15 Oct 2006

Sin and Union With Christ – Part I

By Scripture, Chapter 6, Resources, Romans No Comments

This is an exegetical sermon on Romans 6:5-7 titled, Sin and Union With Christ – Part I and explains how we can put our old self to death and find freedom from sin through the grace of Jesus. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Duane Smets Sunday, October 16, 2006 in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.


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:: the resolved international ::

:: The Resolved :: Sunday October 15, 2006

Duane Matthew Smets (elder)

Romans 6:5-7
5 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. 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

11 So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

sin & union with christ – part I
the benefits of His death

I. romans the book
II. unity to christ
III. the old self
IV. true freedom
V. the imperative


Good morning everyone. jumping right into bible study…and especially the way we do it here at the resolved…is sort of like when you wake up some mornings and your eyes are all blurry, your breath is nasty and you’re not sure where you are and how you got there and it takes a minute to adjust and for you to figure out what is going on. Each week sort of feels like that as we study the book of Romans. So the first thing I want to do this morning is to orient us to where we are in Romans because it will particularly help us understand today’s text. Then we’ll read the text, pray, and get into it.

I. Romans the book

Romans the book. Romans was originally a letter but back when it was written they treated some letters like books in that they would read and re-read and devote themselves to studying them. That is what the early church did in the first century, that is what the bible tells us to do with it in several other places and so that is why we do it here at the resolved. We are kind of old school that way.

So Romans is a book and like all books it has different sections to it. The first major section of Romans took up most of the first three chapters and it could all pretty much be summarized by two words, “you suck.” it is kind of depressing at first because you come into it thinking you don’t suck and then after realizing that God is incredibly powerful and amazingly beautiful and how everything comes from Him for our pure enjoyment but instead of being happy we are intent on doing all this crappy stuff to ourselves and to each other all the time and we ignore God, who is the one thing we need that can keeps us from being miserable. But we just can’t do it. Because we suck. We have a broken heart and cannot fix ourselves. Romans 3:11 summarizes the first few chapters well when it says, “none is righteous, not one. No one understands. No one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one.”

but half-way through chapter three, Paul, the author of Romans, starts talking about Jesus and he is the one guy who never sucked and on top of never sucking throughout his life, he takes on our suckiness as if he sucked even though he didn’t and he dies in our place because suckiness deserves to be killed. If at this point you are really tired and offended because I have said the word “suck” a thousand times I am really sorry. Everyone says I use big words all the time and I’m trying to do better with that.

But I’m going to go ahead and use a big word because it is all over Romans and we just simply need to learn it, and if you think you know it you don’t because there are layer and layers of depth to this word that will take us more than a lifetime to exhaust. the word is “justified” and is about how understanding and loving Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes us just or right with God, which makes us really happy as humans.

Okay, so up until chapter six the problem has been the penalty for sin. Sin is one of those words nobody likes because we suck and don’t see or love how amazing God’s utter holiness is so perfectly incredible. Chapters 1-3 told us that there is scary hellfire, Friday the 13th kind of unending torture, for all sinners, which is everyone. But chapters 4-5 told us that Jesus takes care of all of that for us who are his. So the penalty for sin is dealt with by Jesus Christ, so it’s not an issue any more.

Now, in chapter six up through halfway through chapter eight Paul is like, “okay then, if that’s all true then what about sin after I put my faith in Christ?” That is the section we are in where Paul is addressing why people still suck even after believing in Jesus and what to do about it.

All of chapter six sort of has this feeling or mood like Paul is sort of pissed. in verse 1 he mocking starts attacking us…”what shall we say, shall we go on sinning that grace my abound?” No way!” “Are you kidding me, are you stupid?” “yes, we are not saved by what we do, and yes, no matter how much you sin Jesus will save you but it doesn’t mean you are just supposed to be like, ‘oh well, I can’t do anything good anyway so I guess I just keep on sucking and hope everything is cool in the end.’” Chapter six is like Paul shouting, “STOP SINNING!” And then in chapter seven, he is like, “but I know how you feel and how hard it is and what you go through.”

So that is where we are in Romans. Last week Justin preached on verses 3-4 where Paul brings up baptism, which is this weird thing older cultures have done in or with water to identification with a certain belief system. In Christianity the identification is with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And I think Paul’s main idea is that such identification is a huge aid to dealing with sin in our lives and the next set of verse are going to dive deep into the significance of for us being united with the two main acts main acts of Jesus Christ, his death and his life.

