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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Alive in the Power of Christ's Death!
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 16:4,5                                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – John 12:20-26; Romans 6

Ps 85:1,2

Sermon – Lord’s Day 16

Ps 85:3,4

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, probably most of us have been to at least one funeral in our lifetime. If you have, you know that a funeral isn’t about power or strength. The dead body of a loved one can say nothing, and accomplish nothing. What once was living and breathing and moving and talking, is now still and silent and passive. It needs to be moved around by the funeral home people; it has to be tended to and dressed carefully in preparation for burial; then it needs to be carried to the grave by the pall-bearers. A person who is dead is entirely helpless.

That’s not the whole story, of course. We know that the soul of a believer has already gone to be with Christ, and at the graveside we sing of our sure hope: We sing of the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. But for now, death is what we see—a loss, an ending.

How very different was the death of our Saviour! Jesus died too. His body too, needed to be wrapped up, and then deposited in a grave. His spirit had departed, and for three days his body was still and silent and passive.

Yet in that death of Christ is a great power. In that very act of dying (and being buried), He accomplished so much. In John 12, Jesus says that his body is like a grain of wheat that is planted in the ground. Because when such a grain is pressed into the soil, it has to die. It has to give up its own existence, so that new life can come about. It’s only by dying that the seed becomes productive, as it sends down roots, and sends up a stalk, and yields clusters of wheat. That’s what Christ’s death is like: through it comes a great beginning, a new harvest of life and fruitfulness. This is our theme from God’s Word summarized in Lord’s Day 16,


We are alive in the power of Christ’s death!

  1. He died for us
  2. so that we die to sin
  3. and we can live a new life


1. He died for us: The letter to the Romans is so very full of the gospel of grace. We read from Romans 6, but if you go back one chapter, you’ll find a sentence that captures the essence of the good news about Christ’s death. It’s in Romans 5:6, “When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s a sentence worth underlining in your Bible: “Christ died for the ungodly.”

In that verse, Paul is focusing on the essence of the gospel, the whole crux of redemption. He doesn’t describe the events of Christ’s death on Golgotha. He doesn’t give us any of the precise detail that the four Gospel writers do, about the flogging, and the mockery, and the trial, and the heavy wooden beams, and the ironic title, and all the blood, and our Lord crying out in his agony. No, Paul is about as descriptive as the Apostles’ Creed, which says simply, “I believe that Jesus Christ died… and was buried.”

“He died.” But here’s the one essential thing, “He died for the ungodly.” This is telling us that it wasn’t his own death that Jesus was dying. It wasn’t for his own faults that Jesus was killed, but He did it for someone else. And the gospel is that Jesus did it for us, the ungodly. For us, who were “without strength,” without holiness, without a leg to stand on in God’s presence.

The Catechism teaches us why it had to be this way. It teaches us that our salvation always takes place on God’s terms: “Because of the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God” (Q&A 40). There you hear those essential attributes of God—justice and truth. Without them our Father would be just another flimsy, unreliable god. Who could depend on a god who always changes his mind? But our LORD is a God of justice and truth.

And Paul explains for us an aspect of God’s justice at the end of chapter 6, “The wages of sin is death” (v 23). That’s the price, or the cost for sin. God’s justice demands it without compromise, and we’re not able to pay it.

But Christ was able. He led a sinless life, obeying God his Father in everything. And then, even though He was perfectly innocent, He was found guilty—we learn about that in Lord’s Day 15. Jesus accepted the unjust verdict of an earthly judge, and so He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.

In dying, Jesus agreed to an exchange. This exchange saw all of our sins placed on him, and all his goodness given to us—a full swap: total condemnation for perfect approval. Compare it to bringing your empty propane tank to the hardware store, and being allowed to trade it for one of those full ones. In Christ we go from total emptiness to all the fullness of blessing. Everything that is his, becomes ours! And all our guilt goes to rest on him. But unlike at the hardware store, this exchange costs us nothing—and it cost Christ everything. It cost him his life.

In a way, we’re used to this idea, that Christ would die for us. But it’s really a radical concept, if you think about it. It’s a picture of measureless love. Because why should He be willing? Why should someone ever be willing to die for their enemy?

If we had to, maybe (just maybe) we’d die for someone whom we cared about deeply. Husbands and wives might imagine being capable of this kind of love for each other—that if they had to, they’d die for the other. Maybe parents like to think that they would give up their own life for their children; if one of their kids was sick or in danger, they could die for them.

