Law and Grace - Part 4

Theme: The First and Great Imperative

This week’s lessons teach that God’s grace, rather than leading to sin or even an indifferent attitude about it, actually leads to a holy life because we are now dead to sin and have been made alive in Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Romans 6:1-14

So what does that mean? What should I do in light of this teaching? Paul's answer is in verse 11. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This is an imperative, of course. It is a command to do something. So let me begin by asking: How many times in Romans up to this point has Paul urged his readers to do something? That is, how many exhortations have there been? More than ten? Thirty? Less than five? The answer is that there have been none at all. This is the first time in five and a half chapters that the apostle has urged his readers to do anything. What are they to do? The verb is “count” (or “reckon,” as some of the other versions have it); in Greek it is logizomai, and it had two main uses:

In commercial dealings. It was used in the sense of evaluating an object's worth or reckoning up a project's gain or losses. In other words, it was a bookkeeping term. We have preserved a bit of this in our English words “log,” “logistics,” and “logarithm.” A log is a numerical record of a ship or airplane's progress. Logistics is a military term dealing with the numbers and movement of troops or supplies. A logarithm is an exponent of a base number which equals another given number.

In philosophy. It was used in the sense of sound, objective, or non-emotional reasoning. We have preserved this meaning in our English words “logic” and “logical.”

The common ground in these two uses of the word is that logizomai has to do with reality, that is, with things as they truly are. It has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Nor is it an activity that makes something come to pass or happen. It is an acknowledgement of or an acting upon something that is already true or has already happened. In bookkeeping, for example, it means posting in a ledger an amount corresponding to what exists. If I “reckon” in my passbook that I have $100, I must really have $100. If not, “reckoning” is the wrong word for me to be using. I am not reckoning. “Deceiving myself” (or others) would be more like it.

This has important bearing on what Paul is saying in Romans 6:11. For although he is proceeding in this chapter to the area of things we are to do and actions we are to take, his starting point is nevertheless our counting as true what God has himself already done for us.

This is so critical that I want to ask directly: Do you really understand this? How can I say it clearly?

How about: The first step in our growth in holiness is counting as true what is in fact true.

How about: The way to a holy life is knowing that God has taken us out of Adam and has joined us to Jesus Christ, that we are no longer subject to the reign of sin and death but have been transferred to the kingdom of God's abounding grace.

How about: The secret to a holy life is believing God. Paul says there are two things God has done that we are to count on. First, that we are dead to sin, if we are Christians. We have already seen how this is to be taken. It does not mean that we are immune to sin or temptation. It does not mean that we will not sin. It means that we are dead to the old life and cannot go back to it.

The second reality we are to count on is that we are now alive to God in Christ Jesus. This completes the parallel to verse 5, in which Paul said, “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” It explains how the earlier verse is to be taken. Our union with Jesus in his death is a present experience; we have died. So also is our union with him in his resurrection. Therefore, just as we have died to sin (and must count on it), so also have we been made alive to God in Jesus Christ (and must count on that also).

What does being made alive to God in Jesus Christ mean? Let me suggest a few of the changes that have taken place.

We have been reconciled to God. In the earlier chapters of Romans there has been a grim sequence of terms: sin, wrath, judgment, death. But God has lifted us out of that downward spiraling sequence by a set of opposing realities: grace, obedience, righteousness, eternal life. This means that we were subject to the wrath of God but that now, being in Christ, we are in a favored position before him. Before we were God's enemies; now we are friends, and what is more important, he is a friend to us. There is a new relationship.

We have become new creatures in Christ. Not only is there a new relationship between ourselves and God, which is wonderful in itself, but we have also become something we were not before. In 2 Corinthians, Paul puts it like this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. All this is from God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17, 18).

Another way of speaking about this is to speak of regeneration or of being born again, which was Jesus' term for it. He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This was a deliberate backward reference to the way in which God breathed life into our first parent Adam, so that he became “a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Before that, Adam was inert, a lifeless form. But when God breathed some of his breath into him Adam became alive to God and all things. Likewise, God breathes new spiritual life into us by the work known as regeneration. We become something we were not before. We have new life, and that life is responsive to the one who gave it.

Before this, the Bible meant nothing to us when we read it or it was read in our hearing. Now the Bible is intensely alive and interesting to us. We hear the voice of God in it.

Before this, we had no interest in God's people. Christians acted in ways that were foreign to us. Their priorities were different from our own. Now they are our very best friends and co-workers. We love their company and cannot seem to get enough of it.

Before this, coming to church was boring. Now we are alive to God's presence in the service. Our worship times are the very best of our week.

Before this, service to others and witnessing to the lost seemed strange and senseless, even repulsive. Now they are a chief delight.

Study Questions:

  1. What does the Greek word, logizomai, mean? In what two ways does it relate to us in spiritual terms?
  2. How do the two ideas of being dead to sin and alive to God in Christ fit together?
  3. From the lesson, what are the two changes that have taken place as a result of being made alive in Christ?

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