Romans 6:5-8 “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
The great theme of these chapters sounds complicated but it is not. It is the theme of the Christian’s union with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are all very familiar with such a concept, for example, in marriage. We talk about a man and a woman “being joined together in marriage,” about the two becoming one flesh. Marriage is still immensely important all over the world, that a man so loves one woman and that woman reciprocating, so that she loves that man. They give themselves to each other and they won’t look at anyone else, and they stay joined together, supporting one another and raising their children all their lives long, until one of them passes away and ends the union. Because God has made us with this longing and gives the grace needed to fulfil that longing then we know that there are billions of married couples in every part of the world – one man and one woman united together, “till death us do part.”
The real Christian – the only Christian there is – is a believer in Jesus Christ and he has been united with the Son of God. We were in him during his righteous life; we were in him in his death; we are certainly with him in his resurrection life. God joined us to him and gave to us the benefit of what he, by himself, accomplished. We were in the lovely fragrant, righteous life of Christ, and so we became righteous in being joined to him. We were in the painful dying and death of Christ for our sins, and so we are pardoned and cleansed of our blame in him, guilt-free, with the power of sin over us broken. We were in him when he rose triumphant over the power of death.
There was a miraculous protection of the body of Christ from the Friday until the Sunday morning, so that his heart – not beating, and his blood – not flowing around his body – did not result in major, irreparable damage to his body. His being dead was as harmless a period to the Lord Jesus as a sweet sleep is to us, and on the third day he woke up early in the morning, opening his eyes, standing up strong and active to think and speak and walk and help his heart-broken servants, both men and women. We rose in him. We were joined to him in his resurrection, and we continue to live in him in the power of his endless life. This is absolutely certain; that is the word Paul uses here; “we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (v.5). You think of a fish, a salmon or even a whale, leaping out of the water and it draws pints of water with it. You see the marvelous picture in slow motion, the water, the spray and droplets all coming with it as it leaps out into the light. So when up from the grave he arose, he brought with him all his people. “Because I live, you shall live also.” We rose into the light of new life with Christ.
How else can you explain the phenomenon of the change that took place in Saul of Tarsus, that hateful, merciless Inquisitor General? What a transformation! And it endured for decades; it made him submissive to God’s will when facing his own horrible execution. Later he could write these moving, memorable words, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Cor. 13:4-7). And that is how he behaved 24/7, and that is how he taught all his many converts to live. That was the transforming power of resurrection life in him and in those he discipled. They were all united to Jesus Christ’s risen life.
Now for a moment Paul wants to return to this particular theme of our union with Christ on the cross. He has written about that often already in the previous chapter as well as here in chapter 6, but it is so crucial to him, so tremendously central to his convictions and his worship that he has to return to it again. Remember him telling the Corinthians that he was determined not to know anything among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified? His preaching was, he says, “the preaching of the cross.” He couldn’t help returning to Golgotha again and again. He tells them that the first priority in his gospel was the fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He says that he gloried in the cross of Christ, and his wonder was this, that the Lord Jesus, “loved me and gave himself for me.” Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift! So it is not surprising here that Paul returned to our union with Jesus Christ on that wooden cross on Calvary.
WE HAVE BEEN UNITED TO CHRIST IN HIS DEATH.
Let us examine Paul’s emphasis on this in verses 6 and 7. This is now how he elaborates this theme. Notice it! He says; “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Aren’t there four phrases here that open up these verses quite helpfully?
