Monday, June 4, 2012

Dead with Christ

This is loosely based on some talks I gave over the last few weeks. I thought it would be worthwhile to share online.

11 Wherefore did I not die from the womb, --come forth from the belly and expire? 12 Why did the knees meet me? and wherefore the breasts, that I should suck? 13 For now should I have lain down and been quiet; I should have slept: then had I been at rest, 14 With kings and counsellors of the earth, who build desolate places for themselves, 15 Or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver; 16 Or as a hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants that have not seen the light. 17 There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the wearied are at rest. 18 The prisoners together are at ease; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. 19 The small and great are there, and the bondman freed from his master. (Job 3:11--19, JND)

In Job 3, Job laments his life by saying he'd have been better off dead. He makes several statements about death that catch our attention, especially in verses 17 through 19. Job says death is where the bondman is free from his master. This has a direct application when we turn to the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit uses the principle of ``freedom in death'' for three relationships:

  1. we are dead to sin (Romans 6)
  2. we are dead to the Law (Romans 7, Galatians 2)
  3. we are dead to the world (Galatians 6, Colossians 2 & 3)
Let's look at each of these in more detail.

Romans 5 ends with the statement that where sin abounds, grace more-than-abounds. And so Romans 6 starts with the obvious question: if more sin means more grace, should we just live in sin to get more grace?

Alan Gamble said that this question is the inevitable result of the Gospel, and I think he's correct. Paul's Gospel says,

Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified (Acts 13:38 & 39)
If we're going to preach a Gospel of absolute remission, a Gospel where any sinner who doesn't work but believes is justified and will never be judged for his sins--- in other words, the same Gospel Paul preached, the same Gospel Romans teaches--- then we're going to have to answer the question, ``So should we just keep sinning?''. In fact, Gamble says if you don't get that question, you're probably not preaching the Gospel at all.

So Romans 6 opens with the inevitable question: should we just keep sinning? Please note the question is not, ``Can we just keep sinning?'' That question is easy to answer, if you understand the Gospel. Of course you can! If you really understand the Gospel the Scripture teaches, there's no question whether you can keep sinning. God justifies the ungodly. God justifies the one who doesn't work but believes. God will not impute iniquity to the one who believes. One who believes is justified while he is still ungodly, and God declares him righteous regardless of what he does. But that's not the question of Romans 6. Romans 6 answers the question, ``Shall we continue in sin?'' And the answer is ``Absolutely not!''.

Why shouldn't we continue in sin? Is it because God will punish us? Is it because He will un-justify us? No, it's because we have died to sin (Romans 6:2). We were baptized into Christ, and thus have been baptized into His death.

Are you ignorant that we, as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death? We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death, in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father, so *we* also should walk in newness of life. For if we are become identified with him in the likeness of his death, so also we shall be of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin. (Romans 6:3--6, JND)
Our old man was crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin is annulled, and thus we no longer have to serve sin.

This passage has caused some considerable trouble in people's minds. On the one hand, there are those who would tell us that since the old man was crucified with Christ, there is no longer sin in us; on the other hand, there are those who insist that since sin is clearly still in us, the old man might be crucified, but he's still there... just not quite dead (or something). Both of these views overlook what Romans actually teaches. Ultimately, it comes down to a misunderstanding of what the "old man" actually is, and a confusion of the "old man" with "the flesh". The "old man" isn't something I have he was something I was. I was an "old man", a man of Adam's nature and lineage. But that old man has died, and thus I'm not that man any more. So does that mean I'm without sin? Not at all, nor does Romans 6 actually teach that. Romans 6 tells us that the old man's death is what frees me from sin: sin is clearly still in the picture, but it's not in control because I'm dead to it. I'm not that old man any more, and thus I'm not a slave to sin. Now, Romans 7 will expand on that and introduce another character: the flesh. Even though I'm not the old man anymore, I'm still living in his body (the "body of sin"). That body will be redeemed one day, and I will be completely without sin. But until that day, I live in a sinful body, even though I am dead to sin. That's the teaching of Romans 7:17--24 as well as Romans 8:1--14.

