There can be no question that those who enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death will also enjoy the benefits of His resurrection.  The two things always go together, and can never be separated.  One should never look at the cross without viewing it in the light of the empty tomb.  A dead Christ is no Saviour, but just another decaying corpse of a religious zealot.  A living Christ is the guarantee that His sacrifice has been accepted, and that all who are joined to Him by faith must live, and escape the damnation of hell.

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If we participated in His death, our sins being nailed with Him to the cross, then we have the promise of God that we will also participate in His resurrection.  We too shall be raised from our graves, just as Jesus was, receiving a glorified body, and enjoying in full fruition the glories of our Saviour’s triumph.  The foretaste of that triumph begins even now as we see the ruling power of sin broken in our lives, and we ourselves walking in the blessed liberty of the children of God.

When he says, “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death,” he continues to have the realities of both justification and regeneration in mind.  We were legally joined with Christ when He went to the cross, and His death upon the cross satisfied the law of God, which demanded our death.  God viewed us as being in Him when He died once unto sin upon the cross, and still views us as being in Him, now that He has risen from the dead to live for evermore.

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But Christ’s one-time death unto sin is also illustrative of the fact that sin is slain in its dominating power over us when the Holy Spirit brings us out of a state of death and condemnation into a state of life and reconciliation.  Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of God the Father, and we too, through the power of the new life that we enjoy through His marvelous saving grace, are bound to walk in newness of life.  Just as Christ could no longer come once again under the judgment of sin and the penalty of death after He was raised from the dead, so can we no longer go back under sin now that we have been spiritually resurrected.  Sin can no longer condemn us, because Christ has answered for all of them in His great sacrifice, and it can no longer dominate our lives, because the Holy Spirit broke its tyrannical power in regeneration.

If Any Man Will Do His Will

This is a message I originally preached as an evangelical sermon during my last trip to Guyana.  I was called on unexpectedly to preach the first message on July 2nd, and brought this one for the morning service.  Christ’s call to the Jews, that if they would do the will of God, they would know whether the doctrine He preached was of God or not, rings true for us today.  True religion begins in the heart, with a sincere desire to please God and do His will.  Those who seek the Lord with a pure heart and true intention will find that Christ is everything the scriptures declare Him to be, and that His doctrine is the truth.

The apostle then asks a peculiar question, setting the stage for a passage which has been a source of theological contention for many long years.  He asks the Romans whether they know (the clear implication being that they should) that those who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death.  Much of the debate around this and the succeeding verses center around whether Paul is speaking of water baptism, by which one professes his faith in a crucified and resurrected Saviour, or Holy Spirit baptism.  I am greatly inclined to lean towards the latter, since the rite of water baptism, considered by itself, is of no spiritual advantage to a man, except he has been baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Since I am firmly persuaded that regeneration is in no wise a consequence of baptism, I conclude that the baptism of a man who has not been made a partaker of the Holy Ghost is utterly useless.  A man may be dipped in the water without ever having partaken of the spiritual reality of having been immersed into the death of Christ.  However, all this does not mean that the passage has nothing to say concerning the Christian rite of water baptism.  On the contrary, much of what we hold baptism to represent is deduced from this very passage.  That blessed ordinance was given to portray the very same spiritual realities which the apostle Paul is explaining in this place, as he seeks to prove that the true believer cannot under any circumstances continue in sin that grace may abound.

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Therefore, by “as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ,” I believe the apostle refers to that mighty miracle of regeneration, by which a man is brought out of his state of spiritual death and condemnation, and joined in vital union with the living Saviour, so that he dwells in Him, even as the branch in the vine.  All such people are also baptized into the death of Christ.  We can take this in a couple of different ways at least; it could refer to our judicial death with Christ, whereby His death became ours, His penal suffering the suffering which we deserved.  When Christ was paying the penalty for our sins upon the cross, God viewed it as our penalty being paid, so much so that it can be said that we died with Him.  We can also understand it as a spiritual death unto the power and dominion of sin.  Christ suffered under the heavy burden of sin, which crushed Him even into death, but He was raised up to newness of life by the glory of the Father, and sin and death no longer have any claim over Him.  We too are brought out of the realm of sin’s dominion, because of our union with Christ, and are now dead to its ruling power.  Both of these things seem to me to be held in view by the apostle as he deals with this somewhat complex and theologically intricate subject.

 

The Reformation and Justification

I am preaching a series of messages occasioned by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, concerning some of the major issues that made the Reformation necessary.  Second to none on that list is the issue of justification.  As this sermon makes abundantly clear, by quoting extensively from the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Rome teaches justification by infusion of righteousness, and the maintenance of righteousness, along with help from the saints and the church.  The biblical doctrine, as most clearly described in Romans chapters 3-5, is that God declares us righteousness based upon our sins being forgiven through Christ’s death, and the righteousness of His Son imputed to us.  Never shall these two views meet, and those who hold to free justification by grace through faith must never again seek to unite with Rome, so long as she holds to her heresies against the gospel.

