Death With Christ

Notes of an address on Romans 6:1-11.

W. J. Hocking.

1913 332 The verses which I have now read give us instruction with regard to our manner of life as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will at once be noticed that this instruction is not set out in the form of a detailed code which we are required to observe. There is no list here specifying the various conditions of our conduct. Indeed we shall look in vain in the New Testament for such particulars.

This feature of the New Testament is in contrast with the Old Testament where we find the duties of life specified perfectly and precisely, and the Jew could with comparatively little difficulty discover what religious ordinances he was required to observe. But in the later and the last revelation the will of God in respect of His worshippers is differently expressed. The duties of a believer are not now furnished to him in definitely prescribed formulae. In other words, he is not, like the Israelite in regard to his sacrifices, commanded to do this in the morning, that in the afternoon, and something else in the evening.

The followers of Christ are now provided with principles of action in lieu of precise rules. These principles enter more deeply into the marrow of our lives than the Mosaic regime did. They are matters of consideration for the heart and for the conscience, and they make it necessary that we should pay careful heed to our ways if we desire, as we surely ought to do, to comport ourselves in a manner well-pleasing to God.

Indwelling Sin

Here in this sixth chapter of Romans we have one particular principle with regard to the life of the believer and with regard to that part of the sincere believer which sooner or later causes him serious anxiety by its undesirable activity. The fact which underlies this portion of the Epistle is the continuous presence of sin within the believer. For that is but a foolish dream which supposes that the child of God may in this world arrive at a state of "no sin." It is merely a baseless notion to imagine that there are some persons who live in this world as if they were in heaven, and who are altogether unaffected by any evil influences from without or from within. Any persons who assume to be in such a condition of perfection grossly deceive themselves (1 John 1:8-10).

The subject of this chapter therefore comprehends a great practical question, and one which for its vital importance should be fully faced. The apostle brings forward the evil principle of sin within the believer under the figure of a tyrant who seeks to exercise supreme control over the person in antagonism to righteousness and divine holiness. Alongside the description of the tendencies of this opposing power, the truth of the mastership and authority of God is developed.

For help in the exposition of this section we may conveniently entitle this chapter "The Two Masters," just as a suitable title for the latter part of the previous chapter would be "The Two Heads." There we have set out, in the way of contrast, that which, as to origin, is Christ's and also that which is Adam's. From our first parents we derive our sinful nature as an inalienable inheritance. This is the first family, the family of human nature; but there is another family, of which Christ is the head; and as a matter of actual experience the honest and enlightened believer discovers that in spite of his new position in the second family, sin itself as an active force is still present within him.

Sin and Sins

In the former part of this Epistle (Rom. 1 — 5:11), the effects of sin in debasing the human family are expatiated upon, and the means, divinely introduced, of justification for the guilty. This portion deals with sinful deeds, overt actions, the specific acts which are offensive before a holy God; and from such offences none are exempt. But peace with God is shown to be the possession of the believer since the Lord Jesus Christ has secured justification for those who believe God — those who "believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:24, 23).

But in the sixth chapter the subject of offences, the evil things done, is not treated, but rather the question how these things arise in the history and experience of the child of God. Why are there evil tendencies present in the heart of an earnest Christian? How is it that sin springs up contrary to desire within such a person?

That such distressing anomalies do occur is the practical experience of every person who follows Christ, devotedly follows Him perhaps through persecution and tribulation. In spite of our sorrow that such things should arise, and of our earnest desire to be preserved therefrom, evil obtrudes itself even into our most solemn occupations. We find that unholy thoughts spring up, uninvited and unwelcome, apart from any conscious influence around us. They arise from within, from indwelling sin.

How strange this condition of things appears in a person who has tasted of the grace of God and who is persuaded that Christ died for his sins, and who has confessed His name before the world! Many Christians are confronted with this difficulty in their own experience to their own consternation and grief. Often the person fails to find a satisfactory solution of this problem. He seeks perhaps an explanation in the literature and philosophies of the world, or in the wisdom and experience of his friends, but he is unable to discover any clue to the mystery why he finds himself perpetually doing what he hates to do.

It seems only natural and right to assume that if a person loves the Lord he will also love to do His will. And in seeking to do that will, if he does not at first succeed, he will by perseverance improve on the second and third attempts, and so eventually overcome the susceptibilities of his heart to evil.

