A few years ago I was riding down to Pennsylvania with our soon-to-be youth pastor and some of the youths from our high school ministry for a rafting trip. Most of the drive was spent listening to music that I’d never heard of and talking about sports I’ve never had any interest in playing. Sometime along the way though, we started talking about our youth ministry. Two of the guys in our car were self-assured high school seniors, and I thought it might be interesting for myself, and beneficial for our up and coming youth pastor, to ask these “tell-it-like-it-is” seniors some questions about their experience as high schoolers in our youth ministry. What I was especially curious about was if there was anything that they think should be done differently.
I was amazed at the insightful answer we received from the more confident of the two. He said, “In youth ministry, we’re always told ‘what’ we need to do in our walks with Christ, but no one ever tells us ‘how’ to do it.”
Think about that. Read it. Re-read it. Have you ever answered that question for yourself: I know “what” I’m supposed to do in my Christian life, but “how” do I do it? Its funny how much we focus on the “what” and “why” of the Christian life, when I would imagine that many, if not most of us, do not have a firm grasp of the “how.”
The truth is, God has some incredible things He wants us to know about “how” to live the Christian life that are of primary importance compared to “what” He wants you & I to do. In this blog hitting on concepts from Romans 6, I hope to touch on a few ideas to help get the mind thinking in that direction. This is by no means an exhaustive study, but I hope it will prove to be beneficial in answering the “how” of living the Christian life. The title of this blog has been used before by others in other studies on Romans 6, as it fits so well the main concepts taught in this epistle by Paul. We’ll start by reading a few verses from Romans 6.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:1-7)
Because of our new life in Christ, we now have the liberty to pursue holiness.
Life & Liberty
As believers in Christ, we died with Him and have been raised to new life in Him. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (6:8-11)
Before we trusted in Jesus Christ as our savior, the Bible says that we were spiritually dead, separated from God and slaves of sin. At the moment we trusted in Christ we were spiritually included into Christ’s physical work on the cross; His death & His resurrection. From God’s perspective, we died with Christ on the cross, and when Christ came back from the dead to new resurrected life, we came back with Him and we are now spiritually alive to God.
Not only that, but we died to sin’s control over us. For those of us who trust is Christ, death is no longer our master. As unbelievers we were slaves to sin. This doesn’t mean that we were out getting drunk & high, stealing from old ladies and beating our wife & kids all the time. However, it does mean that we were enslaved to our fallen nature to the point that even the good things that we did were empowered by our fallen nature, done in our own strength by the flesh. We were driven by our fallen nature and in accordance with our self-centered desires. This was all we could do- serve our flesh.
Before we were made alive before God through faith in Christ, were like a prisoner chained to a wall. No matter what we spent our days doing, we were still chained to the wall. No matter how much we wanted to do, we were limited by the chain. No matter if anyone came in and gave us a motivational speech, or if we read a self-help book or convinced ourselves we weren’t chained to the wall, we were. Spiritually we were slaves of sin.
Applying this truth to our evangelistic message, some people believe we are saved by a commitment to discipleship or giving our lives to God. When we exchange the biblical condition for salvation from faith alone in Christ to some kind of work or commitment to good works or even “turning from sin,” we really are not only distorting the gospel of grace (no one is saved by commitment or discipleship or promises not to sin), but are actually asking unbelievers to do something that is technically, biblically impossible for them to do in any real spiritual sense. As slaves to sin, telling them that they must live for Christ to be saved is not only incorrect, but it isn’t really fair to them as we are setting them up for a false sense of security in the wrong object of their faith and ultimately failure and spiritual frustration. Sure, they might be able to make a commitment and may be able to live it for a while, but it is all in the flesh. The only thing an unbeliever should be challenged to do is trust in Christ, and only after trusting in Christ are they freed from sin’s power and control and now through the indwelling Holy Spirit able to commit anything to God, like their lives. I believe this is why Paul urged believers in Romans chapter 12 to give their lives to God, instead of urging them when he talked about justification by faith alone in chapters 3 & 4.
Telling an unbeliever they need to commit their lives to God to be saved is like running into a burning building, finding a quadriplegic man lying in a bed on the fourth floor, and telling him that in order to live he needs to get out of building as fast as he can run. Its ludicrous. Why do we put such impossible conditions on unbelievers when all they can do is trust in what has been done for them by Christ?
However as believers, because of our new life in Christ, we now have the liberty to pursue holiness.
Pursuit of Holiness
As believers in Christ, we are now free to pursue holiness. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (12-14)
These commands are given after explanation of “how” this is even possible now. Before we trusted in Christ freedom from sin’s control was impossible, like having no arms or legs and trying to run out of a burning building. However, what God wants us to know here in Romans 6 is that now that we have trusted in Jesus Christ, we are free from sins control, and free to pursue doing the things He wants us to do. We are now, and only now, free.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:1-8)
Not only are we free, but we have also been given the indwelling Holy Spirit with which we are called to make the choice to yield to. Before we were saved, we had no choice such as this. Now that we are believers in Christ, having been given a new nature, we have new Spirit fostered desires to make right choices (as God defines right). The only way to live out this freedom to serve God is through the power of His Holy Spirit.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
Again this is only something believers can do, because only they have been baptized with Christ into His death, burial and resurrection on the cross, and therefore freed from sin’s mastery, risen to new life, equipped with a new nature and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Suppose you are in that same burning building from before. Upon reaching the fourth floor you find no quadriplegics, but now a fitness center filled with people working out. Expecting them to run out of the building is justifiable in this scenario. In fact, if upon hearing your news that the building was on fire but no one ran, that would be insanity.
