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LIVING IN REVERSE PART 3.
This is actually the third part in a series called Living in Reverse, but due to a speaking engagement, a vacation and then an illness, it has been almost a month since the second part was posted. So I want to remind us of where we are. We began the series by looking at the life of Leah, and how she learned to make God’s love and God’s view of her more important than her life circumstances. We call this “Living after the But.” We need to understand that the final and most important factor in any situation, feeling, thought or circumstance, is what God says and does. Second, we looked at the life of Elijah, and how God showed him that true Life is not in our external circumstances – not even in how God may or may be changing them. True Life is found in the Spirit, and God designed it to flow through our spirits into our souls and then our behavior.
With all that in mind, we will move on. I want us to begin this time by considering how much our actions are affected by what we believe.
In the 1850s, people began to keep track of how fast a man could run one mile. The time-pieces back then were fully accurate enough to make across the board comparisons to modern times. For almost a hundred years, no one was able to run a mile faster than four minutes and several seconds. There was a general consensus that no human being could run a mile in less time than four minutes.
One of the fastest mile-runners in the world in the 1950s was Roger Bannister. On 2 May 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford. Bannister ran 4:03.6, shattering a previous record set in 1945. "This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach," said Bannister. What I want to point out is that it was at this point that Bannister began to believe that he could run a mile in less than four minutes.
A year later, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier, completing it in 3:59.4. I contend that he was able to do this simply because he believed he could. For a hundred years, no had run a mile in less than four minutes. Most people believed it couldn’t be done. Bannister believed, and a year later it became reality. Now, once Bannister proved a man could run a mile in less than four minutes, what do you think happened? Now everyone believed it could be done. Bannister’s record was broken less than two months after he set it. His record and subsequent faster records were broken five more times during the next decade. In a hundred years, no one had run a four minute mile. But once one man did it, and others believed it could be done, dozens began to do it. During the past sixty years, it is estimated that more than 850 people have run a sub four minute mile. Let me state it clearly: In the first hundred years, not a single person ran a sub-four minute mile. In the past sixty years since that record was first broken, almost nine-hundred people have done it.
Now you could probably make a case for nutrition and a more sports-oriented culture to explain some of this. But I personally believe that the biggest difference between the first hundred years of records, and the last sixty, is that now people believe it can be done.
Your belief affects how you act, what you attempt, and what you achieve. If you want to change the results you are getting, you must start by changing your belief. At the family camp where I recently spoke, another speaker observed that preachers have two basic options: to ask you to do something, or to ask you to believe something. I would add that we can also impart information and inspiration. This week, I will give you some information, but my main purpose is to encourage you to believe something that God says in the Bible. When you believe it, it may change your life. You may find that you are living with a perspective that you used to think was impossible.
This what I am asking you to believe: When you trust Jesus, you are dead to sin.
Many of us come out of a Lutheran background. The writers of the old “Green Hymnal” did not do us any favors when they had us say, week after week, for decades: “I am in bondage to sin.” Many us, Lutheran or not, have used the NIV bible translation for years. The NIV is generally a great translation, but they didn’t do us any favors when they translated the Greek word “sarx” as “sinful nature” when really what it means is “flesh.”
There is another problem. Our experience tells us that we are capable of sinning a lot, and sinning horribly. We get angry. We lie. We cheat. We are dishonest. We lust. We get drunk. When we combine the reality that we still sin, with the concept of bondage to sin and sinful nature, we have an entire generation – maybe two – of Christians who have grown up believing that even after we have come to Jesus, we are fundamentally sinful beings.
We recognize that the Bible actually says something that sounds different than this. And so we reconcile it by saying this: “I know I am redeemed by Jesus. But I also have this sinful nature living in me that I will have to fight with until I die.” But brothers and sisters, the story is different than that. Read carefully:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.. (Rom 6:2-4 ESV)
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7)
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4)
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. (Gal 2:19-20, ESV)
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations (Col 2:20, ESV)
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; (2 Tim 2:11, ESV)
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness (1 Pet 2:24, HCSB)
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:14-17, ESV)
Just a quick note. I have run into some folks who want to debate what part of us, exactly, was crucified with Christ. What died? I think this is a little bit beside the point. Paul says variously, “our old self” or “I” or “you.” He is not terribly specific or theological about it. I have my professional theological opinion, but let’s not get side tracked.
The point is, in Jesus Christ, you have died in such a way that the connection between you and sin is broken. Paul says we are dead to the law. Think about it. There are no laws for dead people. A dead person is beyond the law. Imagine you committed a horrible crime, and you were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Once you are dead, your sentence is over. They bury you in the prison graveyard, and you are done. Once you are dead, the law can require nothing more from you. Paul says “You are released from the law. You died to what held you captive.”
