One of the staples of western lore is the wanted poster. It’s not just the stuff of movies. Wanted posters were often produced by the banks and railroads that outlaws had robbed. But judges and governors sometimes offered similar rewards. For instance, the Governor of Missouri offered $25,000.00 (over $400,000 today) for Jesse James, dead or alive. It may seem then that the title of this little article, Wanted: Dead and Alive is a mistake or a typo. It’s not.
In several of his letters the Apostle Paul discusses, sometimes at length, the relationship Christ followers have with Jewish religious and moral law found in the Old Testament. Paul never throws the Law away, but instead recognizes that new life in Jesus changes everything. In Romans, one of his longer explanations concerning Law and believers, Paul says, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6, NASB95) The New Living Translation puts that same verse this way, “But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6, NLT)
By accepting Jesus as our savior and Lord we have put to death our old self that was captive to sin. In the verses prior to the one we just read, Paul explains how the law ceases to have effect once a person has died. A wife is freed from the wedding vows when her husband dies. Paul also observes that while the law was meant to set a standard of practice and morals to live up to it also, by its very nature, created sin. Paul writes, “In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power.” (Romans 7:7–8, NLT) The law teaches us what sin is and how helpless we are to avoid it. In other places, we are told that we died with Jesus. And having died with Jesus in the cross we have been liberated from the power of sin, death, and the Law. Baptism symbolized our dying in Christ and our new life in Christ.
Things are radically different in our new life. “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4, NLT) No longer are we twisted towards sin and death, but we are renewed in life through Christ’s resurrection and released towards glorifying God in all things. Paul uses the term “serve in newness of the Spirit” or “living in the Spirit” as one way of understanding our new life in Jesus. Being dead to sin doesn’t mean that we have a chaotic anarchist kind of liberty where we are free to do anything we want. (Galatians 5:13) It means that our focus is not on law-keeping but on seeking to glorify God through willful and delightful obedience to the Holy Spirit that now lives inside our hearts. There is truth in the often repeated phrase – if you do the do’s you won’t have time to do the don’ts. That new life is the same kind of life Jesus promised in John 10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10, NLT)
So yes, we are wanted by God both dead and alive. Dead to sin and the taskmaster of law. Alive in Jesus Christ, walking, moving, breathing, talking, touching, loving, hoping, healing, crying, laughing, doing, and being in the newness of the Spirit. What about you? Has God caught you yet or are you still on the run?