i] Our old self was crucified with Christ. That is a helpful translation, isn’t it? Your ‘old self’ was what you used to be before you became a believer in Jesus Christ, when you were independent of him, unmarried to him, unjoined to him, unbelieving in him. Before God saved you you were just your ‘old self.’ You did not have an energy from heaven; you lacked a presence of Christ in your heart, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in your life. You were all alone; you were “on your own, kid.” You faced the mystery of life and the future and sickness and relationships and old age and death by yourself, by your old self. But then you were drawn to Christ and given a birth from heaven and you became a new creation. All things were new. You are not the man you used to be. Where is the old self? He’s gone. He is dead and buried. Search for him where you will and you can’t find the unbelieving man. He was crucified with Jesus Christ long ago. He has disappeared. God joined him to Jesus and put him to death onn Calvary. That is the end of the story of your old self. Paul says, “We know this.” This is something we Christians talk about with one another, “Isn’t it great that we are no longer the persons we used to be?” Then there are times when you will say to yourself, “What am I doing? I am behaving just like my old self! How ridiculous! How antiquarian! That is my past! That’s the man I used to be! I am sliding back into that world. Whoa! Stop! Turn around.” Who would choose as a role model for Christian living a dying man hanging on a cross? What are we doing? Our old selves were crucified with Christ.
ii] The body of sin is no longer there to control us. This is the first place in this letter that Paul uses the phrase “the body of sin.” The phrase is not the same as ‘the old self.’ Then what is it? This phrase is not “the sinful body” as the R.S.V. translates it. Our bodies do not have a virus called ‘sin’ that has affected our brains and lungs and nervous system and blood and limbs and bones: “Ah my poor sinful body in which the real me is trapped.” That is not how the Bible or the Christian views his own body as a body of sin. It is better to understand ourselves as having a body that was designed and created by God that has become touched and affected by sin, in fact in everything it does. So good natural instincts and desires and hungers get perverted. The desire for sleep becomes sloth; the desire for reproduction becomes all kinds of unnatural lusts; hunger becomes greed and obesity; the taste of wine becomes drunkenness; self-regard becomes vanity.
Think of the kings Solomon and David how their bodies became hungry, insistent organs which had become directed and motivated by sin to do cruel and wicked things. Think of the anger in Cain towards his brother Abel resulted in his violently and hatefully somehow draining the life-blood out of his brother. Or think of the woman of Samaria with all her husbands and now taking another man to live with. Her body was domineered by sinful thoughts and choices and actions.
What is the lesson we have to learn? Paul tells us as Christians that the body of sin is . . . what? How does the N.I.V. translate it? The phrase it has chosen is, “done away with.” I don’t find those words all that helpful. Or even the Authorized Version’s translation, “destroyed.” What do those words mean? Well, the Greek word is pretty common and it is found 27 times in the New Testament with many different translations. In chapter 3 of this letter it has been translated ‘nullify’ and in chapter 4 it has been translated by ‘has no value’ and in chapter 7 it is translated by ‘released.’ While here it is translated “done away with.” So how do I think it should be translated? I think it is saying that “the body of sin” – our bodies cajoled and pressurized by sin are no longer a controlling force over our minds and affections and consciences and wills. I think you can use that phrase – “no longer a controlling force” – as an accurate translation for the other instances of the underlying Greek word elsewhere in the letter to the Romans.
Think of Potiphar’s wife, and she was consumed with her desire for Joseph, and she had opportunities to have him, and the power to hide it from her husband, and she comes and commands and appeals to Joseph and entices and tempts him. The body of sin – that Potiphar’s wife was – dominated her life. But the body of sin which was Joseph did not control how Joseph responded. It had been rendered null and void; he as to his body of sin had been changed, so that Joseph wasn’t saying to himself when he heard the women’s seduction, “This is my lucky day! Go for it!” Joseph as to his body of sin had been released from giving in to his lusts. Joseph’s body did not control him. God controlled his body. So Joseph cried, “How could I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” For the Christian his body is like a bull mastiff that is totally under the domination of its master. Such a ferocious dog dares not do anything until its master tells it. A sweet little three year old girl comes dancing down the pavement towards it, and the dog does not blink an eyelid or utter a growl or twitch. Its body of sin is not in control of it; its master controls it.
