God has transformed a person's life lifted into partnership with the creative purpose of God rising above circumstances to triumph in time of trouble.
A young man stood with his sweetheart outside of the church one Sunday evening as she tried to coax him inside. Finally he agreed to go in, saying, "Well, all right, just this once. But he'd better make it snappy."
Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have attended church one Sunday and returned home to write this in his diary: "I went to church this morning and was not greatly depressed."
A want ad appeared in a newspaper some time ago that went something like this: "Wanted by an invalid lady: a housekeeper and companion, must be good church woman, must have good references, must be a cheerful Christian if possible."
Where in the world did the idea start that Christianity is a dull and boring thing? Wherever did the idea get loose that to have religion - to have faith, to be a Christian - a person has to be a bore, to be a sad, frustrated person? Where did that come from?
In reality the most thrilling and most exciting thing in the entire world is Christian faith. The most wonderful thing a person can ever have and share is a living, vital faith! No one ever accused the first Christians of being bores. They were accused of many other things - being absurdly happy, getting too excited, getting upset, and doing some thrilling things. Read the Book of Acts. Read some of the words: amazed, drunk (people knew something had happened to these people and assumed maybe they were drunk). Scripture reports that the whole city was in an uproar, that the world had been turned upside down (Acts 17:6). These first-century Christians were an upsetting, exciting, thrilling group of people! They were enthusiastic in their faith, and they experienced some extraordinary things.
We live in a world that is geared to nervous excitement. Pleasant pagans pass by this church and other churches like it in search of some sensation to satisfy their appetites already grown full of thrills. They shrug their shoulders and call religion "tame." They can't understand how anyone could really get elation from religion. They accuse Christians of being religious because we are afraid or timid or because we believe that some day there will be pie in the sky by and by. They say these are the only reasons we have religion.
I am tired of hearing that we are believers simply because we are weak or afraid. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a Christian simply because I want to dodge hell and someday skip by and by into heaven. I am a Christian today because I believe that the mightiest challenge this life can give to any person is to stand for those things for which our Lord Jesus Christ stands. These are things that are eternal. These are things that are abiding. These are things that make a difference in life and change monotony into adventure and a meaningless life into an exhilarating existence.
I don't want anybody to think the Christian life is no fun. Christianity and fun are not mutually exclusive. I think the Christian life is fun, exciting, and thrilling.
Do you suppose people ever accused Lazarus of being dull after Jesus raised him from the dead? I'm sure they accused him of many things but never of being boring. I have an idea that everywhere Lazarus went after Jesus called him back from the dead, excitement followed. He had been dead four days, but Jesus called him back into life! People had seen him die and watched his burial, and now they saw him walking around again. I just feel sure that excitement followed everywhere he went because here was a man who had been dead and was now alive.
This is exactly the description that Paul gives in Romans 6:3-4 concerning a Christian's new life. A man was dead, and now he's alive. Paul coined the little phrase "alive from the dead" in Romans 6:13. The Christian life is a resurrected life. It is new life, not confinement and cramping of freedom. The Christian life is not restrictions and frustrations. The Christian life is one of truth, excitement, and genuine fulfillment.
Three things come to mind as I think of being "alive from the dead." These form the core of the meaning of the Christian faith.
I. Dead in sin
Alive from what? Alive from the dead. This is how Scripture describes the man who is separated from God - as a man who is spiritually dead. Most people do not think of themselves as spiritually dead. Yet the Bible tells us that spiritually, a man separated from God is dead.
What does it mean to be dead? Though none of us has ever been dead physically, we understand what that means. When a person dies physically, we cease to have relationship or fellowship with that person for a season. We no longer have opportunities we once enjoyed and cherished. This death means a separation, an end to this physical life. We know that this is true of physical death. When a man is dead spiritually, he has no fellowship with God. He has no experience with God because spiritually his soul is dull; his soul is senseless.
What does it mean to be dead in sin? Paul gives a description in Ephesians 2:1-7.
(Read the passage.)
A. Caught in the world
To be dead in sin first means to be caught up in the drudgery of this life. The man who is dead in sin has no aim, no purpose. He has no direction to go. In life he experiences aimlessness and frustration from not knowing what this life is all about or what direction to take or where to place his emphasis. Though he is physically alive, he is dead in sin. He is dead in drudgery and tedium.
B. Without meaning
To be dead in sin also means to have only emptiness and a formality about life. The man who is dead spiritually can only go through the spiritual motions. Whether in a church or not, a person who is dead spiritually - whose soul is not alive to God - is empty.
