Something has bothered me for a very long time, and I've struggled to put it into words. It seems to me we have a tendency when we've seen a truth to step back away from it, but still use the language of that truth. I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, so let me give three examples:
I once worked for someone who liked to talk about the Theory of Constraints, but he didn't seem actually to understand it. He liked to throw around the term "Theory of Constraints," but when actually pressed to explain himself, it became obvious he had no idea what it is. He used the terminology of ToC, but he really didn't mean what those words mean: he was using new terminology to describe his old ideas.
I spent many years studying internal martial arts. I began to recognize a pattern: there were some very skilled internal martial artists who would basically become kick boxers when it was time to spar. They were very good at the internal forms, but when it came time to put on the pads, they acted like they'd forgotten everything we practiced. It was weird: almost like they didn't really believe it would work in real life.
When I was a good deal younger, I got a glimpse of Romans 6:1–11. I saw for the first time that I had died with Christ, and God wasn't interested in my life per se. He is interested in the life of Christ. This was terribly exciting to me, and I would tell people about it. Almost invariably, the people I talked to would say, "Well, that's true positionally." I began to understand by "that's true positionally," they really meant "that's not true at all."
The Christian who sees Romans 6 as a sort of a morality tale is like the manager who talks about the Theory of Constraints but has no interest in understanding it, or the student who studies internal martial arts but has no intention of actually using them in a fight. He or she may use the language of the New Testament, but can't experience it.
It's interesting to listen to people speak about Romans 6. It seems like there are basically two approaches people take:
- some believe that Romans 6 is describing a reality: I have died with Christ
- some believe it's a metaphor: Romans 6 is effectively a call to live a "new life," living differently than before
It seems obvious to me that Romans 6 is not a call to live a new kind of life: it's a statement that as far as God is concerned, my life has ended (Romans 6:2). Even if I don't believe that I actually died with Christ, it's impossible to avoid that plain command to think of myself that way (Romans 6:11). The fact is that Scripture commands us to "reckon" we've died with Christ. Regardless how you understand Romans 6:1–10, if you're not thinking of yourself as having died with Christ, then you're not obeying v. 11.
I was in a Bible reading where someone talked about how the raven and the dove that Noah sent out were really types of the "two natures," and how we need to feed the dove, not the raven. Of course that's nonsense.
Scripture doesn't talk about "two natures": it doesn't talk about an "old nature" or a "new nature". Scripture talks about new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and indwelling sin (Romans 7:17). The believer is a new creation in Christ, who is living in an unredeemed body. The day is coming when our bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23), Christ will come from Heaven and transform our bodies of humiliation to be like His (Philippians 3:21). Then we'll actually be free of the body of death (Romans 7:24).
This is fundamentally liberating: it's not that I have to choose between two natures, it's that I have been freed of who and what I was by the death of Christ so that I could walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4; Romans 8:1–3).
It's very easy to see truth in Scripture and sort of dull the edge a bit. It's easy to keep using the language of new creation but slowly fall back to the notion that we can improve the flesh. It's easy to forget that Romans 6 or Colossians 3 or Galatians 2 teach that our lives have ended at the cross of Christ. It's easy to forget we are new creations in Christ and start thinking it's God's purpose to improve us. It's easy to pay lip service to the truth while slowly stepping back from it.
There are plenty of teachers and preachers who urge us to walk in newness of life, but don't seem to grasp our death with Christ. It's not a metaphor or a romantic notion, it's a fact. Scripture bases the "newness of life" on the fact that I have died with Christ (Romans 6:4). We can't really experience new life while we try and cling to the old. We have to accept that we have died with Christ before we can expect to see the power of resurrection (Philippians 3:10).