Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Romans 6:11-12)
How remarkably interwoven and intertwisted are the duties of believers and their privileges! Indeed, it is very often very difficult to say which is a privilege and which is a duty, for that which is a duty under one aspect is a privilege under another aspect, and that which is evidently a privilege may involve sin if it be not enjoyed, and therefore it has something of duty about it. I think there should be no dividing asunder the duties and privileges which God has manifestly joined together, and that we should count it our highest privilege to do his will in every duty which he has enjoined upon us.
Equally remarkable is it how closely the privileges and duties of the Christian life are connected with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because we are one with him, therefore are we beloved of the Father, therefore are we redeemed from death and hell, therefore are we separated from the world, therefore are we dead to sin, therefore do we live unto the Lord, and therefore do we confidently expect a final triumph over all our adversaries until the last enemy of all shall be put under our feet. You get nothing, dear brother or sister in Christ, except as you get it through Christ. Apart, from him, you would be miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, as you were until you came to him; but in union with him you are rich to all the intense of bliss. All things are yours because you are Christs; and while the Father views you as one with Christ, he will bless you; and while you view yourself as one with Christ, you will be conscious of the blessing, and, at the same time, will be led to devote yourself more completely to the pursuit of holiness and the fear of God.
I have been specially praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in handling a subject which belongs not so much to the worshippers in the outer court, where we preach the gospel to all, as to those in the inner court, where we speak only to those who are, we trust, already saved. If I have the gracious guidance of the Spirit of God, my words will drop as dew upon the hearts of those who are living unto God, and they will be refreshed and encouraged. But I could not bear the thought that my sermon should have no bearing whatever upon those who are, at present, outside the visible fold of Christ. Therefore, at the very outset of my discourse, I let you all know that I am preaching now specially to the Lords own people. Judge ye yourselves, therefore, as to whether ye belong to that privileged company or not; and if you have not believed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, know that you have no share in the privileges of the covenant of grace; and while I am preaching to believers, sit you down, and sigh from your inmost heart, over the sad fact that you are an alien from the commonwealth of Israel. If the Lord, by his gracious Spirit, will lead you so to do, he will hear that sorrowful sigh of yours; and I trust that you will be led, sighing and crying, to the Saviors feet, to believe in him to the salvation of your never-dying soul. Then will you enter at once into all the privileges which belong to the children of God, those privileges about which I am now to speak.
The two verses, which form my text, seem to me to set before us, first, a great truth a great fact which is to be the subject of our reckoning: Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord; and, secondly, a great lesson to be put into practice: Let not sin therefore for the argument is carried on from the former verse, Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
I. What is the meaning of the first verse? What is THE GREAT TRUTH which is there taught to us by the Holy Spirit? It is this: Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is quite certain that God never asks believers to reckon anything to be true which is not true; for to reckon a thing to be what it is not would be to build upon a false basis, and, in fact, to argue upon that which is false. This would not be consistent with the character of God himself, nor with the nature of the gospel, which is, essentially, a proclamation of truth. There are no suppositions and imaginations in the gospel; it tells of positive sin, positive punishment, positive substitution, and positive forgiveness, for God would not have his people reckon upon anything which is not absolutely true. Hence, the text does not mean that you are to reckon that there is no sin in you, but that you are dead indeed unto sin. You are not to reckon that which is falsehood; that which God the Holy Spirit intends you to reckon is a matter of positive, undoubted fact. If you read the context, you will see what that matter of fact is.
