Sermon – March 30, 2018
In this passage, we see a clear connection between the death of Christ and the believer in Christ, the Christian. There is a purpose in Christ’s death described, and an effective outcome of this death. The unjust and unparalleled murder of a completely innocent man is shown to be the one thing that addresses our biggest need – our sin. The death of Christ has a temporal and eternal impact on the believer in Christ as he is united to him in his death. Paul connects Christ’s death directly to the believer. In this, Paul first describes the Christian as being dead to sin.
1. Dead to Sin (vv. 1-2)
Paul can already hear the objections to our free justification in Christ apart from works, so he begins this section with a ridiculous rhetorical question. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Is it okay to go on sinning since God is going to forgive you of this anyway? Why even try? What difference does it make how I live if I am going to let Jesus pay for this on the cross.
Paul rightly shoots this down as a boneheaded question. “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” he says. The question doesn’t even make sense. It is inconsistent and nonsensical. Those who are saved by grace are those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ for their redemption. It is the repentant, those who have turn from sin and turned toward God that are safe in the arms of the savior.
Only a faulty understanding of repentance could lead someone to this question. To repent of sin always – always – results in a life that is changed. One cannot say they have truly repented if their life is not marked by a discernable change. It is false repentance; it is a false conversion.
Let’s be clear. Paul asks “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” We need to be careful what he means by “live” in sin. He is not saying that we will no longer, as a Christian, ever sin. Indeed, he exhorts his readers in verses 12-14 to live holy lives. He wouldn’t need to encourage them to this end if sin weren’t a problem any longer. But while you may still sin, you no longer have to sin. You have been freed from sin’s power. You are dead to sin, and therefore you interact with sin differently. As a Christian, you fight against sin in your life. You find it distasteful, and you continue to come back to the foot of the cross in repentance and faith. This is a mark of a true believer – they hate sin. They are dead to sin, they no longer are bound to sin, and their life is forever changed.
Paul uses this imagery of death, and shows that is how Christians relate to sin. But he goes on in verses 3 through 7 to show how it is that our old selves are dead with Christ.
2. Dead with Christ (vv. 3-7)
We read in the gospels about Christ’s death. And here, Paul says that you, Christian, have been baptized into this death. You have experienced an analogous event that is connected somehow to Christ’s death on the cross.
As Baptists, we rightly emphasize the importance of baptism by immersion as the true, right, Biblical way to obey our Lord’s command. And it is in this baptism by immersion that we see a couple of really explicit pictures of the gospel, something that is completely missed if it is done by sprinkling water on someone’s head. It is not just the cleansing of the body to sin. This is true, we are cleaned from our sin by the mercy and grace of God, and that is part of what is portrayed in baptism. But more than that, we see this glorious picture of death and resurrection in baptism. We are buried with Christ in our baptism. We go under the water, a place where the body cannot live. We see in this ordinance a picture of the old man, the flesh, getting buried. We see a picture of death. It is in this death that we are united to Christ.
Christ died a gruesome death. And in that death, Christ experienced hell for us as he took upon himself the wrath of God due our sin. Christ has died, and in our salvation, we are united to him in that death. Our old nature has died. If you are united to him your old nature is dead, nailed to the cross. If you have been baptized into Christ, you have been baptized into Christ’s death. It is a marvelous and gracious event that displays that spiritual reality. And in that death, your old flesh has been buried.
Paul is very clear here. As a Christian, your sin has been nailed to the cross and it no longer reigns over the believer like it once did. This is why his initial question is so ridiculous. This experience, the death of the old self, is definitive. If there is no definitive change in your life, if there is no fruit of repentance, there may have been no death. The believer is dead to sin, united to Christ’s death in a way that has clear ramifications. Christ’s death is always efficacious for the believer – it always accomplishes what God would have it to do. The old man, the old flesh is crucified with Christ in his death. And though we are not completely sanctified on day 1, we are now free to pursue a life of holiness, bearing the fruit of repentance.
The death of Christ has a temporal and eternal impact on the believer in Christ as he is united to him in his death. Because of the death of Christ, we are dead to sin, and we are dead with Christ, but finally, like Christ, we are dead no more.
3. Dead No More (vv. 8-11)
We, as the church, celebrate Good Friday. I love being with God’s people on Good Friday, and I think it is right and helpful for us to reflect upon the death of Christ on Good Friday. I think it is good and right for us to reflect on the effect that death has on you and me. But friend, praise God, the death of Christ is not the end of the story. As one preacher famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” The death of Christ is not the end of the story, and the death of the believer to sin is not the end of the story. We are dead no more, but we are alive to God.
Just as we see in the gospel picture of baptism this death under the water, and we see the old man dying to sin, we also see a picture of the resurrection. We do not stay under the water, but we rise to walk in newness of life. Death does not have dominion over us, but like Christ we live. We do not merely die – we are dead to sin but we are alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Christian, you are alive. And you are free. You are no longer held in bondage to sin. Because of Jesus, you are alive and well. You can live this life in a relationship with your creator. You are no longer enemies, but because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you can live a life unto the Lord. You can experience joy, true joy, because with Christ you have been raised to walk in newness of life. You can love and be loved by him because you have been united to Jesus, both in his death and his resurrection. He has died for your sin, and you have been united to his in this death, and with him you have been raised with him. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
We read about the death of Christ today. This reality should ring in our ears this weekend as we eagerly anticipate Sunday morning. Jesus of Nazareth was beaten, he was tried, and he was executed though he had done nothing wrong. And as unjust as this was, it was the sovereign plan of a creator that loved you so much that he would die for you. It is this death that makes it possible for you to be reunited to a holy God. As you die to sin, as you are united to Christ in his death, you are transformed and forever changed. As you live, you live a life unto the Lord.