Understanding your union with Christ is the key to your growth in holiness. Rom 6:1ff
We’re gonna spend some time in the book of Romans, if you wanna look at chapter six with me, in Romans, chapter six. It’s a crucial passage for understanding this. And as I preach through Romans, the book of Romans, several years ago, something which really struck me was that the first imperative in the book of Romans does not occur until chapter six, the first command. In the first five and a half chapters of the book of Romans, Paul is laying out the gospel. He’s laying out our sin, how Christ has paid for our sin, how we receive salvation through faith, and the invitation Christ as righteousness does is just magnificent. And when he finally gets to the imperative, it’s also interesting what he says. He says, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” So once he finally does give an imperative he says, “Think about something.” He doesn’t say, “Go to do something.” It’s not that he’s afraid to, he’s gonna do that later, very quickly after verse 11. But the first imperative is, to paraphrase, remember who you are, remember your identity in Christ, that your old self has died with Christ, your new self has been raised up with Christ, and you’re no longer a slave to sin. And I’m convinced, as we look at Romans six together for a minute that this is really the key to growth and holiness.
Sometimes when a counselee comes in, at the beginning we ask them some questions to see if they’re converted, “Who’s Jesus? Do you trust in him? If you were to die tonight would you go to Heaven, if so, why?” And once they can answer those questions of salvation by faith and Christ, “So, well, okay, we’ve covered the gospel, now let’s move onto the law.” And, yet, that counselee who may have the right answers for the questions of how you get saved is probably nearly clueless in terms of how their union with Christ relates to their current problem. And looking, for a few minutes, in Romans chapter six, at the end of, in Romans five, as Paul has described the glory of the gospel. He made this declaration that “where since increased graced abounded all the more.” And an objection is raised in verse one of chapter six, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?” And it’s a logical objection. And Paul answers, “May have never be.” verse two, “How shall we who died in sin still live in it?” Now Paul is outraged by such a suggestion. And what he explains is that the gospel, rightly understood, does not promote more sin, as the objector was implying. But, rather, the gospel, which declares that we’ve been freely and wonderfully been forgiven by God’s wonderful grace in Christ actually promotes righteousness. And he goes on to explain how that is in the following verses. Says, “How should we who’ve died in sin still live in it? Or do you not know,” verse three, “that all of us, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. Therefore we’ve been buried with him through baptism and to death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead for the glory of the Father, so we, too, might walk in newness of life, for we have been united with him, likeness of his death, certainly we’ll also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.” So Paul was saying that if you’ve really been united with Christ, you can’t go on sinning. And he’s using the figure of baptism, what baptism symbolizes. And he’s saying that baptism symbolizes how, as you go into the water, that your old self has died in union with Christ. He doesn’t say you are dying to sin, it says that you have died to sin. And when Christ died for you, your death to sin was a past completed act. He explains this more in verses eight to 10. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead is never to die again, death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died this in once for all for the life he lives he lives to God.” And he’s explaining that what happened to Christ has happened to you. Jesus was under sin’s guilt and power, not because of his sin, but as our representative. And when he died to sin on the cross he was set free forever from that bondage to sin. He is done with sin. And in the same way, Paul is saying when you believed in Christ, your old sinful self died with Christ.
Now, live in light of who you are. Rom 6:12-13
Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes our lives as like a two volume biography, beginning with your physical birth and ending with the death of the old man. When you believe in Christ, your old self has died and is no more. But now you’re raised with Christ, just as in baptism. The person goes under the water, and then you bring them up out of the water. Volume two is that we also have been raised, as Christ as was raised from the dead through the glory of the father, so we, too, might walk in newness of life. If we had been united with him, the likeness of his death certainly also we will be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. Now what happened to Christ has happened to you. When he died he was done with sin and death forever. And when you were united to him, you were done with sin, done with the penalty of sin, and the bondage to sin, but also as he was raised, he was raised into life. And now you’re alive to God. And the Christ indestructible life is in you, you have this new nature, as the new birth that God gives, makes us like whoever’s in Christ is a new creation. So you were dead, now you’re alive, you’re a new person. And this is how we need to think. And, furthermore, continuing, he gives another analogy. It says that “we would no longer be slaves to sin for he who has died is freed from sin.” And in verse nine, that death is no longer master over him. And then in verses 15 to 22 it develops it more thoroughly that he said, “Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace, may it never be. Do you not know that when you present yourself to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you are slaves of sin you became obedient from the heart, that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” So he’s describing your conversion, the one who’s really come and put their faith in Christ has this new identity. Before you were a slave to sin. You could not stop yourself from sinning. That doesn’t mean every single sin, but your life was characterized by sin. You had no power to do one thing that was pleasing to God. But now sin no longer has a claim over you. You’ve been set free to have a new master with this new nature and to serve God, to serve Christ.
