I love the new Geico commercial where the father gets his children a new pet…a possum (or opossum). He was trying to save money and this option was cheaper than a dog. The possum is seen being stared at by the children who think it’s dead. The father declares to the children that it is not dead, just “playing possum.” At such time the possum ‘awakens’ and hisses at the children. Maybe a possum is not the greatest, child-friendly pet.
When a possum sees that it is in danger, it plays dead. It knows the danger is there, but if it can deceive the prey into believing that it is dead, the prey may go away or let its guard down so the possum can soon escape.
In Romans 6:11, Paul says “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” What does this mean, exactly? In the context of Romans 6, Paul is sharing with believers that we are threatened by sin (within and without). He is telling the believers in Rome that even though they are saved by grace, they are not saved from choosing to sin. Instead, they have been saved from being slaves of sin through Christ, who died for our sins. Since he died for our sins, and we believe this, then we also died with Christ. If we died with Christ, then we are dead to sin. Sin has no mastery over us.
As believers, we are tempted to follow the flesh and to sin. Here, Paul is essentially telling us to “play possum.” We know the dangers around us and it threatens our very existence and peace. When we are tempted to sin, we are to “consider ourselves dead“…we are to “play possum.” Tempted to lash out in anger? Tell yourself, “I am dead to revenge (sin)” and let the predatory nature of the temptation leave. Tempted to cheat on taxes? Say, “I am dead to lying (sin)” and stick with truth. Tempted to take something that does not belong to you? Consider these words, “I am dead to theft (sin)” and will work for what I need. Tempted to lust? Repeat, “I am dead to lust (sin)” and focus on what you have through Christ.
But the verse doesn’t end with being dead to sin. We are also “alive to God in Jesus Christ.” If we are dead to sin (through Christ), we are therefore alive to God (through Christ). If we are dead to one, we are alive in the other. When we are alive to God, we are his “instruments of righteousness” (v. 13). We have purpose. We have direction. We have freedom. We have life!
When sin is knocking at your door and you are tempted, play possum. You can say “I am dead to you!” And if you are dead to sin, you cannot respond to its lure. It may nudge you to see if you are indeed dead to it, but as long as you remain dead to it, it will not have mastery over you. Put off the sin (death) and put on Christ (life).