We Have Died with Christ
Passage: Romans 5:18– 6:8
This past week, I was gifted the opportunity to go to Quetico Provincial Park in Canada with my father-in-law and brothers-in-law for a light 61 mile canoe ride where we had to carry everything. And as the map guy of the trip, I really learned the value of a good map.
A map is only as good as the story behind it half the time. I could show you the map from the trip I just went on, point to a spot on it, and tell you “This is where we camped on the fourth night.” But, that doesn’t tell the story behind having to portage over beaver dams, rowing into 50 mile an hour winds, or having to canoe at 1am where the only thing you can see is that map and the compass. A destination is just a point on the map without the route that came before it, or after it.
When preaching or teaching through Romans, it is easy to just point to topics like they are spots on the map and talk about them independently. “Here is the Law.” “Here is eschatology.” “Here is sanctification.” Isolating campsites on a map without digging into the route that connects them. Throughout this series in Romans, we have attempted to keep Paul’s route in view. Romans too often is presented as a “best of” tour of Paul’s theology, and we can miss that it was a letter with a point written to real people.
So, what has our route shown so far? Paul is addressing a split church who thinks that there are, in effect, two people of God in the church: Jews and Gentiles. In the first section of the letter, Paul spends his time leveling the playing field: you are all actually just as fallen as one another. In the second section, Paul explains that, just like both groups are fallen in the same way, both Jews and Gentiles are saved by the same method: faith. In the third section, Paul uses the story of Abraham to illustrate what this faith looks like.
Now, we have reached the middle of his argument - his hinge. In our passage for today, Paul brings forward what lies behind the faith that we have. To show this idea Paul returns to the idea of two people. The letter started with the wrong idea that there are two peoples of God, but here Paul expands that to a cosmic scale. In today’s passage, Paul is showing - not that there are two people of God - that there are two people in this world: those who die in Adam and those who live in Christ. Those are going to be our two points today as we look at how Paul is further emphasizing his central message: the church has one type of Christian throughout all ages - someone who is united to the living Christ.
Main Point 1 - Death in Adam
First we are going to look at Paul’s discussion of death in Adam. Earlier, I said that this section is like a hinge and you can even get that feel from the sentence order from 5.12-21. Paul interchanges Adam, Christ, Adam, Christ, and so on - and his argument literally pivots around this hinge.
Paul takes his argument in Romans back as far as he can in time. He goes straight to the source of all the problems we see around us. Paul goes cosmic in explanation, because our problem is cosmic in scale. Just listen to the totality of verse 12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” The scale of this problem has touched every living soul on the planet. Sin is the great social equalizer.
God created humanity “very good,” if you remember the Genesis account. Theologians have frequently used the term “upright position” to describe humanity’s created state. Adam and Eve were not created already glorified, but they were created with the ability to choose righteousness or unrighteousness. And on the day in the Garden that they decided to choose unrighteousness “dying they died.” First, they spiritually died - being cut off from the presence of God in the Garden - unable to choose righteousness on their own anymore.
And then, eventually they physically died. And if you look at verse 14 with me, I think Paul just absolutely chose the best words to describe what has happened since: “...yet death reigned…” I mean, think about what happens after Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. An animal had to die to clothe them, their first-born son murders their younger son, and then Genesis 5 is just this of “and he died.” No matter how long the person lived, no matter how many children they had, no matter the cities and farms they may have founded… “and he died.” Death had reigned on the earth.
Think about that word, “reigned,” is that not the perfect verb for what death does after the Garden? There is a reason that we have the joke that the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. Death is a cruel tyrant that reigns over everyone. It is one of the few things that every person goes through. Because of Adam’s sin - because of our sin, Paul says - there is not a person on this planet that death does not point at and say “mine.”
And that is heavy stuff - to know that from birth there is one door that we are all headed for. Humans can have two big reactions to this knowledge of mortality. First, there is the utter denial of death. Think of how far removed from death our world keeps itself. Hospitals make it so people don’t have to die in their family home. Grocery stores make it so animals can die out there, so I can have my breakfast here. Graveyards mean we can put all the dead people there and I can live my life here. By no means am I saying that hospitals and grocery stores are wrong (I am thankful that I don’t have to take the time to slaughter my food everyday), but it says something about our society’s propensity to stiff arm the idea of death… until it comes.
