What Do You Reckon?
December 2, 2011 Series: Romans
Scripture: Romans 6:1–6:11
“What do you reckon?” That may sound like a strange question. I don’t know about you, but for me it brings to mind a line from some old cowboy movie, as the hero shifts his lump of chewing tobacco from one cheek to another, squints at the tracks in the ground in front of him and drawls, “What do you reckon?” His buddy responds, also looking at the tracks, “I reckon they must be about two hours ahead of us.”
We don’t use the word “reckon” much anymore. But I want to pose the question anyway: What do you reckon? And in this message I intend to make a case that what you reckon is absolutely vital to your Christian life and your walk with God.
This is the first of three messages on Romans chapter 6. In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul has made some truly remarkable, even radical statements. For example, look at Romans 3:21-24:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace.
Or look at Romans 3:28: For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Then again in Romans 4:5 he said: However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Then in Romans 5:20 Paul stated: The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
Now, at this point, Paul, in his mind’s eye, can see the hands going up all over the audience. It is as though he is reading the thoughts of his readers, and anticipating their questions and objections to what he has written. And so he stops to address some of those questions. This introduces the first of several lengthy parentheses in the letter, in which Paul departs from his main argument to address questions about what he is saying. This particular parenthesis actually takes up two entire chapters, chapter 6 and 7. One of the reasons I believe it is a parenthesis is that it is possible to read from the end of Romans chapter 5, straight on into the opening words of chapter 8, and not miss a beat in the development of Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message. But we will save that for when we get to chapter 8. For now, let’s look at the parenthesis.
The first question that Paul addresses can be phrased this way: Does justification by faith encourage us to continue in a sinful lifestyle? Paul will spend all of chapter 6 dealing with this question. This morning we will consider his first answer to the question, but first let us look at the question itself in verse 1: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
It is a logical question, is it not? In fact Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes so far as to say that unless people ask this question, then we probably have not preached the true gospel. We have not clearly proclaimed the radical nature of justification by grace through faith. I mean, if it is true that where sin increased, grace increased all the more, then let’s keep on sinning. Let’s give God even more room and scope to demonstrate his grace. We will actually be doing God a favor!
So if it is a logical question, what is the answer? Paul first gives a very strong negative. “May it never be!” No way! And he goes on to show us why. As I said, we are going to consider just the first answer to the question in today’s message. Here it is: The believer’s union with Christ makes a life of continued sin unthinkable.
The person who asks this question has failed to understand some basic truths about the Gospel. The Gospel does proclaim justification by faith alone. The Gospel does teach that by believing in Jesus and his death for our sins and his resurrection, we can be declared righteous in God’s sight as an absolutely free gift of grace. It is a legal, once for all transaction before God’s court in which our faith is reckoned to our account as righteousness before God. But that is not all the Gospel declares. The Gospel also teaches us the great truth of our union with Christ.
Look at verse 2: By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? I would encourage you to commit this verse to memory. It is a very strong weapon to have in your mental and spiritual arsenal when you encounter temptation. Everything else Paul says in this paragraph is encapsulated in this short verse. Having laid down this basic premise, Paul goes on to expand the logic behind it.
The first reality is that we (believers) have been united with Christ. Paul actually presents this reality with two different metaphors or figures of speech. The first is “baptism”. Verse 3 says, Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
The Bible uses the word baptism or baptized in two different ways. First there is a literal use of the word to describe the ordinance of water baptism; to be dipped or immersed in water as an initiation rite, signaling a person’s entrance into Christ and the Christian life and identifying him/her as a follower of Jesus Christ. But closely allied with the act of water baptism is a deeper reality of which water baptism is only a symbol. That is the reality that when we put our faith in Jesus, we are actually united with Christ. Paul uses the word in this way in 1 Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free.
Did you see the word “baptized” in that verse? One of the things that happens to us when we place our faith in Christ and we are justified by faith is that the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ and into Christ’s Body, the church. We become part of him. We are, forever after, “in Christ.”
Do you remember the message from two weeks ago from Romans 5, and the distinctive realities of being “in Adam” and being “in Christ”? This is one of the great, underlying truths and realities of the Gospel. We have been “baptized into Christ Jesus.” We are united with him. We are in Christ.
There is another word here that adds to our understanding. This is found in the language Paul uses in verse 5: If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. The word Paul uses there for being united with him means, according to one lexicon, “to be closely associated in a similar experience—to be like, to be one with.” It has the idea of growing together. The word “if” here can also be translated “since”. “Since we have been united with him like this…”
I want to emphasize that this reality of our union with Christ is true of all believers. It is our birth right by virtue of our second birth by faith in Jesus. We are united with Christ. It is not an “experiential truth”. That is, it is not something we necessarily feel or experience with our five senses. This is something that has happened to us by virtue of our new position. That is why Paul uses the language of knowing: “Don’t you know? Are you ignorant of this great truth, this great spiritual reality?”
What about you? Did you know that as a follower of Jesus, you are united with Christ? This is an integral part of the Gospel message. This great truth of our union with Christ has some very dramatic additional implications.
Since we are united with Christ, we died with him. This is the first point Paul makes in verse 3. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? When we were united with Christ, what is true of him became true of us. He died and we were baptized (or united with him) in death. His death became our death.