C. Lacking spiritual sense
To be dead in sin finally means to have spiritual senses that are completely lifeless. Jesus said, "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24). Jesus was talking about the spiritually dead. The hour is coming, He said, when the dead - those dead in their sins - shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they who believe it shall live.
Our sins are a barrier over which, by our own efforts, our souls cannot climb, over which our souls cannot scale. So, we are separated from God because we are spiritually dead in sin. Life apart from God will not satisfy. Apart from God, life is aimless and purposeless. Without Christ, man is dead in sin.
II. Dead to sin
Paul talks about being dead to sin. But a change has come. No longer is the individual dead in sin. Instead, he has become dead to sin. Listen to Romans 6:11: "So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Being dead in sin and being dead to sin are two dramatically different things.
What does it mean when an individual becomes dead to sin?
A. Free from sin's control
To be dead to sin first means that a person is no longer controlled by the tyranny of sin. Sin can no longer dominate (6:6b). Sin can no longer be the habit and practice of life. Does that mean you will stop sinning? Ideally it should, but it doesn't work out that way practically. Here is the difference. You may continue to sin, but as a Christian, you cannot continue in sin. Sin will no longer be the habitual practice of life. No longer will the believer be in bondage under the tyranny of sin. When you are dead to sin, you are free from the tyranny of sin.
B. Free from the world's pressures
To be dead to sin also means that a person is no longer dominated by the pressures of this world. So much of our attitude toward life depends on what happens to us. But when we as believers become dead to sin, we will not be dominated by the pressures of this world. We will not be wholly at the mercy of what happens to us. We will not build our lives and the framework of our efforts around the circumstances of life. We no longer have to be dominated by the pressures of this world.
C. Free from the fear of death
To be dead to sin finally means that a person is no longer a slave to the fear of death. The fear of death means many things. Sometimes people fear their own death. Sometimes a person's fear of death affects his entire life because he is so afraid to die. Then many times we are not so much afraid of our own death as we are afraid of the deaths of those we love. Fear of the deaths of loved ones can become an enslaving thing in our lives.
But when we are dead to sin, we are freed from the slavery of the fear of death. The writer of Hebrews says, "Free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death" (2:15).
What a picture that is! Deliver those who, through all of their lifetimes, have been subject to the bondage of the fear of death. When we are dead to sin, we take on a new attitude toward life and death. When we are dead to sin, we take on a new attitude toward ourselves and others, toward the world and God. We take on a new life because we are dead to sin. We are dead in sin, then dead to sin, and finally alive to God.
III. Alive to God
Here is a man who was dead, but now he is alive (6:11). Here is a man who had no purpose but now has an aim and a motivation for living. He was dead in sin; now he is dead to sin. But there is still more. He has moved from death to life, and he is now alive to God.
What does that mean? Why is it important that we understand what it means to be alive to God?
I see so many who are part of our churches who sit on the fringe and seem to have lost the joy of their experience with God. The vast majority have been content simply to sit on the fringe. They have not really experienced the life that Jesus talks about; they have not really tasted what God wants them to have. Oh, they know what it means to be dead, but they have never really known what it means to be alive. They have built a religion from negatives and are experiencing a living death, but Jesus talks about being truly alive! Jesus said that we can be born again. When we have a new life, things will be changed.
I believe being alive to God means three things.
A. Transformed life
To be alive to God first means that God has transformed a person's life. The New Testament talks about having passed from death to life (John 5:24, 1 John 3:14). How could anyone pass from death to life and not experience transforming exhilaration? Could you imagine Lazarus just sitting around idly reading books for the rest of his life after Jesus raised him from the dead? Though the Bible doesn't say, you know that's not what happened. Lazarus probably never had another bad day or another moment of discouragement. It just couldn't happen. Being raised from the dead is something incomparable. It brings a transformation of life.
Look in the New Testament at a group of fishermen. These fellows had very little education. They had little ambition in life. They simply were fishermen. But one day they saw and heard a remarkable Man named Jesus. They listened to Him; they heard His words. They saw the sparkle in His eyes, the look on His face. A lump grew in their throats, and hope burst in their hearts as they began to dream of a new life, a truly fulfilling life.
What happened to them is record. It is not theory. It is fact; it is history. Read about their lives, about the change that took place in these men who experienced new life. Their lives were changed - and do you know what was happening? They were lifted out of their dead selves and truly came to life. In Jesus Christ they became new people. Old things passed away, and everything became new (2 Cor. 5:17).