So let’s read these verses and pray. “5 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. 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

God help us in the next little while to understand what is here. I pray we would understand what it means to be united to Christ death, that we would understand more about ourselves and what is going on inside of us in this life, and I pray that as a result of our understanding that we would find joy and excitement in the gospel and that our hearts would overflow with thankfulness for Jesus and adoration for our God who has given him to us. Amen.

II. Unity with Christ

I am splitting up this sermon into two because there is a lot here and because there is a difference between uniting to Jesus death and uniting to Jesus life and because I like to preach. So this week we are going to just deal with verses 5-7 and next week will be verses 8-10, and both weeks we will end with verse 11 because it is the concluding statement for what is brought up in both parts.

Verse 5, “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.” Since we are dealing with resurrection next week the main thing here for us to look in this verse is this word, “united.” He hasn’t used it yet even though he has been describing a unity with Christ through in the picture of baptism in the previous verses.

And this word “united” is an interesting word. It is a farmer’s word that means “grow together” or “engrafted.” Most all of us here are city kids who haven’t ever done any real work that didn’t involve a computer so we don’t know anything about how God’s great earth works. but grafting is when farmers cut off a piece of wood from one tree, cut open part of another, jam them together and tie it up and after awhile the two different kinds of wood will begin to grow together. The result is that you can have a tree bearing two different kinds of fruit or sometimes even a sort of hybrid type of fruit.

Now, I’m not sure if Paul had that particular picture in mind when he used this word “united.” But his driving point or theme behind all these verses is that unity with Christ is the answer to how to deal with sin in our lives which is at the bottom of every problem we have. This is really the point of the whole Bible…that everything is about Jesus.

And it might sound sort of weird and mystical, probably because it is, but Christianity really is about finding some sort of meaning and making some sort of sense of life through connecting with Jesus Christ. And that is weird and mystical because he is not around for all of us to see with our physical eyes.

John Calvin says this about it, he says there is, “a secret union, by which we are joined to him (Christ); so that he, reviving us by his Spirit, transfers his own virtue to us… (So that) we derive the vigor and nourishment of life from Christ.”

And this week we are looking particularly at the verses that say we, in some sort of secret spiritual way become united to Christ’s death. That sounds a little morbid and dark from the outset. But let’s look into Paul’s explanation of why our unity with Christ’s death is such a good thing.

Let’s re-read the first part verse 6. “6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing,”

III. The old self

What is “our old self” and what is this “body of sin?” These two things are connected. But let’s look at “old self” first. Some translations say old “man” which is just another way of trying to get at the idea of personhood or human nature here. Pop therapeutic psychology talks about “self” a lot and how you can help yourself so that you can actualize your full potential to do all that you desire. And the only time we really hear anything about the nature of man is usually some sort of reference to our animal instincts or possible heritage from apes.
But I don’t think either of those things are what Paul has in mind here because he says that this “old self” gets crucified in order that the “body of sin” be brought to nothing. So it seems that because of those three words in order that what we have is a self that is a sinful self. It is a self or a body, I don’t think he means skin bones and flesh here by “body,” but a person or self or nature that is full of sin and because of that is always inclined to sin.

And sin is a moral issue not a biological or psychological thing. Sin is not finding happiness in the person of God and what he is like. Sin is doing wrong things which make you miserable because you are not seeking God in your motives and actions. And because it is part of our self, the whole body of our person, it is like a power that operates inside of us and attaches itself to everything.

It cannot be denied. That’s why we can’t fix ourselves no matter how hard we try. The only option is for it to be done away with, for it to die. And this is the cool thing. Up until now we have only talked about Jesus dying for the penalty or consequences of our sin. But here when Paul says our old self of sin gets crucified with Christ we learn something new. We learn that not only are the penalties of sin dealt with but the power of sin gets broken. That controlling force inside our “self” that keeps us always screwing up becomes old and something new becomes possible.

It’s sort of like the padres if we imagined that there was some overall controlling force that kept them leaving men stranded on base so that they lost games and the first round of the playoffs. If that force or power could be put to death forever that would be a really good thing. We might actually be able to go to the World Series then. But our spiritual person is something way stronger and way more complicated then baseball and newness of life is what we need.

Remember verse 4 from last week which said that Jesus came and did what he did so that we could, “walk in newness of life.” Something new happens when we become united with Jesus. And that is a decisive point that happens in our lives where we hear about Jesus, we understand our situation, and something about Jesus life and his death makes sense to us and our hearts leap and are warmed by the healing balm that comes from perceiving the true reality of what he has done for us.

