“I See Dead People”—Musings on Galatians 2:20, Romans 6-7

“I See Dead People”—Musings on Galatians 2:20, Romans 6-7

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live—rather, Christ lives in me. And I live my life in this fallen body through the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. —Gal 2:20 (transl. BCM)

In this essay I address the kind of faith in which we consciously choose God’s way. I want to deal primarily with sin, and with our sinful natures, and the ways in which our trust in Jesus interacts with our sinfulness.

Wrong thinking?

Here’s the basic problem: All that talk in Galatians 2 about Christ living in me sounds great, but simple observation tells me it ain’t so: I am a pretty selfish, sinful, lazy, unfaithful person. The theory is nice, but the reality doesn’t appear to fit the theory. That’s how most of us tend to think.

But that’s the wrong way to think.

First, a couple of quotes from Paul, from Romans 7 and Romans 6, that give important clues to the way God has provided for us to live dramatically different lives from those we’ve been living (italics, obviously, are mine).

 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. —Romans 7:15-20

 We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. . . 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 6:6-11

Here are the key phrases:

“It is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me,” and “consider yourselves dead to sin.” The latter is often translated “reckon yourselves” or “count yourselves.” Another good translation is to “understand” or “perceive” yourselves dead to sin. The Greek word—the verb form of the root λόγος [logos], is λογίζομαι [logizomai], which Paul often uses to mean something like Consider something to be true. He uses the verb eleven times in the fourth chapter of Romans, in his discussion of God’s “reckoning” righteousness to people, or “considering” them righteous.

Paul is telling us to consider, or understand, ourselves to be, in fact, dead—that is, our “old” selves are dead—because we’ve been born anew, we have risen in fact with Christ.

We’re not the same people we were before we gave our lives to Jesus as Lord. This is not in some psychological sense, as if becoming a Christian is a matter of our gaining new, correct understandings about God and the universe. No, if you have been born again, you have experienced a supernatural, cosmic event that in fact made your life literally one with the Son of God as he died for you on the cross, and as he was raised for you to live in new life, in glory, and in power. Even if you can’t see it or feel it, it’s true. Metaphorically it’s akin to a foreign potentate’s declaring that he has decided to make you his heir, which makes you all of a sudden a prince or princess and very rich. You may not feel any different—you may not even be aware of it yet—but your status has indeed changed radically!

In a very literal sense, there are two of you. One of you is the old you, the you that is attracted to this fallen world. That “you” is dead, but it takes a long time before rigor mortis sets in, so it’s still kicking and twitching. The other “you” is the you that longs for God and his kingdom, the you that was born again.

Those two aspects of “you” intermingle rather seamlessly now—but Paul says the one is dead, the other is alive. And you have the privilege of choosing NOW which is the REAL you.

Perhaps the following illustration will help:

Imagine that you have died and are standing before Jesus. He offers two clear choices: (1) You may enter into paradise to live forever with him; (2) you may simply die, and remain dead forever. “But Jesus,” you say, “I am a monstrosity of contradictions! Part of me wants you, and wants to embrace life and goodness and beauty and truth and righteousness; but there is another humongous part of me that wants only self-gratification and is enamored of the darkness and is wicked beyond measure, and it seems impossible for me to give it up!”

“Ah, yes,” he says, “Of course. Everyone is like that. The answer, you see, is simple. Which person do you want to be? Which person do you choose to be? I will see that your desire becomes reality—that’s my job, not yours. But I never coerce a person into entering my world. This is the time of Separation. If you choose Light, for eternity you will know only Light. If you choose Darkness, that will be yours. Inside you there is a Glorious You and a Despicable You, a Shining You and a Dark You. Everything is mixed together now, but momentarily you will be completely one or the other, for it is your privilege to choose which is the real you. It’s totally up to you. I certainly hope, of course, that you will choose the Light, for I am the Light. . .

I think it’s easy to see how, in the circumstance of this parable, you would unambiguously choose the New You. One of the main points of Romans 6-7, however, is that God calls us to begin making that very choice right now! We don’t need to wait until the resurrection.

Eventually, these two parts of your reality will be separated eternally. But you can choose NOW by faith to accept that the old you is dead, that it’s not the real you; and you can choose NOW that the godly version of you is the real you. It’s not magic, it’s not mumbo jumbo, and it’s not positive thinking. It’s grasping a spiritual, cosmic reality by faith. It’s entirely up to you.

Sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? But it’s really just accepting God’s word for it. So many of Paul’s assertions in Romans are puzzling to Christians—not because they’re particularly hard to understand, but because they’re hard to believe.

Right thinking

How often do we say, in reference to one of our “foibles” (often a euphemism for a sinful bondage):

“Well, that’s just the way I am . . .” or

“I’m only human . . .” or

“Unfortunately, that’s just my nature . . .”

Well, yes . . . But in accepting this type of thinking are we not saying, “I really am my ‘old self,’ the one who was crucified with Christ and who supposedly is dead; I accept that that broken, dark-loving person is the real me, not the recreated person who is in the image of Christ”? Or, to return to the earlier metaphor, we’re saying, “I’m not really a prince/princess or an heir to a kingdom, I really am just a grody, unexceptional commoner.”

Is that the confession that God calls us to make? No! Rather, he gives us the privilege of identifying with the new creation that he has brought into being at a very great price.

In II Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Not “will come,” but “has come.” In Romans 4:5, Paul says that God himself reckons us, or considers us, to be righteous! If that’s the case, why in the world would I argue with God, choosing instead to identify with a corpse!?

In I Corinthians 3:17 Paul says, “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Not “will be,” not “might be if. . .,” but rather, “you are that temple. That holy temple.”

You are righteous. You are holy—that is, the real (new) you that God created when you supernaturally died with Jesus on the cross, and you supernaturally were born again by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, that old you is still around, and as often as not is a lot more evident than the new you. But that’s not the real you. That you will one day disappear forever. We theologize on Paul’s words, but we rarely just accept them and act on them.

Yet acting on them can bring about powerful, supernatural changes in our lives. Let me tell you a story:

Twenty years ago, as I was about to begin a standard intercessory prayer session, God spoke to me and said that this session would deal not with interceding for others, but with inner healing for me.

He told me to do the following: Without any deep navel-searching, I was to begin with my earliest painful memories of incidents when I had consciously chosen to hurt someone—and to proceed chronologically, recalling incidents when I had made overt choices that had been destructive to another person.

The first instance that came immediately to mind was when I was three. While I remembered no details other than that it involved a bowl of cereal, I recalled that I told my mother, “I hate you,” with the clear intention of hurting her.

My mind meandered eventually into my early adult years. Anytime I bumped up against a memory that made my pulse race, that grieved me because I had chosen to inflict pain on someone else, I let the Holy Spirit guide me in reliving that event, but this time choosing Jesus rather than the darkness.

Faced with that decision to say “I hate you” as a three-year-old, for example, in my imagination I changed it to something like this:

The person who said, “I hate you,” is dead.

I am not that person.

I have died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God.

I have been crucified with Christ.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

I—the recreated self—I choose to say to my mother, “I love you.”

That’s pretty close to the actual words I silently expressed concerning each painful incident that came to mind, with the particulars fitting the incident. I prayed for about an hour, and dealt with destructive choices from age three to about my midtwenties. There were no strong emotions, no overwhelming senses of guilt or of cleansing, no flashing lights or angelic music. In a sense I just performed a mental, rational exercise, in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

The next day I realized, to my great surprise, that something very powerful had happened. When I purposefully took my mind back to those events whose memory had previously caused me pain, I no longer felt the rapid pulse, the higher blood pressure, the emotional pain that I previously had felt when I would recall those events. I assure you there were a great many instances when I had participated in deep darkness and pain and evil. But now when I think about those occasions it’s more like watching them on television, as if they were happening to someone else.

A wonderful side benefit to this exercise dramatically confirmed the spiritual reality of what happened. Ever since I was an adolescent, I had had a hankering for alcohol. I eventually abused it severely for several years. And even after I stopped abusing it, anytime I happened to have a drink, I always wanted more and more, even though I stopped after only a couple of drinks. I constantly desired alcohol. Whenever I passed the liquor aisle at the supermarket, my heart would race and I would practically hear the Jack Daniels bottles calling to me.

But I found after this prayer session that I no longer craved alcohol. And the healing has persisted for many years. I was also healed of some OCD symptoms that had long bothered me.

For an account of even more dramatic healing of OCD,

see “Healing from Decades-Long OCD” on this website.

None of the incidents I prayed about in that first session had anything to do with alcohol. At the same time, incidentally, my craving for chocolate-covered cherries and for M&Ms completely disappeared. And I had been abusing both. (As was true for alcohol, my prayer session didn’t include the slightest reference to chocolate.)