We are so accustomed to asking the question, “But can a sinner sin?” and giving the answer immediately, “Of course.” As though it were the most obvious and natural thing for a Christian to do, to sin, but in fact it is the most unthinkable and mind-blowing action for someone who has been crucified with Christ to do to sin. John writes to Christians and he tell them he is writing to them that they sin not. When the church member in Corinth went to a brothel what he was doing was to join the members of Christ to a prostitute. It was utterly shameful, and so a better answer to the question of whether a Christian can sin would be, “God forbid!” The body of sin does not control the Christian. The Christian, by the grace of Jesus Christ, and by union with him, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit, is in charge of his body. Yes, temptations come strong and hot. We are provoked by constant repetitive questions of someone suffering from dementia, and, alas, eventually we react, to our shame, with angry words. But there is always a better way to respond. We as to the bodies of sin we have, need not respond like that because the body of sin does not have dominion over us.
iii] We are no longer slaves to sin. Hagar was Sarah’s slave girl and so when Sarah told Hagar to go to Abraham’s bed and conceive his child she did what her mistress told her to do because she was a slave of her mistress. The Scripture declares that the whole world is a slave of sin and so Aberystwyth is a town of slaves, and the university is a college of slaves, and Wales is a Principality of slaves, and the U.K. is a kingdom of slaves. You will find that from the highest to the lowest and from the richest to the poorest that men and women will do what sin tells them to do, to keep God right out of their lives, to ignore the Bible and never give a single thought to Jesus Christ. That is exactly how the people around us behave because they are slaves to sin while all the time they are boasting of their freedom and, of course, pitying the poor religious suckers who have to keep Sunday special and have to go to church. In fact we are freely doing what we delight to do while they are doing what the body of sin is telling them to do. They are the slaves of sin. We are the free bond servants of Jesus Christ and there is no one else we want to serve but him. In his service we have found prefect freedom.
iv] Every Christian has died and is freed from sin. Paul is writing about our union with Christ, and that all the Christians for whom the Lord Jesus died have themselves died in Christ. The Lord Jesus set his face steadfastly to Jerusalem and went there – not on a day trip – but in order to receive . . . the wages of sin! Christ took the condemnation of death in his own body for our guilt, and he did that once and for all. In other words, sin had no more claim over him, and so sin has no more claim over us. Jesus did not suffer the judgment of God for his own sins for he had none, but he suffered that anathema for our sins because he died as our substitute. So every Christian is united to Christ and has died to sin, in other words, he has himself borne the penalty – but in Christ. We never, never need to die for our sins. He has dealt with our guilt, and we also have died in him and through him. So we are freed from the condemnation of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those joined to Christ who died with Christ, were crucified with him. The debt of blame and shame has all been cleared. The just and righteous punishment has all been taken by Jesus Christ. We have no more fear of the great white throne of judgment. We don’t fear appearing before a holy God. We’re not afraid of Jehovah who knows every thought and word and deed all of which is utterly foul in his eyes. Yes, we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but God has sent his Son into the world and has condemned in his body on the tree our sin, and he has thus freed us from its penalty and from its condemnation. We are washed, we are justified, and the domination of sin over us is no more. We are freed from any punishment for our sin, all because we have been united to Christ in his death.
WE WILL ALSO LIVE WITH HIM.
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (v.8). We try never to say alone the words, “Christ died for us.” We seek always to say, “Christ died and rose for us. He who died lives for us.” Here you see how quickly the apostle moves on; not only has the believer died with Christ, but the believer also lives with him. There is this negative thing, the old unregenerate state and it has ceased to be, and yet there is this positive counterpart, we are new people who live their entire lives with the Son of God.
Once again, this is not an obligation. Paul is not saying to us here, “Strive! Live! Rise with Christ!” He is not speaking of any process which is still going on. He is not saying to us that we are to go on living with Christ. He is reminding us that in our past at our new birth we’ve had this experience that we’ve risen, resurrected with Christ, and because of that we have life. What the believer was, that has ceased to be. What the believer is now is a result of God’s gift of his Son and his Spirit. It is the change of status that God provides. See! What do we have here once again? You died with Christ. Once again Paul has repeated this in verse 8! Calvary is that important. God is sovereign in all things and every problem finds its solution at Calvary. Certainly the new life and salvation always begins there. The believer is not what he was; he never will be again, and no matter how concerned we are, in Christian humility, to hang our heads and say, “I’m not perfect” and acknowledge the presence of sin in our own lives, we dare not reduce our crucifixion with Christ to something incidental, or to the mere beginnings of our lives or the fringes of our lives. It is a totally supernatural thing that God did for us. God has annihilated the unregenerate man I was, the totally corrupt, carnal, unspiritual and hostile man that I used to be. I will tell you again and again that he has ceased to be. God nailed him to the cross with Christ! So he died.
