Do you remember when you were at school, a teacher would look out of the window, glance at the playing fields, see someone mowing them, and make the spurious comment that the one man who went to mow, went to mow a meadow, was only managing to do it in a straight line because he was focused on the tree in the distance?
Yes? Well turns out that teacher was right. It may have only been used as an anecdote to help you focus on winning the prize of a GCSE in maths (or whatever) but it holds true for life as well, and the Christian life in particular. You need to know your starting point and your ending point, and as far as possible keep heading in a straight line between the two.
At one end is a tree. More specifically a cut down tree fashioned into a cross.
Romans 6 teaches us that the cross is our new starting point. It’s where we begin the straight line from. Jesus dies on the cross defeating sin. Romans 6 teaches us that we too must start out dead to sin.
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ and get baptised we are buried with Jesus into death.
But why what is there in us that needs killing? the Bible calls it sin… What is Sin: It is a pervasive, self-centred form of self-loving that stops us loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and stops us loving our neighbours as ourselves. It is hate. It is bitterness. It is envy. It is pride. It is slander. It is unrighteous anger. It is using others for our own means. It is inventing ways to do evil and teaching others to do the same. It is misusing creation. It is obeying evil desires. It is offering parts of our body as instruments of wickedness.
Why does it need killing? Because sin very quickly ‘reigns’ in our mortal bodies (v.12), and unchecked it leads us to obeying evil desires, and us offering parts of our body as instruments of wickedness – the very opposite of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbour as ourselves…
What is the alternative? We can offer ourselves to God. (v.13)
How can we offer ourselves to God? By showing our get out of jail free card. The card that says we have been brought from death to life. The cross of Jesus. We can offer ourselves to God saying – look, I am dead to sin, and now have new life that he has given me. I want to offer this new life back to you.
What do we have to do: (v.13) We need to offer the parts of our body as instruments of righteousness… Christianity is a practical religion. It’s not just about what’s in your heart, or a one off decision. It’s a steady walk between two points. It involves all the parts of your body. Your mind, you heart, your soul, your strength.
So what is the other point? If I start out at the cross where do I head to?
We head to the empty tomb… and through that resurrection to life where we no longer have this mortal body…
Verse 4: we were buried with him in order that we might be raised with him…
Verse 5: We have been united with Jesus in his death We will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Verse 8: If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him
Our death with Christ is absolute. Done. Happened. Past tense…
Our resurrection is certain, future, going to happen. We will also live.
So what should we do now as we walk between the cross and an empty tomb?
The answer in verse 11: is we need to go back into that maths classroom, where the teacher made us look out of the window and watch the one man who went to mow. We need to count, say Romans 6. Count on two things: One where you start from: Two where you are going.
Romans 6:11 Says count of yourself being dead to sin if you’re a Christian. If you’ve come to God and been baptised, start from that point. If you ever look back to check where you’ve come from get crystal clear on this: I AM DONE WITH SIN. I AM DEAD TO SIN. I HAVE BEEN BURIED WITH JESUS CHRIST. THE OLD ME HAS GONE.
A year after becoming a Christian I was contemplating a serious sin. Without going into specifics I mentioned the inner tussle I had to a mentor who was older than me – my father. He looked at me and said, ‘you’re better than that’. Instantly the power of that sin was gone… why? Because I had some amazing will power he could discern in me to resist temptation? Because I in myself was better than sin? No, quite the opposite. I was totally ready to capitulate and give myself to sin! So what was it that got me back on that long obedience in the same direction? It was knowing why I was better than that! I was dead to sin – full-stop. That was the new starting point of my life. I had tried to bypass the cross and go back to my old habits and ways, but the day I repented at the cross was the day that I was reborn. My ground zero.
I needed to count myself dead to sin, because sin is still around and in us and it’s very easy to get side tracked from when we forget that the cross is our start point.
But the best way of moving forward is looking forward. Sometimes we waste vast energy looking back (to our old way of life before we encountered the cross), sideways (at others), or peering into bits of the future we can not know (at ourselves). While we look around we miss out on so much…
The resurrection of Jesus is a beautiful thing. Romans 6 says it means he cannot die again. Death has no mastery over him. Having killed off sin in his body – the life he lives, he now lives to God.
That is the life Romans 6 says we are being invited in on. It’s the focus for our mowing. It is resurrection life… resurrection life that enables us to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Resurrection Life that enable us to be righteous. Resurrection Life that goes on and on and on… resurrection life that is dead to sin…
You see, if you are a believer in Jesus, you are invited to a walk on a narrow path of freedom between the cross and the empty tomb – the gateway to eternal life.
You are dead to sin. That is your starting point…
You will be raised with him, you will be united with him, you will live with him. That is your finish point.
Along the way there will be many distractions… lies that will tell you that you are now really dead to sin. Lies that will tell you that sin still gets to own you. Lies that will tell you that it’s not a narrow path. Lies that will tell you it doesn’t really matter if you go your own way. Lies that will tell you God doesn’t mind what path you’re on. Lies that will question whether there is a resurrection to look forward to. Lies, lies, lies all around you… Lies that Romans 6:15-23 prove want to make a slave of you . Lies that want to bring you down again.
But you… hold on to your mower. Focus on the resurrection, the resurrection you will enjoy and the resurrection you already get many benefits from. Know exactly where you are starting from – the cross of Christ and walk in a straight line between the two. Be obedient to God. Be his slave. Give him everything. Hold nothing back. Count yourself dead to sin, but alive to God… that is the Christian way… that is what Easter has achieved. That is the what Jesus offers you – perfect freedom when you walk along his narrow way…
So what then if when you look back your mower seems out of control, or it’s just all hard work?
Well easter Sunday is a great day for a reboot. What Romans 6 is asking for is a simple act of the will. Count yourself dead to sin. Count yourself alive.
Get back on the mower. Realign it from cross to resurrection. And carry on with your long obedience in the same direction…