Pastor Tony Evans tells the story of a guy who visited his nutritionist and says, “I need some help changing my diet. Every time I go by a grocery store, I find myself wanting to eat dog food. When I walk in, I feel inexplicably drawn to the dog food section. And when I’m there, I find myself staring at the pictures on the dog food bags and thinking about how much fun it would be to play with those dogs. And then I’ll just rip open one of the bags and eat a scoop of the dog food. Sometimes I get so excited, I bark and howl and lay on my back and try to get people walking by to scratch my belly.”
The nutritionist says, “Well, sir, that doesn’t sound like a dietary challenge. How long have you been like this?”
The man replies, “Ever since I was a puppy.”
Some things, Pastor Tony says, require more than behavior modification. Transformation has to start with identity.
Change begins with how you see yourself. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:11, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NKJV).
“Reckon” is the Greek word logizomai, which means to look at one thing and consider it to be something else. We are to consider (reckon) ourselves as already dead to sin, and when we do, God infuses the power of new life into us.
Just as faith was the means by which we received justification, so continued faith is the means by which we access the power for sanctification.
When we put faith in Christ as the substitute for our sin, God reckons our faith as righteousness. As we reckon ourselves dead to sin, God infuses into us the power of new life. In other words, just as we believe our way into justification, so we believe our way into the power of sanctification.
You may not feel resurrection power. In fact, sin and wrong desires may feel very much alive in you. But in the Christian life, power comes through believing: Believing in the righteous identity God has declared over you releases the power to live up to that identity in you. You receive the strength to walk in righteousness.
Believing in the righteous identity God has declared over you releases the power to live up to that identity in you.
Once we have reckoned ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, then we can embrace our new identity in Christ and present ourselves to God, submitting to his good purpose for our lives: “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” (Romans 6:12–13 ESV).
You see, before we received Christ, sin held us captive. We couldn’t stop sinning. But that’s not true anymore, because Jesus rules at our center with the powers of resurrection.
But, even though sin can’t rule over you, it can still invade and harass parts of your heart. It works to enslave you, and it is always working for dominance.
Some people think they can harmlessly play around with sin. They think they can go along with sin and compromise in their lives and they won’t be affected.
That’s not how it works. Sin is a predator, and it is working for mastery in our lives. It reminds me of news stories with titles like, “Florida Man Mauled by Pet Cougar.” I’m always a sucker for these stories. And sure enough, as I read, the story is always eerily the same: Some guy had a pet cougar named Fluffy for years, and one day Fluffy snapped and ripped the man’s face off.
Everyone acts so surprised and says, “Oh, but Fluffy was always so gentle and sweet.” I’m sure there were times when he was gentle. But naming that cougar “Fluffy” isn’t going to change his nature as a violent predator. If you keep a pet cougar in your house, at some point it’s going to turn on you and eat you. That’s its nature.
To embrace our identity in Christ and the life he has for us, we first have to reckon ourselves dead to sin and believe it even when we don’t feel like it. We believe that we are redeemed, cherished, sanctified, holy saints for whom all the promises of God are “yes” in Christ Jesus.
And when sin comes back for us and says, “This is who you are. This is what you do. This is what you are good for,” we say, “No. I am not a slave anymore. I am a redeemed, beloved child of the King. I’m not under your jurisdiction of death anymore. I know who I am.”
When we declare that, we won’t feel captive to sin, and it will lose its power over us. We will rest in the love of our Master, Jesus, who, when we find him, satisfies us, and when we fail him, forgives us.