Consider Yourself Dead to Sin

Dallas Willard Part 4 of 7

In 1977 while Faith Evangelical Church of Chatsworth, CA was just forming, the church asked Dallas, who many knew, to step in as their morning and evening preacher for a few weeks. This morning series on the book of Romans is an adaptation of material Dallas had been teaching elsewhere and appears in part in chapter 6 of The Spirit of the Disciplines. [Editor’s Note: We are missing sermons 2-4, dealing with Romans 1-4 and would love to find somebody with copies!]


Reader:  Scripture Reading

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and unto iniquity; even so now, yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11-23) [2:05]

Dallas: Thank you for that great blessing in song; that message of the constant companionship of Christ. It is the birthright of people who are born into the Kingdom of God to know the constant companionship of Christ in the way in which the song has described. It is a miracle not at the outset only and then you are on your own; it is a miracle of continued companionship, a loving friend, a father, a big brother who is always there.

In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, we have a condition of life described—the prophet says, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:9) That condition of life is the way of life, which is open to faith in the God that is revealed by Jesus Christ. [3:27]

The Apostle Paul, in his way speaks of the spirit of adoption in the 8th chapter of Romans. He speaks of us calling God our dear Father, our sweet Daddy, if you will. We have not received the spirit of fear, he says, but a Spirit of adoption. (Romans 8:15) What is a Spirit of adoption? Well, a Spirit of adoption is the family spirit. See? And in that spirit, we address God in familiar terms as our ever-present friend.

Thank you for that music. Your songs fit so beautifully—the heart of not only the Gospel of salvation, but the Gospel of sanctification and the Gospel of glorification as well.  [4:28]

Now, this morning we are going to be speaking on the topic which is on the blackboard if you can see it from where you are seated and if not, you may look at the 11th verse of the 6th chapter of Romans. And I want to be so presumptuous as to begin our discussion today by saying a few words about the ministry of this new church. We are celebrating its third birthday—its third month day, and I want to say some things about the possibilities of a ministry for this church.

In our time, there are various possibilities of focus but I want simply to contrast two. One way of focusing the ministry of a church is on evangelism.  It is to focus the energies on outreach—missionary, evangelistic—other forms of service possibly and in our time, a church is apt to gear itself and judge itself upon whether or not and to what extent it is bringing people to decisions for Christ. That should be an important part of your ministry. It is a great thing to see a person challenged and instructed by the possibilities of life and to stand and say finally, “Having considered it all, I will follow Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 Paraphrased) And without that, there is no future. [6:15]

And your church should be directed to that end—the bringing people to decision for Christ.  You should not be happy unless that sort of thing is happening with some regularity in your midst. I can assure you that it will; if you seek to focus in that direction, God will honor that calling.

But, let me say to you that there is another calling and in our time, it is much more needed. There are many, many people who are evangelizing and attempting outreach for Christ. The message of salvation is heard on the radio and on the television and in the newspaper and there are many people concerned with this focus, but there is another focus. And that is, bringing people to the fullness of Christ or edifying the Christian who is already in the boat of salvation to the point to where their walk and their work and their life make glorious sense.

The prayers of Paul—the admonitions of Paul in the book of Ephesians show the focus of his ministry in this regard and I’d like to read just a few sentences from that book. In Ephesians 4, a passage I have shared with you before. You will see beginning in the 12th verse, speaking of the work of the ministry.  Now, there are many people today who will identify the work of the ministry with evangelism. They simply have not seen the broad scope of ministry and the wholeness of the work of the church. [8:09]

Notice what Paul says:


“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”—edifying means to build up the body of Christ—“until we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive . . .” (Ephesians 4:12-15 Paraphrased)

Again, look in chapter 1 of Ephesians, the 17th verse—this marvelous prayer of Paul—“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know”—three things, note—“that ye may know the hope of his calling . . .” (Ephesians 1:17-18) That is, you should understand the fullness of that life to which you are called and for which you may hope. [9:18]

That you might understand “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” (Ephesians 1:17-19 Paraphrased) Notice the scope of that prayer. Now this is for people who are already in the boat, if you wish and Paul’s great concern is to see them brought on into the fullness of life in Christ.

One more passage still in this book in the 3rd chapter and the 16th-17th verses—16th-19th let’s make that: (Ephesians 3:16) “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory . . .” God is rich in glory. He’s got lots of it and “that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory,   to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man . . .” Now, the inner man is that inner source of all of your actions and thoughts, your dispositions, your feelings. That’s what Paul is praying for is that we would “be strengthened by his spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith that; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend”—to understand—“with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of God, that passeth knowledge . . . ” (Ephesians 3:16-19 Paraphrased) [10:58]

Now here Paul, as is often the case with him, in the attempt to say what is unsayable contradicts himself. He is praying that you would know something that passeth knowledge. He’s praying that there would be that kind of encompassing presence, which is so deep and so thorough that you cannot wrap your mind around it and understand it and yet he is praying that you would know it. “To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19) Did you get that phrase? Look at it again—that you might be filled with all of the fullness of God.

