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Reality check

… Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. Romans 6.11b-13.

L P Hartley’s wonderful novel, The Go-Between, begins with a line that has now become almost proverbial: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It is a line I think St Paul would have approved of because it sums up one of his great themes in his Letter to the Romans: that by the grace of God we who have put our faith in Jesus have (metaphorically) changed our nationality and moved to a new land where the laws of the old land no longer apply and where we live our lives in a completely new way. We have become citizens of a new country and sworn allegiance to a new King. We used to live in “Adam” but now we live in “Christ.” (Hence our name. Just as someone who becomes a citizen of America Is properly described as an American or someone who becomes a citizen of Italy is henceforth an Italian, so someone’s who emigrates from “Adam” and settles in “Christ” is properly called a Christian.)

But if Christian is someone who has settled in the new land of “Christ” and become one of its citizens, it follows that the old land of “Adam” is now a foreign country so far as that person is concerned. Though it was once their home, it is their home no longer; and Paul’s point in today’s verses is, of course, that they should not be acting as if they still lived there.There are plenty of people who have left Britain to live in Spain and enjoy its climate but who still speak nothing but English, read only English newspapers, eat only English food and watch only English television. But Paul will have none of that so far as those who are in”Christ” are concerned. Things are done differently in “Christ” from the way things are done in “Adam” and if I keep on doing things the way they are done in “Adam” then Paul would question whether, in my heart, I’ve ever really moved countries at all.

But, I might protest, it’s not that I haven’t really moved countries. It’s more that old habits die hard and that the new way of life often doesn’t come easily to me and also that I keep getting visitors from the old country who treat me as if I’d never left so that I soon find myself drifting back into my old ways.

The answer, says Paul, lies in the word “count” that starts today’s reading. It’s the Greek verb logizomai which is a word that belongs to my former profession—accountancy. It means to engage in calculation; to do the sums. And the point I think that Paul is making is this. Good accounting doesn’t change what is; it reveals what is. “How do you think the business is doing?” “Pretty good. We’re very busy.” “Yes, well, I’ve done the sums (logizomai) and I’m sorry to say that, in fact, you’re in deep trouble. You’re losing money on every sale and you’re heading for bankruptcy. That’s the truth of it.”

Sometimes we read St Paul as if he wants us to play a game of make-believe. We take his “count yourselves” or “reckon yourselves” as meaning “try to pretend that”—but that’s not what logizomai is about. Logizomai is about facing up to the truth of our situation. It is taking a reality check not indulging in wishful thinking. What Paul is saying is that, if we still entrenched in old ways and old habits, something just doesn’t add up. Do the sums and you will see that now, because we live in “Christ”,  the ways of “Adam” are objectively “foreign” to us. They no longer belong in our lives. If they are still there, they are squatters without rights and open to eviction. If we are still responding to “Adam’s” suggestions or demands, it is because we choosing to do so rather than because we must. The overtures from the old country should be leaving us cold.

But what if they are not, Paul? What if they are not?

If they are not, then, Paul would say, it is because you are neglecting the reality check. Instead of recognizing that you are dead to the old country, you are believing the lie that “Adam” still has a claim on you and power over your thoughts and words and deeds. It is because you are listening to that seductive little voice inside your head that says “Go on, just do it—resistance is futile” and believing that to be the truth.

Temptation wouldn’t be temptation if it didn’t require some resistance from us in order to defeat it. But the way to resist temptation is not to pretend that we don’t really want to give in to it; it is to take a reality check. It is to recognize for starters that the invitation to do or say or think whatever it might be that does not belong to our life in “Christ” is coming from across the water, from the land to which we no longer belong. It has no claim on us. We can say No. We really can say No.

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