grace instead of law gives us a license to sin. Since grace covers our shortcomings, what difference does it make what we do? Paul’s answer is that the two kingdoms are incompatible. We cannot enjoy the benefits of the kingdom of Christ while living by the rules of the kingdom of darkness. If we obey someone, we are the slaves of the one whom we obey. If we choose sin over grace, then sin will be our master.

This leads to the third word-picture Paul uses to describe sin. It is that of a slave owner. Sin is like a cruel master who works his slaves to death. We do not have a choice about whether we will serve, but we do have a choice about whom we will serve. We can choose between obedience to sin, which leads to death, and obedience to the teaching which leads to righteousness.

The real question is what our choice is. Have we chosen to die to sin? Have we chosen to participate in Christ’s death so that we have new life? Have we chosen grace over law? Are we slaves to sin or to righteousness?

If you would like to know more about spiritual slavery and freedom, impurity and righteousness, death and life, then please listen to our next program.