Not only that, but since we are united with Christ, we were buried with him. That’s what the first part of verse 4 tells us: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death. In these verses, the symbol of water baptism and the spiritual realities portrayed are so closely allied that it is impossible to separate them. The act of water baptism is a graphic picture of burial, as the person being baptized is buried into the water. Christ died. What do you do with a dead person? You bury him. So Christ was buried. Since we are “in Christ” we died with him and we were also buried with him.
Now this has some profound implications for us as Paul goes on to point out. He tells us that since we are united with Christ and we died and were buried with Christ, then the body of sin has been rendered powerless. We must follow Paul’s words carefully here in verse 6: 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—
There are two phrases in this verse which must be contrasted and clarified. The first is the phrase “our old self”, or as the KJV says “our old man”. This phrase refers to the old, unregenerate self; the person we were before we came to Christ. That old man was crucified and nailed on the cross with Christ, and he was taken down from the cross and buried with Christ. The implication of the death of the old self is that “the body of sin” might be done away with. This second phrase, “the body of sin” refers to the old nature which still resides in us as long as we live in this dying, mortal body; this body and this nature we inherited from Adam. This “body of sin” has been “done away with”. The translators struggle with this phrase. Some say “destroyed”, some say “done away with”. My own preferred translation would be “rendered powerless.” It is not gone, at least not yet. But it no longer has the power to tyrannize or rule over us as it once did. “That we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
This is what Paul repeats in verse 7: because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. That is a difficult verse to grasp fully, but the conclusion is clear; through our union with Christ in his death, we have been freed from the grip and tyranny of sin.
So far, Paul has been dealing with one side of the truth of our union with Christ; what we have been freed from. But there is even more glorious truth here. Remember, we are united with Christ. What is true of him is now true of us. He died. He was buried. But he didn’t stay dead. He didn’t stay buried. This is where Paul’s whole argument is headed. Look back at verse 4: 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.
It is there again in verse 8-10:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Christ didn’t stay in the tomb. He walked out alive! And when he walked out alive, we walked out with him. Because of our union with Christ, we too may live a new life, a resurrection life. A life that is dead to sin and alive to God and his will and power and purpose in us.
Continue in a life of sin? No way! It is unthinkable!
And so Paul goes on to make a very specific application. There is actually a cluster of them in verses 11-14. We are only going to look at one of them today and save the others for next week. And this brings me back to the question with which I opened this sermon. What do you reckon?
Look at verse 11: In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Do you know how the King James Version translates that? “Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.” What do you reckon?
I want to point something out. This is the very first command or use of the imperative verb form in the entire Book of Romans. Up until now, the whole letter has been describing what God has done and his work of grace in loving us and sending Christ to be the sacrifice for our sin and God’s work in justifying us. This is the first command directed toward us as Christ’s followers. And what is it? “Reckon”. “Count”. Have we seen this word before? Actually we have. It is the same word that is used back in Romans 4 where we are told that God took our faith and “reckoned” it or “counted” it, or “credited” it to us as righteousness. It means to take into account, figure it out, factor it in, add it up. Use your head and your logic. Think! Calculate! Understand!
What shall we reckon? Reckon yourself to be dead to sin but alive to God. Removed from Adam and his influence and effect and inheritance and united with Christ. The person we used to be is dead yet we are alive; a new person, living a new life in the sphere and influence of God. Continue in a life of sin? No way! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? The believer’s union with Christ in his death and resurrection makes a life of continued sinning unthinkable.
I conclude with three questions for you to consider.
1. Have you been united with Christ? Have you put your faith in him as Savior and Lord?
2. Did you know that you have been united with Christ? Has anyone ever explained to you that you are now “in Christ” and what is true of him is true of you?
And now the $64,000 question:
3. Are you living like one who has been united with Christ? One who is dead to sin and alive to God?
When I was pastoring our little church in Nairobi, Kenya, Risper was one of our most faithful worshipers and workers. She was there every Sunday, like clockwork. But her husband, Jonathan, rarely came. He was not a believer and loved the good life on weekends too much to waste a Sunday coming to church. I visited numerous times in their home, and drank lots of tea. Jonathan was always very polite. He listened to our message. But he simply liked his old life too much to make a commitment to Christ.
Then one day Risper called me. “Pastor, please come for another visit. Jonathan has given his life to Christ.” I went to visit. What a different home it was. For some who come to Christ, the changes are gradual. But for Jonathan, it was dramatic, as though someone had turned on a light switch. His face glowed with the love of Christ.
“What changed your mind about following Christ?” I asked. He thought for a moment and then answered: “I realized that what I would gain by following Christ was far more valuable than anything I was giving up.” He went on. “Now when my friends call me up and want me to go partying with them on weekends, I just tell them that the old Jonathan is dead. The new Jonathan doesn’t enjoy those things anymore.”
What do you reckon? Reckon yourself to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Do you think the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith encourages Christians today to continue in a life of sin, or to treat sin in their lives rather casually? (Give the reasons for your answer and discuss the matter together.)
- How does the truth of the believer’s union with Christ counteract this erroneous thinking?
- Is the reality of the believer’s union with Christ a new teaching for you?
- How does the act of water baptism symbolize the spiritual realities of the Christian’s new identity in Christ?
- Discuss what it means to “reckon yourself to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” How would it make a difference in your life this coming week?
- Memorize Romans 6:2 together and discuss how to use it to counteract temptation.