Paul will tell the disciples in Rome they are to count themselves “dead to sin but alive to God” (6:11). He has previously spoken of baptism as being the place where they “died to sin” (v. 2) and were “baptized into His death” (v. 3)—that is, the death of Jesus. How so? Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection) resulted in a new life for Him—one that was different from His earthly life where He came to be a sacrifice for sin. In His new life, that connection with sin is severed (v. 10; Hebrews 9:28). In the same way, as Jesus’ disciples we have severed our connection with sin. It’s not that we don’t ever sin (because we do), but we have severed our commitment to it as part of our lifestyle.
The death that we died to sin was a one-time act that is pictured in our baptism. Yet, we must renew this commitment on a regular basis. In that regard, it’s not unlike marriage. We go through a wedding ceremony and exchange vows once. Yet in healthy marriages those vows are renewed on a regular basis in our minds and hearts. In the same way, we are to count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God.”
In chapter 8 Paul builds on this discussion. He tells the disciples “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). Here we learn we have divine aid in our efforts to live for God. It is through the Spirit we are to put to death the flesh and its unlawful desires. Paul will speak of this as “being led by the Spirit of God” (v. 14).
This is a glorious and powerful truth that can be developed in a number of directions. What I’m interested in is the last three words of v. 13 –“you will live.” The promise is that as we, via the Spirit’s agency, put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, we find life. That’s true in the ultimate sense of finding life when our earthly existence is over, but Paul’s point has to do with the more immediate sense. As we die to sin we open ourselves up to experiencing life in a richer, more profound way than we have previously known.
There is so much in life that is beautiful: a child’s innocence, a golden sunset, the commitment of a husband and wife to each other, the willingness of people to help others—the list is as long as our ability to see. Years ago (well, decades actually), Ray Stevens put out a song with the title “Everything is Beautiful.” The song begins with children singing Jesus Loves the Little Children and then a steady piano chord leads into these words:
Everything is beautiful in its own way.
Like a starry summer night or snow covered winter day.
And everybody’s beautiful in their own way.
Under God’s heaven the world’s gonna find the way.
Sentimental smatterings? Perhaps. But what if life really is a battle to see what is beautiful?
After all, every day we’re bombarded with ugly, painful, unpleasant realities that come as the result of living in a fallen world distorted by rebellion and sin. Nonetheless, God has not left us without beauty if we have the eyes (and heart) to see it. And what Paul is telling us is that a critical element for experiencing life in all of its beauty is counting ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God.”
This is the essence of the life principle we find announced in the gospels by Jesus where we learn that in order to live we must die (Matthew 16:24ff). We must die to pursuing the fake, phony and gratuitous so we can live to what is true, right and good. If we are up to it, and willing to say no to these things, there is a world of beauty God has that is just waiting for us.
It’s worth dying to see.