It is, first, that every believer is truly dead to sin, because Christ has died to sin. The Lord Jesus Christ is our covenant Head; and what he did, he did in the room, and place, and stead of his people; he did it all representatively on their behalf; so that, what he did, they virtually did through him as their Representative. Always remember that the federal principle has been adopted by God in his dealings with the human race from the very beginning. We were all, representatively, in Adam; and, hence, Adams sin brought us all into transgression and condemnation, so that we have all become partakers in the result of Adams one sin. It was not actually ours, but it became ours by imputation, and it brought upon us all its terrible consequences because Adam was our federal head. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ is the federal Head and Representative of his people; and what he has done, he has done on their behalf, and it is reckoned as though they had done it themselves. Beloved, it was due from us that, having broken Gods law, we should endure the punishment resulting from our disobedience. That punishment was death, for the soul that sinneth it shall die. There must therefore be passed upon us, if we are ever to be clear at Gods judgment bar, a sentence that shall be an adequate punishment for sin; that sentence is so overwhelming and so dreadful that nothing can describe it but the term death. Can that ever happen to us? It has happened to us. We, who believe in Jesus Christ, have been confronted with our sins, accused of them, condemned for them, and punished for them. The full penalty, or that which was tantamount thereunto, has been exacted from us. We have died the death that was sins due reward.
But, someone asks, how is that? I answer, that the apostle tells us, in this chapter, that we have done it, representatively, in the person of Jesus Christ, our great federal Head, Surely, and Substitute. Can you grasp the great truth that, whatever was due from us to Gods justice has been fully paid by Christ? Whatever of suffering was necessary as the result of sin, from the penal side of the question, has been already endured by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Hence, Christ took our sin upon him, though in him was no sin of his own, and he died unto sin, bearing the penalty of it. As the inevitable consequence of his sacrifice upon the cross, he is clear from the sin that was laid upon him, and so are all his people, in whose stead he suffered. Toplady truly sang
Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whateer thy people owed:
Nor can his wrath on me take place,
If shelterd in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood.
If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine:
Payment God cannot twice demand;
First at my bleeding Suretys hand
And then again at mine.
I may make this truth plainer by a comparison, which is impossible in the case of men, but which may illustrate the point we are now considering. Suppose that a man has been found guilty of a crime which is a capital offense according to the law of his country. The only way of dealing with him, in justice, is that he should endure the penalty for his offense. Suppose the sentence to have been carried out, the man has been put to death, and has been buried. But after that, he has risen again; can the law touch him now? Can any charge be laid against him? Can he be brought a second time before the tribunal? Assuredly not; the same justice, which brought him to the bar before, and punished him, now stands up, and declares that he cannot be touched again, for how shall he be twice charged, and twice tried, and twice put to death for the same offense? This cannot happen, as I have said, among men, but it has happened in the case of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For all his people he has borne the death penalty, and he has risen from the dead; and they have borne the death penalty in him, and risen from the dead in him. Wherefore, let them rejoice that, in the person of their Redeemer, they are dead by sin, and dead for sin for such is the meaning of this passage. I wish that all of you, who believe in Jesus, could get a firm hold of this blessed truth; for, if you do, it will makes your heart dance for joy. We are emancipated because our ransom price has been fully paid; we are set free from the law, not by the law waiving the penalty due to our sin, for the penalty has been endured in the person of One who had the right to endure it, for he was his peoples Representative; and what he endured on their behalf is reckoned as though they had personally endured it, so that each one of them can say, with Toplady
Turn then, my soul, unto thy rest:
The merits of thy great High Priest
Have bought thy liberty:
Trust in his efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.
Further, the apostle says that we are to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the other side of the great truth which is implied in our union to Christ that every believer is truly alive unto God, because Christ is alive unto God. We know that Christ is alive unto God: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; and we also know that, the new life, of which the apostle is here writing, is a life that we share with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because of our union to him. Christ died, and was laid in the grave, because he was our Surety and Substitute. Our great debt of sin was laid to his account, but his death discharged all our liabilities. What then? The receipt for our debt, the token that our sin had been far ever put away, was that Christ should come out of the prison of the grave. As one of our rhymesters says
If Jesus had not paid the debt, He neer had been at freedom set.
