It’s All About Jesus
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:11
This verse provides the first command, or imperative, in the book of Romans. Paul’s point in waiting this long to tell us about our responsibilities is that this story isn’t about our deeds, but about deeds that have been done on our behalf by Another.
I wonder if a person who knew nothing about Christianity aside from sermon and book titles would be shocked by Paul’s tardiness in getting around to the steps we need to take. Contrary to popular belief, the gospel is not about finding a life coach who will help us get our act together, nor is it about psychological understanding or morality or political action groups or growing your own wheat.
The gospel is the news about Jesus’s incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, and reign—period. Because it is about him, the emphasis in Paul’s great treatise on the gospel will always and unswervingly be Jesus.
A Command to Remember
But, again, here we are at the first command that Paul gives his readers. Interestingly, it is not a command to hop up off our couches and get to work; it’s a command to think, to remember, to realize. It is a command to remember and then to believe what we’ve remembered as we face our day. What do we need to remember? We need to remember how what Christ has already done transforms who we are right now—not later, once we get it together, but right now in all the messes we’ve made.
We need to remember how what Christ has already done transforms who we are right now...
The first command is simply this: remember. You are dead to sin because Christ died to sin. You have been raised to God because Christ was raised to God. In your baptism you were united with him in all that he has done, and you are now free to serve him out of deep gratitude.
Where sin is concerned, you are to count yourselves among the dead. Interestingly, this first imperative is a command to do nothing except believe what’s already been said about you. You are to believe that you are, in fact, dead to sin.
Help for Remembering
This process of remembering is so crucial to our spiritual life that Jesus himself instituted two sacraments that are to be regularly practiced in our churches: baptism and Communion. Both of these signs are given to us as visible, physically experienced reminders of the good news. Not only does Paul tell us to remember our baptism and its significance, but in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 he also directly quotes the Lord Jesus, who commands us while partaking of Communion, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
The Lord Jesus is well acquainted with our propensity to forget unless we actually have something we can regularly see, taste, feel, smell, and touch. He knew that he had to give us something tangible, something that our poor unbelieving hearts could grasp onto.
So he gives us water, bread, and wine, elements available in every culture–normal, ordinary components of daily life. In seeing and remembering the water we think again of our death, burial, and new life. We remember his death, his burial in the tomb, his resurrection by the glory of the Father. In eating the bread we remember the body broken for us: Jesus, the sinless man who walked perfectly through every temptation we face, was crushed for us. We remember a body beaten. He experienced true human death. In drinking the wine we remember the blood that poured from his head, his hands, his feet, and his side, and in that cleansing flood, priceless beyond measure, we know that what we once were has been borne away.
Do You Remember?
In this remembering, real grace is communicated to us through those simple means; a real strengthening and enlightening grace is diffused into hearts that are truly new, yes, but still remain all too human.
The Holy Spirit’s initial and primary method of helping us fight sin and live as servants of God does not start with a command to live right (although Paul does get there). It starts with a command to remember and to see ourselves as we now are: truly dead, yet alive in union with Christ. It is this truth—and nothing else—that will engender the desire and motive for grateful obedience in us.
This article was adapted from Comforts from Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time by Elyse Fitzpatrick.