He Wants You – Dead and Alive – by Greg Albrecht
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin —because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.—Romans 6:1-11
During World War I, one of the most famous “wanted posters” declared “I Want You!” It depicted a man with a top hat, with a star in the middle of the headband, white hair billowing from underneath the hat, pointing his finger at those who gazed at the poster. The caricature of “Uncle Sam” was an attempt to persuade and recruit young men to serve their country in the armed forces.
The idea for the poster was borrowed from an earlier version used in the United Kingdom. After all, if you as an American have ever had a discussion about World War I with a Brit, you know they will invariably remind us that they entered World War I, and for that matter World War II, long before we Johnny-come-lately Yanks did.
“I Want You!” It was one version of a wanted poster. You can see other versions of wanted posters in the Post Office, or on television shows inviting the public to be alert for and report wanted criminals. One hundred and fifty years ago those criminal posters, especially during the pioneer days of the Wild West, would often include a photo of the outlaw, and then the phrase, “Wanted—Dead or Alive.”
The title of our message today is a take off of “Wanted—Dead or Alive” posters. However, the message that God posts in Romans 6:1-11 is not that he wants you dead OR alive—He Wants YOU Dead AND Alive.
In the last verse of our passage, verse 11, Paul says, count yourselves [that is, regard yourself, consider yourself….] DEAD to sin, but ALIVE to God in Christ Jesus (my emphasis). The New English Bible translates the Greek as “…regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus.”
Let’s return to the first verse of this passage, and briefly note some of its teaching: Paul asks, What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
Paul is responding to his own emphasis with which he ends chapter five, as he insists that we are justified by grace through faith. He makes a powerful point that God’s generosity (his grace), not our obedience to law, saves us.
In this first verse Paul asks, and then in verse two begins to answer, the question that every human has. “Well,” we say, “if we are saved by grace then why not just keep on sinning? Why not just keep on living it up? After all, the more we sin the more grace will be effective in forgiving our sins.”
In verse two Paul answers this question: By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?
Again, let me quote verses one and two in our passage from the New English Version: “What are we to say, then? Shall we persist in sin, so that there may be all the more grace? No, no! We died to sin: how can we live in it any longer?”
So while one natural response to grace is to try to take advantage of God’s generosity, another is to cynically observe that there is no free lunch, and therefore, by our human standards, grace is impossible—it doesn’t exist! Many believe that God’s grace may sound like a sweet idea, but if too much of God’s grace is preached and practiced, then it will lead to permissiveness and abuse. Paul responds, No way. Forget about it. You’ve got the wrong idea. That’s not the way that grace works— permissiveness and immorality is not produced by God’s grace.
The enemies of the gospel then, and the enemies of the gospel today, argue against grace, reasoning that if God forgives so easily, no deterrent is in place to keep people from continuing to disobey the law. Where, they say, is the safeguard against immorality? Why, they contend, would anyone go to the trouble of being a good person if God is always going to forgive them? Why not keep on sinning if God will keep on forgiving? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase to meet the level of our increased sin? Paul responded to this question with outrage, as he says in verse two By no means!
Paul says in verse two that Christians are dead to sin. Sin is no longer the motivating force that it once was. Our lives are no longer defined by sin.
As our passage continues, Paul explains how this new relationship we enjoy works. He counters the objections of those who are concerned that others might “take advantage” of God and just sin their silly little heads off, knowing that he will always forgive them.
Paul explains, in verses three and four, what it means to be dead to sin and how we are able to die to sin.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Paul is, of course, using the idea of baptism here symbolically. He is not saying that the act of baptism saves us. Water completely covering our body, or being sprinkled or poured on our heads does not save us. It’s a picture, a metaphor of something much more profound.
Salvation is not based on water. Salvation is not based on any physical element, property or product. Baptism is not something we do so that God will then respond and do something for us. Baptism is something Christians do in response to what has already happened, something that takes place to symbolize what God has already done. God transforms us by his grace, he does not insist on our participation in a specific ceremony, using just the right amount of water in the “right” way, in just the “right” church with all of the necessary phrases and formulas being uttered by a religious professional.
Paul is saying that water is simply an outward expression that follows an inward reality, an inward reality that already exists in those who have surrendered themselves to God’s amazing grace.
When we accept Christ without reservation, as being able to do for us what we can never do for ourselves, when we completely trust in him and have faith in him, we are now joined with him. We are now baptized into him, all that he was, is and will be.
Paul is speaking of being made one, of being united with Christ so that the person we used to be ceases to exist, and we are now given new identity in Christ.
Think of a Witness Protection Program. If the government places you in a Witness Protection Program, they give you a new identity. They relocate you. You start all over again. The old you doesn’t exist anymore. The old you is dead.
When you are united with Christ, the ultimate ruling power and sovereign government of the universe issues you a new identity—a new passport, a new driver’s license, a new social security card, new credit cards—even a new library card if you like! You are now one in and with Jesus, and Jesus is one in and with you.
And because we are a new person in Christ, we are not only dead to sin, but we are also alive in him, because he is risen.
