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Some notes from the 2024 Bible conference
Dead to Sin, Alive to Christ
January 6, 2024
First study - Delivered from the power of sin | Second study - Made servants of righteousness
Third study - Christ is our life
In the book of Romans we learn how God addresses the problem mankind has with our sins. As a judge, He makes a declaration that we can be justified by faith and by grace. We enjoy justification and then also peace with God (Romans 5:1).
But then, in Romans 5:12, we learn that sin is still ruling. This is a different problem. And God solved this problem by taking sin itself to court and condemning it (see Romans 8:3). In Romans 6 and 7 we learn by principle and by experience that God has dealt not only with our sins but with sin itself.
Here in Romans 6, the chapter begins with a question: "What shall we say then?" Based on the grace of chapter 5, should we continue sinning so that grace seems more glorious? Since grace overcomes sin, why does it matter if I keep sinning? Clearly, it is not God's intent for us to do so. Sin dishonors God, and we certainly care about that.
Grace revealed a different Man, Christ Jesus (Romans 5:19-21). Adam was the prominent man until Christ, and he did not do us any good; but we need that one obedient Man.
We realize that Romans explains the gospel to believers. Sins are forgiven, but they are only the fruit of the tree. The root of the tree needs to be dealt with too; and the root is sin. If we wonder why we keep going back to a sin even as a believer, it's because we haven't realized that God has also done something about the root. And this is necessary because God wants Christ to be displayed in our lives, not our old selves.
For sins, the answer is the blood, and we are justified. For sin, the answer is the cross, and we are sanctified. In Romans 5 we learn that we have a new head; in Romans 6, a new master; and in Romans 7, a new husband.
The text in Romans 6 begins this teaching by telling us that there has already been a death. We are "dead to sin." We often remember that we once were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), but this is something different. At the moment we were saved, we were linked with Christ's death in a unique way. We were baptized into the death of Christ. Water baptism symbolizes that we have already been spiritually identified with His death.
Water baptism does not cause us to die with Christ. No unbaptized Christian can say, "That didn't happen for me yet." All Christians have died with Christ. On the other hand, the first Christians were often baptized with water almost immediately after their conversion! It's an important step in a Christian's life, although we often give the impression that one must wait for some period of time first.
Therefore, the teaching of this passage is not that sin is dead-- for it is not-- but that we have spiritually died to sin. A dead person cannot be told to sin at all. Sin has no power over someone who is dead. We might commit sins, but sin itself can no longer claim to control us as it did before we were Christians. Also, notice the emphasis on Christ's death. It's His death into which we have been placed.
The picture of the Red Sea is often used to show that Christ has died for us. His death delivers us from our enemies. And then, at the Jordan River, we see that we have died with Him. This teaching comes from the fact that Joshua placed twelve stones (representing all the people) at the bottom of the river where the ark of the covenant stood; and then twelve more stones were carried out of the river to the opposite shore (Joshua 4:8-9).
We don't see our heavenly position with Christ emphasized in Romans 6, but we are certainly told that we should walk in newness of life. The risen Christ was still on earth for some days, but He was different. We are still living on the earth too, but we are different!
The aspect of burial is important too. In the Scriptures, burial shows several things. First, it proves that death really happened; and second, it puts that which is dead out of God's sight. Third, people often spoke about being buried with others of their family, so burial conveys a sense of identification. And fourth, burial has the idea of being "planted" (v. 5) and awaiting resurrection.
We have died with Christ. This is a declared fact, whether we feel it to be true or not. The text also says that "our old man" (v. 6) was crucified with Christ.
It's evident that someone who is crucified is rendered completely incapable of doing anything. The one who is crucified might still be alive, but he cannot do anything. This is the picture to remember if the old man has been crucified with Christ. We can say that the old man refers to what we were in Adam. It is "our old man," meaning that it's a collective idea, and we all were seen in that old man. But God took that old man and crucified him.
We are also dead to sin (v. 11). We could say that this is the principle that operates under the influence of the old man. But that principle cannot tell us what to do anymore because we are dead to it.
