A Spiritual Reality Check

What is reality? That question is one that is already wide opened in our culture. From television shows about artificial intelligence gaining consciousness to virtual reality devices, 2017 is already being declared the year that virtual and augmented reality will become our reality. In any event, the Christian can rest content that Paul fixes and settles his or her reality in Romans 6 - we are united to Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection, and because of that we can live holy lives. There is no more foundational truth for our fight against sin and temptation, yet so often we do not know or appreciate it (see the recent interview with Rankin Wilbourne for more along these lines). Thus there is no better way to begin 2017 than by immersing ourselves again in this real reality and the responsibilities that flow out of it.

Paul pens Romans 6 to respond to the legalistic objection to, and the antinomian distortion of, the grace of God in the gospel. If it is in fact true that where sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Romans 5:20-21), then may we continue in sin so that grace might increase? Depending on one's theological perspective, such license could be a feature (the antinomian) or a bug (the legalist). In fact, however, the assertion is unfounded, so Paul answers his question with a categorical denial and another question: "By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2). In verses 3-4 Paul affirms (rather, asks the Romans if they don't already know) that those who have believed in Jesus Christ have been united with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection - and that our baptism pictured (signified) and promised (sealed) this glorious reality to all who trust in Christ. With Christ we died to sin once and for all, so that as those alive to God in Him "we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).

Just as physical death dissolves our connection to this life, and transfers us to another realm, from one state of existence to another, so when we believed the gospel our connection to sin was severed and broken. We died to the reign and rule of sin and death, and were transferred to the reign of grace and life in Jesus Christ (cf. Colossians 1:13-14). By His death and resurrection Jesus not only dealt with sin's inescapable penalty and guilt, He also destroyed sin's enslaving power and dominion: "[O]ur old self (the unregenerate man, dead in Adam) was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin (the body as controlled by sin) might be done away with (brought to nothing, rendered inoperative, ineffective, unable to dominate our lives any longer), so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin" (Romans 6:6-7).

Through our being joined to Jesus' finished work, sin no longer has an authoritative grip upon us to force us to do its bidding. Just as sin and death are no longer master over Jesus (Romans 6:9-10), so sin and death are no longer master over us. All that Jesus did - His dying, being buried, rising from the dead - has become ours through faith in Him; we did it in Him. His reality has absolutely and certainly become our reality: "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be in the likeness of His resurrection...If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Romans 6:5, 8).

If this is really true - and it is! - then what is our responsibility in light of this reality? We must comprehend, consider, and choose. It goes without saying that we must increasingly grow in our understanding of the incredible mystery that is our union with Christ. That's why Paul repeats in these verses truth that these believers already know (cf. "do you not know," "knowing this," and "knowing that" in Romans 6:3, 6, 9). Paul mentions our second responsibility in Romans 6:11 - "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." We must regard, reckon, realize, assume, look upon ourselves as one who is united to Christ in His death and resurrection, and so dead to sin and alive to God. Whether we feel this reality or not, it is really and truly our position in Christ. Finally, we must choose to live out this reality in our daily lives, particularly as it pertains to our body. Sin shall not be master over us (Romans 6:14), thus we must not let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). We must not go on obeying its lusts and "presenting the members of our body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness" (Romans 6:12-13). Rather, we must present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13). Just as a married couple is one flesh by virtue of God's declaration, yet has to live out that union by striving for oneness in the way they speak and act and think toward one another, so we must choose to live as those no longer under the dominion of sin, but united to Jesus in His death and resurrection, able and willing to walk in newness of life, according to the holy commandments of God's law.

To be sure, Romans 6 is only half of the reality of the Christian life. Romans 7 tells us that sin indwells us still, so that we do the very things we do not want to do (the mere fact that Paul wrote Romans 6:11-14 shows us that Christians will not perfectly walk in the light of their real union with Jesus). Yet the reality of Romans 6 is unseen, while we see the reality of Romans 7 every day. Thus the truth we have briefly surveyed in this article needs to be kept before our mind's eye consistently - especially when we are assaulted by temptation, or discouragement regarding our growth in godliness. May God give us grace to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that He is at work in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.