This is a testimony to the reality of our being able to claim that we are in fact new creations in Christ Jesus. What I did was little more than make an intellectual choice.

But that act of faith can help bring about the manifestation 

of God’s new reality in our lives here and now.

I am well aware of the obvious objection: “You’re refusing to accept responsibility for your own sins and your own choices! If you take as literally true the idea that the sin you have done was done by ‘sin dwelling in you,’ you’re just making excuses that can lead in the end to the idea of ‘sin as much as you please, because you’re not responsible for what you do’!” Or, to use a popular meme,

“The devil made me do it!”

But please note: At the center of every deep spiritual phenomenon there is nearly always an apparent logical contradiction. We often feel the need to claim two opposite truths simultaneously. The truths are not in fact contradictory, but rather like two truths printed on either “side” of a Möbius strip—even though they appear to be on opposite sides, in fact they’re both on the same side.

This spiritual phenomenon is no different.

*Yes, I proclaim it to be a fact that I did not do those things, that the person who did those evil things is dead, and I am a new creature in Christ, holy and righteous. I believe that to be absolutely true.

*I also hold, as absolute and dreadful truth, what appears to be a logical contradiction: My heart is utterly black with sin, and I sin with every thought, every action; I am steeped in sin, I am utterly guilty, and with every breath I drive the nails deeper into the flesh of my Savior.

I am righteous, holy, clean.

My heart is black with sin.

Both are true. Not just half of one and half of the other, but both entirely. At the same time.

We Christians are pretty adept at grasping half of this truth, the one about our sinfulness—but we’ve tended to “spiritualize” the contrary truth of our having been created anew, of our literally having been crucified with Christ. When we can lay hold of that truth also, a great deal of healing will come.

I want to re-emphasize: This is not a psychological phenomenon. This is NOT positive thinking!

Positive thinking deals only with psychological/emotional realities, in a sense with wishes. As Christians we deal with eminently tangible spiritual realities. Something supernatural and cosmic happened when Jesus died on the cross: It involved in part his taking the sinful part of me and swallowing it up in the depths of God’s love and of God’s own pain. That’s not a wish, it’s not a psychological phenomenon, it’s a literal, cosmic truth. It happened in history. It’s something you can count on, something you can base your life on.

Not a technique

My greatest fear is that you might make what I say here into a “technique”: All you have to do is go back through your memories, earnestly claim that you do not choose that evil thing, that the person who made that choice is dead, that you’re no longer that person—and voila! You’ll have the same dramatic healing experience I had.

 I don’t believe that for a second.

Our dealings with God are personal, not magic or mechanical. Great healing is available to us, but it works differently for each person. How you lay hold of these spiritual realities, and what the results will be, is between you and the Holy Spirit. My earlier-described experience was brief, unemotional, nearly instantaneous. Your experience will be different.

I don’t want to proclaim a “technique.” I rather want simply to proclaim that the scriptures I quoted earlier should be taken immeasurably more seriously than you probably have taken them before. There is reality there, there is healing, there is power.

Here’s looking at you

Here is an important corollary to what I have been saying: I not only have the privilege of accepting by faith that I am a new creature, etc. I am privileged—indeed I am commanded—to see you with the same eyes.

You have been created anew by God’s grace. Through the blood of his son Jesus you are a new creation, righteous, holy. According to Ephesians 2:6, you are sitting in Christ at the very right hand of God.

How can I possibly look at you with condescension, or with disdain, let alone with an unforgiving heart? By faith, I choose to accept that you are in fact the recreated you, not the old you; and no matter how indistinctly you might see the new, holy, righteous person that God has created, I can see it. By faith. Because I can choose to see it. And from this vantage point, what I see is glorious and incredibly lovely.

I can also see your sin and the ugliness in your life, just as I can see it in my life. But my conscious choice must be to say, that’s not the real you. That’s the old you, and THAT you was crucified with Christ. THAT you is dead. The only you that is truly alive is that which Jesus has created and is creating in you as he lives his life in you.

C. S. Lewis makes this point eloquently:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit . . . [C. S. Lewis, 1949 (copyright revised 1976, 1980, 2000). “The weight of glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. HarperCollins paperback: New York, pp. 45-46.]

By the grace of God, you are the kind of extraordinary person Lewis is describing. It will go much better for you in this life if you accept it as a reality. It is not optional for me to accept it. It’s my call, my obligation—my privilege—as your brother or sister.

For you have been crucified with Christ.

It is no longer you who live—rather, Christ lives in you.