“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.â€ (Romans 8:5)
In my last letter I talked about how what I want to do, I donâ€™t do; but the very thing I donâ€™t want to do, thatâ€™s what I find myself doing. In my mind I want to do whatâ€™s right, but in my body, thereâ€™s another will at work â€“ one that overrides my mind and puts me doing the very things Iâ€™m trying so hard to avoid.
That other will, at work in the members of my body, seems to control things; no matter how hard I try to overrule it with my mind, Iâ€™m powerless over its grip on me. And that will has no interest in my long term survival; the things it makes me do to satisfy its selfish desires have already led me to a death sentence and thereâ€™s nothing I can do to stop it.
But wait! We also read that Christ came to earth and died to cover the penalty of that death sentence â€“ the one the members of my body got me into. When he died, the death penalty was paid for me and you and everyone else on this planet. And when he rose again from the dead, he proved that death no longer had any power over him.
Thereâ€™s a name for the will that is at work in the members of my body to get its way in my life â€“ itâ€™s called death. Before Christ came and paid the price death demanded, I was powerless to fight it. Even though I knew what I should be doing, I followed what death wanted me to do. It was too powerful for me, I didnâ€™t have a choice â€“ I had to go along. But when Christ paid that price he took away deathâ€™s power to control me.
But thatâ€™s not the whole story. Jesus knew that in order to break deathâ€™s grip, he would have to die; he also knew that in order for his disciples to break deathâ€™s grip in their own lives, they would have to die as well. He was talking to them about his death and theirs when he said, â€œunless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.â€ (John 12:24-26)
Jesus was telling them that he was going to the cross to die in order to give life to many. And that, if they wished to have life, they must follow him and die as well. The only way to life is by dying first. Jesus died literally; he was killed on the cross, and then three days later he rose to life again, literally, having (literally) broken deathâ€™s power over him, and through him, deathâ€™s power over all men was broken.
The death Jesus required of his disciples wasnâ€™t a physical death on the cross, although some of them suffered that demise. It was a spiritual death; in order to rise again to life, spiritually, with deathâ€™s grip broken. Thatâ€™s the way it works; itâ€™s impossible to become â€˜born-againâ€™ without dying first.
Being â€˜born-againâ€™ isnâ€™t a matter of saying, â€œIâ€™m sorry for my sins,â€ or â€˜inviting Jesus into my heart,â€™ or â€˜making a decision for Christ.â€™ None of these terms are mentioned in the Bible as requirements for being â€˜born againâ€™. Being â€˜born againâ€™ means first dying to the life ruled by the flesh (repenting) so that through faith (believing), we are born into a new life. Thatâ€™s what baptism represents â€“ dying (going under the water) and then being reborn (coming up out of the water). Our problem is that we want to be born again without dying first. We like the idea of being a â€˜new creationâ€™; we just donâ€™t want to kill the old man to get there.
â€œWe 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 â€“ because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.â€ (Romans 6:4-6)
Without repentance (killing the old man by turning away from the acts and attitudes he represents) there isnâ€™t any salvation (no new life, no new creation). Repentance isnâ€™t saying Iâ€™m sorry. When God convicts me of my sin, I ought to be sorry; but saying â€œIâ€™m sorry for my sinsâ€ is absolutely meaningless if Iâ€™m not sorry enough to rid my life of them.
Equally meaningless are, â€œinviting Jesus into my heartâ€ and â€œmaking a decision for Christâ€; unless my â€˜invitingâ€™ and â€˜decidingâ€™ mean that Iâ€™ve nailed my old man to the cross and left him behind. Thereâ€™s no other way around it; I canâ€™t have new life unless Iâ€™m willing to kill my old one.
But, as I know only too well, because my new man still lives in my old body, its previous owner doesnâ€™t stay dead. He comes back to haunt me on a regular basis. Jesus was crucified and died once, for all. He didnâ€™t have to do it again. But when he spoke to his disciples about following his lead he said, â€œIf anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.â€ (Luke 9:23)
Imagine that! Imagine the horror and pain of the crucifixion. Jesus told his disciples that if they want to follow him, they must pick up their own cross and be crucified with him. Jesus said not only, â€œpick up your cross and follow me to your crucifixion.â€ He said, â€œPick up your cross dailyâ€!
Because my body didnâ€™t die in my crucifixion, my old man can resurrect himself in the members of my body, raising his ugly head, refusing to stay dead. But when he resurrects himself, itâ€™s my spiritual obligation to nail him to the cross again, even on a daily basis.
â€œTherefore brothers, we have an obligation â€“ but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live â€¦â€ (Romans 8:12-13)
So how do I crucify my old man daily? By putting to death the misdeeds of the body â€¦ daily.
And how do I do that? Those misdeeds of the body have been burned into me; theyâ€™re a part of my habit patterns. I want to do whatâ€™s right, but I find myself doing whatâ€™s wrong. The wrong I donâ€™t want to do is the very thing I find myself doing!
How do I put to death the misdeeds of the body? By a conscious act of will. In my body, the shackles of sin and death are still clamped to my wrists and ankles. Like the elephant, my leg is still tied to that stake. And Iâ€™ve been bound for so long that thereâ€™s no earthly reason for me to believe Iâ€™ll ever break free.
But thatâ€™s what Christ did when he went to the cross; by dying he broke the power of those bonds, they canâ€™t hold me anymore. And thatâ€™s what I do when I go to the cross; I put to death the old man who says these bonds hold me. With every conscious act of will that I â€œput to death the misdeeds of the body,â€ I shake free the shackles that were unlocked at the cross. I pull free from the stake that no longer has the power to hold me down. I crucify the old man by crucifying his deeds; he no longer has the power to hold me.
I crucify him daily; some days, moment by moment. But by every act of my will as a new man, I break the power of the old man to have its way in my life. I learn, through experience, that sinâ€™s power to bind me is a lie; its power was broken long ago. The chains are there, but theyâ€™ve lost their grip; all Iâ€™ve got to do is shake free.
Next week weâ€™ll talk about just exactly what those â€˜misdeeds of the bodyâ€™ are, exactly how to â€˜put them to deathâ€™ and what kind of fruit will grow and thrive in when that old man dies.