A Real Death
As you turn in your Bible to Romans 6 so that we may continue our study, I think that it is only right and proper for me to remind you of the reason for our moving through this portion of scripture so very thoroughly and carefully. This 6th chapter of the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans is neither simple nor easy, in truth it is fraught with difficulty and at times even the best of theologians disagree with how to interpret the meaning of its various elements. This has, of course, been made far more urgent and necessary, given the gravity of the subjects, the foundational nature of Paul’s every statement and phrase, and importantly the significance and implications of each of these statements themselves, and also the whole.
And so, I have endeavoured as we have worked our way through this chapter, that at each step, and also as a whole, I have tried as best I can to help us all fully comprehend what it is the apostle is trying to say – that we all collectively comprehend the full meaning and import of each statement.
And the reason for such care, is because Romans 6 forms an incredibly technical argument, first establishing the doctrinal foundation in full, and only once that is complete working out how to apply that doctrine in a more practical manner. And that doctrine is masterfully laid out phrase by phrase progressively through this chapter, such that if you miss or go astray on any particular point, it becomes ever harder to rightly comprehend the subsequent points, building a masterpiece of astounding and crucial proportions for living life in Christ!
Unfortunately, this is also a portion of Scripture that many use as a sort of proof-text to support their own doctrines – some good, some bad, but all of which fall short because they are not properly rooted in what the apostle is actually saying here in Romans 6. They forget that these verses have a very specific context, going back to his argument in chapter 5, in which he began declaring the fullness and finality in justification by faith, laying our the basic thesis in the first verses,
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Having reached something of a climax at the end of chapter 5 in saying in v20, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”, he has immediately interjected with a parenthesis in chapter 6 to deal immediately with very real misunderstandings and problems arising out of this teaching - recall that as far back as Romans 3:8 he was aware of his opponents, saying “... we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say, 'Let us do evil that good may come’”!
And we should be thankful that Paul had listened to the Holy Spirit at this point, and taken the time for this parenthesis, as the doctrine of justification by faith, and faith alone, is in a sense very dangerous, in that it may seem that we no longer have any guardrails by which we may know that we are presently pleasing God.
And history has shown us that people have indeed gone of the rails, and perverted the gospel by divorcing their claim of Christianity from pleasing God through holiness, knowingly and purposefully continuing in sin, as if they completely skipped over the plain and clear meaning of:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
And so, Paul has been carefully expounding this statement piece by piece in a carefully and intricately woven argument, that we would be certain to fully and completely understand the depth and breadth of this great truth, that We, being what we are, should no longer continue to live in sin! To do so is a denial of our identity and nature!
Now, last time, we worked our way through Romans 6:5 and then partway through 6:6, as we learned about the crucifixion and burial of the me that was – my self when I was in Adam. That me is dead, that me died and was buried, that me is no more. Let’s read it:
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died has been justified from sin.
One of the many issues we have in comprehending these verses is that we see ourselves. We know ourselves, we’ve seen our failures and we read these verses and we become afraid of them, of what they may mean if we take them to their logical conclusion!
So I think it is invaluable to our Christian walk that we do understand this crucial chapter on Godly living, it is worth the effort and time to understand it rightly.
And the crux of the matter is we ourselves! You still see my body, don’t you! This 6 foot tall redhead that sunburns easily is still here, it was the same body I had when I was justified by faith; and aside of aging, it is still the same. Paul is making a very important distinction here that we must be certain to understand; I am not my flesh; there is a difference between me, and sin’s body. Both I and my body were made to glorify God, both were corrupted in the Fall. I was born in Adam, and so also was my body placed under the reign and rule of sin, it is Sin’s Body, the body of sin. It wasn’t made to be that way, you recall, for God called the body very good at the end of Genesis 1. But it has been given over to sin for the moment.