As believers, we need not live as slaves to sin. To do so is insanity. Sin has consequences, always. Sometimes we can trick ourselves into thinking we can get away with known sin, but we’re deceiving ourselves. Sin has spiritual and often times physical consequences on our relationships; with God, with others and the body of Christ and with ourselves. When we do sin, we know that we have an advocate before God, Jesus Christ, and we know that we can find His mercy in time of our need. (Heb. 4:16-18) There’s no reasons to let sin enslave us. We’re free.
God’s grace is not to be viewed as an excuse to do whatever we please. In fact, it is precisely because of God’s grace that we are now free to do what we never could… that is, live a life pleasing to Him. -Unknown
Because of our new life in Christ, we now have the liberty to pursue holiness.
Some Thoughts on Application
Perhaps this is still the question in your mind, or the question you still want answered after reading all of the above. If I could boil some big ideas God gives us in the “how” of living the Christian life down to some application principles: First we need to know what the Bible says about ourselves and our new relationship with Christ and in Him, including what has happened to us spiritually and all that we have in Him. If this is the first time you’ve heard this kind of stuff talked about, this would be the first place to start in your understanding of “how” to live the Christian life.
I love superhero movies. If I had a super power, it would be the power to speak every language of the world. What if I had this power, but never knew it? It would be a waste of my time learning language in Papua New Guinea! The first thing about living out our Christian lives is knowing who we are and what we have in Him.
Secondly, its one thing to study this stuff and know it well enough to pass on a test, its completely another thing to trust that its true in your daily life. When it comes right down to it, in the midst of temptation to choose sin, we need to count on the fact that we are free from its power over us. We know that the Bible says we are free, but we need to count on it in those moments of testing.
Going back to my language learning super power, what if I had been told I had the power, but didn’t believe it? What if I went out and struggled through language study anyways, refusing to believe that at any time I could exercise my super power and speak? We will never begin to really appreciate the awesome freedom we have from sin’s control unless we believe what God says and take hold of it in such a way that we live as if it were actually true.
Thirdly and finally, we need to rely on the Lord and His strength provided through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit by yielding to His control in my life and in those moments. This is where the rubber actually meets the road. Through Him we have the power to actually exercise the freedom we have and can experience victory over sin and the ability to make those right choices that God desires we make.
In our superhero illustration, this would be the moment where I actually speak the language, having been told about my power, believed what was said and now taking hold of it when the moment is needed. You and I have the power to live and experience victory over sin and make right choices in our lives, not in our own strength and not for our own ends, but rather for His eternal glory. This is the life we were meant to live as believers.
One more thing, perfection isn’t attainable in this life. As believers we are in a continual battle between Spirit and flesh, and though we can grow in experiencing victory over sin’s control in our lives, we will never be perfect in this lifetime. When we sin we shouldn’t be surprised. We should use it as an opportunity to draw on Christ and thank the Lord for His grace, and let that move us into admitting our wrong and entering back into a intimate fellowship with Him. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The Benefits of Understanding This
Its possible for Christians who do not understand these truths regarding our freedom from sin’s control and the reality of the very Spirit of God living within us to experience the facts of their freedom. Though many do to some extent, I believe the greatest problem with misunderstanding our freedom in Christ and what He has provided through His Spirit is that the believer will have the tendency to try and do battle with the flesh in His own strength. The Christian life becomes this: try hard, fail, wallow, recommit, try harder, fail, wallow, recommit, try harder, fail, wallow, recommit, and the cycle goes on. This is not the normal Christian life, and doesn’t have to be our experience!
I feel sorry for many believers who have never been taught these truths, especially our youth who are drilled by every authority in their lives with what is right and wrong. With all of the expectations placed on them academically, socially and now spiritually, they may either reject Christianity as unlivable (because it is, if attempted in the flesh) or they may become very skilled at playing the part to appease others. Both of these are sad distortions of the vibrant, thriving and exciting Christian life that is ours for the taking when we understand all that Christ has done for us and all that we have in Him.
Some other benefits of understanding what the scriptures say in this area: 1) We can step out in faith and intentionally make choices based on our freedom from sin’s control and yielded to His Spirit, which means a more confident Christian walk and ministry. 2) When we fail and choose to walk according to the flesh, we need not wallow in our failures and misery, roped into thinking we are slaves of our flesh yet again, which is discouraging as it takes our eyes from Christ to ourselves. 3) In our ministry with others, we can help them when they struggle in the former two areas mentioned so that they too can experience a more vibrant and freeing walk with their Savior.
Because of our new life in Christ, we now have the liberty to pursue holiness.
A Final Goal
I cannot speak for our youth pastor, but as for me the challenge has stayed in my mind from that senior in our youth group. My goal as a servant of Christ making disciples is to not simply tell people what they need to do to live for God, but to teach them, equip them and model for them the “how” of living a life of freedom and obedience to Jesus Christ. My hope for you is the same.