The other big reaction is the opposite end of the spectrum, and the one I feel pervades America especially. If the first reaction was a stiff arm, this second reaction is a bootstrap. “Well, if I am gonna die I had better make sure I pick myself up and make something out of this life.” And this can look like a lot of things. It can look like pouring yourself and everything you are into your work. Toiling day after day to make sure that you have left your impact on this place before you leave. Almost an attempt to justify your existence. Ernest Hemingway once said that, “Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name. In some ways men can be immortal.” Sometimes through our labor, we think that we can be immortal and leave something lasting; yet, “and he died” will be said after our names someday.
This can also look like a full embrace of living however you want. Living this life to the fullest, because who really cares - considering that death still reigns. “The brightest stars burn twice as fast” and all that. In a strange way, both of these are denial of death in their own subtle ways. We think that we can either make a lasting impact beyond the grave. We think that our name will last for so long that we can be immortal in the minds of others. Or we think that we can just run from reality by seeking out all kinds of other meanings for ourselves. But that door gets closer all the same.
This all might make you think, “Well, that was Adam. I don’t deserve the punishment for what he did.” But, Paul says that, in Adam, all men sinned. If you were in our covenant theology class you’ll have had this spoiled for you but - Adam represented us all in the Garden. God made a covenant with Adam “Don’t eat and you will live. Eat and dying you will die.” Adam was the representative for all humanity the day that he didn’t put a spear through the head of the serpent when he blasphemed God. Adam was the representative for all humanity the day he didn’t speak up and remind Eve about the promises of God. And certainly, Adam was the representative for all humanity the day he took that fruit and bit into it. And if we want to take the “I wouldn’t have” route, we have to remember that Adam was chosen by God to be our representative. If he would have done it, you would have done it. I would have done it.
And even more than physical death, there is spiritual death and condemnation Paul reminds us. “... one trespass led to condemnation for all men…” (v.18a). This side of the Garden, the broken Law hangs over all our heads. Paul says that “...sin is not counted where there is no law…” (v.13), but if you remember from our sermon on Romans 1 - there is enough in the natural world to show us when we break the Law. Paul says that people still died from Adam to Moses (who brought the Law), so the Law was still being broken. And if you remember from that Romans 1 sermon, the Law not just shows us our sin - in a very real way, the Law squeezes more sin out of us just to show us how sinful we are. When we are told “Thou shall not commit adultery,” the natural human response is to immediately hunt down loopholes like it is going out of style. “Well what does adultery even mean?” “What can I do, but still not commit?”
If the Law brings death and condemnation, like Paul says here, is God cruel for giving it to us? Absolutely not! The Law is our mirror to seeing how sinful we are, to seeing why death comes to disobedient people. In the ancient world, you were lucky if your god told you what they wanted. But, what we tend to do with the Law is all that I said with the bootstrap response to death. We pour ourselves into right living, to “Christianing,” to being “better.” That is how we will make up for what we have done. Trying to fix by pile up works between us and the door of death is essentially saying , “As long as I cut that sin out of my life or as long as I keep doing this I don’t deserve to die anymore.”
The Law is our mirror to seeing how sinful we are. Paul says later in Romans, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” So, think about a mirror. If I wake up tomorrow and see that something is on my face - the mirror is acting adequately. It is showing me something about myself. Now, if I took the mirror off the wall and started hitting myself in the face until the problem was fixed - the mirror is no longer acting adequately. That is not what mirrors are for. In fact, I am going to grow to hate the mirror because it is leaving me deformed. Or, we simply don’t look at the mirror, because we are afraid about what we might find.
Unfortunately, death in Adam doesn’t always look like a bad thing. Stacking up good works, working hard at your job, having fun - those things don’t look bad, and in reality aren’t bad in the right context. But, when it can’t bring life we are no different than Adam who was sent out of the Garden to work the cursed ground, toiling away under the sun, unable to reach that rest that he once had. And that has been the life of every person since our first father, Adam. Living as a descendant of Adam is death. The problem was we needed a new family tree. And who needed to hear that more than the Gentile Christians who have no family lineage to the “promised seed,” or the Jewish Christians who made too big of a deal of their family tree?
