Rewriting the story of your life

Over the course of the past decade, I have had the privilege, on occasion, to teach classes at the university I graduated from. The classes I teach tend to fall into three categories; counseling, theology, and church planting. I enjoy teaching these subjects and do my best to fill each class with useful content.

But as much as I enjoy teaching, I would be lying if I said that I "loved" to grade papers. It's a lengthy process and some students definitely put more effort into it than others. Still, I think it's valuable to learn how to communicate an idea clearly and articulately, so in certain contexts, when a student submits a paper that needs more work or could be communicated better, I give them the opportunity to rewrite it and improve their grade. Some take me up on the opportunity, and some don't.

In looking at the opening verses of Romans 6, one of the things you'll probably notice is that God is giving us the opportunity to do a "rewrite" with our lives. Prior to coming to know Him, we were spiraling downward, bent on defiance toward Him, and idolizing our own ideas as if they were superior to His omniscience. We were lost, and we didn't really want to be found. But through Jesus Christ, we're now given the opportunity to experience a full rewrite of our life story, and the story that He's crafting is a masterpiece.

I. You don't have to live in what you were rescued out of

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:1-4, ESV

In the previous section of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul spoke a lot about grace. He made it abundantly clear that even though we were born sinners and lived in continual rebellion against God, He chose to show us grace. God the Father showed us unmerited favor by sending Jesus Christ, His Son, to suffer the penalty for our sin, forgive our sin, and transform us into a new creation. In Christ, we who once hated God are made righteous by Him and taught to love Him.

Unfortunately, because we didn't have to earn this amazing blessing from God, it can be easy for us to treat it as something that isn't valuable since we were given it freely. Paul even speculated that some people might actually suggest that we should sin more and more so that we could give God even more opportunity to display His perfect grace. But that's a faulty viewpoint, and it certainly isn't in line with God's heart.

When Christ saved us, and made us alive in Him, we died to sin. Sin no longer has mastery over us. Our greatest pleasure is not derived from indulging in it. Our hearts are not satisfied by embracing it.

When we trusted in Christ, we were baptized by the Holy Spirit and united with Him. In obedience, we then followed that up by being baptized with water which serves as a visible illustration of this spiritual reality. Paul tells us here that we were baptized into His death. Christ died for our sins and baptism shows that we openly identify with what He suffered on our behalf. And we were raised out of the water of baptism to display the fact that we who were dead and buried, have now been raised to life. Christ has accomplished this for us spiritually, we have identified with His work publicly, and now we have been set free from sin's bondage to live a new life.

All this to say, you don't have to go back to the life you lived before you knew Christ. You don't have to continue living in what He rescued you out of. In fact, it would be foolish for you to return to sin's slavery once again, now that Christ has set you free.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
— John 8:34, ESV
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
— Galatians 5:1, ESV

When I was in high school, I made a big mistake. I owned a car, and I used it to deliver newspapers at 4:50 AM each morning. When I would get to certain places on my route, I would stop the car, put on the emergency brake, and leave the transmission in "Drive" while I got out and made deliveries to several houses.

One morning, after following that very same pattern, I turned around to watch my car slowly inching down an inclined driveway where it smashed through a garage door. I woke the owners up, gave them my information, pulled away, finished my route, made a report at the police station, and wished I was dead because I knew how much trouble I was about to be in.

To pay off the cost of that door, my father forced me to work at his grocery store for seven months. I had recently quit working there because I truly hated the task of cleaning up the meat department every night, but now I was his debt slave and I didn't have any other option to pay off the major expense I had incurred. It would have been nice if someone swooped in, payed off my debts, and set me free.

Well, spiritually speaking, that's exactly what Christ has done for us. He cleared our account of the sin that was held against us, and gave us freedom in Him. It makes no sense to crave slavery once we're free. So if you're free in Christ, don't submit yourself once again to the yoke of sin's slavery. Don't live in what you've been rescued out of, because through faith in Christ, your debt has been wiped away and you've been united with Him.

II. You have been united with Christ through faith

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
— Romans 6:5-11, ESV

In relationships, in the workplace, and even in the church, unity can sometimes be something we struggle to maintain. Sometimes, it feels so rare, that when it actually does occur, we're very surprised. In our culture, one of the greatest examples of a lack of unity is in marriage. Instead of living like two people who have been permanently united as one, some spouses veer off into their own interests and eventually sever that covenant.

