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Reckon Yourselves...
(From the Epistle, Romans vi. 3ff,
Sixth Sunday After Trinity)

Our identification with Christ in baptism, the Scripture tells us, allows us both an identification with His death and with His resurrection. We have no problem understanding, I think, that the Lord's dying and rising on our behalf have secured for us a firm hope that death will not provide for us a terminal point, beyond which is either nothingness or some great unknown we don't even dare think about. We are enabled to encourage ourselves in the face of death that its bitter tyranny over the life of the believer has been broken: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55).

But none of us has the ability to test this aspect of Christ's victory for us-- we will not be able to do so until the experience becomes ours during our own encounter with physical death. We take it on faith, and believe it to be operative on our behalf.

But in today's Epistle, the issue of death and life as connected with Christ's own death and resurrection are demonstrable in the most practical and tangible of ways through the experience of the normal course of daily life.

The Apostle tells us in this passage that Christ's rising allows us to walk in newness of life. Why is this possible? Because "our old man is crucified with Him."

What a curious expression: "our old man!" 2 Cor. 5:17 immediately comes to mind: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (“creation”): old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

The “old man” describes our condition completely apart from the consequences of the redemptive work of Christ. Ephesians describes this condition very graphically (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Eph 2:1 "And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins;"

Eph 2:2 "Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:"

Eph 2:3 "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."

The Bible also uses another very uncomplimentary term to describe this dismal state: “the flesh”, another very peculiar sort of word to use. But it is humbling. Galatians 5, as you know, contrasts the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the Spirit”. The sorrowful and chilling list of such “works” hurts us to even repeat it:

Gal 5:19 "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, "

Gal 5:20 "Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,"

5:21 "Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

All of the above highlights the very unusual character of our experience as baptized believers. Today's Epistle implies that this “old man” that is our unsanctified, unredeemed human nature has received the death penalty which it richly deserved, having been“crucified with Christ”.

In its stead we have received another nature which in various NT passages is described in glowing terms: "it is new";" it is a self renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator"; "a treasure in jars of clay"; "it is born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible...", to name just a few references.

All would be fine, we might dare to hope, if we could count on this transformation to be automatic, complete, absolutely irreversible, just as much of a done deal as a caterpillar 's metamorphosis into a butterfly, with no fear or concern that any residue whatsoever of “the old man”, the “flesh”, would be left hanging around to mock cynically at our new selves, to tempt us to sin, to play upon our insecurities and uncertainties, or even to forcibly drag us back to the old, if it was at all possible.

But alas, this is not the nature of the beast in the here-and-now, though it will assuredly and certainly be true some day in the “there-and-then”. No, we are left with a battle. And what a battle it is! It is up to each of us to reckon also ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, that is your duty, and mine, until the day of our “graduation” from this realm to a place where these scriptural promises will be fully and permanently realized.

So what does it mean, to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God?

Let me picture it this way: All of us are legally guilty of crimes for which we have been sentenced, so to speak, to death ("the wages of sin is death"). We are legally and completely guilty not only because we have inherited a propensity for sin, the consequence of Adam's fall, but because we have indeed sinned ourselves: knowingly, willingly, and individually, “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault”, as the phrase goes in the prayers for “Preparation for Communion” that the altar ministers share before each service.

But, lo... a certain Someone comes forth and hands you, me ---the guilty parties--- a bill of exoneration, of pardon,a declaration that the penalty for sin ...both individual sins and the entire collective body of them... has been completely paid by Another, who displays for all to see the bright redness of His own spilt blood, offered in payment, as proof!

Well, now, off you go, down the road, document in hand. But, to your amazement and dismay, you come very shortly upon a strange, unruly sight: there stands a yelling host of detractors, tempters, doubters, gainsayers, critics, lampoonists, satirists, opponents of every sort, already gathered against you on the first street corner you encounter. They look familiar; you recognize them as the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, that “unholy trinity”, and all of them are claiming to have some stake in your life, and their accusations have a fearful note of validity. “We know you!” they cry. “How dare you classify yourself as free and redeemed!” “Think of all the evil things you've done and still do, and of all the people you've left behind!” “It's only a matter of time, you know,” they sneer,“before you'll fail, and fait utterly!”

And hardest of all these opponents to endure is the wretched presence of that “old man” within you, awaiting to be free of the yoke of the new nature you've adopted that has effectively tied his hands, waiting for you to slip, to give in, just for a moment, so that he and all his malevolent friends can leap once again to the fore. You are sinking down in discouragement and defeat. Your foes are too many, too strong, too clever. They know you too well. You thought you had left them all behind, way back there, somewhere.

But just then, you look down at the now wrinkled and crushed declaration of pardon still clenched in your fist. You spy once more upon it the bright red seal of its issuance and validation. And you "reckon yourself also to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord". You make use of this amazing instrument as quickly, as completely, as efficiently, as effectively as possible on your own behalf, because that's why it's there.

The consequence, as we all learn to indeed employ the promise of Christ on our own behalf, will be ever-increasing victory: a life filled more and more with the overcoming graces of God.

Hmmm... it seems as if that same horde that had been gathered against us, which even includes our own natural inclination ands tendency to sin --that “old man”--, it seems as it has retreated down the street in defeat, hoping to regroup on some other intersection to try us once again in our hour of weakness. There is no let-up, is there? O, well... we'll deal with them again, God helping, in the very same way, when we come to them!

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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