Two Pivotal Moments
Apart from Christ, we are sinners. That’s our identity. Our sin defines us down to the core. But anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), so something had to happen at some point in time to bring this new identity to Jesus’ followers. We can consider three aspects of the event that brings that change. Two of them are specific moments in our pasts, while the third is a continuous process, and Romans 6 refers to all of them.
The first is the pivotal moment of history – the Son of God came down to die for our sins and rose from the dead. You’ve heard the story several times, but that doesn’t change its importance. Jesus’ death on the cross is the key event that changes our identity.
“Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.” – Romans 6:2-4 (HCSB)
Had Christ not died and rose again, the punishment our sin deserves would never have been satisfied. There would have been no way to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). We could not be cleansed of sin and made new. But because Jesus did die and come back to life, we are given a new life.
The passage above talks about “all of us who were baptized into Christ.” When people believe the message about Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:13 says that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body – Christ’s. Physical baptism represents what the Spirit has already done for us. So Romans 6:2 is referring to those of us who have truly believed in Christ. This is the second pivotal moment in our identity change.
At some point in life, every follower of Jesus placed their trust in Him. It may be obvious, but this is really the most important moment in our personal lives. It is at that moment that “our old self was crucified with [Jesus] in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims (Romans 6:6-7 HCSB).”
Who I was apart from Christ died. I am given a new way of life.
“So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:11 (HCSB)
The Continued Journey
These verses in Romans 6 make some exciting claims. Sometimes, though, I still sin. Then I start questioning if what Paul is talking about happened to me. I don’t feel like I really have a new way of life or freedom from sin. This is where the third aspect of our identity change comes in – the process.
Jesus knows that while our identity changes in a moment, it takes a lifetime to mold us into that new identity. The cross has completely purchased our new identity. We are now in Christ. We aren’t defined by our actions anymore, whether good or sinful. We are defined by Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). But we will grow to look like who we are.
Consider a royal child. While a child, they may play with toy cars or dolls. They may be a rowdy child, so that if you saw them in public you wouldn’t think they were royalty. That doesn’t change the fact that they are royalty though. As they grow, they will be trained in how they should behave. They will start to live up to their identity. The journey won’t be without pitfalls, but it will continue steadily.
Our journey as God’s children is similar. Right after these verses tell us what has definitively happened in our past to give us a new identity, where we are dead to sin and alive to God, they tell us to fight against sin in our lives.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.” – Romans 6:12-14 (HCSB)
In partnership with the Holy Spirit, we learn to put our sin to death and to do things that are pleasing to God. This is something that happens daily. We can’t fall prey to the temptation to believe that we are beyond sin. Neither can we fall prey to the thought that we are beyond hope. We are under grace, not law and sin. So every time we fall, we humbly acknowledge our fault and by the strength of the Spirit we carry on. He will continue to shape us so that who we are in our desires and actions looks more and more like who Christ has objectively made us.
Live it Out
You need to ask yourself: Do you trust Christ to save you? Are you willing to believe and obey what He says? He gives life freely if you will believe. But you should know that following Him will also be costly – the process the Holy Spirit brings us through to make us look more like Jesus involves both sacrifice and joy. You need to ask yourself this question because the answer will help you know if this identity change has happened for you.
If you do follow Jesus, you should ask yourself these questions: How are you depending on your actions instead of Christ’s work at the cross to determine your identity? What sins do you need to put to death because of your identity in Christ? Are you depending on the Holy Spirit as you continue to grow in Christ?