Paul’s response to the question as to whether his doctrine of justification permits a man to continue in sin because of the abundance of God’s grace is a horrified, “God forbid!”  We grant that the name of God is not present in the original Greek, yet I have no quarrel with this rendering by our Authorized Version translators.  Paul’s words indicate an absolute detestation of the very insinuation that he would ever preach a doctrine that would give any person an excuse for sin.  In the 17th century, the best phrase our translators had available in the English tongue to convey the strength of feeling asserted by the apostle was, “God forbid.”  It certainly does entire justice to his meaning.  We should not tolerate the suggestion for a moment that the blessed truth of free justification through the merits of Christ alone leads to loose living, but should detest it and contend most warmly against it.

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“How,” Paul asks, “shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”  Here I think we may safely assume that the concepts of both justification and regeneration are concerned.  We are certainly dead to sin in the judicial sense, in that Christ has slain our sin, or executed it, by bearing it in His own body on the tree.  Sin no longer has any claim over us, and cannot condemn us, because its penalty was exacted to the fullest extent upon our Lord Jesus Christ.  We could certainly argue along the line, and rightly so, that we ought not to continue in sin, because we have died to it in that we were judicially with Christ when He died on the cross for our sins, and that it would be the highest inconsistency and ingratitude for us to wallow in the very thing which nailed Him to the cross.

While I believe this is part of the apostle’s meaning, I do not think we can leave the reality of regeneration out of the picture.  We are dead to sin, not only because we are justified and cleared from its damning power, but also because its power has been broken in us by the creation of new life within us.  When the Holy Spirit regenerates a man, he breaks the dominion of sin in him, and creates a new life within that hungers and thirsts after righteousness.  It is true that in the strictest sense sin is not dead within us, because it still exercises a fearful power through the passions and desires of the body.  Nevertheless, we are through regeneration new creatures in Christ, and sin’s power to control and rule us has been broken.  This is true of every Christian, without the first exception.  If sin’s power has not been broken, so that we are dead to its dominating power over our minds and actions, then we are obviously still dead in trespasses and sins.  The man who has been regenerated is dead, not only to the condemning power of sin, but also to its ruling power, and therefore he cannot any longer live in sin.

 

This has always been the argument of those who reject the doctrine of free grace, as set forth in the previous chapters by the apostle Paul.  It was so then, and it is now.  Scarcely a Christian anywhere who has been given eyes to see what Paul is arguing beginning in 3:20 down through the end of chapter 5, and has sought to explain it to others, has not been confronted with this very question.  What does this show us?  Besides the fact that it presents very clear evidence of man’s corrupt inclination to either pursue sin with wild abandon, even upon a religious pretext, or else to seek to justify himself by his own works, it also proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that those who teach the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic have correctly interpreted the apostle’s meaning.

How so?  Think of it along these lines: can anybody imagine a Roman Catholic theologian explaining Rome’s way of justification; through baptism, works of supererogation, careful avoidance of mortal sins, confession, penance, prayers, the assistance of saints, the Mass, and the daily struggle to maintain a state of justification, and then saying, “Shall I continue in sin that grace may abound?”  The thing itself is unthinkable.  If one hears the Roman doctrine of justification, he would do well to break out in a cold sweat, and say to himself, “I must strive as hard as I can, and pray most earnestly that I chance to die while in a state of grace.”  The same argument may be used against any and all denominations, preachers, doctrines, or individuals, who contend for anything at all besides Christ’s blood and righteousness as the ground of our justification before God.  No person would ever ask a follower of Alexander Campbell, having heard his doctrine, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  For their very doctrine teaches that a man must be baptized and strive to keep the law in order to gain salvation.  The same may be said of many other heretics claiming the name of Christian, which tell their devotees that there is something they must do in order to compel God to accept them.  None of these will be accused of teaching a doctrine which leads to licentiousness, because their very system of salvation is based upon the works and merits of men.  It is only because Paul’s doctrine of justification entirely casts out the works and merits of man that he has to deal with this question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Incidentally, the same argument in favor of the Calvinistic understanding of Pauline doctrine may be found in the 9th chapter.  Having proven in the most forceful terms possible the truth of God’s sovereign, discriminating election, Paul says, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault?  For who hath resisted His will?”  Just as those who desire a place for man’s will and labor in salvation accuse our doctrine of justification of leading to antinomianism, so they accuse our doctrine of election of making God unjust in His condemnation of sinners.  The very same arguments are being made today, and we may be thankful to a justifying and electing God if we are found on the side of the inspired apostle Paul, and being asked the same hard questions with which he had to deal.