Portraits

Romans 6:5-11

While being shut inside during this pandemic, I’m reading a few classics. I started with The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. The story paints an arresting picture of sin’s corruption of the soul. It opens with an artist painting a portrait of Dorian Gray, a “beautiful” young man of “innocence.” The artist heaps flattery on Dorian while another acquaintance mockingly warns the young man that he will age and won’t always be worthy of such praise. When finished, the painting so magnificently portrays Dorian’s youth and beauty that the young man jealously utters the wish that the picture could change, “and I could always be what I am now!” Dorian’s horrible desire comes true: the portrait becomes a picture of his corrupted soul as he lives a hidden life of licentiousness driven in an attempt to satisfy every illicit desire, while he keeps his outward beauty and youthful vigor. Dorian’s portrait vividly displays the ugliness and horror of sin.

Sin has such power to reach into every area of our life and grab hold with its corrupting desires. Sin isn’t just something we do. It’s a force to which we’re enslaved. We aren’t sinners because we sin—we sin because we’re sinners. We cannot do otherwise. Sin has to be rendered powerless (6:6) and not be allowed to reign (6:12) or be master over us (6:14). Sin is like a lion waiting to pounce and devour (Gen. 4:7). The old self must be crucified—put to death. “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (v. 7).

We have to die to be set free from sin. Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross…” (Mark 8:34). Too often we call our suffering a cross: “This is just my cross to bear.” But the cross was not just an instrument of suffering. It was an instrument of death. Taking up our cross means execution. Praise God, Romans 6:6 assures the Christian “our old self was crucified.”

I still struggle with grasping for my wants, needs and desires. But “I” was crucified with Christ. Those wants, needs and desires are dead. They are like dead weeds tangled around my heart. It sometimes feels like I am trapped but those brittle roots can be torn out, broken off and thrown away. I’m no longer bound by them. I don’t have to give in! I have new desires: a desire to spend time with the Lord in his word, a desire to ask him for help during the day, a desire to love others the way he has loved me, a desire to honor him in the way I live my life moment by moment.

Jesus died because he took my sin upon himself. He paid for it once for all. I died with him. Death could not hold him, and it cannot hold me. Christ is alive, seated at the right hand of God! I am now “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). This means I don’t have to continue in my sin. I have the power to live a new way—God’s power, which is greater than all my sin.

In verse 11, Paul transitions from the indicative—who we are in Christ—to an imperative—a command: “consider” or think. We are to think of ourselves as “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” More active commands will come, but, first, our minds must understand what it means to be “in Christ.” The power of sin over me is broken, and I live for God. I am his in Christ. Just as Jesus lived to glorify his Father in intimate communion with him, I was made alive (spiritually) to glorify my Father in sweet fellowship with him. To fight sin I must consider that I live not for myself but for the glory of God.  

Dorian Gray had no hope. He was enslaved to his sin—alive to it. The portrait of his soul morphed into a picture of “the leprosies of sin… The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not so fearful” as that picture. His portrait was not disturbed on its surface, as if its flaws could be touched up or covered over, the foulness and horror came from “within”.

The portrait of the Christian soul would be quite the opposite. Within is newness and hope. There is no spreading disease, but rather progressive growth in holiness. The outward appearance has some ugly blots, some imperfections that distort the picture, but the artist is continuing his work to make the portrait as beautiful on the outside as Christ truly is dwelling on the inside.

Sister, you are in Christ. This week when sin rears its ugly head, consider yourself dead to it and alive to God in him.   

  • Bible study questions for Romans 6:5-11 are here. New questions will be posted weekly.

Order Keri’s book The Good Portion: Scripture. See her Delighting in the Word Bible Studies.

Dead to Sin

Romans 6:1-4

Seeing sin in our lives is discouraging, especially when it’s a pattern—it can seem like a broken record that repeats over and over. We berate ourselves, “I can’t believe I did it again!” But Romans 5 tells us of an abundance of overflowing grace. We were born corrupted in Adam, and death reigns over us because we all sin. But while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died to save us from the wrath of God. Christ’s righteousness is the free gift of grace for all who repent and believe. In Adam we are bound to our sin, headed for death. But in Christ we receive Jesus’ righteousness, “leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

This righteousness is a free gift of grace, and Paul emphasizes over and over again the abundance of that grace. Romans 5 describes grace with words like “much more” and “abounded” and “for many.” The law came and “increased the trespass” as men willingly rebelled against God. But “grace abounded all the more” and grace reigns through the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:20-21)!

So Paul begins chapter 6 asking: Should we continue to sin so that grace will abound even more? Since salvation is by grace and not by any work of our own, does it matter how we live?

I grew up thinking it did not. I thought I had asked Jesus into my heart so I was saved, meaning I had my ticket to heaven—my fire insurance was paid. We’re saved by grace, so now I had God on my side and could use him in a pinch. What’s sin got to do with it? I didn’t have any obligation to God. He was up there in heaven for me—a sort of cosmic Santa Claus.

What joy I was missing out on! What danger I was in! Paul’s answer to the person who thinks this way is a firm “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” When I “asked Jesus into my heart,” it was as a friend. There was no repentance involved. But Jesus is a friend to sinners. He’s a friend to people who know they have no other hope. And he is more than a friend. He is God and king over all. He is Lord. When we repent of our sin and put our trust in him, we are united to him. That is what 5:12-21 is all about, being transferred from humanity in Adam to humanity in Christ. When that happens, we die to sin. So how, then, can we continue living in it?

I continued in my sin. I let it have free reign in my life. My sinful desires motivated me. I was alive to them. I belonged to the family of Adam and did not walk in newness of life. My “fire insurance” wouldn’t have put out one flame. I needed to repent and trust in Christ alone.