And we are dead to sin: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” He says this in several places. Peter also says it.
The point then, is not really what part of us died. The point is that we need go forward, from this point, believing that in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin and to the law that keeps us on the hook for sins we commit. The connection between us and sin, us and the law is so thoroughly broken, it is like trying to get a dead person to keep serving a prison sentence. It’s over. There is no more connection.
You see, I spent years trying to make myself behave better. I thought my old self was still alive. I thought I still had some deep internal connection to sin. And so I kept trying to reform myself, and always failing Finally, I saw that God doesn’t try to reform the Tom. Instead, he killed him. In Jesus, the new Tom – at least the spirit of the new Tom – has already been raised. And there is no connection between that new Tom and sin. When I began to really believe that – that I am truly dead to sin – I began to sin less.
Do you believe that your old self is dead and buried with Christ through his death? Do you believe that you are dead to sin? Do believe that you are no longer enslaved to sin? Do you believe that the old has passed away and the new has come? Do you count yourself dead to sin but alive to Jesus?
I find that the biggest objection this idea is that it is not usually our daily experience. We feel like the old us is still there. We don’t feel like we are free from sin. We feel like the law still applies to us and holds us captive. We don’t feel new, and like we are living according the Spirit and not flesh.
Now is the time we must remember the first two messages in this series. If you never heard them or read them, stop reading this, and go back and get those first two messages. You see? Our experience is telling us one thing and God is telling us another. What should we put after the but? Our experience, or God’s word? God’s word, of course. We should say it something like this. “I know that in my flesh, there is still a struggle with sin – BUT God says I am dead to sin. I know I feel like I have sinful nature – BUT God says my old self was crucified with Christ.”
Then, remember Elijah. Where does real life come from – the flesh and the soul, or the spirit? The spirit, of course. What is eternal, and more powerful? The spirit. And where is is that the old self is dead and the new is come? The spirit. The spirit trumps flesh and soul.
Now, this is a deep concept. I will take next week to talk about the struggles with have with sin, and how that fits into it all.
But for now, I am calling you to believe what God says, and give it more power than your feelings and your experiences. I am calling you to draw life not from what is happening in soul and flesh, but in what God has done and is doing in your spirit.
You see, if you believe that you have a sinful nature, how are you going to act? You are going to sin, of course, because that is what someone with a sinful nature does. As I said at the beginning, what you believe ultimately determines how you will act. You cannot consistently or for very long, act in opposition to what you truly believe.
If you trust Jesus, at the most important place, in the heart of your being, you are not a sinner. I am not saying you never commit sins. But you are not a sinful nature. And the part of you that is holy and blameless and perfect will outlast the part of you that still struggles. The place in which you are dead to sin is more powerful, more enduring and more important than the place where you struggle. Life comes from the Lord, through place where you are already dead to sin.
We need to believe that when God says we died with Christ, we really did die.
I killed a snake one time. I blew it half with a shotgun. The snake was dead, there was absolutely no question about that. There was a the head, with a little piece of neck, and there was the body, completely separate. But the mouth kept opening and closing like it was trying to bite something. The body twisted and coiled and uncoiled for ten or fifteen minutes afterward.
All that twisting and coiling and movement looked like life – but it wasn’t life. It was merely the death throes. If I was a really dumb veterinarian, I could have wasted time and energy treating the dead snake that acted like it was alive. But there was no life there.
Our old person can sometimes act as if it is still alive. We still get the impulses and signals that seem to show that our old self is alive and well. But this is nothing but death throes. There is no life there. If we work to try and kill it again, or try and reform it, we are wasting time and energy in a futile exercise.
Paul says, “don’t gratify the flesh.” Our old body is rotting in the prison graveyard. We don’t have to follow the prison rules any more. We don’t have to try and make up for the laws we broke before. Satan is the one who comes to you and says: see all the twisting and turning and activity – you have a sinful nature and it is alive and well. But the Bible never says anywhere that our old self got un-crucified. It never suggests that the old nature got resurrected. It is is a lie of the devil. He’s trying to get you to live as if you are still alive, back in the prison of your sinful self.
Here’s the thing: he can’t put you back in prison. But if you don’t believe what God says – if you don’t put God’s word after the but – the devil and your flesh can trick you into living as if you were still in prison.
Now, I will talk next week more about this struggle with the devil and the flesh, and how it all fits together. But for this week I am calling you to faith. I am asking to believe that what God says is really true:
In Christ, you have already died. In Christ you are not sinful. You are not divided into good and evil. You are holy and blameless and without reproach.
Yes sin in your flesh is still writhing around in its death throes. But it is already dead. Pay it no mind. Instead fix your eyes on Jesus, put your focus on the unseen and eternal truth – you old self is dead and your true self is alive in perfection with Jesus.