Some weeks ago, I spoke about our calling as Kings and Priests unto God. Is it any wonder with this understanding of our calling that the old apostle John would say with wonder, “Beloved, now are we the children of God.” (1 John 3:2 Paraphrased) What does it mean to be a child of God? You see, that’s what we are concerned to understand when we see the depths of the ministry of the Christian church. [12:31]

May I suggest that as a focus for your ministry? People are so hungry for this today. If you go across this valley only and get to know the people who are professing and sincerely professing a faith in Christ, you will find them hungry for something that makes sense in the details of their life. You will find them looking hungrily and often with great disappointment to the ministry of the churches for something that will renew their minds, something that will hold them and that they will not have to hold on to.

We live in a day in which the prophesy of Amos is achingly fulfilled in Amos 8, verse 11:

“Behold, the day is come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor of a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wonder from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, and they shall run to and fro and seek the word of the Lord, and they shall not find it. And in that day shall the fair virgins and the young men think for thirst.”  (Amos 8:11-18 Paraphrased) That’s what’s happening in our midst. [14:04]

In the words of Milton, we find people like Samson—eyeless in Gaza—working at the mill with slaves, himself in bonds under the Philistines yoke and many of those people in bonds are Christians, my friend. They are people with a sincere faith in Christ and they have not been lead on; they have not been fed the word of God. They have been given milk until they are suffering from spiritual scurvy. They need meat and I challenge you as a church to undertake that as your mission—to feed the meat of the word of God to the people in this valley. Begin here.

Now, that’s what Paul is talking about in these central books of Romans. That’s what he is talking about when he speaks, for example of the great triumph of glory that is in the life of the believer in the 8th chapter of Romans which we will be coming to in a couple of weeks. That is what he is speaking of when he says in the verse, which we concentrated on last Sunday, “God forbid. How can we continue? How can we live in sin? When we are dead to it?” (Romans 6:2 Paraphrased) [15:35]

You see, all of the teachings that Paul gives us in this absolutely fundamental book are teachings about the real processes of life. He is not talking about something that happened in Heaven. He is not talking about something that happened long ago in Palestine. He’s talking about a psychological reality for the here and the now. He is talking about a church triumphant over all of the pettiness and all of the agony of human life. It is that kind of vision to which he calls us. He is speaking of an understanding, which is not conformed to the dead and dreary way of the world but is conformed under the divine vision of life in the Kingdom of God. Oh, go give it to people! Make that your ministry. Such a vision and such a reality is given to you as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God. [16:47]

The last time we tried to convey some sense of what that impossibility was which Paul is referring to in Romans 6:2. He says, “God forbid. How can we? How can we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein.” He’s speaking of the person who in the words of the 34th Psalm has “tasted and has seen that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8 Paraphrased) or in the words of Psalm 119:103 (Paraphrased), I have “tasted the sweetness of the word of God” or in the words of Hebrews 6:4-5 (Paraphrased) “I’ve tasted of the heavenly gift, the good word of God and the powers of the world come.” And he is saying to that person who has tasted it, how can you continue chewing on the old husks of the worldly life, the powers of the flesh and the ways of the world when you’ve tasted that? It is a familiar way of talking.

It is not a factual impossibility. Paul is not here talking of sinless perfection in that sense which some people have spoken of it where you get in a position that you cannot sin. In order to understand this passage, you must understand that the key verse in the 6th and 7th chapters of Romans is the 19th verse of the 6th chapter. [18:32]

In the 19th verse of the 6th chapter, Paul says, in the old version, “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh.” He is saying, in other words, I am trying to express in some kind of terms that you might understand a profound experiential fact for which there is no common word in the ordinary language. And so he says, “You are dead,” but you are not dead, and Paul knows you are not dead in the literal sense to sin.