Main Point 2 - Life in Christ
That brings us to our second point, Life in Christ. Just as our problems started with our relationship to one man, our solution comes with our relationship to Another.
As I said before, we need a new identity. Living as a descendant of Adam means death in this life and death in the life to come. No amount of right living can change our identity that way. But, who does Paul say that Adam was? Look with me at the end of verse 14, “...Adam, who was a type of the one to come…” Someone was coming in the likeness of Adam that was going to fix the problem.
God gave His Son as our Second Adam. Christ came and lived the life that Adam (and we all should have lived). “Do and you shall live” hangs over the head of every human, and only in Christ was it perfectly fulfilled. Paul says in verse 19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” He did all that was required, yet He died the death that we all deserve. The door of death came before the Author of Life.
And that is the great irony of the Christian life: it begins with death. The sinless Savior died so that life could be brought as far as the curse was found. But, not only does the Christian life begin with His death, but with ours. Look at what Paul says in verse 3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The Christian life starts with looking at the cross and saying “It should have been me.” And when we acknowledge that, Paul says it is as if we were up there with Him that day on Calvary. Look at verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
That old self, the one that seeks to live past death, the one that seeks its own good above all else, the one that stacks up good works - that person was crucified with Christ. Our “body of sin” hung with Him that day in Jerusalem. For what purpose? Look at verse 7, “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” If we are sticking with the “reigning language,” you know who it is hard to be king over? Dead people. Once you have died with Christ, sin has no dominion over you anymore. Now, Christians still sin - I am not saying that we don’t. We will be sinning up to our last breath. But, the dominion of sin and death over your life is now over. Paul will get into the tension of “why do we still sin” later on, but right now he wants to be very clear: sin and death have been dethroned, because we died in Christ..
And this acknowledgement of our death in Christ is not just something that happens at conversion. This is a daily acknowledgement. As we grow as Christians, we are going to realize more and more just how much of our self is hanging on the cross. And most of the time that isn’t going to be fun, because death isn’t. As DL Moody famously said, “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it’s always trying to crawl off the altar.” There will be days when we are so thankful the sin we have struggled with for so long is hung on the cross. But, more often than not, it is the hard work of realizing all the things we used to live for are hung up there as well - all the striving for attention, all the pride and self-glorification, all the ways that we sought to make a name for ourselves. Otherwise, we are just making Jesus what we hedge our bets with. In his book, Living in Union with Christ, Grant Macaskill equates legalism to just adding Jesus to our trophy case. When, in reality, the Gospel confronts us to lay aside all of our trophies and find comfort and assurance in being one of Christ’s trophies - one of His precious possessions.
And while this daily dying and looking to the cross is not always easy, there is always hope on the back side of it. Because Christ did not stay dead, but on the third day He rose again. And that is the same hope we have at the end of our lives. Just as Adam represented us in the Garden, so too did Jesus represent us on Calvary’s tree. When we realize that we were on the tree with Christ on Calvary, we can rest assured that we will walk out of the tomb with Him in the Garden. Jesus is not just interested in putting your old self to death, He is profoundly interested in giving you a resurrected new self. God doesn’t just get us to “break even” with our sin, He promises so much more. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
How does this affect our daily life? Well this death and resurrection talk is for our daily life. Whenever we die to our sin, we know there is life and resurrection on the other side. When you ask for forgiveness, that hurts and feels like a tiny death - yet, you are allowing someone to show you grace and life. And through this process of dying to ourselves and being raised in life to God is what sanctification is all about. The Spirit uses these deaths and resurrections to make us more into the image of Christ. Like the moon does with the sun at night, day-by-day we reflect the light of Christ. And since Christ lived the perfect life, He is more perfectly human than anyone else we have ever experienced. So, through sanctification, we are actually being made more human - but human as Christ is human. Our pre-Christ hearts have disordered wants and desires - it is a false self, an incomplete self. So, as we are made more into Christ, we are becoming less like our current selves, but more like our true selves. The world tells us that what is in here is true and good and pursuing it is living up to your true self, and denying what is in here is denying your true self. But, the Gospel confronts us to die to those wants and desires and we will be given resurrected wants and desires. And even after conversion, that old self still tries to fight back. Our desires are conflicted, our wants are at war - but that is best left for Romans 7.
