"Death by sin," "sin dead," etc.
The terms "sin" and "sins" stand related to death in scripture under various forms of expression which may be thus enumerated:
"Death by sin."
"Dead in sins."
"Dead to sins."
"Dead to sin."
"Dead because of sin."
As the clear understanding of the bearing of these expressions must contribute considerably to the intelligent apprehension of the word, as well as to the practical effect of the truth upon the walk and practice of the believer, it is proposed to consider them separately, in the connection in which they are found in the word of God.
The first expression -
"Death by sin."
is found in Rom. 5:12. The thought in connection with it is simple, and is expressed in the same epistle in two other forms, viz.: verse 21, of the same chapter, "sin hath reigned unto death"; and again, chap. 6:23, "the wages of sin is death." Very early in man's history God announced to the first man, while on probation in the garden of Eden, when forbidding to him the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." This was the earliest intimation given by God of the attachment of the judgment of death, as the penalty of sin. It is the universally accepted, fundamental doctrine held by Christendom generally, as constituting orthodoxy, that the judgment of death, carrying with it punishment in a future state, has been irrevocably attached by God to sin. We may therefore pass on to the consideration of the next expression, which some may possibly view with surprise as occurring at all in the word of God, viz.: -
Nevertheless it can be found in Rom. 7:8 - "without the law sin (was) dead."
Christendom is familiar with the idea, as that towards the attainment of which every spiritual effort is to be made. What more laudable or plausible object to endeavour to effect, than to reach a state or condition of spiritual life, in which sin has, through a process of attenuation, enforced by power within, lost all vitality and, as "dead," no longer harasses with its hated energy and loathsome fruit.
But is this the meaning that the spirit of God attaches to the term, which is of His own dictation to the apostle Paul? In strange contrast, it is almost startling to discover that the expression represents, according to the mind of God, a wholly unconverted state. In proof of this the context must be carefully examined. The apostle has been, in verse 7, treating of the means by which sin, unsuspected as to its presence before, is detected. "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Then at the close of verse 8 he says "without the law sin (was) dead," which must be read in the further light of the succeeding verse, with which there is evidently a direct connection. "For I was alive without (or apart from) the law once"; words plainly descriptive of the time when conscience had not as yet been crossed by the authoritative voice of God's holy demands, and righteous threatenings; i.e., when he was in complete unconsciousness of sin within, as a living, irresistible energy of evil - like a bather dreamily drifting with the current, the force of which, while thus floating down with it, it is not possible that he can be sensible of, since he is, temporarily, absolutely identified with it. Every movement of that current is his movement; to him its living energy is but a dead and unknown quantity. But while thus listlessly enjoying the passing moments, a voice from the bank reaches him, with earnest, authoritative warning as to the falls that lie hidden from view, towards which the treacherous current is surely carrying him. And now what? Put again into terms of scripture "when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." The warning being heeded, listlessness is banished in a moment. The swimmer, alarmed by his suddenly discovered danger, endeavours, by straining every muscle, to make headway against the tide that so lately carried him, perfectly undisturbed, on its bosom; its living energy he has now become perfectly conscious of; it lives in irresistible power for him now. "When the commandment came sin revived," and with that the sentence of death, for self-effort is proved to be all unavailing, "and I died."
"Sin dead" is consequently descriptive of that careless, unconverted state, in which the sinner is so absolutely identified with the old nature, as to be perfectly unconscious of its true character and energy; from which the voice of a holy God seeks to arouse to earnestness, by warning with divine authority of impending danger.
For the third expression quoted, viz.:
"Dead in sins."
we must turn to Ephesians 2:5 when we were dead in sins." This term expresses the divine estimate of those whose spiritual condition has been previously described in the words "sin dead." For God, such are "dead in sins." This constitutes the initial condition which the epistle to the Ephesians introduces man as being in before God, in contrast to the condition brought out so clearly in the early part of Romans, viz., guilty as living in sins. (Rom. 3:19.) The latter tells of responsibility, failure, and justification through grace, faith, and the blood of Christ, presented on the mercy seat; the other of lifeless state Godward, bringing in the necessity, if any divine purposes of grace are to be accomplished, of quickening, i.e., of giving life. (Eph. 2:5.)