We might hear the term "the old nature." The Scriptures don't use that exact phrase, and perhaps the old nature can be linked with the flesh that is still in us. Yet also the flesh is crucified, according to Galatians 5:24. The emphasis in Galatians is the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.
While there are various aspects to all these terms, the key message is freedom (v. 7)! The references to baptism and crucifixion (as well as circumcision in Colossians 2:11) all mean the old has come to an end.
The practical application, then, is that we should "reckon" ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ. This is an important word. It is an accounting term meaning that we have assessed the value of what we have. Often we emphasize these things to young people; but notice that the apostle does not tell young people to pay extra attention here! We all need this. In the Scriptures, how many of those who failed were mature, experienced believers? There were many.
If we are justified and forgiven, then the shackles are off; but if we reckon ourselves to be dead to sin, then we get out of the cell because we know the shackles are off.
Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), but also He died to sin as we have here (v. 10). This He did only once, and now there is freedom. The entire sphere where sin existed is now the sphere where we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
May we be gripped by the fact that Adam is gone! I don't want his features to be seen but rather the features of Christ.
In that context, we present ourselves to God, and we present our bodies as tools for Him to use in righteousness. First there is knowing (v. 3); we have to understand the facts that are taught. Then there is reckoning (v. 11), when we accept that the facts are really true. After that, there is yielding (v. 13) as we acknowledge that we have a new Master.
It's a God-centered perspective. We are alive to God (v. 11) and present ourselves to Him as those who are alive (v. 13). And later, in Romans 8, we learn that the Holy Spirit Himself empowers us to live victoriously in all these aspects.
As we turn to Romans 6:14, we find that sin's dominion and rule has been taken away. How is this done?
Grace provides the first part of the answer to that question. We are used to law. The world itself operates on that principle, telling us all the things to do and not to do. Religion also operates on that principle. But law allows sin to continue having dominion over us; by the law is the knowledge of sin. The law is not the problem. We are the problem because we cannot keep the law. In contrast, the biblical view tells us that Someone great has shown grace.
We might choose to go back to our old master by presenting our members as servants to obey him. But the law can't tell us what to do anymore. We are in the atmosphere of grace, and therefore we are not responding to laws and requirements. It's a matter of obedience and yielding instead.
The general principle is found in verse 16: If we ever present ourselves as willing to obey someone, we immediately become that person's servants. And the great contrast is between sin and obedience. This is not hyperbole. There are literally only two choices.
We notice that obedience is not from the intellect but from the heart, the motives (v. 17); and we are delivered to the form, or imprint, of teaching. This teaching is not a specific set of information but rather the concept of teaching itself. Teaching is the yardstick or basis for our response to yield ourselves as servants of righteousness.
The intellect does not promote this response. Under law, your mind tells you to obey so you don't get punished; but under grace, your heart tells you to obey because you want to be like Christ. And obedience is more of an attitude than an action; it's the attitude of "hearing under" or "learning under," as the Greek word for obedience might be translated.
Doctrine, or teaching, is our communication from God. We only have communication with Him, accepting what He says as fact and then living it out.
Moreover, the grace of God calls us to a higher standard than the law. We see this in Matthew 5-7, when the Lord Jesus repeatedly gave greater standards of behavior than the letter of the Law of Moses.
In verse 19, Paul acknowledges that he is using human terms to explain what it means to be bondservants. He uses them because of the weakness of our flesh. This is not a reference to the sinful flesh but simply to the inability of human understanding. It's puzzling to think about both freedom and servitude at the same time. But the apostle Paul uses these terms to explain these points.
And then we learn that there will always be a harvest. If we plan lawlessness, that's exactly what we get; but righteousness produces a crop of greater value, one of sanctification. This is holiness. We are not any longer like everyone else.
Adam was to have dominion over nature but became a slave to the devil. In another sense, Adam left his position as a servant of God because the devil tempted him to become his own master-- and this brought him into servitude instead. As the Lord Jesus said, "Whoever commits sin is a servant of sin," but He, the Son will set us free (John 8:34-36).
It's puzzling to us to think that servitude is good; but in the Bible, true servitude is always from love. Consider the example of the Hebrew servant in Exodus 21, who remained a servant forever because he loved his master, his wife, and his children.
