United in Christ
Last week we spent some time looking at a few verses at the end of Romans 5 and beginning of Romans 6. These verses spoke of how our lives are totally transformed by the grace of God that He bestows on us. That transformation is something that we cannot earn or buy, or that we deserve, it is entirely a gift from God. We need to remember that as far as God is concerned we are sinners, no more, no less. In that sinful state we are not fit to be in His Company unless some amazing miracle takes place that changes the way we are. This amazing miracle does happen when we come before God in repentance and seek His forgiveness for our sins. When we do that not only does He forgive us but He also bestows His grace upon us. It is in that way that our lives are transformed from an old life in sin to a totally new life in Christ.
The next few verses that I want to look at, from Romans 6:5-14, expand on that transformation and go a little bit deeper in explaining another major change that takes place as part of this transformation; we become united in and with Christ.
Jesus was the only Man Who never committed a sin or said anything against anyone. And yet we know from the prophet Isaiah that God laid all our sins on His shoulders. Listen to what Isaiah says, “...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5) and later, “he was oppressed and afflicted, and yet did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7) and later still, “he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9b). Those verses talk about Jesus, and I think that they tell us very clearly that He was not a sinner and had done nothing to deserve such a horrifying death. Now we know from Romans 6:23 that, “the wages of sin is death”, which was the price to be paid for our sins and it is a price that Jesus paid for us. He died; He was crucified and died in excruciating pain, and yet, as Isaiah tells us, He didn’t complain, He stayed almost totally silent as He died. Jesus was a Man without sin and yet He was prepared to die for us to pay the price for our sins. Paul helpfully reminds us of that in Romans 5:7-8 where he writes, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died in our place, to pay the price for our sins, by the grace of God and nothing else. Isn’t that simply amazing?
When we come before God in humble submission to repent of our sins and to seek His forgiveness, He is loving and merciful and forgives us. As a result of that forgiveness our old self, the sinful person in us, dies, and it is in that death that we are identified with Jesus. We may not physically die on the cross next to Him but we share in His death nonetheless. You see, the only way that sin can be got rid of from our lives is by our old sinful self being put to death and that is what happens when we come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Paul tells us about this in 6:6 when he says, “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with”. Paul said something similar when he wrote to the Galatians. He told them this, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Prior to coming to repentance we were slaves to sin; we may not have recognised that, but it is true nevertheless. Sin ruled all that we did, it had complete control over us and our lives and nothing else mattered. Last week I mentioned the articles that used to appear in Alpha News relating to drug addicts coming to faith in Christ and being totally transformed as a result. Before that happened their lives were ruled by the need to obtain drugs, something which often required crime to fund their habit; nothing else mattered, only the next drug fix. All that was reversed by their coming to faith and their old sinful, drug addicted self being crucified with Jesus. A similar thing happens with alcoholics; their prime concern is to know where their next drink is coming from; the need for alcohol rules their lives from morning to evening and beyond.
To move from that dire situation requires a drastic event and that came when Jesus was crucified at Calvary and died in our place. Paul opens this passage that we are looking at by telling us that we have been united with Christ in His death. By accepting Him as our Lord and Saviour and coming to faith in Him we have accepted that our old self needed to die, and die it did as a result of our faith. In that way we become united with Christ in His death.
Obviously following His death, Jesus was placed in that rough hewn grave and a stone was placed across the entrance; to all intents and purposes He was buried. We saw last week in 6:3-4 that when we were lowered into the water during our baptism; and for the sake of argument I’m assuming for now baptism means total immersion in water; we united with Jesus in His burial.
So far so good! Our old self has died with Christ and consequently we have been united with Him in death and in our baptism we have been united with Him in burial. However, that isn’t all, that isn’t the end of the story since we know that Jesus rose from the grave on that third day, just as He said He would. When we come up out of the waters of baptism, we too rise from the grave and join Jesus in His resurrection. In the second half of 6:6 Paul explains that just as we are united with Him in His death so we will be united with Him in His resurrection. I’ll expand briefly on that thought later.