He died for our sins, but he also rose again for our justification. When the bright angel flew from heaven, and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher, and Jesus unwrapped the cerements of his tomb, and came forth in the glory of his resurrection-life, all for whom he died and rose again were acknowledged as justified before God through his righteousness, and cleansed from all sin by his blood. And now, beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, this is our joy, that we are alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. A little while ago, we were dead unto God, for the sentence which he had pronounced upon us made us virtually dead unto him. We were under condemnation, the children of wrath, even as others; but now that Jesus Christ has risen from the grave, we are no longer dead unto God, but we are alive unto him; and he looks upon us as those who have been delivered from the sentence of spiritual death, and who cannot again come under that penalty, since Christ, who stood in our place, and suffered in our stead, has for ever put away from us, not only our guilt, but also all its dread consequences
We were lost, but we are found,
Dead, but now alive are we;
We were sore in bondage bound,
But our Jesus sets us free.
Therefore will we sing his praise
Who his lost ones hath restored,
Hearts and voices both shall raise
Hallelujahs to the Lord.
Further than that, as the text says, Likewise, the very word here used bids us run the parallel as the apostle has done. He says, Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. See then, what this means in reference to us who have believed in him. Jesus Christ will not die twice. The sin of his people, that was laid upon him, brought him down to the grave; but there he buried it, and he rose again, no longer bearing the sin for which he had paid the penalty; and that sin cannot be laid upon him a second time, and therefore he shall never again need to be crucified. Beloved, do you not see that, if your sin was really laid upon Christ, and you died unto sin in Christ, you can never have that sin laid to your charge again, under any circumstances whatsoever, unless Christ can die again? By one sufficient punishment, our offense has been put away even from the sight of God; can that offense, then, to brought against us, and laid to our charge a second time? Nay, verily; for if it could, it would be needful that our great Substitute should bleed and die a second time; but, as that cannot be, the sin of the believer can never again be imputed to him, and can never again rise in judgment against him. While Christ, the ever-blessed Savior, continues to live, his people must also continue to live. What a glorious truth this is! I, then, if I am a believer in Christ, have, through my union to him, borne the penalty of sin, I have died in Christ, the life that I now live before the living God is a life that is uncondemned and uncondemnable, and which never can expire, because never can sin be laid to its charge again!
Beloved brother or sister in Christ, how I wish that you could get a firm grip of this blessed truth, so that you could enjoy it to the full in your own soul! It is not always easy to realize your union with Christto see how he takes your place, and you take histo mark how he is bruised for your iniquities, and how the chastisement of your peace is laid upon him; and that, in consequence, you take his place as accepted and beloved by the Father, that you are raised from the dead, and honored even to share his glory in the highest heavens, for he has gone up there as the Representative of all his people, and you also are raised up together with him, and made to sit with him in the heavenly places; and as he is to come again, in all the glory of the Father, to subdue all things unto himself, so are you to reign with him, for he has said, Where I am, there shall also my servant be; and to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. What a glorious truth this is, that all believers are dead, raised, living, exalted, and glorified, in Christ Jesus!
New, beloved, having given you that meaning of the passage and I am persuaded that it is its true signification, and that no other will bear examination I want to warn you against the interpretation that some have tried to put upon the apostles words. They say that they are dead to sin, and alive unto God; and they tell us perhaps not in so many words that now they do not sin, that they live in a state of perpetual sanctity, and are no more affected by sin than a dead man would be affected by that which goes on in the house wherein his corpse is lying. These people say that their life now is one, if not of absolute holiness, yet, in a certain sense, of perfect holiness. I conceive this to be one of the most dangerous delusions of the present age apparently specious and supportable by Scripture; but, in reality, without any solid foundation, and full of a thousand dangers. There are two ways by which a man can persuade himself that he does not sin. The first is the Antinomian method, by which he says that he is not under the law, and that, therefore, whatever he does is not sinful. If another man were to do a certain thing, he would be very wrong; but if he himself does it, he, being a specially chosen one, is in a condition in which it is not reckoned to be sin, or is not laid to his charge.