On the Practical Effects of Living for God Through Christ
Romans 6:11: So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
What difference does living for God make in your life? What practical changes should you expect? Romans 6 is helpful in this regard, though I am going to focus on just verse 11. Just this verse alone is packed with implications for what practical changes we can expect as a result of living for God through Christ.
The change could not be more basic, or drastic. Part of living for God through Christ is considering yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. This is fundamental; it goes to the core of who you are.
What does this mean? If you are in Christ, then your whole identity has been changed. Whereas before you were dead to God and alive to sin, now you are dead to sin and alive to God. That is, you no longer live for sin but for God. What characterized your life before at the deepest, most fundamental level no longer does. So it helps to consider what your life was like before in terms of sin to understand the great reversal that has taken place.
When you were alive to sin, sin is what characterized your life. Sin was endemic. There were sins that characterized your understanding and relationship with God and others. Can you point to some of those things, any of those things? What did being alive to sin look like for you? What idolatry, selfishness, pride, evil desires, impurity, immorality, dishonesty, etc. was there in your life?
It is helpful to remember that we do not do anything for no reason. Whatever sinful actions characterized you before - putting people down, immorality, lying, stealing, gossiping, laziness, impurity, etc. - had roots in how you thought and felt. Why did you do the things you did? What were your goals? What were you hoping for? What made you think it was worth it? If you trace your actions back through your desires which motivated them and your thinking which justified them, then you will undoubtedly discover desires and thinking which were dead to God and alive to sin.
In a nutshell, you are asking yourself, “What was I thinking?”, except that this time it’s not rhetorical. If you can remember how you used to think, you’ll understand why you acted that way. And when you understand why you acted the way you did, it's easier to get to the root of the change that needs to happen.
Killing the Old Self
The next step that naturally, even intuitively, happens, is that you “kill” that old way of thinking by replacing it with a new way of thinking. Now that you are dead to sin, how should you think? What should you hope for? How should you act? Remember that Paul didn't write Romans 6 to simply describe what the Romans were doing already; he wrote Romans 6 to remind them of what they needed to do. You may be dead to sin, but sin is not dead to you, and you need to kill it. As John Owen said, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."
As someone now dead to sin and alive to God, the whole sequence from thought to feeling to action needs to be transformed, converted from what moves away from God to what moves toward Him. Now that you are dead to sin, you no longer live for yourself but for God.
Do you see how drastic and revolutionary this change is in your life? Now that you are a saint, the practical changes are not limited to adding a few habits here and there (like Bible reading and church attendance), and removing a few others (like drugs and gossiping). No, your whole life is twisted and turned upside down from what it once was. Or maybe better, now that you are learning to live for God through Christ, your whole life is straightened and turned right side up from what it once was.
Perhaps you have never considered how radical a change ought to occur in your life as the result of your being made dead to sin and alive to God. The difference cannot be overstated. It is from death to life; that’s different.
If you have not thought about these things before, perhaps the first best thing you can do is read more of the context in Romans 6, then 7, then 8. You may be better prepared to read it now than you were before. And that is no bad thing. And having done that, meditation is a worthy use of your time. Chew on these things, journal about them. And by all means, express yourself to God in prayer and ask for help, thank him for what he has done, or simply worship him.
The next best thing is likely to contact someone who knows Jesus better than you do (preferably at the church you are hopefully attending) and ask him or her to meet with you sometime to talk about these things. If you have no one, contact a faithful pastor in your area. If nothing else, use the contact on this site.
Hopefully, it’s clear that the practical changes involved in living for God through Christ are unending and multifaceted. Welcome to the journey! It is ironic in one way how much more complex it is to live for God through Christ than for yourself. It is all about the process of becoming who you are called and being enabled to be by the Spirit rather than charting your own course and following your own path. There is great freedom in no longer bearing the crushing weight of providing your own sense of significance, identity, and self-worth through endless self-help gurus and social media influencers. You are who you are in Christ and not in yourself because you are no longer dead in sin but dead to sin. And that makes all the difference.