Yet, Paul says, those people who died, they live (v.8)! It is not enough for us that we have the negatives of Christian conversion, the reality of evangelical repentance, the things that we have turned our backs upon; the places that we don’t go to, the things that we don’t do, the days that are now different, the ideas that we no longer hold – all the negatives. These are absolutely vital, quite indispensable to any Christian integrity. There is no believer but he has been crucified with Christ. There is no believer but he’s made a breach with what he used to be. Yet the negatives are not enough. Those redeemed people not only died, those people live! And how do they live? They live again with Christ. They not only have heard of him. They not only believe things about him. They not only believe in him, but they live “with him” (v.8). They live in union with Jesus Christ. Remember his gospel invitation. “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.” We are called to be yoked to Jesus Christ. What weight we pull along behind us through life, what pain, or sickness, or family responsibility then we never tug it along by ourselves. We are yoked to the power that made the universe. We are yoked to the one more powerful than death. We are yoked to the one who tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. With him for the years of time; with him for eternity. Think of Mary Magdalene and her love for Jesus. He had delivered her from demonic powers and now she was sweet and sensible and at peace living a life of service of Christ. How she loved to be with him wherever he was, listening to him, and serving him. How she loved to walk arm in arm with him, and then she meets him alive from the dead and she automatically approaches him to touch and hold him, but he forbids her to touch him because henceforth that is not going to be their relationship. They will have a wonderful close relationship, closer than ever before because now he will be always with her and will never leave her but it will not be a relationship of the senses but in trust, and no less powerful because of that. Mary with her Lord!
How many people live with Jesus like that? Everyone who is a believer! Every man and every woman who stand at this point in Paul’s epistle, under Christian obligation. Every ordinary believer; not those who have had second blessings or what have you, but every ordinary believer lives with Christ. There is no Christian but in Christ. And how often does this man live with Christ? He lives with Christ permanently and absolutely – all the time; not only when he feels close to God, or when he is living as he ought to live. The believer is wedded to the Lord of Glory. And the believer is to bring this fact into his reckoning, into his thinking, the fact that his union with the Saviour is an irreversible condition throughout all of his subsequent life. It is the whole context of his human life. Once he believes in Jesus Christ, he is in him and he is with him. There is one life; the life of Christ is our life.
Marriage is valid, not only on the honeymoon, or when the first child arrives, or when the partners are overflowing with love and devotion to each other. Marriage is not only when the couple are close in marital fellowship and communion, but they are united permanently and irreversibly. They cannot pretend, if there are days when things are not what they should be, they cannot say then “our marriage is not valid today and we do not need to live within the framework of marriage today!” It is always valid. It is always the context of the life. There arc days when the believer is backslidden, when he is in the depths, when he is in darkness and he has no light, but he is still in Christ. He is still with Christ. Thus he is at all times under the obligation to conduct himself as possessing the life of Christ and being a member of the body of Jesus Christ.
That is a thing that we have to remember and apply, when our faith is weak, when our lives are in some kind of declension that does not lessen the obligation. And it is one of the things that ought to stand over us as a constant rebuke; what are we – in Christ, with Christ – what are we doing in this particular kind of conduct? When our lives becomes worldly or impatient and plaintive; when our lives become in terms of Christian ethics an irregular life, what am I doing, as a member of the body of Christ, in this condition? You see Paul is taking what I am, and he is criticizing what I do, what I am. When I sin I am going to sin with Jesus Christ, because the living union is there all the time. I cannot cancel my regeneration when I want to be worldly. I am regenerate all the time. If I am worldly, I am still regenerate in my worldliness and I am disgracing my regeneratedness.