To give an example, also I think borrowed from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is after the American Civil War, there were people who had received draft notices. And the problem with this is during the American Civil War, these people who received the draft notices were unable to serve. Why? They were already dead. And once they were dead, Uncle Sam had no more claim on them. Well, in Paul’s analogy here, you’re dead now. You’re dead now to sin. And because you’re dead, sin has no more claim on you, because of the new person you are. And Paul is saying this is true of every believers, not just the really mature ones, young or old, new or babe in the faith. And it’s true whether you feel it or not. And the call is, when he starts with the next imperative, the summary in verse 11 is, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.” Now he’s saying now that you realize who you are, you can hear this command to live differently. Now the fact that he’s giving the warning not to live in our old lusts means that even though we are justified, even though we have this new identity that that does not mean it’s no longer possible for us to sin. And to give another Civil War analogy, when President Lincoln declared in the Emancipation Proclamation, he set the slaves in the South free. And then the 13th Amendment to the American Constitution ended slavery as an institution throughout the entire country. The status of the slaves was now they were former slaves, they were free men. But some of them didn’t fully understand this. And so then, likewise, the old masters didn’t necessarily accept it. So the old master would say, “No, Joe, you still gotta serve me.” And some of the former slaves continued serving their old masters, contrary to their new status. Their status was that they were freed men, and, yet, they were still living as if they were slaves. And Paul is saying, “Don’t do that, you are free, so why would you want to go back to that old life of slavery?” Another analogy would be is it possible for a married man to live as if he is single? Well, it’s possible. He shouldn’t. Once he got married, the single life ended, he has this new status as a married man. He should look back, remember the wedding ring, and remind himself of his new life and new status, and live accordingly. So Paul says as you remember who you are, you remember this new status of yours, then that helps you to fight sin.
So how does this work itself out in practical terms? Well, we know in general that just even the way that God has made us, that what you’re thinking, and what you’re believing about yourself influences how you live. You’ll see in basketball that some guy gets on a tear and he hits dozens of shots in a row, ’cause he has this level of confidence, or someone in baseball goes on a hitting streak and he has this confidence. Well, the confidence I’m describing here is not just some natural thing, it’s actually the work of the spirit as well. But as we remember who we are, and we think of ourselves, not “I’m a drunkard, I’m an abuser, I’m an angry person, I’m a depressed person.” But we preach the gospel to ourselves and remember who we are in Christ. That empowers us to live differently. And we need to keep preaching the gospel to ourselves because we’re so prone to go back to saying, “Oh, well, I’m this, I’m that, I’m what I used to be.” Or even, “Well, because I’m failing here, I’m struggling here, then God doesn’t accept me.” Which is denying justification, and denying that God has accepted us in Christ. And it’s not some visualization game. It’s not like pretend like you’re a great basketball player and visualize yourself doing it, it’s a reality. You are a new person in Christ.
And, again, to give you back to the other analogy is that the freed slave might be walking along, and his former master calls out and says, “Joe, come serve me, come work for me.” And what are you gonna say when you hear the old master calling? You can follow, which is foolish, or you can say, “I don’t have to listen to you anymore. I am a free man.” I’ll try to make it practical with a particular counseling situation, dealing with a man who had been in a gang, a very angry man, a man that as he was converted, actually, when he came in he was kind of a scary guy. He’s kinda buffed up, tattoos, shaved head, comes in with his wife and small child. And there’s a problem. A big problem in their marriage is that there are outbursts of anger that threaten to get abusive. And when the anger would occur, and a fight would take place, his temptation would be to leave the house, find some drugs, or drink too much, and go through a program or something, and comes back home, seeks to repent. How do you break that pattern? And the key to this is not some self-improvement formula, it’s not casting out the demon of anger or lust. He needs, as someone I trust is a believer who’s struggling with sin, to be thinking in terms of who he is in Christ. And when he’s tempted to be angry with his wife, and when he’s tempted to say something he shouldn’t say, or physically do something he shouldn’t do, just to say, “I am not that person anymore. That person is dead and buried, he died with Christ. And I am not that person anymore, thanks be to God. And now having been raised with Christ, I have the power not to give in. And, yes, the old slave master is calling, but I have been set free. And I don’t have to give into this sin yet again.” And it’s thinking about these truths, what he needs in that moment. Of course, all of this is just the gospel. “How can I be mad at my wife when God is no longer angry with me? How can I be the merciful servant who’s been forgiven the 10,000 talents, when God has done that for me. And then, yes, even if she’s wrong, it’s my opportunity to show the gospel to her.” So understanding this, and not rushing through this with ourselves or the counselees.