Now, let me show you why. It’s very clear in this passage that Paul is using an important metaphor to make an absolutely essential point about spiritual life. You see, if a person is dead, that’s the end of it. Go back to our person who is sleeping on the couch before dinner that we spoke about last time or possibly after dinner and we said that man, we say is “dead to the world.” Now, in order for that person to be “dead to the world” you don’t have to go to him and say to him, “Reckon yourself to be dead to the world,” do you?  You don’t have to go out there and to get him to stay passed out. Urge him. You know yourself he’s asleep, right? [20:15]

A person who is dead and in the grave literally does not have to be told, “now come on, reckon yourself to be dead.” He’s just dead. The person who is dead to this world on the couch is just passed out. But, the person who is dead to sin is not literally dead to sin. That person is faith with a different kind of impossibility than the person who is asleep on the couch and can’t hear what’s going on or the person who is dead in the grave and knows nothing about this world. That person is faced with the kind of impossibility, which is expressed when someone disappointed in another, says, “How could you do this to me? How could you do this to me? How could you in the light of who you are? And what I am? And our circumstances go out and drive my car off of a cliff? How could you bet the money for groceries on the horses? See?  How could you do this?

In the light of what we are and how we are related and what we know, one comes to us and says, “How can you continue in sin when you’re cut off from it and have found a new source of life? How can you go on with that? How can you eat the husks of the pigpen when you could have the fatted calf on the Father’s table? [22:15]

Do you see the kind of impossibility that is intended? There are powerful forces constraining one—holding one back—the powers of the world which is to come have entered our lives. We have tasted of the good word of God and we have seen the goodness of likeness of which I spoke last time. We know it as a tangible fact. Now, Paul says, “How can we keep on in the old, bad way?”

You see, it is because Paul is not speaking of us being literally dead to sin, that he has to say to us in verse 11 of the 6th chapter—“Likewise reckon ye yourself to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He is trying to describe an experiential fact for which no literal word exists in the common language. [23:28]

How do you reckon yourself to be dead to sin? That’s the next question we must ask and again, I say, we must understand this as a literal psychological process—something that is to happen in our mind by the grace of God.

I hope it bothers you a little bit that I speak about Psychology. I hope you will wonder why is he talking about Psychology? What’s that got to do with religion? Right? Well, it’s got everything to do with religion because you see, Psychology just means the theory of the soul. That’s all it means—the theory of the soul. [24:18]

Now the church has given that word to the Devil and to the world and if you don’t like the word, then let’s get another one. But above all, we must understand that salvation is for the soul and the soul is what you are and if you want personality or mind or whatever, that’s fine. But that is what is to be redeemed is the psyche—it’s just a Greek word, which means soul. You are a living soul. You are a living psyche and what Paul has written especially in the fifth, sixth, & seventh chapters of Romans is a treatise on Psychology in the process of redemption.

If you don’t like Psychology, try soul-ology but that is what you are called to as a church. You are called to be experts in the theory of the soul. You are called to know what makes it work, what it starts as, what makes it go wrong and how it can be fixed and especially the relation of God’s work to that soul. And here we are faced with the question: How do you reckon yourself to be dead to sin? To be cut off from the principle of sin in such a way that your living on a different energy, on a different level. Now see, sin as I’ve said so often, is nothing but this old principle of energy organized in the way it is to where you get the world fallen in the awful mess it is in. If you want to see what sin—S – I – N is—just read the newspaper, watch the television, read a novel—you’ll find it expresses. It is that destructive principle organized in the world, which has as its wages, death. That’s what sin is. [26:44]

Now, you may live from it. Your life may be based entirely from it in which case you are not dead to sin. On the other hand, you may be dead to it. You may be living on something else in which case, you are dead to sin. What Paul is saying to us is that a great measure of what determines whether we are dead to sin or not, whether we are living by the grace of God, is precisely our choice—our willingness to reckon.

As I have written it on the board, to consider ourselves dead to sin. That is the nature of the human being. It is to live in attention between two worlds, the fallen world and the world of God. What will your choice be? [27:50]

Now, for every person there comes a great choice of decision—whether or not they will live for God or live for themselves. But after they have made that fundamental decision and after they have been given the down payment of the spirit—the earnest of the spirit in their lives, they still have many decisions to make. It is in that process while continuing to make the decisions for God that we have to understand what reckoning is, what counting on it is and how it works.

And I am now simply going to read some from the sixth chapter of Romans and comment briefly on it because Paul tells us exactly how to do. He starts out with something, which may strike you as strange.  In the third verse, he mentions baptism. Baptism is a symbol for Paul of entering into Christ, of dying to the old world, and he says:

“Know ye not, that so many of us that were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism to death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:3-7) [29:54]

What Paul is saying here is that a principle element of our being dead to sin is understanding the meaning of Christ’s death. Jesus Christ did not come to save us from death. Jesus Christ came so that we might die with him. He set before us in his life and in his death both an example and a power of living in the familiarity of that old system of the world of which Paul here calls sin. And the first move in reckoning is to identify ourselves with the death of Christ, to say it was for me, he died. To set Christ fully before our mind, to see why he died, to understand the spirit in which he died and to accept that as our pattern of life. That’s the first stage in reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.