You know the story that is told of Spurgeon’s grandfather, whose heart at one time was broken in his ministry, by the life and bearing of one particular professing Christian. He had backslidden and had begun to frequent public houses. Spurgeon the six old child was grieved at what this man was doing to his grandfather, and so he set out, walked down to the village and found the man sitting at a table outside a pub. He stood before him and put a question to the man, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” What are you, a Christian who lives in Christ, what are you doing in this particular situation? What are you, a man who is with Christ, doing here? What are you, a regenerate man, doing in this environment? What are you, a man in union with Christ, doing in these surroundings?
And so the believer lives day by day with Christ. Life with Christ. Life with Christ always. And what is it? It is a life that is hidden from mankind. It’s hidden from our unconverted husband, or our unconverted parents, or our best friends in school if they are unconverted. The world knows us not. And it means, of course, that the world does not recognize the glory and the majesty of Christian status. Consider the foul ways that Christians are being treated today in north Korea, in Nigeria, in the Sudan, in Libya, in Iraq and Iran. They are counted the off-scouring of all things. They are beheaded and abducted and raped. They are stigmatized by virtue of their Christian commitment. But it is there that they are being called to live with Christ.
But it means more than that. It means that the life of the Christian is a hidden life in this sense; it is inexplicable according to the philosophy and outlook of the natural man. You cannot explain the way believers live from the way they have been brought up. You cannot explain it from the education they have had. You cannot explain it in terms of their temperament. It is a hidden life. It is a mysterious life. I wonder how often, the way that we live, and the patience and the obedience and the longsuffering that we manifest, perplex the world? How often do they make the world ask, “Whence this power?” Can the life that I live be explained in naturalistic terms – is it the kind of education we’ve had, or, the kind of home that we came from? No. You cannot explain the Christian life in these terms, in any psychological or biological language. We should be living lives that can only be explained by the grace of God.
And the grace of God is this – it is the redeeming power of God. It is the Redeemer holding us to himself and living with us day by day. It is not just God showing men the way. It is not God beseeching, or God pleading, or God commanding and warning. It is the living Lord Jesus himself drawing near and putting forth this power to make it absolutely certain that certain changes are going to be effected in my life and conduct.
I am wondering, is my life a mystery to the world? Is there something in our lives that can only be explained by this; “with Christ?” “They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). I’m not talking of having certain feelings of communion, great and glorious and desirable as all that may be; but I am talking of this reality, of what ordinary Christian men and women are. They are people in organic and living and spiritual union with a living and a risen Saviour. They are living lives that can only be explained in terms of this – that the Lord of Glory, risen from the dead, and reigning by his grace in their lives is there with them day by day and guides and exhorts and encourages them. He picks them up when they fall and hugs them when they are down and is a living support to them.
You know the way John saw this in the book of Revelation. He saw the river of the water of life; and where had it come from? It came, he says, out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Their lives could only be explained in terms of the throne of God’s sovereignty and of the Lamb who is in its midst. Can how we respond to illness and disappointment and dashed hopes be explained only in terms of the sovereignty of God, only in terms of a certain powerful stream of life which flows out of God into our own personal lives? You find it also in Psalm 46. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” The psalmist is contemplating the situation of Jerusalem and the siege engines and the surrounding army allowing nothing in or out. There was no water supply in Jerusalem. There was no great natural reservoir in the city to provide any feelings of security in times of danger and emergency, but he says, “There is a river!” And what is it? “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” And it is true, still, today, for each one of us who is in Jesus Christ, “There is a river!” Our thirst is quenched; we are washed and cleansed; we are irrigated. We live! The Lord lives with us and in us. His strength is made perfect in our weakness and his grace is sufficient for us.
Are we living new, different, transformed lives? Has our old self been crucified with Christ? Are we living a new life with Christ? Are they such lives that cannot be explained in any kind of behaviouristic terms, but only in terms of the irresistible grace of Almighty God?
22nd February 2014 GEOFF THOMAS