These three terms thus bring out very solemnly man's threefold condition. Firstly, as the slave of sin under the judgment of death. Secondly, perfectly unconscious of the irresistible energy of the nature of perfect evil by which he is dominated within. Thirdly, absolutely dead as to any germ of life for God, in His divine estimate; but once and above all, sovereign grace and power supreme, under which the judgment of death is borne by another, the active living energy of sin is brought to the consciousness of the one in whom "sin (was) dead;" and those who were dead in sins were quickened together with Christ by divine power.
The next expression,
"Dead to sins."
which may be found in 1 Peter 2:24, together with the two following, directs attention, not - as the former ones - to the natural man in estrangement from God but, to the believer in his practical relation to God of holiness. It is of moment to note the force of the word "dead" here, which is not at all that of the word already considered.* In the former sense it will be readily admitted that the word could not be applied to sins which, in themselves, have no existence (as sin in the nature has), apart from actual commission: hence "dead," as we have considered it, to what has been actually committed would remain without any intelligent meaning. The actual meaning of the word translated "dead" in this passage is rather "done with," in the sense of non-committal, or refusing: the appropriate relation of the believer to sins.
*Nor, indeed, is it the same word in the original as that used in the other five terms.
The suffering of the Lord on account of sins is the subject from verses 21 to 24, on which the apostle founds a powerful and touching appeal to the believer no longer to continue in those things which entailed unfathomable depths of suffering and sorrow upon the blessed Lord, but rather to have done with them.
This constitutes the practical answer in holiness of the believer to the grace of the Lord Jesus, who became his Substitute, bearing his "sins in His own body on the tree." The grace and sufferings of Christ become the powerful motives for forsaking sins.
Our next term,
"Dead to sin."
which occurs in Romans 6:2 and 11, though identical, save as to one letter, with the last, embraces a totally different thought, and one of extreme importance rightly to apprehend; "sin" being in this connection the evil nature, not the acts. This will be apparent from the context, if it be carefully examined. In verse 6 we read, "That henceforth we should not serve sin"; in verse 12, "Let not sin therefore reign"; in verse 14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you." These expressions clearly indicate the contrast between sins that are committed, and sin that seeks to dominate. It is in connection with this latter that the expression "dead to sin" occurs.
Two things are of immense importance to note here. Firstly, that "dead indeed unto sin" in the 11th verse is an assumed relation or attitude towards sin, not a substantive fact, of which sin is the subject, accomplished in the believer at any time. Secondly, that this verse is linked, as a direct parallel, with the verse immediately preceding. The first point will become clear by emphasizing the words "reckon ye . . . yourselves to be"; the second by emphasizing the words "Likewise . . . also."
It is not too much to say that these are cardinal points of extreme importance.
Tracing the apostle's argument down to the 10th verse, it will be apparent that the subject treated of is Christ, not dying, or bearing judgment, but in actual death, and the believer's identification, by faith and the power of the Spirit with Him, as dead; the substantive fact being that Christ has died.
One little preposition, inserted not without divine purpose, determines this; viz., "with," which occurs three times - verse 4, "Buried with Him by baptism into" (i.e. unto) "death"; verse 6, "Our old man is crucified with Him"; and again, verse 8, "If we have died with Christ" (New Translation). It thus becomes distinctly characteristic of the apostle's explanatory reply to the question raised in the second verse, "How shall we, that have died to sin, live any longer therein?" which involves the further question, "How have we died?" Bearing, then, these two points in mind; viz., the death of Christ, and our identification with Him before God in His death, appropriated by the believer by faith, the climax of Paul's divine reasoning is reached in verse 10: "In that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God."
A Christ in death, with whom before God the believer is identified, is a Christ dead to sin, as having, in that death, ended for ever all connection and association with it. He not only died FOR our sins, as in the early part of Romans, but He died TO sin, as one who loses his life FOR another also dies TO all that with which he stood connected in life. Hence, as divinely parallel, the believer, being identified with Christ's death, his relation to sin within is set forth in the words, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." Christ's attitude in death to sin becomes, by virtue of the believer's identification with Him in death, his attitude morally, but in the form of an assumed relation; i.e., reckoning himself dead, the only divine, legitimate sequence to having died with Christ. * This, practically carried out, involves not responding to, or obeying, the nature which seeks to dominate. This is the substance of the apostle's further communication, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." (v. 12.) "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead" (v. 13); i.e., after the pattern of one raised up from death, and now energized only by what is of God, and not of sin within.
