Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away.
For years after my conversion I had been taught to “reckon.” But the more I reckoned I was dead to sin, the more alive to sin I clearly was! I simply could not believe myself dead, and I saw no way of producing death. Wherever I sought help from others I was told to read Romans 6:11, and the ire I read Romans 6:11 and tried to reckon, the further away death was: I could not get at it. In my trouble I said to the Lord, “If I cannot be brought to see this which is so fundamental, I will not preach anymore. I must be thoroughly clear here.” For months I sought and prayed, at times with fasting, but nothing came through.
Then one morning, and it is a morning I shall never forget, as I sat with the Word open and said again, “Lord, open my eyes!” In a flash I saw my oneness with Christ. I saw that I was in him, and that when he died I died. Our old man was crucified with him. Oh, it was so real to me! I was carried away with such joy that I longed to go through the streets of Shanghai shouting the news of my great discovery.
Far too often we see ourselves as separate from Christ, that is, we are here on earth and He is in heaven. Or we see Him as the One who walked the shores of Galilee in past history and not as the One who is with us now. This is why we often find ourselves struggling with our old sin nature. We sometimes feel that it’s up to us to resist sin and to live righteously. Were that the case, why then would Christ suffer and die for us. Some are sure that someday in the far distant future they may at some point overcome the pull of temptation but not today. So we go through the continual cycle of repenting, living holy, falling back into our old ways, and repeating the cycles over and over without ever seeming to make much progress.
Years ago as churches and pastors recognized this cycle, they scheduled revival services at least twice a year for a week. They reasoned that if people could be immersed in the presence of God continually, it would give assistance to helping them conquer their sin nature. Most churches also held three weekly services as well as Sunday School. All these efforts seemed to at least somewhat work toward helping people move away from sin and toward righteousness. It wasn’t long, however, before life got too busy and these gatherings begin to diminish. So back went people to trying to live the Christ life largely through their own efforts.
The apostle Paul experienced this same dilemma and records it in the letter to the Romans:
“We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am a creature of the flesh [worldly, self-reliant—carnal and unspiritual], sold into slavery to sin [and serving under its control]. For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled and bewildered by them]. I do not practice what I want to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [and yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not. For the good that I want to do, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members. Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin.”
Romans 7:14-15, 18-19, 21-25
Paul, as he describes himself, was a ranking Pharisee who prided himself in the keeping of the law. Outwardly, his life modeled one of righteousness but inwardly-according to him- his old sin nature stilled lived. Paul recognized that no human effort or proper practice of ritual was sufficient to eradicate his sin. Many view this passage as though Paul is living this as a Christian. Rather it is a reflection of his life before Christ entered. His ending words echo that his only hope to break this cycle was through Christ Jesus.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks to this dilemma from a Christian view:
“But if, while we seek to be justified in Christ [by faith], we ourselves are found to be sinners, does that make Christ an advocate or promoter of our sin? Certainly not! For if I [or anyone else should] rebuild [through word or by practice] what I once tore down [the belief that observing the Law is essential for salvation], I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law and its demands on me [because salvation is provided through the death and resurrection of Christ], so that I might [from now on] live to God. I have been crucified with Christ [that is, in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not ignore or nullify the [gracious gift of the] grace of God [His amazing, unmerited favor], for if righteousness comes through [observing] the Law, then Christ died needlessly. [His suffering and death would have had no purpose whatsoever.]”
Galatians 2: 17-21
Paul is clear that righteousness doesn’t come from self effort- only by accepting what Christ has done on the cross and is doing in us now. The phrase he uses is noteworthy: “I have been crucified with Christ.” Notice he uses the word crucified as past tense. He’s not suggesting that we are currently having to be crucified. But what does that mean? We know that when Christ was crucified, He died. To be crucified with Christ isn’t the physical death, but death to the old us. This gives some a great problem for they still hold on to their past, their guilt, their sins of the past, and allow those things to affect their present and future. We know that when we physically die we are gathered in the presence of God and Christ. Why would we not also consider that the same is true when we die to our old self? We lay to rest our old self and then every day we live “in Christ.” Being in Christ then means that we read His story, listen to His teaching, and put into practice what He did. We let Him lead us, guide us and direct our choices. We choose to give Him control over our lives and then trust Him to wash and cleanse us and transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we view ourselves as separated from rather than being in Christ, we compartmentalize- that is we tend to separate our “church life,” “our work life,” and our “home life.” We tend to move between these as though they are disconnected. We might even appear to the casual eye to be three separate individuals who each have their own distinctive. We may lay one down as we pick up the other. This is what Paul is describing in Romans 6 when he says that part of him served God but the other part of him served sin. He uses the terms spirit and flesh. But in Galatians he says that this is no longer the case of being divided. Instead he says that his old nature has been “crucified,” dead and now he has been resurrected with Christ as a “new creation in Christ Jesus.” Listen again to his words:
“The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
The life “hidden in Christ” then is the one that is lived by faith in Christ alone. It recognizes that it can do nothing to change itself, nothing to merit the favor of God, and nothing to earn its place in the kingdom of God. It relies solely upon what Christ has done and as instructed in Hebrews 12, it “looks away from all that distracts, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.” This life is lived by “adhering to” Christ. The word adhere means to stick to, bind, and to believe in and follow the practices of. Next this life “relies on.” To rely on means to depend upon with full trust and confidence. The third word that the Greek implies is to “completely trust in.” This means that we reject any other means, ways, rituals to qualify us. Instead we totally rely on the power of Christ. We live because He lives. We move because He moves. We work because He works. We are righteous because He is righteous. We are redeemed because He ransomed us. We are delivered because He is the deliverer. We overcome because He overcame. We choose Him because He chose us. Being “in Christ” means that we take our cue from Him everyday in every place and in every situation. There is no separation between spirit and flesh for both have been yielded to Christ. As Paul would say, “It is no longer than that I live but Christ lives in me.”
It is truly the matter of whether we give Christ visiting privileges or whether we move Him in as a permanent resident. Only when He becomes our permanent resident will our old sin nature lose its hold on us.
Dr. Cho, pastor from Korea, used to say, “We must not only invite the Holy Spirit to become resident, we must then make Him president.”
May you find yourself “in Christ.”
Dr. John Thompson