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Today is Resurrection Sunday, our annual commemoration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. We mark this annually, but it is important for us to remember that we also mark it weekly—every Lord’s Day is a celebration of the resurrection. But what exactly are we celebrating when we do this?
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:3–11).
Summary of the Text
When we were baptized, we were baptized into the death of Jesus (v. 3). Note that—our baptism, His death. When we were baptized, this was not just into His crucifixion, but also into His burial (v. 4). The reason God identified us with His death and burial was so that He could also identify us with His resurrection, enabling us to walk in newness of life (v. 4). For if we are identified with (symphytos, the word rendered as planted) His death, we must also be identified with His resurrection (v. 5). Our old man was crucified with Him (v. 6), and death liberates us from the death of sin (v. 7). And death with Christ goes together with life in Christ (v. 8). Christ rose from the dead forever, and it is that everlasting life that we have been identified with (v. 9). Death is once for all, but life is forever (v. 10). Therefore, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God through Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 11). What does this newness of life taste like? It tastes like the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, and all the rest.This is the true liberation of Easter.
The Structure of the Exhortation
This is a typically Pauline manner of argumentation. He says that xyz is true of you, therefore you must consider or reckon xyz to be true of you. He says that this is what your baptism means and declares, and so therefore this is what you must mean and declare in your manner of living. This is what your baptism says . . . now you say it too.
Two Kinds of Substitutes
We are accustomed to think of Christ’s death as a substitutionary death, and so we should. He did die as our substitute, and this whole argument in Romans 6 depends on that assumption. But we have to be careful, because there are two kinds of substitution, and the death of Jesus was not like one of them.
When a substitute goes in during a basketball game, another player goes out. The substitute replaces the other player. This is not what Jesus did for us. The second kind of substitute is a representative substitute. When we elect someone to go to Congress, he goes there as our representative substitute. When he votes, I vote. When he stands true, I stand true. When he takes bribes, I take them. When he fails, I fail. Part of the reason things back in D.C. are as much of a mess as they are is that the American people have lost this sort of covenantal understanding. But the federal government comes from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant. It can also mean stinky or loathsome, but that is another topic for another time.
Adam was the representative kind of federal substitute, and Jesus, as the last Adam, was also this kind of substitute. When Adam disobeyed at a tree, so did I. When Jesus obeyed on a tree, so did I. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This is the offer of the gospel —Christ for you.
So then, Jesus did not die so that I might live. He died so that I might die, and He lives so that I might live.
An Identified History
In Scripture, union with Christ is not understood as a mystical connection to a cosmic force. Rather, Christ was our covenantal representative and substitute, and whatever He went through, we went through also. When we are baptized, that baptism declares that we have been joined with Christ in His biography—we are joined to Him in the events of His life. This did not kick in five minutes before the crucifixion started. He was our substitute when He was being flogged (Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24). He was our substitute when He was being insulted (Ps. 69:9; Matt. 11:18). He was our substitute when He was baptized, identifying as the true Israel right before His 40 days (years) in the wilderness. This is why He received a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:8). Theologians call this the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, but that is simply a technical phrase that expresses a glorious truth—which is that you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:23).
Death is an event. Life is a process. When it is the death of Jesus, it is a once-for-all event. When it is the life of Jesus, it is everlasting life, eternal life, ultimate cascading life.
This is your identity in Christ. The obedience of Christ is all yours. God offers it freely, and it is received by faith alone. The obedience of Christ is as much yours as the sinful disobedience of Adam was also yours, on the same principles. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the federal unrighteousness is yours as a birthright, but that the imputed righteousness of Jesus is somehow a “legal fiction.” It is nothing of the kind. It defines who you now are.