And the second stage is in the verses, which follow. It is the experience of a new life. What was sung about so beautifully a few moments ago, you see, is to be the constant experience of the believer. It is to be present in all of our ways when we are dealing with another person, for example and we are faced with the issue of whether or not we will mislead them about something or not. What is it to them be not cut off from sin? It is to mislead them because of all of the reasons we can think of for lying. [31:53]

Do you know what one of the main reasons for lying is? Love. It’s the feeling that I love them so much I don’t want to hurt their feelings. More lies are told on that principle than any other single principle, especially among Christians. I love them so much that I don’t want to hurt their feelings and many, many lies are told on that principle. But, do you see how when a person does that, they are simply relying upon the principles of a fallen world to guide their lies and the more they depend upon those, the more way our reliance upon them and captivated by them. [32:28]

But, now look at the other side of it. Suppose a person says, “Instead of going through the route of dependence upon the old way, whether it is in any of the sins you can mention or perhaps in the larger domain of whether you are simply going to trust God for our provisions or take it in our own hands. When we say, no; when we count on the presence of God in our lives, we have a new experience of support and it is in that experience of support that we come to know what Paul is talking about as he continues in verse 8: “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him.”  He is not talking about the resurrection alone. He is not talking about something that’s going to happen some time in the sweet by and by. “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God . . . ”  (Romans 6:9-10) That is our present portion to live unto God. [33:59]

And that’s why Paul says, “ . . . Reckon ye on yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God.” (Romans 9:11) If you count yourself to be alive unto God, accessible to God and God accessible to you, if you stand within the access of faith which is granted as we’ve seen from the 5th chapter of Romans, then we are in contact with a new world and it is the demonstration of that present contact which leads us further and further away from the old dependence on the ways of evil and sin, upon self management and self reliance and self-promotion and self security and self confidence because now, we see that there is someone else working in our lives and we know it as a fact—in the daily course, in the momentary course of our experience. [35:04]

And now with that in our background, Paul says, verse 13—“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin but yield yourselves unto God . . . “ (Romans 6:13) That’s the third great stage. As we first look at Christ in his death and in his life and as we identify with him, that’s the first and then as we experience his invasion of our lives with the new life, which was in the resurrected Christ, that’s the second but the third and fundamental continuing stage of our growth in reckoning and realization of the power of God in our lives is in yielding our members.

Notice it says members. Now that doesn’t leave you who are visitors out. Right? Next Sunday I am going to preach on the sin that’s within our members. (Laughter) Members are hands. Members are eyes. Members are ears. Members are feet. Members are parts of the body; and Paul is saying that the process of reckoning is to take our members and do the good thing before us in confidence and trust in God. And as we do that, as those who are alive from the dead, he says, here in the 13th verse: “as those who are alive from the dead.” (Romans 6:13 Paraphrased) As we do that, we grow more and more into the practical impossibility of continuing in sin—grace reigns over us. [36:56]

The 14th verse—“Sin shall not have dominion over you . . .” That old system is broken in its power. It doesn’t make you run anymore, rather the system of grace—the presence of God—assisting you in manifold regular and irregular ways is what governs your life.

Paul continues to tell us that if we yield our members to something to obey them, we are their servants and that is a fundamental spiritual law. What we yield to, we become dependent upon. If you yield to lies, you ‘ll become dependent upon them. If you yield to self-reliance only, you will become dependent upon that. And the moment you become dependent on them, you become enslaved to them. What you depend upon is your master. What you yield to determine what you depend upon. If you yield to faith in your daily walk as you deal with your friends and your children and yourself, you will become dependent upon faith and grace will be your master. If you yield to self-reliance, to deceit, to all of the ways that are present in the world—self-assertion; that will be your master and the result of that is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [38:42]

I reckon by yielding and as in faith we yield, we are met by that which sets us free from the evil system of the world which crucified Christ and which brings death to everyone.  That is what Paul meant in the 6th chapter of Galatians when he said, that if you “sow to the spirit, you will reap life. But if you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption.” (Galatians 6:8 Paraphrased) The choice is before us every day. The vision of the life lived in God is ours to realize and to communicate as we simply yield and reckon and count on our deadness to sin and our aliveness to God.

We are going to stand now and sing a hymn at this time. I believe its Have Thine Own Way. If there are decisions to be made this morning, there will be those here to greet you and help you. If you wish to talk to me or to any of the other minsters in the church, now is a good time to make that known. We would not pressure you, but it is simply an opportunity if that would fit into your plan.

Take my life and let it be—let’s stand together and sing.

Listen to all parts in this Romans series