But that, a body, is not all that is me. Perhaps it may help to think of it this way: I can do without parts of my body, though physical life may be more difficult. After all, people do this all the time! They lose fingers and limbs and eyesight, yet who they are is not likewise diminished; this surely proves the case; my physical body, is not the same as me!
And what the apostle had said is that it was me who died, the used-up and now-worthless me that was, was crucified with Him; even saying in v4m, that me was buried, a certificate of death has been issued.
But this flesh I have is the same flesh I had before I became saved, it is still under the reign and rule of sin – but of utmost importance, I myself am no longer under the reign and rule of sin!
And so, this great divide now exists – I myself am in Christ, and no longer under the reign and rule of sin, but the body I presently have remains sin’s body, it is still in that natural state, beholden to sin, still desirous of that which no longer controls me!
This body of sin, then, is not simply my body, but my body as used, or perhaps better said, mis-used, by sin.
It is a contradiction and internal war which Paul himself is acutely aware of within himself when he declares in 8:23, “...even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body”!
When we were in Adam, there is no conflict between our self and our body, but there was conflict between our self and God, we refused Him His rightful place as Lord.
But now that we are in Christ, now that that old man, our old self, is gone, and has been replaced with a new creation, a new self, that contradiction between our new self and our old nature makes itself ever more clear, as we are conformed by God to the image of His beloved Son!
For in Adam, I had been appointed a sinner, Romans 5:19 declaring that “...through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners...”, meaning I had been set down in the realm of sin and was made and constituted a sinner, sin was given mastery over me in every conceivable way! Such was sin’s dominion over me, that every thing I did was marked by that sin; so that though I tried to do good, even that was corrupt from the start, for in my heart I was only truly seeking to please myself.
This is why it is so important that we understand who Paul is addressing when he said “Are we better?” in Roman’s 3:9! For even when I tried to do good, the attempt was based upon my own power, my own strength; it amounts to nothing more than filthy rags! I was not doing it through and by the power of God, and in truth in my heart it was not done for His glory alone. I desired glory from it!
So then, it is perfectly right and appropriate to declare that the man that was, was a slave to sin! That the whole of my being, my mind, and my body, and my strength, everything that was me, was all enslaved to sin!
This even happens in churches, we learn to use the “right” Christian words, even. But, the god I worshipped then, was not the God of the Bible, but a god made in the image of myself and my own foolish desires; a sort of cosmic genie, whose purpose was to make my life better for me on my terms! A god to whom I could point to some scripture and say “look, you did this there, now you need to show yourself faithful and do that for me, here and now, because that’s what I decided you should do!”
“The boastful pride of Life”, indeed!
And why did I do this? Because I was a slave to sin, there was no way for me to free myself, every path to freedom I found led only to further sin. For Psalm 3:8 declares, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh”, and to Him alone! Revelation 7:10 says the same thing, “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb”.
Not one of us is able to remove our own slavery to sin; none are able or even truly willing to do so except God, and God alone! And He, in His infinite wisdom and utter sovereignty, declared a very specific way for this to happen; in the words of a Puritan, Stephen Charnock, “He [God the Father] was desirous to hear Him [the Son of His Delight] groaning, and see Him bleeding, that we might not groan under His frowns, and bleed under His wrath; He spared not Him, that He might spare us; refused not to strike Him, that He might be well pleased with us.” God so loved the world, that for a time He seemed to not love His Son in comparison to it!
And it is through the crucifixion, death, and burial of our old man, the me that was in Adam, that He provided this redemption for the mis-use of our bodies by sin! Jesus Christ did not die solely to legally and forensically bear our guilt; He did that, yes, but it does not in any way stop at that, He did more that simply that; he died also so that our old man, the me that was, would die as well, and because the me that was died, sin’s body might be done away with, because the me that was died, I am no longer a slave to sin!
How can such a thing happen? Why!?
The answer for us is to be found in verse 7, “For he who has died, has been justified from sin.” And likely, your translation will say “freed from sin.” That’s all right, both are good and correct translations, we shall get to that in a moment.