Romans 6:1-4 speaks to those who are continuing to be alive to their sin. We must examine our hearts to see if we are in Christ. He died and was raised. If we are united to him, we died with him and have been raised to walk no longer in sin but in newness of life. If you are like I used to be—presuming upon grace, relying on your fire insurance, living life not worried about your sin—be warned by Romans 6.

But, if you are a dear sister who is discouraged about a pattern of sin in your life, feeling like it’s out of control, take hope from Romans 6:1-4 this week. These verses give us the foundation for fighting that sin. They tell us the war is over even while the battle rages on.  

To fight our patterns of sin, we must first realize who we are as Christians. Physical baptism is a picture of spiritual death and resurrection. I was dead in my transgressions and sins but was made alive in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-5). When I was baptized into Christ, I died with him. In that Christ-Keri death, my sins were paid for in full and sin’s power over me was broken. My desire to rebel against God and place myself on the throne of my life died with Christ and was buried. A new power lives in me, giving me new desires to live like Christ. (Not just a power, but the person of the Holy Spirit!) Just as the glory of the Father raised Christ from the dead, his glory enables me to “walk in newness of life.” That means that instead of being powered by my sin, I am powered by God. Far from grace leading to more sin, grace is the gift of a new life no longer characterized by sin.

Christians still do sin. If we say we do not, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). But we do not continue to live in sin. We “walk in newness of life.” Sin used to characterize us: “I’m an anxious person.” “I am angry!” “I can’t stop (fill in the blank).” New life now characterizes us. This realization is the foundation from which we fight our sin. Before we were in Christ, we were alive to sin. We had to succumb to it because everything in us was for it. But now, we are alive to God in Christ. We come to our fight against sin with the nuclear power of the glory of God. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead works within us to achieve victory.

Take hope, dear struggling sister! Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we walk in newness of life.

Bible study questions on Romans 6:1-4 are here. New questions will be posted weekly.

Order Keri’s book The Good Portion: Scripture. See her Delighting in the Word Bible Studies.

Pandemic Sin

Have you been irritable stuck in your home during this pandemic? Are you fearful about the future? Have you been reaching for food or drink to calm your anxiety? Fantasy or pornography to alleviate your loneliness?

Have you been making the most of your time at home, or are you drifting from God in complacency? Things are starting to open up. How is your heart?

In Dubai, we were under strict lockdown. One of us could leave the house every three days for groceries but only after obtaining a government issued permit. We couldn’t even legally walk around the block. Our flights to the U.S. were canceled. Our future plans were up in the air. We were waiting—in a holding pattern—with a son graduating from high school, a daughter graduating from college and another daughter with canceled summer plans.

We were finally able to get on a plane to move our son to America (after growing up in Dubai from the age of three). We made it through some precarious travel and things seemed to be going well. But then my son got a sore throat—doctors suspected COVID-19, so we got him tested. Now, we’re waiting again, quarantined. And often in our family of five, we’re rubbing each other the wrong way. We’re waiting, facing a lot of uncertainty like everyone else, and I can’t help but see patterns of sin.

I’m not surprised by the sin. It’s been my adversary for 54 years. I could euphemistically call it irritableness, but at root it’s anger that comes out in an unkind, sharp tone of voice toward my husband and kids and leaves them bruised. It happens when I don’t get my way—when I wake up tired to dirty dishes left around the house, when I’m interrupted while trying to get something done, when I’m disrespected or disobeyed. Anxiety makes it worse. These circumstances are like a petri dish where my ugly sin shows. Comfort, control, respect: these are the idols I worship.

In the goodness of God, I’ve been studying Romans. Chapter 6 is all about being transferred from bondage to sin to bondservant of God, obedience from the heart. So I’ve chosen a particular sin to work on while studying Romans 6—this sin that I regularly struggle with and that is particularly rearing its ugly head during lockdown.

What are your besetting sins? What are the patterns of sin in your life that feel like a broken record playing again and again over your days, months and years? The Bible teaches us that we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10) so join me here over the next five Mondays in a Bible study of Romans 6 and use this summer and God’s word to fight that particular sin.

I’ll be posting an inductive Bible study each Monday with a related devotional the following Wednesday, beginning July 6th and continuing through the first week of August.

‘Of the Incomparable Treasure of the Holy Scriptures’

A dear friend, Mary Katherine, recited this anonymous poem to me by heart. Initially it appeared as a Scottish poem, and then began in 1578 to be included in the preliminary material of most Geneva Bibles.

Here is the spring where waters flow,
To quench our heart of sin;
Here is the tree where truth doth grow
To lead our lives therein;

Here is the judge that stints the strife
When men’s devises fail:
Here is the bread that feeds the life
That death cannot assail.

The tidings of salvation dear
Comes to our ears from hence;
The fortress of our faith is here;
And shield of our defense.

Then be not like the swine that hath
A pearl at his desire,
And takes more pleasure of the trough
And wallowing in the mire.

Read not this book in any case
But with a single eye:
Read not, but first desire GOD’s grace,
To understand thereby.

Pray still in faith with this respect
To bear good fruit therein;
That knowledge may bring this effect,
To mortify thy sin.

Then happy thou in all thy life,
Whatso to thee befalls;
Yea, double happy shalt thou be
When GOD by death thee calls.

Join us here at The Good Portion Books Blog for an inductive Bible study focused on mortifying our sin with knowledge that comes from Romans 6. We’ll introduce the study next Tuesday and begin the first week of July. A set of questions to think through the passage will be posted on Mondays followed by a devotional later in the week.