*And essentially needs the Spirit's power to enable him to do so effectually.
It is well to point out that there is a danger to which a general interpretation of this passage, instead of the simple application of its divine terms, will inevitably lead, and into which many earnest souls, actuated by the best and truest desires, have fallen; viz., that of engrossing occupation with the words "dead indeed unto sin" apart from the divinely-qualifying words, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be." This error tends directly to the conclusion that a substantive, inward condition of death, or deadness, is attainable - a condition necessarily connected with the evil nature; and the doctrine built upon this issues in that of holiness through the death of sin within, by the attainment of which the question of the domination of sin, and how to meet it, is to be permanently solved - a condition in which sin is dead.
But we have already seen, in considering our second term, that "sin dead" is an unconverted state, as estimated by God in His word; hence, it could not be His desired aim for His own. If scripture is allowed its own simple force, it will be learned, with divine relief to the exercised soul, that liberty is found in reckoning oneself, as to any practical obedience, dead to that which will not, and does not, die,* the evil nature remaining in itself unaffected and unaltered, as may be experienced by yielding obedience to it at any moment.
*"The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Romans 8:7.)
This brings us to the last of this series of terms; viz.,
"Dead because of sin."
as found in Romans 8:10, "But if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin."
Further light is furnished here as to what it is that is to be held as dead to sin, the complete sentence indicating the body as that which is so to be accounted. But this carries us back to Romans 6:12, in which the "mortal body" is viewed as being no longer the servant of sin - "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body." Sin is here assumed to be that which lives, not dies, since it endeavours to dominate - "reign." Hence the "mortal body" necessarily becomes that which is to be accounted dead, in accordance with verse 11. In the full Christian status of liberty, the apostle consequently speaks definitely - "The body is dead because of sin."
As another has said, commenting on Romans 6:10, 11, "Christ being in us our life, we reckon even now our body to be dead."*
* Synopsis on Romans. 3rd edition, revised. J. N. Darby.; p. 165.
Deliverance having been already experimentally treated of in chapter 7 as to soul exercises in self-knowledge, which, in a more or less modified form, invariably precede the practical appropriation of chapter 6, the 8th chapter - deliverance being known - opens with viewing the believer as "in Christ," and proceeds further to bring out, that full Christian position in liberty is characterized by Christ being in the believer by His Spirit. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (not of Him); i.e., the full position of the Christian is not his, though he may be on the way. "But if Christ be in you the body is dead because of sin." This clearly involves the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, with consequent title to the supreme control of the body, in contrast to the domination under which it lay as controlled by the nature - sin. In. perfect harmony with Romans 6 we learn here that the body, which is to be accounted dead to sin, is intended, in full liberty, to be energised by the Spirit of God. "The Spirit is life because of righteousness." It is not maintained that this can be carried out in permanent perfection, but that, in the measure in which divine principles are acted on, the believer is practically, as temptation arises, freed from the actual rule of sin, and can thus be, in liberty, subject to the Spirit instead; the result being that the blessed fruit of the Spirit is yielded. "Against such there is no law."
This is divine fulness of liberty, which, in all its details, is treated of in chapter 8.*
*With reference to Romans 6:6, "That the body of sin might be destroyed," it may be well to say that the "body of sin" is the totality of sin in its dominating energy; but "our old man is crucified with Him" (Christ) "that the body of sin" (that dominating energy) "might be annulled" - destroyed being wholly an incorrect translation - "that we should not serve sin." The clause consequently confirms the apostle's argument by announcing the full judgment of "our old man," upon which is based the reckoning of ourselves dead. (See also Romans 8:3.)
The characteristics, then, of these three last terms are: First, having done with sin; secondly, accounting oneself dead to sin; thirdly, the body - that which is to be held for dead to sin, and energized by the Holy Spirit, for fruit in righteousness. These six expressions consequently group themselves into two classes; viz., the first three descriptive of man under the power of darkness; the second three descriptive of man under the influence of light - conditions' described in Ephesians 5:8, in the words, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."
Well for us if we profit by the apostolic exhortation that follows, "Walk as children of light." M. C. G.