The word of the day is “reckon.” What is our relationship to sin? As we start down our walk with Christ in the Spirit, sin is likely to follow us. We try to flee it. But it seems that the faster we run from it, the more it catches up with us. If we cannot escape sin, what can we do?
In our reading of Romans 6:11-17, Paul says, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (OSB vs. 11). Today, we consider what being “dead to sin” and “alive to God” means for our struggle against temptation. We will find that the key is how we “reckon” ourselves.
We Should Not Let Sin Reign
In the reading of Romans 6:11-17, St. Paul writes, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (OSB vs. 12). Paul’s warning is clear. When we allow disobedience to God to reign in our lives, it controls us. We are captive to its “lusts.” In Greek, the term “lust” refers to passionate desires, impulses, and longings (Strong’s #1939). And the word “reign” in Greek means to exert influence over or to govern (Strong’s #936). Accordingly, Paul says that we should not “let” the dictates of passion rule over us. Like a king, the lusts of sin order us to do this or that. But Paul teaches that we can choose not to obey. We do not have to listen or attend to these passions (Strong’s 5219).
A Suggested Way of Dealing With Sin
These thoughts suggest a way of dealing with the sin that “so easily ensnares us” (OSB Hebrews 12:1). How? The writer to the Hebrews urges us to “lay aside” the passions (OSB Hebrews 12:1). The word in Greek means to cast off or put away (Strong’s #659). Thus, the apostle teaches us not to pay homage to the lusts and longings of the flesh. Instead, we should put behind us everything that drags us into sin. The apostle promises that when we let go of what tempts us to sin, then we will be able to run the race set before us with endurance (OSB 12:1).
We Can Turn Our Attention from Sin to God
Again, how do we do this? We may have the idea that our hearts contain a mixture of sin and godliness. If this is true, then no matter how hard we try to put down the evil in us, it is always coming to the surface and taking over. But Paul contradicts this idea. He teaches that there are two forces that strive to control us: the reign of sin or the domination of righteousness (Romans 6:170-18). Both of these cannot rule us at the same time. If one controls us, the other has no power over us.
So, which will it be? According to today’s reading the difference between the slavery to sin and the freedom of righteousness hangs on the word, “reckon.” This term means to account ourselves or to regard ourselves (Strong’s #3049). Accordingly, Paul teaches that we should think of ourselves as “dead to sin” and “alive to God in Christ” (OSB vs. 11).
A New Way of Thinking
Paul here is recommending a new way of thinking. To be free of the control of sin, we must think of ourselves in a different way. The freedom from sin depends on what we choose to allow our minds to dwell on. If we fix our minds on sin, it will continue to control us. The more we fight against it, the more it will demand our attention, and the stronger its temptation will become. On the other hand, if we fix our minds on the ways of God, these godly thoughts will also dominate us. And the more we concentrate our minds on Christ and His mercy, the more these medications on grace will influence our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.
St. Porphyrios: “Ignore Evil”
St. Porphyrios wrote, “You won’t become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ, and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the other direction. If evil assaults you, turn all your inner strength to good and to Christ. Pray Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” (Porphyrios 2005, 135).
In our human weakness, we cannot conquer sin and temptation. But in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we can remove ourselves from their direct influence and stay out of their path. When dieting, we cannot always stop ourselves from overeating, but we can quit filling our refrigerator with calorie-laden foods and fattening snacks.
As St. Porphyrios teaches, dealing with sin and temptation is a matter of focusing our minds and channeling our thoughts with the help of the Holy Spirit (Porphyrios 2005, 135). A healthy spirit keeps the Lord and His blessings constantly in heart and mind. And a healthy soul uses the resource of the Mystery of Confession to put itself back on the way of salvation again, a path that does not attend to the power of sin but is attentive to the strength of Christ.
Porphyrios, Saint. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Crete: Denise Harvey