Dead to Sin, Alive to God: Romans 6 as Personal Transformation
I have a confession.
As a young Christian, I didn’t have much confidence in the idea that sin is conquerable. I knew sin was bad, we weren’t supposed to do it, and fighting it was a struggle. That was about the extent of my knowledge. My ignorance on this topic bred apathy and my beliefs on the topic varied:
“Someday I will be set free from sin...when I die!”
“I guess I just can’t change. I’m stuck in these sin patterns.”
“The Holy Spirit does his thing without my input. I’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride”.
Part of my confusion stemmed from an unspoken word definition that shaped my thoughts about the Bible. It seemed to me that “spiritual” meant something along the lines of mysterious, unreal, or indefinable. Since the Bible is about “spiritual” things, why would I expect it to provide concrete practices for me to enable me to walk in victory over sin?
Praise God for Romans chapter 6, a treasure trove of actionable truth!
After explaining our absolute (and permanent) union with Christ in his death (to sin) and in his new life (to God), Paul pens these words in verses 11-14:
11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
14 For sin will have no dominion over you,
Romans 6 and the Personality Cascade
I find it helpful to think of human personality in terms of three components: mind, will, and emotions. These three create what I’ll call a “personality cascade”ー the mind perceives and judges, the will desires and motivates based on what the mind evaluates, and the emotions reflect whether our will has been satisfied or frustrated. Total personal transformation occurs when each of these areas is addressed by the Good News about Jesus the King. This is exactly what Paul does in this passage.
Step 1 (Mind): Consider yourself dead to sin
In verse 11, Paul starts with the mind, the first tier of the personality cascade. Since we have been crucified and buried with Christ we must “consider [ourselves] dead to sin”. The word translated “consider” has to do with rational thinking based on the facts. The reality that followers of Jesus are dead to sin is a historical fact to be accepted as trueー one that shapes every action going forward.
Step 2 (Will): Reject sin’s illegitimate rule
I don’t know about you, but I hate getting manipulated and deceived. In Paul’s logic, since you have been set free from sin’s authority through participating in Jesus’ death, the only way sin can have power over you is by giving it “free reign”. That’s like a naturalized citizen who still pays taxes to the old country. In this case, sin exercises its power when you choose to use the various members of your body to speak and act in ways that produce death (see Colossians 3:5-9, Galatians 5:19-21, Titus 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6-9-11 for examples). The answer: militantly refuse to accept the lie that you must sin, that you don’t have a choice, that it’s “just the way you are”. Anyone in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Step 3 (Emotions): Identify sin’s controlling passion
In Westerns, outlaws cruelly goad their horses with spurs to make them go faster to escape the pursuing posse. Similarly, sin “reigns” over its subjects through “passions” (v.12). These are the emotions that goad us into death-producing words and actions. For example:
anxiety over lack of security at work goads one person to embezzle, another to slander a coworker, another to be a “yes man”.
bitterness over a perceived slight motivates one person to “key” his opponent’s car, another to manipulate and undermine the other’s success.
dissatisfaction leads one person into an affair, another into perpetual grumbling,
Step 4 (Mind): Reflect upon how being “in Christ” specifically targets the issue at hand
Imagine that your livelihood is threatened by a possible round of layoffs or an economic downturn. The negative emotion of anxiety comes from not getting what your will desires: financial security. What truth has the Father told you about reality in His word and through the Word made flesh, Jesus?
The Caring Father knows your needs and acts to meet them.
Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ーMatthew 6:31-34
Our Caring Father wants you to come to him with your anxiety, not to sit in it alone.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ー1 Peter 5:7
Our Caring Father uses adversity for your benefit, to mature and perfect you.
Consider it pure joy... whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ー James 1:2-4
Step 5 (Will): Choose to act “alive to God” in agreement with the Truth He has spoken
We walk in fellowship with God when we live according to his wisdom rather than our own (1 John 1:7). God’s ultimate goal for us in Christ is “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Since we are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11), we are now free to present the members of our body “to God as instruments of righteousness” (v.13b).
Using the example above, when we choose to act “alive to God”, we refuse to allow our anxiety or insecurity to make us less hospitable and generous with our finances or in helping another’s career. We refuse to grumble; instead we share the goodness and provision of the Father, remembering especially the death and resurrection of the Son, who gave up his position in order to serve us! (Philippians 2:5-8). These acts of our will are not borne out of just gritting our teeth and powering through; we consciously choose to act out of trust in what God has told us and what He has done for us in Christ.
Step 6: (Emotions) Delight in gratitude for the Father’s care in this specific situation
We’ve reached the end of the second “personality cascade”ーthe deep, abiding joy of knowing the personal care and fellowship the Father extends to us. Just as biblical faith is connected to a specific promise, so biblical gratitude is connected to a specific act of care we receive. When we respond with gratitude for the specific way God meets us in our need, our trust in Him deepens. We come to believe that He really sees us, understands us, and specifically provides for us. This growing confidenceー founded on His word and grounded in our experience of His provisionー increases the likelihood we will continue walking with Him, thinking His thoughts, and wanting His will, thus continually experiencing the overflowing life enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit before time began. (vv.17-18).
How can Romans 6, especially vv.11-14, become second nature? (Memorize, read daily, post in your car, etc.)?
What would it mean in your life if you were to permanently consider yourself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”? What specific areas of your daily life would change?
What “passions” (v.12) most frequently drive you to sinful behavior?
What specific action(s) can you implement in your daily life to begin to change those negative emotions into reminders of your freedom from sin? (Examples: memorize verses 11-12, keep a log at the end of each day of negative emotions that spurred you to sin and look for patterns; put visual reminders in places associated with those passions; share your struggle with a Christian brother or sister and invite them to pray and ask you about your progress, etc.).
Develop a habit of daily thanking the Father for all that he has done for you in Christ Jesus, especially in freeing you from the tyranny of slavery to sin (v.14). Be encouraged that the Father is committed to the process of transforming you into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-31).
Author: Nathan Baird, Discipleship Development