We are dead to the past, with its shame, guilt, and requirements. We have died with Christ. His Cross is for us, he bore our sins. Our allegiance to any human covenant of laws and regulations is over. Verse four ends with the words, we too may live a new life.
Paul further expounds and drives home this point in verse five,
If we have been buried with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Our hope is not only in his Second Coming but we have hope in the here and now, for Jesus is here with us right now. His kingdom is not just a future event, it is a present reality in those who embrace and accept Jesus today.
We are dead to sin right now—we are alive in Christ right now.
Paul continues in verses six and seven with this metaphor, explaining the spiritual reality we enjoy right now, explaining the priceless relationship that we have with God, the close and intimate relationship we have because he has adopted us. God has made us his very own children.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Up until the moment of spiritual death, you are in a spiritual debtor’s prison, but when you die you are effectively freed from any hold that your captors have over you. When you accept Jesus Christ, you die with him, your old self dies on his Cross with him.
In Galatians 2:20 Paul says,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Thus, in terms of any dominion or any control that we feel sin has over us, the spiritual reality is that we are dead. We now have a new identity, we are now in God’s Witness Protection Program.
Of course, we know that the fleshly reality is that we are still in this flesh and we still battle with our flesh. As long as we are in this body of flesh we will sin. But that’s not the point in our passage today.
Paul is reminding us about the relationship that really counts, the relationship with God that God grants us, by his grace. By his grace God gives us eternal life, eternal life that transcends our body of flesh and survives the death of our body.
That’s what really counts—that’s the relationship Paul wants us to focus on.
So in terms of any shame, any guilt, any worry that we might have about our sin, Paul is saying—”Forget about it! Let it go! It’s dead and gone! Move on!”
Our moral failures, both past and present, do not define our relationship with God. God’s grace defines our relationship with God.
So we need to let go of painful memories of our sin, shameful moments we wish had never happened. Those sins, though they did happen, are dead and buried. They are gone. Since they are gone, Paul argues, don’t live as if they are alive. Move on! Let it go!
It’s hard to let go isn’t it?! In the past few years four of our grandchildren have learned to ride a bicycle. Their parents taught them to ride with training wheels attached to the back tire. Those training wheels provide stability, as you may remember when you learned to ride a bicycle.
The time comes when a child no longer needs the training wheels. But, many times the training wheels become a psychological crutch. A child becomes convinced he can’t ride a bicycle without training wheels.
So, the parents will often remove the training wheels and then run behind their child, holding on to the back of the seat to provide some stability and balance as the bicycle and its youthful rider wobble and sway down the street.
Finally, there comes that magical moment, that leap of faith, realized both by the young child and the parent. The child becomes convinced that he can move forward, and the parent realizes that they can let go and their child can ride alone. Sometimes the youngster will say, “It’s okay—just let go.”
But, letting go is not always easy, for parent or child at that age, and even later.
Jesus told us, in Matthew 10:28, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Don’t be afraid of those who may exert control over the external circumstances of your life—your employment, your marriage, your friendships, your physical debts—all those things are temporary, physical factors that the death of your body will end. No one can take your soul from you. No one can take eternal life from you.
By extension and analogy, as Paul is telling us in Romans 6, we are now, right now, spiritually dead to sin, because of the Cross of Christ. Sin has no ultimate, eternal control over us. We struggle with it in the here and now, but because of the power of grace, God has already declared us to be his own.
Here’s how God inspires Paul to explain this spiritual reality, this union with Christ that we now enjoy,
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his race, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.—Ephesians 2:4-7
So let the guilt and shame of your sin go! You are now seated with Christ in heavenly realms.
Imagine that you lived in captivity in a prison—in a dungeon—working in a salt mine or on a chain gang, where you were chained and shackled, and made to toil for your masters. One day Someone comes along and rescues you. He pays the debt of your sin. He redeems you. He buys your freedom. He saves you from your misery and heartache.
We all have inhabited prisons. It might have been the jail cell of a chemical addiction. It might have been our physical passions and lusts that enslaved us. We may have been in bondage in a dungeon of religious legalism. Whatever we were “in” for, once we are given our freedom in Christ, by God’s grace, we don’t live our lives the same way we did in prison, do we?
When we are free in Christ, our prison taskmasters no longer have power over us. We have a new Master, and his name is Jesus. The Savior has set us free.
In verses eight through ten of our keynote passage Paul says,
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
And Paul then concludes our passage, in verse 11, by saying,
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
He Wants YOU—Dead AND Alive.
1) God wants us dead to sin. If we accept Jesus Christ, God’s grace ensures that we are just that—dead to sin.
2) God wants us in union with Christ, united with him, living a new life. God longs to give us a new relationship, a new life which is the new life that our risen Lord lives in us, and we in him.
What does it mean to be dead AND alive? It means that Christ is in us, and we are in him. It means that we are in union with him. It means that we died in, through and with him, and that we live in, through and with him.
Being Dead AND Alive is a spiritual reality, the centerpiece and core essence of our spiritual identity as a child of God.
Being Dead AND Alive is what it means to live in God’s grace, it is a product of his grace, it is what we are because we are new men and women in him, transformed by his amazing grace.