So why shouldn't we live in sin? Because we're dead to sin. We've died with Christ, and the death has severed the ties with sin. Sin rules over Adam's descendants, but Christ has freed us from sin when we died with Him. A dead man is free from the rule of sin. I'm not Adam's descendant any more: that life ended at the Cross, so now I have a new life, which is under no obligation to sin.

Notice I still have this thing called "the flesh", which is introduced in Romans 7. Romans 6 doesn't deal with "the flesh", and Romans 7 doesn't deal with "the old man": they are distinct things in Romans. One is what I was, the other is something I have. I'm not the old man anymore, but I won't be free of the legacy of sin from Adam until Christ transforms my vile body into the likeness of His glorious body (Philippians 3:21). I'm not the old man anymore, but I still have to live in his body.

But the point is not that I am sin-free, but that I am free from sin. Sin has no obligation over me, I have a new life. I have died with Christ so that I can walk in "newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The life I live now isn't my own, it's Christ's (Galatians 2:20). Thus, I can walk in "newness of life."

And notice I'm not told to die to sin, I'm told I have died to sin. It's not something I have to do, it's something that's already been done. My obligation isn't to die, my obligation is to reckon that to be true (Romans 6:11). I have died with Christ, I am dead to sin. My responsibility is to think that way; to believe what God has said about me.

As a side note, there is an expression you'll hear about "dying to self". You won't find the expression "die to self" or "dying to self" in Scripture: it's just not there. Scripture doesn't confound the new creation with the old: the old man has been crucified with Christ, there's no more dying for him to do. The new man doesn't need to be crucified with Christ, it's been created for newness of life, not for death. So we're not called to die to self, we're told we have died with Christ.

There is a sense in Scripture where death works in us. That's the whole argument of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. But notice that death works in us so that the life of Christ is manifested in our mortal bodies. Again, it's not that we die to self, nor that we need to die with Christ. We have died with Christ, but there is a practical working of death that works in our unredeemed bodies. I am in Christ, I am a new creature. But I am still waiting in the redemption of my sinful body. That day is coming: the Son of God is coming from Heaven to transform this mortal body (Romans 8:22 & 23; 1 Corinthians 15:49--58; Philippians 3:21), and then I'll have a body like His. Until that day, I am living in an old man's body, a body of death (Romans 7:24), a body with sin in it (Romans 8:10). Death works in that body, because it's as death works in me that the life of Jesus is manifested in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:7--12).

So because I've died with Christ, I'm dead to sin. Romans 7 takes it further and says that since I've died with Christ, I'm dead to the Law (Romans 7:4).

So that, my brethren, *ye* also have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ, to be to another, who has been raised up from among the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh the passions of sins, which were by the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit to death; but now we are clear from the law, having died in that in which we were held, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. (Romans 7:4--6, JND)
I've talked about the Law before, and I don't want to go on at great lengths about it again. But we recall that the Law was given through Moses in order to demonstrate man's sinfulness (Romans 3:20). This is the whole argument of Romans 2:12--3:20. Before Moses, men were sinners. The Law didn't create sin: murder and adultery and idolatry were wrong before the Law forbade them. But the Law was given to make men conscious of sin. Sin is lawlessness: it's a creature saying ``you're not the boss of me!'' (1 John 3:4). Transgression is violating a specific command. The Law specifically gave rules for men to obey. When men violated the rules, they trangressed. The Law doesn't make man a sinner, but it makes man a transgressor. Man was a sinner before the Law was given, but he became guilty of transgressing specific rules once those rules were given.

So Romans 7 describes what happens when a man tries to keep the Law. It begins with the specific statement that we've died to the Law so that we can bring forth fruit to God. We can't be fruitful and have the Law at the same time. If we want to bring forth fruit to God, we have to be free from the Law. The rest of Romans 7 describes the problems when a man tries to keep the Law: he can't. The Law was given to ferret out sin and make it obvious. When we (who have sin in our flesh) try to keep the Law, it does exactly what God designed it to do: it finds the sin in our flesh and makes it obvious to us.

Galatians 2 takes up this theme, but here we've died to the Law so that we can live unto God (Galatians 2:19). So here again, we need to die to Law so that we can live to God. We might say that living to God requires dying to Law. I've died with Christ, and thus I'm dead to [the] Law. Because I'm dead to the Law, I can live unto God. Because I'm dead to the Law, I can bring forth fruit to God.