Maybe you've experienced lack of unity in your marriage or in other key areas of life, but don't let those experiences cloud your understanding of the nature of our union with Christ. The union we experience with Him is permanent in nature. It's a union or a marriage that was initiated by Him, and it has lasting effects that reverberate into eternity.

Consider what Romans 6:5-11 tells us about our union with Christ. In this passage we're told that we've been united with Him in His death, united with Him in resurrection, crucified with Him, set free from sin by Him, and will live with Him forever. We're also told that death has no dominion over Christ, and since we're united to Him by faith, death will have no dominion over us either. We have been made forever alive to God in Christ Jesus.

When I look at a portion of Scripture like this, I'm reminded of the fact that the Lord has not left me powerless or alone in this world. If I'm united with Him, I haven't been abandoned. If I'm united with Him, I know whose team I'm on. I know who will come to my defense. I know who will protect me. Consider some of the examples we're given, in Scripture, of the way the Lord treats those who are united to Him...

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
— Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV
“fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
— Isaiah 41:10, ESV

The moment you trusted in Christ, you were united with Him. This union is permanent and inseparable. This union means you don't have to succumb to the bidding of your spiritual adversary, the devil. The devil is a defeated foe. You have been united, by faith, to Christ the victor. And while you once lived like a puppet whose strings were being pulled by Satan, giving in to sin's mastery and oppressive destruction, those strings have been cut by Christ and you've been given a new purpose. Your life has been transformed, and you've been made an instrument of Christ's righteousness.

III. You have been made an instrument of righteousness

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
— Romans 6:12-14, ESV

Everything the Lord blesses us with on this earth is a temporary stewardship. For a brief season, we're allowed to look after and utilize resources, time, and our physical bodies. We should be using whatever He has entrusted to us for His glory, but that's obviously easier said than done. It's much easier for us to adopt a mindset where sin reigns in our bodies because that's the primary example our culture and world is presenting before us daily. That's what we're most used to seeing, but even just a quick look at Romans 6 reminds us that's not God's desire for us. He's rewriting the story of our lives and this chapter should look different from the earlier pages.

Sin is no longer my master, but it used to be. I used to obey it willingly, and one of the most obvious fruits of that obedience to sin, in my life, was anger. I remained angry over conflicts in my family as a child that I had no control over. I was angry about circumstances I couldn't change. I was angry over the fact that I felt like I was suffering because of the decisions of others, and I carried that anger into my adulthood. I've learned something interesting about what's really going on inside a man who's displaying anger. He's also sad, but he knows it's not as socially acceptable for him to show you his sadness, so he expresses the "manly" emotion of anger instead. And if he isn't careful, he lets it control him.

But God hasn't given me a mouth or a mind with the goal that I use them as instruments of anger. He has called me to use my body, my time, and my resources as instruments of righteousness, because they aren't really mine anyway. I'm just borrowing something that was created by Him and in the end, belongs to Him.

We were dead in sin, but through Christ, we have been brought from death to life. We certainly have the option to live like we're still dead, but that's the most idiotic and wasteful choice a person can make with their life. If you're truly bent on wasting your life instead of living in the joyful freedom from sin Christ supplies, go ahead. But understand this, you won't be missed by very many people when you're gone, and when they reminisce about the legacy you left in your wake, they'll tell their children, "Remember so-and-so? Try not to be like him."

But if you know Christ, please also know this, He saved you with the goal to put you to purposeful use. He has set you free on this earth as His agent of righteousness. He's placed you in proximity with people who are hurting and depressed. You know people who feel discarded and unloved. Jesus wants to show others a taste of His goodness through the divine work He empowers through you. Consider why He saved you in the first place...

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
— Ephesians 2:10, ESV

You have been given new life in Christ and the Lord is rewriting the story of your life as you trust in Him. You don't have to live in what you were rescued out of. You are united to Christ and He has your back in every situation. Jesus is setting you free to be an instrument of His righteousness in every context He places you in.

© John Stange, 2018

The Story of Your Life
By Matthew West, Angela Thomas