The second component of a life that thrives is discussed in the latter half of v11 — count yourselves dead to sin. And instead, be alive to God in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to be alive to God in Christ Jesus?
Paul describes concretely what being alive to Christ looks like in v16-18.
16Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Being alive to Christ involves bodily obedience, or offering yourselves to God and His work. This theme has come up repeatedly in Romans. Obedience matters. Why? Because you are slaves to the one whom you obey. If you obey your parents or societal expectations, then you will be enslaved by them. If you are offer yourselves to the pursuit of academics or prestige, or money, or pleasure, those things will enslave you. If you are obedient to yourself, although you may think you know what is best for your life, the Bible says you will be a slave to yourself.
What are you enslaved to today? Or better yet, whom are you obeying? Toward what goal are you offering yourself? The answer to this will reveal what is enslaving you.
If anything other than God occupies the center of our heart, you will be enslaved.
Instead of merely being dead to ourselves, we need to count ourselves alive to Christ. In obedience, we fix our eyes on Christ. He is enthroned in our hearts. What he says, we do. His burdens become our burdens. We are his hands and feet and we are a vessel, an instrument that Christ uses to accomplish his purposes, to go places, to preach the gospel, to touch people. This is all part of being alive to Christ.
In obedience, we embrace a higher calling for our lives. You see, gratifying the self is such a puny vision for one’s life. You pursue your own self-interest and I guarantee that you will become bored or empty or frustrated. Maybe not right away, but maybe decades later when you are going through a mid-life crisis. Or maybe at the end of your life when you look back and wonder, how did I spend my life?
Because your self-interest is too small of a goal for anyone to sustain passion over the course of a lifetime. God created us with eternity in our hearts and we will not be satisfied living for such puny goals like career or money or comfort or even family.
So many people I see are trapped in the little prison of self. My needs. My wants. My desires. My family and no one else. It’s all about me, me, me.
Being self-engrossed is like being imprisoned. We think we are in control, but we are enslaved. We are locked up and we don’t have the key. Because our thoughts, our hearts are black holes, bottomless pits. There is no way out.
Sanctification happens first by not thinking about ourselves. Counting ourselves dead to sin. Then, sanctification continues when we leave our tiny prison of self and we offer ourselves to God and others.
Rom 12:1-2 speaks about the renewing of your minds AND the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices.
To thrive in the Lord, it’s not enough just to count ourselves dead to sin. Jesus didn’t just stop at deny yourself. He took it one step further in Luke 9:23-24. After denying oneself, it says whoever loses his life for me will gain it. To lose your life FOR CHRIST.
We’ve all experienced brief moments of losing ourselves. When you hear a beautiful song on the radio or you see a beautiful sunset, there is a moment of losing yourself. It’s literally only a moment but it’s as if time stands still and you feel like you can stay in that moment forever.
It is liberating to lose ourselves. Even in those brief moments, we get lost in something greater like El Capitan at Yosemite and in that moment, we see that majestic mountain and we lose ourselves. And in the process, we forget about our petty problems and concerns.
The same thing happens when we lose our lives for Christ. This means I am living for Christ, for a higher purpose. No longer is the goal of life my self-interest. Our problems seem larger than life when that’s the only thing we are focusing on. But when we are alive to Christ and are part of God’s larger mission to save the world, we gain perspective and our problems get reduced down to their proper size.
For Elijah, not having food within reach seems like the end of the world. When I was a college student, doing bad on one midterm seemed like the end of the world. Now, I look back on those years and think, why did I stress out so much, I should have enjoyed my classes more. And drank more Mocha Bioncas at Cafe Strada in Berkeley.
Have you ever surrendered your life to God and experienced what it means to lose your life for something greater?
Jesus always asks us to give up things because he wants to give us something greater in return.
We think surrender is so hard. My life is so precious. How can I give up my life? I mean, it’s my life. It’s all I have. All my hopes and dreams and ambitions. How can I give up my life? Jesus asks us to give up your life and mine and in return, he promises abundant life.
Jesus asked a bunch of fishermen to give up their fishing and follow him. Give up fishing? That’s my job. That’s my livelihood. That’s my trade. It’s how I provide for myself and my family. It’s all I know. It puts food on the table. But Jesus asked them to lay it down because he said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
Last week, P Daniel talked about the calling of all believers. To follow Jesus. It doesn’t matter if you are a professor or a doctor. You are first and foremost a disciple of Christ who also happens to teach or practice medicine.
God offers us freedom from the little prison of self. He says, lose yourself in something far bigger than just your life. We focus on Christ and we become alive to Him and His purposes. And in the process, we are sanctified.
A sanctified life is a life that thrives. That is why in Luke 9:23, it says to deny yourself. It may feel like you are constantly on the losing end according to worldly calculations when you keep denying yourself. But from God’s perspective, if you lose your life for Jesus and you offer your life to Him, you will save your life.