United with Christ

What does it mean to belong to the body of Christ, to be part of his church? How important is that? In Romans 6:1–14 Paul tells you there are life and death issues involved.

God has united you to himself in Christ. God has drawn you to himself. Deuteronomy 4 describes Israel after the Exodus from Egypt with the mighty miracles, after the appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, and after God’s provision for them in the wilderness. They had not earned this—they had been the recipients of God’s grace. God has dealt graciously with his people. Their inheritance is undeserved, unearned. Moses is calling the people to be faithful to their God as they enter the promised land.

Paul tells you that God has given you a mighty Redeemer. God continues to draw his people to himself—in the Son whom he sent into the world to redeem his people. aul, in Romans 5, has described grace so rich and free that it staggers the imagination. After describing Adams’s sin, which was counted to us, and the many additional sins that we have added to that original sin, he speaks of God’s righteousness in Christ’s obedient death and summarizes, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). But abundant grace scandalizes. It raises objections. Doesn’t this lead to a lose life? The distortion may come from antinomianism: if God’s grace and glory are magnified the more grace overcomes sin, why not sin that God’s grace may be more exalted? Such a person believes that the restraints of the law do not apply. The objection may be raised by a legalist, who believes that the doctrine of salvation by grace leads to tolerating sin. The legalist may recognize that he can’t do it all himself, but he wants to do something, even if it is a small part. If someone else has picked up the check, you insist on taking care of the tip. Legalism does not involve a high view of the law, but actually a low one, a level that he or she can reach. Deep respect for God’s law, considering it important, believing that God calls you to obey it: none of those are legalism. Rather, if you are living in fellowship with God, you need to be living in holiness.

You have been baptized into Christ in his death and glorious resurrection. You died with Christ. Paul’s response to his not so hypothetical question is the most emphatic “No!” available to him in the Greek language. Paul points to baptism, but not because he is a sacerdotalist, one who believes that the sacrament works automatically. Rather, he points to what your baptism says. (Don’t react to the error of sacerdotalism by depreciating what your baptism means.) At the heart of your baptism is the concept of being united with Christ. (1 Cor. 10 speaks of Israel having been baptized into Moses. Paul repudiates the idea, 1 Cor. 1, that anyone was baptized into Paul.) Your Lord Jesus Christ died. He died to death, v. 9. Death is past, unrepeatable for him. Christ died to sin, v. 10. Not that Christ ever sinned, but rather that he is no longer in sin’s domain. You too died to sin. Like a prisoner in the Gulag, your only escape from the enslaving power of sin is through death. And that is what happened as you were buried with Jesus in his death. “Baptism ‘into Christ Jesus’ means baptism into union with Christ. . . . Christ Jesus cannot be contemplated apart from his work nor his work apart from him. Neither can one phase of his redemptive accomplishment be separated from another. Therefore union with Christ, which baptism signifies, means union with him in his death.” (Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 214) We usually think of sanctification as the process of becoming more holy. While that is biblical, this passage treats sanctification as a definitive act. You died to sin. You are no longer under its power and control. Therefore you can make progress in your daily growth in grace. “Undoubtedly there is process and progression in the believer’s life and this may be properly understood as progressive realization of the implications of having died and risen with Christ. But the dying and rising with Christ are not viewed as process but as definitive and decisive event and can no more be construed as continuous process than can the death and resurrection of Christ himself.” (Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 224)

You, in Christ, have been raised through the glory of the Father. Christ was raised through the glory of the Father. His glory is his majesty, the sum of his perfections. This is brought to bear in raising up Christ. The Father’s raising of the Son vindicates him. He died as the sin-bearer, taking the punishment of his people. He bore our guilt. But the resurrection declares him not guilty! You share in that glorious vindication as you are united to Christ. The Lord, with whom you are united, sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. You belong to him. You are part of his body. Your baptism reminds you that it is true. In his resurrection, no less than in his death, Christ is the second Adam, see 1 Corinthians 15:45.

Be what you are! Count yourself dead to sin. Because you died to sin, once for all, its enslaving power has been broken. “If we view sin as a realm or sphere then the believer no longer lives in that realm or sphere. And just as it is true with reference to life in the sphere of this world that the person who has who has died ‘passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found’ (Psalm 37:36; cf. 103:16), so it is with the sphere of sin; the believer is no longer there because he has died to sin.” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 213) You may not, you must not continue in sin. It is a contradiction of what you are in Christ.

Live to the glory of God. You live a new life. You will live, verses 5, 8, and you do live, vveerse 11. Your former way of life must be put off, verse 12. Your baptism means that you have put on Christ. You are united with him in his resurrection. Remember that as you are tempted to begin a questionable activity… as you put your mouth in gear… as you choose how you spend your recreational time… as you choose a college, a career, a mate. When your sister or brother really bugs you and you’re about to retaliate, remember that you have been baptized. Remember that your baptism means that you are now alive in Christ, that you life really belongs in heaven. Your sanctification is an essential part of who you are as a Christian. No, your salvation is not based on God justifying you because of infused grace and goodness. But the changed life is so essential that to deny it (in theory or in practice) is to tear Christ asunder. “They who imagine that gratuitous righteousness is given us by him, apart from newness of life, shamefully rend Christ asunder.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, at Romans 6:1)

Your baptism tells you that when Jesus died, you died with him. You no longer belong under the power and domination of sin. Your baptism tells you that when Jesus was raised, you were raised with him to a new life. It challenges you to live this week and the rest of your life as someone who is really alive in Christ. Your baptism is a life and death issue. Can you continue in sin? You answer the question!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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