But such is not the experience of those who are faithful before Him who searches the hearts, as to the results of their efforts at self-conquest. The light of God manifests themselves to themselves. Even in their prayers and in their praises the inward evil intrudes. Some thereupon resort to stern measures to eradicate these unholy tendencies; they seek to choke them, to overcome them, to live them down. But in this self-imposed contest with the sinful nature they find themselves worsted again and again.

Such struggles with self therefore will in practice prove to be in vain. If there should seem sometimes to be a victory it is only a momentary one. The root of sin has not been extirpated nor even weakened. And all efforts to destroy it by fasting or by rigorous torture of the body also fail. Seclusion within four walls and regular series of protracted devotional exercises are likewise ineffectual to expel the inward evil.

Indifference to Sin

Such an experience of failure, sometimes, when the doctrine of scripture on this subject is ignored, leads to a reaction to a dangerous acquiescence in this state of things as if it were both inevitable and unavoidable. It is then assumed that the presence and activity of sin is not to be regarded as a serious matter. A man argues thus: "If I cannot rid myself of the sin within me it cannot be helped, and I need not be anxious; God is gracious; His love is infinite; the sacrifice of Christ is efficacious for all things; my conduct as a believer is not a subject of grave concern; everything will be righted in, the end."

Now this Epistle utterly condemns such a spirit of license, and at the same time affords the real solution of this practical problem of Christian life. Here it is declared that where sin abounded so profusely there grace exceeded in abundance: "Where sin abounded there did grace much more abound, that even as sin reigned unto death, even so grace reigned through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." So that inasmuch as sin overwhelms man in direst disaster, grace more than meets this condition of abject servitude, since it exceeds all the sum of evil in the whole world. We are to believe therefore that God's grace is superior to all sinful influences that assail the believer, and must therefore lead to triumph. Only the practical victory may not be gained except by warfare on lines approved by scripture.

The fact, however, is made clear that this eventual triumph of grace must not be abused to condone present licence. The apostle asks the question: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Let it not be. How shall we that are dead to sin continue any longer therein?" (vers. 1, 2). The habitual practice of sin by a believer is an utter denial of the delivering power of God. The concurrent reign of sin and grace is incompatible with the divine nature. And the fact that a man cannot deliver himself from the power of indwelling sin is no evidence that God will not deliver him.

The apostle here condemns the evil suggestion that would seek in the abounding grace of God an excuse for sinful indulgence. Such a thought is unholy, and it is sufficient to state it to expose its self-condemnation. Can grace reigning through righteouness permit a sinful course to be pursued? And this evil thought to which we are subject is held up before us that we may see how wretched and unworthy it is and flee from it.


But it is needful to be aware of the diverse forms of sin; and perhaps no form of it is more common or more subtle than that of pleasing oneself. Continuing in sin may not necessarily imply walking in forbidden paths of flagrant unholiness, but simply living for self without any reference to God and His will.

This subtle character of evil was manifested from the beginning. The first sin was not one that at first sight appeared loathsome in its nature, as some offences do. To have eaten of desirable fruit would not be regarded as an abominable crime, if judged from a human code of ethics. But Eve consulted her own interest or inclination or pleasure, in complete disregard and even defiance of God's express prohibition. In short, she pleased herself. And such a selfish motive is the essence of sin. The description of the sinless Man is that He pleased not Himself (Rom. 15:3). And the believer is called to imitate the life not of the First but of the Second man, by living not for self but for the praise and glory of God.

How We are Delivered

Now we are taught in this chapter that by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ we are delivered from that bondage to sin wherein we were held. This redemption from slavery is as definite as the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. They were under the power of a despot in a strange 'rand where it was impossible for them to serve God. But the nation was first of all preserved by bloodshedding in the hour of judgment, and then rescued from slavery. Jehovah brought them miraculously through the Red Sea, and they were able to look back and see the dead bodies of their oppressors upon the sea shore. They thus became Jehovah's freed men.

Now the freed men of grace are those to whom this chapter is addressed. Sin is represented under the figure of a tyrannical master who carries away the heart and motives in pursuit of passionate desires, whether purely carnal or mental. Under the rule of sin these desires or delights are characterised by an absence of regard for the will of God in the matter. The delight may be in poetry or philosophy or pure science, but the natural heart only finds satisfaction in these things so far as the will of God is excluded from consideration. But the apostle declares that the believer is delivered by death from this order of things. He argues, "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" (ver. 2).