And at that point self, body of sin, becomes old as we realize how the physical historical act of Christ’s crucifixion dealt with our deepest spiritual dilemma. Jesus called this being born again. Paul calls it regeneration in other things he wrote. But whatever way you describe it, the point is that there is an entire change of outlook on life and you begin to find a new power and desire at work in you. And at when that happens what was before was old and everything after is new.

Now there is a tension here between how decisive and final crucifixion sounds in regards to dealing with our old continually unhappy self and why we still feel that way after seeing the beauty of Christ and believing in him. But I’m just going to sort of put that on hold for a couple minutes and we will come back to it when we look at the imperative of verse 11.

IV. True freedom

Let’s move on to true freedom. Verse 6 ends by saying that the purpose of being united with Christ is so “sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” and verse 7 continues, “For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

I’m just going to assume that “brought to nothing” means killed, made in operative, done away with, or something like that because I think the two ideas of being “enslaved to sin” and being “set free from sin” are a lot more telling of what that actually means.

now because Paul says here that Jesus died so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, notice he is at the same time saying that we have been in slavery to sin, which is why we need to be set free from it. These sound like basic ideas to me. But I know we know very little of slavery except that it is bad and it has something to do with confederate flags and black people in the south.

I’m not even really sure where to begin with slavery. I don’t think we can even begin to fathom what it would be like to be a slave, what people have gone through in that, or what it is like to be related to someone who has. And I know that slavery in the first century when the book of Romans was written could sometimes be worse and sometimes be far better than what we know of about slavery in America.

Either way I think the same basic definition applies. Here is the Wikipedia definition because the internet knows everything. “Slavery is the social and legal designation of specific persons, usually captives or prisoners (or their descendants), for the purpose of providing labor and services for the owner without the right of the slave to refuse, leave or gain compensation beyond room and board and clothing.”

In Greco-roman culture, the one Paul was writing to, the only way a slave could be freed was if their master died or let them go in which case they would drive a dowel through their ear to signify their freedom.

Okay, so what is the theology here? What is being said? Listen closely; Paul is saying that we are all slaves to sin. That is our old self. Who we are. And what we need more than anything is freedom from it. There is so much talk often about free will and how that means being able to choose between two things. Paul here is saying that we don’t have a free will, we have a sin will, an evil impulse, that we continually follow the pursuits and desires which will make us unhappy because God is not at the center of them, sin is our master. And the only answer is for it to die so that we can be set free from it.

this phrase here that the ESV bible we use translates “set free” is same word that usually translated “justified” which we have talked about so much. I think the reason they translate it “set free” here is because of it close proximity and comparison to this slavery issue and the word “justified” is a courtroom word meaning made right or just before a judge and when that happens you are free to go. So I think it is an okay translation, but knowing that it comes from the word “justify” brings up an important theological point. And if you don’t get this, that’s okay, but some of you will and I want to challenge your thinking.

To be justified is to be declared innocent. But here the issue is the transformation of behavior. So what is the connection? I think Jonathan Edwards helps us out here well. Amy and I were up in orange county a few weeks ago to hang out with Josh and Meagan here, josh is in seminary at Talbot where Justin and I graduated from and he got in a conversation with someone about this issue of our human will and he asked me a question and I answered by trying to quote what Jonathan Edwards says.

here it is, “God, in the act of justification, which is given on a sinner’s first believing, has respect to perseverance, as being virtually contained in that first act of faith…(so that) future acts are beheld as yet only in God’s own promise.” Edwards point is that when God justifies, he ensures a transformation of behavior, and that behavior will be the fruit of the believer’s continual receiving of the benefits of justification. Okay, so I feel really nerdy after saying that, but I love it, and hopefully it helps a few of you.

But let’s wrap up this section. To be free is to be uninhibited, without constraint, it is to be able to do what you are made to do. The Bible’s story is that we are made to glorify God, which means by enjoying Him. But nobody is free. Nobody does that. From birth we are unhappy and do wrong things because our wills are all bound by sin. True freedom is being free to do what we were made to do without power of sin messing us up. Freedom is not the ability to choose between two things but rather to have the shackles come off our wrists.

Reformation day is coming up and the father of the reformation, Martin Luther, wrote a book called “the bondage of the will.” Oh how true that phrase is. Our wills are bound, enslaved by sin, and need to be freed, and that only comes through being united with Christ’s death.