We surely would desire the atmosphere of that kind of servitude! The contrast is death, bondage, and shame. Are these the things we want?
Grace comes first; and then we have freedom to serve. The wages of sin is death, and we notice that the context here is not mainly the gospel but a reminder to the believer that we should refuse to serve those things any longer. Instead, the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this chapter we move into a heavenly atmosphere. We seek those things that are above. In Philippians 3, Paul had written of his desire to know Christ. We don't want the characteristics of the old man any longer.
We are complete in Him, as Colossians 2:10 tells us. If we have died with Him, why would we submit ourselves any longer to the ordinances of the world? This is the teaching of the verses in Colossians that lead up to chapter 3.
We have an emphasis on "the Christ" in this chapter. We are united with Him, the Anointed One who is the Man of God's pleasure. We are raised into that atmosphere with Him. In the example of the prodigal son (Luke 15), he enjoyed all the things in his father's house once he was brought inside.
What does it mean to seek the things that are above? If we are seeking something, we are making it a priority. We have a certain mindset (v. 2) that helps us discern what has lasting value. We don't set our minds on earthly things.
We can add that earthly things are not even sinful things by themselves. Worldly things are always sinful. They are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Earthly things might simply be the ordinary responsibilities of life. But if we allow our minds to rest on those earthly things, they become a distraction (and can then become sinful). The heavenly things are eternal.
Christ is at the right hand of God, where angels are subject to Him (1 Peter 3:22); and thus we see that one feature of heavenly things is an attitude of submission. Further, we can say that all heavenly things are going to be seen from God's perspective. The prayer of Paul in Colossians 1 forms part of that perspective-- having the knowledge of His will, for example.
One day He will be manifested, and we will be manifested with Him in glory. But there is a display of Christ that is possible right now! That's the display of His character in these features which follow. It's the display of the new man, this life of ours that is hidden in Christ.
In the Greek language, the commands in this passage are stated in the past tense, as if they are only done once. "Put to death... put off... put on... put on" (vv. 5, 8, 10, 12). We are to live each day with the attitude that these things have already been done. We live as if they are already true. On the other hand, the new man is "renewed in knowledge," and this is present tense. Every day we are renewed to live out the truths that have already been accomplished.
This passage describes the clothes of the Christian. In addition, the text says, "Let the word of the Christ dwell in you." This refers to everything that characterized the Lord Jesus as God's chosen one. That is what should dwell in us.
It should be a delight! Nationality is gone; religion is gone; class and culture are gone (v. 11); and then the life of Christ is displayed. Our internal motives and external behavior will feature the image of the One who created it.
The headship of Christ is emphasized in Colossians, and these features will flow from the Head right into the body.
Unfortunately we often shortchange the very practical, daily application of these things. We should be kind; we should be meek; we should be humble. Are we? We are told that all things should be done in the name of Christ Jesus, giving thanks to our God and Father. How much we need to live up to this calling!
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Ruth 1:16-17; 4:22
These verses perhaps form a little capsule of the teaching in Romans 6 and Colossians 3. The book opens with famine, failure, and death; yet it ends with David! It's as if the entire book is pointing the way out of those dark conditions so we can get to Christ.
Ruth was identified with Naomi, just as we are identified with Christ (and as we should live in practical experience). Ruth had a desire to follow. She was not preoccupied with others.
Then Ruth declared, "Your people shall be my people." There is nothing like being with God's people! Ruth added, "And your God shall be my God." All of God's ways are included in this. Are we rejecting Him or following Him?
We also have the statement, "Where you die, I will die." This reminds us of the truths we had in the conference: We have died with Christ. But further, "Where you are buried, I will be buried." It's as if Ruth already knew about her own death; and burial was going to be a proof of it. I have died to sin and to the world, and all of that is going to be put out of sight.
Let us be real before God. And as we embrace these truths, God brings David before us (4:22). Just as the Book of Ruth closes with David, so we are writing a book every day-- and are we closing the book called "Today" with our own thoughts of the True David?
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