Verses 11, 12, and 13 have the first commandments in the whole letter. Think about that. Think about all the ground we have covered in this series, and only now does Paul give a direct command. And what is that first command? “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is telling the Romans to believe the truth that they have died to sin and now can fully live to God, in the same way that their older Brother did.
Paul starts in the head with “consider.” It is a mental acknowledgement that we have died with Christ. Then, he moves to the heart, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…” He tells them to not let sin reign and obey it, because dead people don’t do that! If we have already died to sin, how can we live in it?
And Paul lands the plane with the hand, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…” Paul has expressed a view of sanctification that affects the three main faculties of a person: their head, heart, and hands. Because, if you have died with Christ and are being resurrected day by day that means every part of you.
Before we conclude, there are three types of people I want to address with this passage. First, there may be some of you here today who are so consumed and worried by your own sin that this Good News might not be getting through. You might have faith and believe whole-heartedly in this Good News… but then that one sin creeps back into your mind and you doubt. Or, you remember the hurt you've caused, the things you have done, or the words you have said and you are so consumed with your past that you can’t even think of the future. I want you to hear the words of Paul again, “our old self was crucified with him.” If you truly believe that Christ died for your sins that you can live to God, then that “old you” is still hanging on the cross. Now, your old self is going to fight back and not go down easy. But, Christ died “once for all,” you do not have to worry about the power of your old self any more. There is not “one more thing” you have to contribute to Christ’s sacrifice.
Second, there may be some of you here today who lose sleep over the idea of death. You believe the Gospel, but you cannot shake that dread of what is coming. Or, maybe even the sinking idea of “Can I make it to the end?” I want you to know that your Savior lives. Jesus Christ knows the door of death better than any of us will, and what is true of Him will be true of us that believe in Him; namely, that the grave will not hold you forever. Death may have reigned and that door may still come, but in the words of the English poet George Herbert, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel has made him just a gardener.” If you are in Christ, death used to point at you and say “mine,” but now Christ says it much louder and death serves Him to bring you home. Death used to be the thing that separates you from God, from loved ones, and from life itself - now, death is a scalpel in the hands of the Great Physician to separate you from the Law and bring you into true life. Death in Adam is just death, death in Christ is the only way to true life.
Lastly, there may be some of you here today who are afraid to take that step toward dying to yourself - either for the first time or for the thousandth. And I want you to know the same thing as the last group - your Savior lives. Whatever sin you are dying to, whatever idol you have to give up, whatever false hope you are striving toward - Jesus stands ready to offer you Himself. Sin doesn’t have dominion over you if you have died with Christ, and He has promised to raise you on the back side of whatever lies in front of you. Stop trying to get life where it is not found, Christ offers real rest to those that turn to Him and allow themselves to die. Job knew it millenia ago when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
As I mentioned in the introduction, Paul is making a very clear line in the sand here. At the end of the day - at the end of days - , there are only two kinds of people: those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. Those in Adam think they are living by seeking their own merit, pleasure, and goodness - but are really dying. Those in Christ were no different, until they acknowledged that the cross was for us. And in that moment, they are united to their Savior in His death and resurrection.
The Roman church needed to hear that not only were they all the same in levels of fallenness, the same in method of salvation, but also the same status in the church - those who have died with Christ. The Jewish Christians needed to be exhorted to die to their “trophies” of heritage, and both groups to die to their lives before Christ.
So, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Whether today is the first time you have done that or the countless time you have had to die to yourself, God in Christ has promised to raise you on the back side of that death. And when you die in Christ and are raised with Him, He can give you the one thing that all humans since Adam have all strived for east of Eden: rest with God.
If you are a Christian, you are not your own anymore, but have died with Christ and are promised to rise with Him one day. Take comfort that you have access to true rest with God and that your toiling can end. And you can rest assured that when He comes - or in His goodness, He ushers you through that door Himself - you will see Him as He is, because you will be as He is.