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We have all heard about the new life in Christ. It is not possible to function in Christian circles without hearing that phrase. It is not possible to read through your Bible without realizing that Christ says that He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). And if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation—old things have passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). But our hearts are slippery, and so we often miss the point by equivocating on the meaning of the word new.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 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” (Rom. 6:1–8).
Summary of the Text:
Paul has started to answer objections to the gospel that he laid out in the first chapters of Romans. If we are saved by grace, plus nothing, what is to prevent us from becoming morally dissolute? The answer to that question is that grace comes to sinners in one form only, and that form is the glory of death and resurrection. Sinners cannot take advantage of grace, because when grace comes near the sinner dies.
Shall we abuse grace by continuing in sin (v. 1)? God forbid it, Paul says. How can people who are dead to sin continue to live in sin (v. 2)? Do you not know that everyone who is baptized into Christ is baptized into His death (v. 3)? That is what baptism with the water of grace means. So if we were baptized into His death, this means that in an analogous way we are raised up from the dead by the glory of Father, in order that we might walk in newness of life (v. 4). If we have been planted in the pattern of His death, this means that we will also be planted in the pattern of His resurrection (v. 5). We know this. Our old man, our body of sin, is both crucified and destroyed, so that from this point on we might no longer be slaves to sin (v. 6). Freedom from sin is attained by those who die (v. 7). So if we are dead with Christ, it necessarily follows that we will also live with Him (v. 8).
Union with Christ:
As you have heard many times before, Jesus did not die so that we might live. It is appropriate to say that in a form of shorthand, but only if it is shorthand, and only if you know what it is shorthand for. The truth of the gospel is here: Jesus died so that we might die. He was buried so that we might be buried. He was raised from the dead so that we might be raised from the dead. He ascended into Heaven so that we might reign with Him from the right hand of the Father. The gospel is the gospel to us only through true union with Christ.
In this short passage, Paul makes this profound point three times. If we share His death, then we will share His resurrection (v. 4). If we have been planted together with Him in the likeness of His death (which is what baptism is), then it will be the same with the resurrection (v. 5). If we are dead with Christ, we will also live with Him (v. 8).
Different Kinds of New:
There are two ways that we could take the word new. One is quantitative and the other is qualitative. A new day would be a quantitative illustration. Today is Tuesday, not Monday, but it is another day just like the previous one. You got a new car, but it was a used new car, meaning that it was new to you. New to you, but not new. But there is another sense we need to have if we are to understand the potency of the gospel. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, on Sunday. But this day was qualitatively different. There had been a previous Sunday, just seven days before, but this Sunday was entirely and completely different. The world had been born again. The times of regeneration had been inaugurated. Jesus really had made all things new.
Water New or Spirit New?
Paul is explicit here on what our baptism means. We do not have the authority to contradict the meaning of our baptism on the basis of the meaning of our carnal logic. In other words, we are not allowed to say that grace means liberty to sin when our baptismal grace says that it means death to sin. Look down a few verses (Rom. 6:14). If we persist in contradicting our baptisms in this way, it will not be long before our baptisms rise up in order to contradict us. If Tyre and Sidon will be able to accuse Capernaum on the last day, then the baptisms of hollow Christians should certainly be able to rise up to accuse them.
“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit [same word for newness], and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). The newness that indicates salvation is a spiritual newness.
Both Kinds of New:
Someone can move into Christianity the same way you might move into a new house, or buy a new car, or take a new job. It is new in the quantitative sense. This is not a sinful thing, and it does apply to everyone who comes into the faith. Someone might be truly converted, and still need to get used to the ordinary new things. Christians form an actual subculture on the earth, and the lingo and the customs and the government might be new to you in the same way that the analogous things would be new if you joined the Navy. But those who are actually planted together with the Lord’s death are those who actually walk in a qualitative newness.
If this has happened, then it means that you are walking where Jesus is. And where He is must be described as being on this side of death to sin.