Paul continues his explanation of being identified with Jesus and how that union affects the lives of those who trust in him. So what does he say?
First, Paul says that in addition to being united to Jesus when he died, he also says that believers are united to Jesus in his resurrection: ‘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.’ At first glance we might think that Paul is saying that believers will have a future resurrection that will be similar to the resurrection that Jesus had when he rose from the dead on the third day. While it is true that believers will have a wonderful resurrection in the future, Paul’s focus is on what the resurrection of Jesus does for his people in the present while they live in the world dominated by sin and death. This connection to the risen Jesus is a key to how they can live now without being controlled by sin.
Paul also says that something happened when they died with Christ – their old self was crucified (put to death) with Christ ‘in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’. When Paul says that they had an old self, he implies that they now have a new self as well. I think the old self is what they were in Adam, which includes their identity, their character and their destiny – everything that marked them as unconverted people. What happened to this old identity? It was crucified with Jesus. In some way, when Jesus died physically as their representative it died too.
Why did this take place? Paul writes that it was ‘in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.’ What is the body of sin? Does Paul mean sinful body? Does he mean the influences of sin that permeate everywhere in the sense that an entire body is affected by sin? Does he mean that our body expresses our sinfulness? Does he mean that every sinner belongs to a body that is marked by sin in the same way that every saint belongs to the body of Christ? I suppose each suggestion has part of the answer. Somehow the body of sin, whatever it means, is connected to the enslaving of sinners to sin because once that body is brought to nothing the slaves are free.
It is important to see how Paul says this ongoing deliverance is provided. First, the deliverance comes through union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Paul says that believers have both, and that if they have one they have the other. Just as it is impossible for Jesus not to have died and risen again, so it is impossible for a sinner to have died with Christ and not have resurrection life. Second, since it is impossible for Jesus to die for sins again, so it is impossible for one of his people to come under the power of sin again. This does not mean that they are sinless, but it does mean that Jesus gives them spiritual power to live for him. And we will think in tomorrow’s reading about what Paul says about living for Jesus.