In my last post, I ruminated on the incredible power to die, not to kill, but to die for one’s beliefs. I imagine much of it comes from being a walking dead man. When I read the letter from Paul to the Romans (I am currently working on a book on the letter), it occurs to me that this is exactly what Paul encourages his flock of fellow believers to do: become walking dead men.
I am reminded of the soldier in the HBO series Band of Brothers, who is suffering from battle shock. Overcome by fear, he is shaking and useless on the battle field. At the end of a firefight in which he acquitted himself terribly, a brave fellow soldier comes up to him. He doesn’t slap him like a General Patton as he stands there shaking. Rather, he encourages him in the most strange and unreal way.
Paraphrasing from memory here: Your problem, he says, is that you are trying to save your life. What you need to realize is that you are dead. You are a walking dead man, and once you accept this, you will be able to fight. Then he walks away, ephemerally, the soldier looks at him like he just witnessed a ghost.
Easy to say, I suppose. Easy to understand intellectually. Harder, and maybe even impossible for most of us, to incorporate it as a truth in our lives.
But incorporate it the young man does. In the next episode or two, he takes the message to heart, and becomes the most valuable soldier in the unit. He fearlessly takes on every task.
Now, Paul is not telling his fellow believers to go out there and die, the deadly persecution has not taken place yet. Nero hasn’t yet blamed the Christians for the great fire. But what he explains is the key to overcoming the sin that entangles each reader is to recognize that, as a believer, you are dead to it. When a Christian is baptized, he is baptized into Jesus’s death.
A Christian is dead to sin. That is what Paul says. He was once a slave to sin. Now he is dead to sin. We can understand that intellectually, receive it by faith. But incorporating it into our lives? That is a totally different story. How do we actually live this truth?
Jesus put it this way:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
The book I am working on is an attempt to help the Christian who has been baptized, follows Jesus, yet continues to fall again and again into temptation, and unable to be released from that damned thing. We are all walking around with a dead carcass, and like a zombie, the sin nature refuses to die, no matter how many bullets and incantations we throw at it.
Anyway, if that is something you are dealing with, allow me to suggest a key I learned. This is, as Jesus said, a daily thing – to pick up your cross. The soldier probably faced his fears daily, and overcame them daily. Perhaps even in the moment of truth, when it was time to charge that bunker, his life he was saving was staring right back at him again. He had to remind himself he was a dead man walking.
Here’s my suggestion when you face that temptation directly, be it a whiskey bottle, a lovely garment at the mall, a web site, or an illicit lover. When that temptation comes, vocalize the truth hidden in your heart and in your bible. Say it out loud:
“I am crucified with Christ. I am dead to sin. Sin has no hold over me. I am a dead man.”
Say it every morning if you wish. But the key, I think, is to say it when that temptation is hitting you square in the face. And don’t just think it in your heart. Say it. I think it is important to vocalize those things you believe, as a witness to distinguish between a good thought and a truth.
Tell me what happens.