I want to start a series of posts in which we look at highly spiritual terminology in the Bible, particular phrases such as “dying to sin,” being “born again,” having a “renewed mind,” and being “separate from the world.”
Now, might be thinking, “This is going to be heavy and serious.” Well, I don’t think it has to be. In fact, I think it will be an enjoyable series because I will show how you can relate these phrases to your everyday life. If you are not someone who says these phrases a lot, you may think that Christians who frequently use them are somehow more “holy” or devout than you are. However, I don’t believe we have to think of people that way. In past times, I separated this spiritual terminology from my day to day, secular activities. However, that changed about a year ago as my personal life evolved and I started looking at certain Scriptures more closely. Now, I can relax and think about “dying to sin” while playing games. I am going to share with you how I do this, and you can decide for yourself if it is right to think similarly.
Romans 6:5-7: “For if we have been united with him [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”
All right, let’s think about this. First, consider what it means to be “alive” to something, versus being “dead” to something. Here’s an example: Some people have food allergies. A certain food will prompt a specific part of a particular person’s immune system to overreact, causing adverse activity in that person’s body. When I was young, I was allergic to eggs. My immune system was “alive” to eggs. Eggs would provoke, or “tempt,” my immune system. Then, my immune system would “sin” by reacting adversely, causing a rash. However, by the age of 9, my immune system “died” to eggs. I was no longer allergic.
Now, let’s look at our own lives. If we sin, it is because something provokes us and we fail to react appropriately; either we get agitated and do something bad, or we get intimidated and freeze, failing to do the things we should. Suppose you’re someone who hates the sound of nails on chalkboard. Somebody does that just to annoy you, and it makes you lose your temper.
You lose your temper as a reflex of sorts because your nerves are “alive” to the sound of nails on chalkboard, and your vocal chords become “slaves” to your nerves. But now, suppose a physiologist claims he can fix your reflex to that noise. He gives you a potion that makes you completely unconscious for three days. During that time, people set up a chalkboard next to you and scratch their nails on it day in and day out to see if they can make you lose your temper. But you never do. You have died to that reflex, or to that “sin”. Your brain is not listening to it; your nervous system is not reacting to it; your vocal chords are not reacting to it. The whole “body of sin” that used to trigger that reflex has been deactivated. While you are unconscious, the potion is working on your brain and nervous system. When you return to consciousness, you still don’t like to hear nails on chalkboard, but you can choose to control your temper because the potion adjusted the internal workings inside of you.
I find it significant that Paul used the phrase “body of sin.” I believe that, in many cases, the cause of sin is not our intellect, but rather, it is in our physiological systems. I think that factors such as the nervous system, brain chemicals, hormones, and reflexes, respond to what we see and hear in a way that leads to sin. This is why motivational tactics to change our behavior often fail; the problem is not rooted in the part of our brain where we motivate ourselves. The problem is rooted in our physiological systems that produce sensations in response to what our consciousness perceives. Thus, overcoming sin requires a physiological adjustment, not just mental motivation. And this physiological adjustment is something that happens through the Spirit. Look at Romans 8:11:
“He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
Notice that the Spirit injects life into your body. I believe that living according to the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit, involves the Spirit working in your physiology so that you respond to situations differently.
So, how do we actually experience this transformation in our own lives? Many of us are still dealing with physiological problems that cause sinful reactions. The deliverance from these problems described in Romans is something that has to be accepted in faith, given that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). So, how can we have faith in this reorientation of our bodies and minds when we see and feel things to the contrary in our day-to-day lives? The next few post will examine that.