In my last post, I ruminated on the incredible power to die. Not the power to kill, but the power to die for one’s beliefs. I believe this power comes from being a walking dead man. When I read the letter from Paul to the Romans, 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 (very loosely) from memory here, the brave soldier tells the terrified young lad this:
“Your problem,” he says, “is that you are trying to save your life. What you need to realize is that you are dead. Once you accept this, you will be able to fight.”
Then the brave soldier walks away, rather ephemerally. The scared soldier watches him as if he has just witnessed a ghost. The point was this: when the soldier signs up for battle, he signs his death certificate. His flesh rebels, and struggles to not face the truth. The soldier needs to stop the denial, stop the bargaining, and accept the truth.
Easy to say, I suppose. Easy to understand intellectually. Harder, and maybe even impossible for most of us, is 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, the Apostle 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 that 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 himself confesses in his letter he was once a slave to sin. but now he is dead to sin. We believers who are living today are alive in the spirit (which is willing) but dead in the flesh (which is weak).
Paul explains it with this illustration: just as a husband or wife is freed from the power of the marriage contract when the spouse dies, you are freed from the power of sin when you die to it. A marriage contract is null and void at death, yet many widows and widowers continue to live as if they are still bound. Similarly, when you were baptized into Christ your bound contract as a slave to sin was made null and void.
You may be living, however, as if you are still under contract to sin. But your death to sin liberates you.
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?”
We can assent to this, perhaps understand it intellectually. But incorporate it into our lives? That is a totally different story. How do we actually live this truth that we are dead?
We see the baptized Christian loving and following Jesus, yet continuing to fall again and again into temptation, unable to be released from that damned thing. Spiritually we are alive. But until we receive our spiritual bodies in the resurrection, and until we are physically released from biological life, we are all walking around with a dead carcass. Like a zombie, the sin nature refuses to die, no matter how many bullets and incantations we throw at it.
If that is something you are dealing with, allow me to suggest a key I learned through my own many failures. In fact, this key is the only thing that has ever worked for me in the moment of temptation. But it always works when I do it:
Make an oral confession. Say it when you are the weakest: when you are directly facing that temptation: be it that porn site, a lovely garment at the mall, a desire to lie about or slander a perceived enemy, or an illicit lover. When that temptation comes, vocalize the truth hidden in your heart and in your bible. Say it out loud, yet only you have to hear it:
“I am crucified with Christ. I am dead to sin. Sin has no power over me.”
It is important to vocalize those things you believe, as a witness to distinguish between a good thought and a truth you live by. If you only think it, you don’t know if you believe it. It may only be a thought. A nice thought, but it is competing with other thoughts.
This is, as Jesus said, a daily thing – to pick up your cross. The soldier in the Band of Brothers 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 trying to save was staring right back at him again. He had to remind himself he was a dead man walking.
Go ahead and confess Christ and his promises. Go ahead and confess you are a sinner. But take a stand at your moment of weakness and confess your deadness. Your oral confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior saved you from hell. Your oral confession that you are a dead man will save you from that temptation.
Say it every morning if you wish. It is a good reminder of your daily defense against what may come your way each day. But the real key is to say it when that temptation is hitting you square in the face. So…Say it. And see what happens.