Unifying Element #3: We’re All Struggling (Rom. 6-8).
Sports players are infamous for receiving critical injuries, most of which are shown for all the world to see on national television—from twisted ankles to bones sticking out (shudder). This past season of college football, freshman J. T. Barrett became the starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes after senior Braxton Miller had to step aside due to injuries. Well, it seems like the Bucks didn’t have much luck this season—in the game against Michigan (of all teams!), Barrett went down. He was rushed off the field to the worry of OSU fans everywhere. With their second-string quarterback gone…who would they look to? Cardale Jones stepped up to the plate and carried them home to victory that game…and all the way to the championship (sorry, Ducks fans)!
What about Barrett? Well, he was rushed off to discover he had fractured his ankle…and would be out the rest of the season. Here he was, well on his way to perhaps even winning the Heisman Trophy. But now…he was just sitting there, praying, “Why now?” He’s out. He’s done.
It may seem like a relative minor injury to most, but to someone playing sports big-time, it’s a big-time deal. Small injuries can sink a player for an entire game, an entire season, or an entire lifetime. Ouch. J. T. Barrett was, as you may put it, “dead” to Ohio State after that injury. All he could do is sit back and watch. He was as good as dead for the rest of the season.
Paul describes us in a similar condition. In Romans 6:1-2, he writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
What does he mean by “died to sin”? Well, it’s like we’ve been injured while playing for the team of sin. We’re done. We’re dead to them. We can’t participate any longer. Just like a corpse can’t walk—well, at least not until the zombie apocalypse. Now, notice this is dead TO sin, not dead IN sin, as we discussed earlier. We’re not dead in sin, to keep committing it again and again and again. We’re dead TO sin, meaning we don’t have to commit it anymore! What a marvelous thought! In Christ, we have found true and lasting freedom.
Paul will go on to explain that we have been freed from King Sin. We’re no longer his slaves. Now, we’re slaves to Christ to serve Him. Why? Because He died for us. And just like His righteousness is now our righteousness, so also is His death our death. We died WITH Him—were buried with Him, figuratively. And we also are resurrected with Him! So, we’re supposed to think of ourselves as still in the tomb with Christ in regard to sin, but alive forevermore in regard to living this Christian life for His glory.
The problem is…we like to get back at it. We like to be Christian zombies—we’re dead to sin but somehow we still keep getting up and eating sin’s brains. Yuck.
It’s like J. T. Barrett, after coming back from getting wrapped up, strutting—er, stumbling back onto the field to play. “It’s okay, coach—I can still play!” As he face-plants into a cooler. “My ankle’s completely fine!” As he winces and doubles-over. “’Tis but a scratch!” This guy can’t play—er, he can play, but not really. Not for any length of time. Not habitually. So we can struggle back into our sin habits. But not for long. Not habitually.
And Paul says we will indeed struggle. We’ll wander back to our old master. We’ll wince onto the field. But we’ll be doing that which we don’t want to do. We’re saved—we have a new nature. But we’re still stuck with fleshly bodies and depraved natures. So it’s like we’re Bilbo. We have a cowardly Baggins side and an adventure Took side. And we sit in our armchair trying to decide whether to go on an adventure or not. Whether to fight dragons or stay and have tea. And inside, it’s like we’re already in a battle. To go or not to. To sin or not to. To fail once again or not. That’s what Paul describes in Romans 7:21-24:
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
The struggle is indeed real. How do we overcome this constant battle? Answer: verse 25. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answer is God. No self-help book or Joel Osteen smile can make you a better you in five days. No determination, no resolution, no grit teeth—not even coffee can help! Only God can. Christ is the All-Powerful God of the Universe—yes, He can help.
Romans 8 offers some more advice for this struggle. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (vs. 5). Set your mind on God. Think about what He has done. Think about your sin and how He saved you. And revel in that mystery of grace. No matter what comes. No matter the “sufferings of this present time” (vs. 18), no matter the “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword” (vs. 35), we can fix our mind on Christ and get through it.
And we’re not alone. How does all this apply to walking in unity? Because a common enemy unites the worst of friends. Returning to the Hobbit, this reminds me of the scene in the final movie (spoiler alert!). Gandalf knows there is a vast and powerful Orc army on its way right now. But no one will listen to him. Instead, they all keep arguing about silly gems and broken promises. The dwarves, elves, and men are about to start a fight amongst themselves over their differences while millions of orcs plow their way to destroy them all! Now I can understand why Gandalf is always so grumpy—I would be too if I had to deal with such disunited, quarrelsome people who can’t see past their own fat Dwarven noses! I wonder if that is the way God feels when dealing with His children. Here we are, arguing over the use of hymnbooks while the enemy is blinding people’s hearts! While people are going to hell, we’re debating over the finer points of eschatology! Thankfully, God is a lot more gracious with us than Gandalf. But we best put aside our differences before the orcs arrive.
Maybe you’re struggling to get along with a gossiping girl friend or a nosy old lady in the pew behind you or an irksome spouse. Well, everybody’s a bit of a fixer-upper. We’ve got a couple of bugs (sound familiar?). There’s a lot of truth to what trolls say, I’ve heard. So we as “mother, father, sister, brother” are needed to help one another work through this struggle. We all have a role. We all have someone we can help. And by help I don’t mean gossiping about the sins of others. Or point-blank telling them how you feel about their obnoxious laugh. I mean a gentle, gracious approach, like Galatians 6:1 describes.
The fact is—we’re all in an intense struggle with sin. Daily. So cut that annoying Christian some slack. You’re pretty annoying too! We’ve all got quirks and faults. But love covers a multitude of sins—maybe that’s why Paul ended this section in Romans 8 by describing Christ’s overreaching love, no matter what life throws at us. If His love keeps going, why does our love stop when it meets a fellow sinner? Let’s show His love to each other. Bear with one another in love. And help each other in the struggle.
We have a common, powerful enemy. We don’t have time to be disunited. We don’t have time to squabble about pet peeves. If we don’t get our act together, we’ll be overcome like a team of injured and arguing football players. Come to the huddle. And prepare to play to win. Go team!