You will notice at once, that the apostle changes form; up to this point, Paul has been either speaking of Christ, or otherwise, of we who died to sin, who are now in Christ. You can see it starting there in v2, we who died to sin; and then in v3 onward: all of us who were baptized, we were buried, so we too might walk in newness of life, if we have become united, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, our old man, that we would no longer be slaves to sin…
And now here in verse 7, the apostle says “he, who has died”; it is a striking contrast, he’s no longer talking simply about we who died to sin, he has instead backed, he has abstracted in order that he might proclaim a universal concept which applies to everyone. He doesn’t say “he who has died in Christ, nor “we who died”; no, he instead says “He who has died.”
Because, that “he who has died” has undergone a specific, particular change in relation to sin. Not to the Law, mind you – it includes the Law but this is more broadly talking about the relationship to the realm and rule of sin.
You will notice that most translations say we are “freed” from that relationship, and the idea of slavery inherent to such a term certainly plays into that kind of thinking, but that idea is worked out in verse 18, not here. Here, Paul is still working out the doctrine for us, and from the middle of ch 5 has been dealing with sin in terms of its reign, and rule, and dominion – and this is no different. He is using a legal term to describe this changed legal relationship to sin: the literal translation is justified. And he uses the term not in the sense of justification as he did in chapter 4, that discussion is complete, but I think that most translations avoid this legal sense out of concern that we not undo what has already been established, that God justifies the ungodly by faith, and by faith alone, which the word justified can confuse.
Complicating this, is the clear focus here on our union with Christ, through all of us that what happened to Him, has now happened to us, that our immersion into Christ, our union with Him, makes continuing in sin unthinkable!
What Paul is talking about here, then, is that death, whether Christ’s or ours, removes a person out from under the realm of sin. In this legal sense, of ending a vassal-ship and beholden-ness to the realm and rule of sin that we ought to understand verse 7!
Man, in his flesh, has a master and ruler in sin. He is sin’s slave, and when a slave dies, he is legally released, freed if you will, from the rule of that master over him.
Try as a master might, nothing that master can do can compel a corpse to work his field, make his breakfast, or tend his fire. His reign over that slave has ended. That mastery ends when death occurs, at that point his master has no remaining legal right to him. And that former slave, that corpse, is no longer himself able to obey that master as he once had done.
And Paul is reminding us of this, because in the very same way as that slave, when I was baptized into Christ’s death, when the me that was, was crucified with Him, certified as dead through burial with Him, my vassal-ship and beholden-ness to the realm and rule of sin has been severed.
It is, as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
A real death has occurred, and although you still see this same flesh breathe and move, the me that was, the me that was beholden and enslaved to sin, is no more.
And that new me, the me that now walks in newness of life, the me that is, does not have that subservient and slavish relationship to sin; through my union with Jesus Christ I have now been removed from the realm and rule of sin, I am no longer set down and appointed, constituted and made, a sinner!
And so now that I myself no longer in that relationship to sin, yet my flesh is still sin’s body; I realize, in shock and dismay, that I still sin. I look at my life and am abhorred at the sin I see in me.
And yet, because I, though not necessarily my body, which is still sin’s body, nevertheless it is not me myself, I can now deal with this body of sin with great confidence, knowing that it is contrary to I myself, since my old man is dead, he is buried.
What a liberating thought! What a glorious truth! I need never think of myself as I once did, being appointed a sinner, of being held and emplaced under the rule and reign of sin!
And furthermore, because this death has occurred, I need not fear losing my salvation; that severing from condemnation in Adam has already occurred! It cannot be resuscitated, it is done, it is final, the link is severed!
And so, rather than causing me to question my salvation, the fact that I am now so very aware of this contradiction between me and the body of sin, instead confirms to me that I am no longer beholden to it, that I no longer need to have my behavior ruled by my body and its lust and pride, but the me that is can, and should, overrule the body of sin, for I am no longer a slave it it!
Praise be to God!