Death with Christ

It is important to observe that there is here no injunction to put oneself to death. The fact is announced that the members of the family of faith have died to sin. This is a judicial pronouncement with regard to the whole question. And we learn that the act whereby we become dead to sin was perfected in the death of Christ.

The apprehension of this fact is a matter of faith in the declaration of the word of God. It could not be otherwise. Just as we learn that God laid our sins upon Jesus our Substitute, and believing we rejoice in the knowledge of this mercy, so it is necessary to believe in order to know that we were associated with Christ in His death, for our deliverance from sin. The apostle says, "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptised unto Jesus Christ were baptised unto his death?" (ver. 3).

Burial with Christ

In these terms a judicial association with Christ is predicated of all believers. We are regarded as having gone down with Him into death, leaving thus the place of bondage, to emerge into the place of life and liberty. For this identification applies to the burial as well as to the death of Christ: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that, like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (ver. 4).

An illustration of this passage of the believer through death may be found in the Old Testament. I refer now to the crossing of the Jordan by the children of Israel. The general analogy of this historical incident is no doubt more with the aspect of truth revealed in Colossians and Ephesians than with that in Romans; but I make the reference now solely to the manner in which the tribes passed the barrier to their goal.

By divine direction the ark of God was borne to the edge of the swiftly-flowing river, and when the feet of the priests touched the waters, the current stayed. The priests went forward, bearing the ark, until they stood in the midst of the river-bed. There they remained upon dry ground, and the Israelites were enabled to make their way across the stream upon dry ground. The ark maintained its position until the last person had crossed over, then upon its removal the waters resumed their normal course.

Thus, the supernatural power associated with, the ark prevented the floods of Jordan from overwhelming the people of God. So we learn in the New Testament that Christ Himself went down into death, and while we went through it with Him, He as it were held back its waters from us, and we passed through "dryshod "with Him. He died and rose again in the power of an endless life, and because of our intimate association with Christ we are now called to walk in "newness of life."

What are we to understand by these things? The facts are here stated in order that we may see how to gain the victory and how to live and walk in communion with the Lord after a new fashion of holiness. This result is not to be attained by any personal determination to overcome all the inward and outward forces which oppose holiness. The divine method is not to do, but to accept what has been done for us — not to conquer self by pure effort, but to live in the new, the Christ-life bestowed upon each believer.

The Old Man Crucified

We find from this scripture that the believer is taught to find that in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ there is for him not only deliverance from the guilt of sins but also deliverance from the power of sin. We died with Christ, but are also alive again, even as He is. We have passed through what is here regarded as the judicial extinction of ourselves as sinful persons with irremediably sinful natures. The apostle, speaking of the child of God in his natural condition, declares that the "old man" was crucified with Christ: "Knowing this that our old man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin" (verse 4). There are many forms of death, but crucifixion is a form associated with shame and ignominy, and under the Mosaic law with curse. And the "old man" because of its evil propensities, was, in the language of the text, worthy not only of death but of the death of the cross. It was man's injustice and malignity that assigned the Son of man to the death of crucifixion, but it was the justice and grace of God that sentenced our "old man" to be crucified with Christ. The purpose of this judicial act is declared to have been that the body of sin might be destroyed or annulled.

But it may be asked how this deliverance is effected. And nothing can be added to the words of this text. The illustration employed is a most forcible one. What can be a more complete deliverance from slavery than death? If an Israelite died in Egypt he was thereby most effectually delivered from bondage to Pharaoh. The whip of the taskmaster at once became unavailing. In like manner the believer is rescued from his slavish service to sin by death. Only he has, unlike the Israelite, died unto sin in the person of Another. He is moreover alive to a new order of things entirely.

It follows therefore that the attempt to eradicate the evil principle of sin by pure self-discipline is a virtual denial of the truth before us which asserts that the believer has already died to sin in the death of Christ. Much confusion sometimes arises in this connection from not observing that the scripture does not say that sin is dead, but that we are dead to it. The two statements are totally different. Some finding evil rampant in inward activity argue from this fact against the plain declaration of God's word. But the latter can never be wrong. The word of God is truth, and no lie is of the truth.

A believer is bound to believe that we died with Christ, and, moreover that we also "live with Him," and that we live to God. Further, by His death we are freed from bondage to sin, for according to scripture this is an accomplished fact.

The conclusion of this portion before us is a practical exhortation founded upon this great judicial transaction. Let us meditate upon its full significance in the light of the preceding verses: "Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (verse 11). W.J.H.