None of us needs to stay like we were. We can be different. Everything can be changed. We can be transformed. Every person needs that change, that transformation. Those who are down and out need it; those who are up and out need it.
I think of Billy Sunday sitting in a drunken stupor with a group of fellow ball players on the curb near a gutter one night when he heard singing from a small church. He was interested and stumbled into the service, where he met the Lord who changed his life. And Billy Sunday's ministry virtually changed a continent for Christ.
I think of John Wesley, a fine, educated, wealthy, aristocratic Englishman. One day, he, too, met Jesus Christ, and out of his conversion was born the Methodist church.
I think of many people who have come to a point of transformation in their lives. This is what it means to be alive to God. Conversion is that time when the whole person wakes up, when the whole person becomes alive - not just the physical or mental or moral or spiritual part. The whole person wakes up and begins to look toward God. Transformation takes place.
B. Transferred purpose
To be alive to God also means that a person is lifted into partnership with the creative purpose of God. Look at the first Christians again for a moment. Their lives were monotonous, meaningless. Then they found Jesus Christ, and their lives were lifted to greatness.
Many marveled, rejoiced, and even wept at the honor paid to Winston Churchill by England. He was the first commoner in the history of England to receive a royal burial. But that was nothing compared to the honor given to these first followers who were lifted from the doldrums of meaningless life to be a part of the purposes of God. What a powerful thing to be linked in partnership with God!
I have been lifted into partnership with God when I have linked my life with Him. I can't understand how people, who are made in the image of God, with all the rich possibilities of human personality can be content all of their lives to throw an empty bucket into an empty well and grow old drawing up nothing. It just doesn't make sense when you could know the joy of partnership with God. To be alive to God means that a person has been lifted into partnership with the creative purposes of God.
C. Transcending triumph
To be alive to God finally means that a person rises above circumstances to triumph in time of trouble. When someone mentions trouble, we listen because each of us at one time or another has faced trouble. If you haven't experienced trouble, at some point down the road, trouble has a date with you. You're not going to avoid it. It's going to come and be a part of your existence. You will come face-to-face with trouble, but you do not have to be defeated even with that trouble. To be alive to God means you can rise above circumstances to triumph even in trouble.
Several years ago I visited a woman who had more trouble than any one person ever ought to have to bear. I went to minister to her, but I went away feeling that she had ministered to me. She said to me, "I am learning that this trouble is not merely a burden I must learn to bear. It is an opportunity that I must learn to use." She had a radiance about her. She knew what it meant to be alive to God. Most of us try to dodge trouble. We try to escape it or run away from it, but those who are alive to God treat trouble as an opportunity and rise above it in order to triumph over it.
Have you ever thought about what an engineering marvel a dam is? As dams stretch across canyons and river basins, these concrete barricades and electric generators provide electricity to light up American cities.
Following the path of least resistance, water flows down mountains and hills through valleys and hollows seeking an ever-lower spot. But man comes along with a plan, machinery, and concrete. A dam grows taller and stronger until completion. The water stops, the reservoir fills, and a lake is born.
But from higher ground the water continues to come. The lake and reservoir fill to capacity, and the water continues to push its way over the sides of the dam. From the resulting spillway overflow, hydroelectric power lights a city.
Life is like that. A time will come in your life and mine when some trouble will drive a dam - an obstruction - and say, "You can't pass." But to be alive to God means that in the time of ill circumstance and trouble, something within us refuses to accept trouble as final, as defeat. Instead, we have a continuous strength and rising until at last the water of our experience rises over the spillway. We rise above circumstance; we triumph over our troubles.
A changed life - that has been the story at the heart of Christianity from its beginning. It's the story of being made alive to God. It's the story of the stirring of the spiritual self and coming alive in Jesus. And what a glorious story it is, a story that the world needs to hear. The world is dying and needs to hear that story.
You'll not find anything better because herein is the complement of the human life that is created by God and now finds its fulfillment in God. The soul that was dead in sin becomes dead to sin and alive to God. That transformation is what it means to become a Christian. Salvation is not just that we go through the mechanics of a faith and have our name on a roll and attend church occasionally. That's not salvation at all.
Salvation comes as we become dead to sin and alive to God. Salvation changes our lives. The experience of salvation links us with the creative purposes of God and causes us to rise above our circumstances to triumph over every experience of life.
Have you experienced this new life personally? Do you have that salvation? You can have it today through faith in Jesus Christ. Through your commitment to Him, you can know what it means to be alive from the dead.