28 October 2023

Come alive in Christ!

Major Howard Webber

Major Howard Webber reminds us that God’s grace outmeasures the enormity of our sins.

Key text

Although the apostle Paul knew and experienced God’s forgiveness, he never forgot the enormity – the extreme seriousness – of what he had done in persecuting Christ’s followers. ‘I put many of the Lord’s people in prison,’ he declared to King Agrippa many years later, ‘and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them’ (Acts 26:10).

Yet, he was able to say: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst’ (1 Timothy 1:15).

No wonder Paul, like John Newton in his well-loved hymn, saw God’s grace as being something absolutely amazing. In Romans 5:20, he writes that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more.’ God’s grace outmeasures the enormity of our sins.

Pause and reflect

  • Have you ever wondered whether God could forgive something you’ve said or done, something no one else knows anything about?

It seems, however, that Paul was aware of people misinterpreting what he said. They suggested that, if they continued sinning, their increased sin would magnify God’s forgiveness and reveal even more of the enormousness of God’s grace. In doing so, they were virtually saying that sin was a good thing.

This obviously appalled Paul, for new life in Christ involves a decisive break with the old. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’

Songwriter Graham Kendrick expresses the joy of new life in Christ: ‘All I once held dear, built my life upon,/ All this world reveres, and wars to own,/ All I once thought gain I have counted loss;/ Spent and worthless now, compared to this:/ Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you,/ There is no greater thing’ (SASB 565).

Paul reminds believers that the total immersion they experienced at their baptism symbolised the death and burial of the old self. The re-emergence from the water represented rebirth – a resurrection into a new life.

A photo of a flower growing out of the side of a rock on a cliff edge

Romans 6:11

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Read Romans 6

As Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again’ (John 3:3). In baptism, the believer identifies themselves with Christ in his death and resurrection.

This doesn’t mean that we never sin, rather that we no longer live in sin – it no longer has the power it once had over us. What we once were is dead and buried.

Pause and reflect

  • Is baptism by full immersion in water necessary?
  • Can one have the experience of new life without it?
  • Can one be baptised in water yet not have the reality it represents?

Whether or not we have undergone water baptism, our need is to be united with Jesus in a death like his. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul states that Jesus made himself ‘nothing’ (2:7). Many of us want to be ‘something’. However, we must relinquish our independence if we are to be united with him. We need to die to sin and self to become alive in Jesus (see v11).

In his analogy, Jesus made it clear that our relationship with him has to be as branches on a vine (see John 15:1–8 and Romans 11:17 and 18). We are the branches and Jesus is the true vine. A branch is totally dependent on the vine for its health, nourishment and ability to bear fruit that will ripen (see John 15:16).

Devotees of other religions often live according to the teachings of their religion’s founder. True Christianity is far more than that. Jesus Christ is alive, and a Christian has an organic, living relationship with him. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. Therefore, what flows through Jesus flows through us. There is an intimacy whereby we can say in the words of C Austin Miles’s hymn ‘In the Garden’: ‘He walks with me, and he talks with me,/ And he tells me I am his own,/ And the joy we share as we tarry there,/ None other has ever known.’

Pause and reflect

  • How is your relationship with Jesus?

From what Paul writes, it would seem that Satan is in the resurrection business too, always wanting to resurrect our old sinful selves. Dying to self needs to be a constant thing. Paul urges: ‘Put to death ... whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5).

There are impulses that are in direct conflict with God – appetites, passions and pleasures that can so easily control us. Paul reminds Christians: ‘You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’ (Colossians 3:9 and 10).

Paul isn’t saying we no longer sin, but that it should no longer reign (see v12), and we must not give it any room. It mustn’t be allowed to even get a foot in the door. There mustn’t be any area, however small, surrendered to sin (see v13).

In the words of Charles Wesley: ‘Leave no unguarded place,/ No weakness of the soul;/ Take every virtue, every grace,/ And fortify the whole’ (SASB 979).

Christ must be our magnificent obsession. May each of us be so immersed in him and he in us that there isn’t any aspect of our lives wherein he isn’t thought of or referred to. Our offering of every part of ourselves to God as ‘an instrument of righteousness’ (v13) is not from fear of breaking God’s Law but rather an expression of our gratitude for the undeserved free gift of salvation through his love and grace.

Bible study by

Howard Webber

Major Howard Webber

Retired Officer, Bournemouth

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