It is our new self who is raised from the dead, and it is our new self that lives with Christ each and every day. By coming to faith in Christ we become new people and as Paul tells the Ephesians, we are “made alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). That last phrase is very important, we have become new people by grace and grace alone and being new people means that we think differently, we behave differently, and we see things differently. We see things more clearly, colours seem brighter, flowers smell more sweetly, birds sing more beautifully, and as we read and meditate on the Bible it slowly but surely becomes ever more clear. All of this happens because we have a new life, a life that is united with Christ, a resurrection life.
When Jesus died in our place and was raised from the grave, He defeated both sin and death once and for all. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus’ final words before He actually died were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). What He meant was that death was finished; it no longer had any hold over Him or those who accepted Him as Lord and Saviour. Jesus could not die again and as Paul reminds us, “death no longer has mastery over him” (6:9b). Until we accept Jesus Christ as Saviour death does have mastery over us, we can die at any time and because we die in a sinful state, we will not spend eternity in paradise with Jesus. You see, we need to understand that there is a physical death and a spiritual death. We will all face a physical death no matter what we try; as Benjamin Franklin once observed, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That is very true, but for those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Saviour there will also be a spiritual death. That death will mean that they are cut off from God for all eternity never to be able to ever be in His presence. However, when we have come to faith in Christ, although we may die physically we can never die spiritually we will join our Lord and Saviour in paradise and will not die again. Consequently death can no longer have a hold over Him or us because we have become united in and with Him. Just as Jesus now lives for God, we too should live for God and try to serve and obey Him as well as we are able.
Sin No Longer Reigns
As I suggested a moment ago, as sinners sin reigned in our lives, it was the controlling factor in all that we did. Now that we have come to faith in Jesus Christ sin no longer reigns and we must never let it reign again in our lives. We must no longer obey the sort of evil desires that we used to follow but should resist all temptations. Paul expanded on this when he told the Colossians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). That sounds easy but isn’t! As mere mortals we will always be susceptible to sin and we will always have that inner compulsion to sin. We must resist such temptations at all times. Instead of following those urges to sin we should follow the path that God lays out before us, and to help us, Paul tells us to, “...offer yourselves to God” (6:13) since it is He Who has brought us from death to life. We have this new life because of Jesus dying on Calvary’s cross in our place. The very least that we can do in return is to serve Him in whichever way He calls us. Paul puts it like this, “offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness” (6:13). The NLT makes that verse even clearer when it says, “...use your body to do what is right for the glory of God.” As redeemed sinners we should serve God and everything that we do in future should be to His glory and His alone. We no longer serve sin, the evil desires of mankind or even ourselves; we serve God.
The verses that we looked at last week spoke of God’s grace and the fact that as a result of the actions of Jesus at Calvary, we now live under grace rather than under sin. The final verse in today’s passage tells us quite clearly that sin should no longer be our master since we are no longer under God’s Law but under His grace. The Law could not bring about our salvation; only God’s grace expressed through the death of His Son on the cross could do that. It is as a result of grace that we come to faith in Jesus and experience great changes in our lives. Consequently our lives are transformed in such a way that sin is no longer our master, instead our Master is now God our Heavenly Father.
When we enter the waters of baptism we are brought up out of the water as new people and join Jesus in His resurrection. Just as Jesus is now alive so we too are alive in Him and we share in His life. Sadly of course there comes a time when we will all die physically. That is not the end though. In his great essay on the resurrection, Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 what will happen when Christ returns. That chapter is of course worthy of deep study; however, for now we can take comfort from what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him “. That is the resurrection in which all believers will share, and then we truly will be united in Christ.
All of this comes as a result of the grace of God. We are saved from a certain death only by the grace of God just as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. As a result of coming to faith in Jesus Christ we share in His death and in His resurrection and as a result of that we become united in Christ. All that we do from that moment on should be with Christ at the centre and He should be our main focus. As The Message version of 6:13 says, “Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full time into God’s way of doing things”.
The Message version of 6:14 ends by telling us that we’re “living in the freedom of God” and that will be the subject of next week’s sermon. In the meantime I commend these verses to your hearts.