Now we reach the conundrum: does dying to law mean I can just do whatever I want? In a sense it does; but that's kind of missing the point. Scripture doesn't say I've been made dead to the Law to live in lawlessness; it says I've been made dead to the Law so that I can bring forth fruit to God.

Does my dying to Law mean I'm not bound by the Ten Commandments? Yes. That's exactly what it means. It means I don't have a checklist for things I'm allowed to do and things I'm not allowed to do. My standard of conduct isn't a set of rules, it's Christ Himself.

Although I'm dead to the Law, I'm still called to obey. Not obey the Law, mind you, but obey Christ. I am not under Law (neither the Law of Moses nor any other law), but I am legitimately (i.e. legally) subject to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). I am dead to sin, so I am not to live lawlessly, but God doesn't deal with me on the principle of Law. We are saved by grace and are called to walk by grace. We are to walk as we have received the Christ (Colossians 2:6).

So I'm dead to sin and dead to the Law. Is that all? No, Galatians 6 gives us a third "dead to":

As many as desire to have a fair appearance in the flesh, these compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted because of the cross of Christ. For neither do they that are circumcised themselves keep the law; but they wish you to be circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:12--14, JND)
I have died with Christ, and therefore I am dead to the world.

I was in a meeting once where an older brother got up and spoke about the second shortest verse in the Bible: "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). I have to admit that address really touched my conscience. I'm a lot like Lot's wife.

If we consider Lot's wife, we realize that her sin wasn't that she insisted on staying in Sodom. Rather, having been delivered from Sodom, she turned and looked back. That sounds like me in a lot of ways. The Son of God came and died here for my sins to save me from the present evil world. I'm dead to the world by the Cross of Christ, and now I need to beware, because it's all too easy to look back over my shoulder at it.

Colossians 2:20--3:6 is all about our relationship to the world. Paul asks in Colossians 2, "If you've died with Christ from the elements of the world," then why do you practice a worldly religion? Worldly religion is all about ordinances: you can't touch this or taste that or handle something else. That religion has an appearance of wisdom, he says, but it's all done to the satisfaction of the flesh. It doesn't do your spirit a bit of good. And this sort of worldly religion is all around us. Whether it's the modern-day Galatians who forbid eating pork, or the stereotype evangelicals who believe you can't cuss, smoke, drink, or dance; in either case they're propping up a fleshly religion.

What Colossians teaches as the unworldly walk of a Christian is this: "have your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth; for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2 & 3, JND). This isn't a religion about what you eat or drink or smoke: it's a walk that's characterized and empowered by the life of Christ. Christ is in Heaven, at God's right hand. He is my life, because I have died with Him. Christ, my life, empowers a life that's totally different from the world around me.

I confess I don't live up to this to any appreciable degree. But I can't help but wonder what my life would look like if I really practiced Colossians 3 Christianity. If my mind was in Heaven (where, after all, my Head is), and my affections were up there too... what would my life be like? The worldly religion of ordinances isn't what I've been called to live out. I might not cuss or drink or smoke or dance, but I can't help think that's not what people would notice.

It seems to me the key to avoiding the pitfall of the world is our affections. 1 John 2 says "love not the world". Colossians 3 says "set your affections on things above." It's a question of our hearts. Christ is in Heaven, and my heart ought to be full of Him there. Satan's goal is not really to make us terrible sinners, he just needs us to not be looking at Christ.

After all, I've been called to live in this world, but not be of it. Someone else observed we're really good at being of it, while managing not to be in it. We have Christian schools, Christian camps, and all manner of para-church organizations. We can quite feasibly make it through a week without ever actually stepping outside our little Christian bubbles. But ironically, what's going on in those bubbles is exactly the same thing that's going on in the world. We might not be brushing shoulders with sinners, but we're living just like them.

So I've died with Christ. My history ended at the Cross, so far as God is concerned. I now live a new life, a life of faith in the Son of God. And it's not really I who live it at all, but Christ who lives in me. That's normal Christianity according to Scripture. I don't live up to it very well, but it's my calling. Because I've died with Christ, I'm dead to sin, the Law, and the world. I need to remember that, and not go back to the very things God has freed me from.

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