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.