V. the imperative

Let’s conclude and talk about the imperative. An imperative is a command. The biggest thing I struggle with as a preacher is application so I am really excited that there is one right here in our text today. In verse 11 Paul tells the Christian exactly what to do.

Let’s read it but before we do I want to ask a question. What about the person who isn’t a Christian. All of this relates to their life, but how are they supposed to come to believe and understand all this stuff? And do they really need to?

Here is what I think. I think it takes time and friendship. Especially in a culture that has been so abused by supposed Christians who have rammed a rules religion down everyone’s throats for so long. It’s going to take a lot for us to win over our friends. But we gotta have friends who are not Christians. We gotta be on mission. We are not into creating some lame Christian club. Don’t get me wrong because I want this church to continue to grow. But I’m not after just trying to get all the Christians in town to come see that we have a cool church. No the church is out there. It is the people we don’t know yet who haven’t heard how great the gospel really is. And we have to go our there and get that church.

But what about the Christian? All the stuff in these verses is past tense. “Our old self was crucified” and the “one who has died has been set free from sin.” All that kind of talk sounds very final, but I don’t feel that. I still feel struggle with sin all the time. Why? And what I am I supposed to do about it?

Here is the imperative, the command of verse 11. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” There is a key word here that helps us out a lot in the answer to our questions and it is the word, “consider.”

To consider is to ponder, to think, to contemplate, to take into account. It is an action of the mind. And here the action the mind is supposed to take is to consider the spiritual reality of our union with Jesus Christ. Paul knows his own sin and knows that sin still domineers most Christian’s lives, so his answer is to turn to Christ. To think about him. Think about who he is and what he has done. How he died on the cross in human history and what he accomplished for us spiritually in that act. Before humanity only knew slavery to sin but in Jesus we have seen one who was not and who gives us his acts of freedom.

The reason we have to consider is because we live in between two periods of time, the period of death from Adam the first human, and the period of life from Christ. And right now they overlap, but an end is coming, but that is next week when we talk uniting with Christ and his resurrection.

But this week is considering ourselves dead to sin. How does this work? Because we are emotional beings and we feel a lot and when you are in a moment when you feel so much it seems so difficult to respond or be the right way and so we think stupid thoughts and make bad decisions. C.S. Lewis talks about this in his book “Surprised By Joy,” in it he is discussing anger but I think what he says applies to all passion and to using the mind to deal with battling sin. Listen to what he says.

“The surest means of disarming anger… [is] to turn your attention from the insult and start examining the passion itself. [Likewise] the surest way of spoiling a pleasure [is] to start examining your satisfaction. In introspection we try to look ‘inside ourselves’ and see what is going on. but nearly everything that was going on a moment before is stopped by the very act of our turning to look at it…” he goes on to say that joy is what we all long for and that “in the deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self” and that joy is found in no appearances but only in “the absolute, which is utter reality.” it is these things he says that “compel us” and “plumb the depth of divine mercy.” [For] the hardness of God is kinder than the softest of men, and his control is our liberation.”

Let’s conclude. I think there are two things here that are the hardest to getting our minds around. First, is the idea of being united to the death of someone else. And second, is simply why we still have to deal with sin if the gospel is really true. Those things are hard even though I’ve tried my best to be faithful to the bible and to give good answers to those questions.

when it comes down to it, I just believe that Jesus is real and the whole thing just makes sense to me more than any other philosophy or religion and besides that I like it a lot, it’s a really happy idea. And as far as still having to deal with sin, I know that something has changed in me in the past that has slowly affected me along the way because I find myself having different desires and they are desires that don’t come naturally. And I guess the gospel just shines more brightly that way, when it works through time and pain and struggle instead of just making us all perfect over night. And I like that and I long for the future.

Let’s pray

God you are a genius in the plan of salvation that you have laid out for us. Thank you Jesus for living and dying and rising and enabling us to unite with you so that the power of sin in our lives can be broken. I pray for everyone here that you would grant their minds great ability to consider who you are and what you have done and that such mental exercise would be a great aid to their spiritual lives. God we long for freedom from our bound wills and so we ask for more of Christ’s life to be imparted to us. Grant us the grace we need. Through your body and blood here at this table we come both to confess and to receive. You are a wonderful savior. We give of our earned money into this box as an act of worship and thanks for all that you are and have done. Help this church to spend your money wisely on your kingdom. Advance your mission of the gospel in this city and beyond. Amen.

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