But what about dying for someone you didn’t know? What about putting your life on the line for a stranger on the street, maybe to save a nameless person trapped in a burning car on the freeway? That would be very difficult—the instinct of self-preservation is so strong. And then it’d be even tougher yet to give up your life for an enemy. Dying for someone who has scorned you, who has attacked you, and actively worked against you! Why should we ever love them, to the point of dying for them? In our world, it would never happen.

Paul spoke of this in Romans 5:7-8, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Though we were his sworn enemies, though we were neither righteous nor good, Christ was willing. He gave up every bit of self-love, and He loved us. He gave up all his rights as the holy one, to bring us every privilege of being God’s children! “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6).

He died, and what did his death mean? As the Catechism said last time, God made sure that his Son was crucified: a death with a curse. This was paying in full the penalty for sin. This was giving God the legal grounds to overlook our transgression, to release us from punishment. God is now free to show us mercy.

Because now we as believers can share in all that He’s done: “As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (6:3). Pay attention to the word Paul uses there, “We were baptized into his death.” That sounds almost gruesome: “baptized into death.” I thought we were baptized into water! But being “baptized” in the New Testament also means being united to another person. To be baptized into someone is to share in who they are.

So being “baptized into Christ’s death” means sharing in his death, where we are given everything that his death accomplished. This is how Paul can say in Romans 6:10, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all.” When Christ died, more than just Christ’s own life came to an end. His death meant the death of all believers—believers past, present and future! Because once and for all, sin has been dealt with. He died to sin, once for all.

This is worth so much more than any human position or standing. In this world, we seek a good reputation with others. Or we try define ourselves in different ways: by our job, our education, our abilities. We find an identity in our family or our interests. We might try develop better self-esteem in us, or in our children. But in the big picture, these things matter very little.

For how does God look at you? Are you approved by God? When God looks at you, does He see you as united to the death of his Son? Have you been united to Christ by faith? Is this who we are? Is this who YOU are? In Christ we are forgiven. Set apart. Righteous. Dead to sin.


2. We die to sin: Do you remember your profession of faith? One of the questions that is asked at Public Profession is whether we promise to “crucify our old nature.” Do you ever wonder about that? What does that mean, to “crucify the old nature?” To understand it, look again at Romans 6. Paul is explaining the gospel of our forgiveness through Christ’s death. But Paul wants to fight against any idea that the forgiven person becomes lazy. Once we know God’s grace, the thinking goes, we’ll become complacent and take it easy, and we won’t really break with our sinful way of life.

After all, we’ll always be pardoned, right? After every moral failure, we simply go back to God, and He hits the “reset” button. Because God is merciful. God is loving. After a while, we might think of it this way: “This isn’t so bad. My sin actually reveals God’s greatness and majesty. Every time I do wrong, He can show how gracious He is.”

This is the kind of thinking that Paul attacks. He mentions it in chapter 3, “Why not say ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?” (3:8). Or again in chapter 6, he asks the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v 1).

Maybe no Christian would ever say this out loud, even think it so explicitly. And yet don’t we grow careless as believers? We like to point out the many shortcomings of others, but we become lenient towards our own sins. We pray every day for God to forgive us, but when pressed, we find it hard to be specific: Just how have we sinned? If we can’t say that, then we’re going to find it very hard to do better tomorrow.

Yet God’s grace places on us a new responsibility, a responsibility not to continue in sin! Those who have been forgiven through Christ must live differently than before. Paul asks: “In Christ we died to sin—how can we live in it any longer?” How can we want to go back there?

It’s like how children in small towns will sometimes play in the local graveyard. They run through the rows of tombstones, play hide-n-seek behind the crosses, and enjoy the peace and quiet. But once kids gain some insight, the cemetery is the playground of choice no longer. They know what that quiet spot is, they know what those tombstones mark. And so the graveyard is left alone. Why remain in such a sombre place?

That’s what Paul is saying: “In Christ we died to sin—how can we live in it any longer?” Why should we stay in the graveyard of sin, now that Christ has freed us? There’s nothing there for us. There’s nothing gained from sin—only death. Sin belongs to the old order of things, to the life we lived before Christ. So we don’t want to go back.

Paul puts it in verse 6: “Our old man [or our old nature] was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with.” Did you hear that? He’s saying that our old self—that whole wicked manner of thinking and speaking and acting—our old self was even crucified along with Christ. The power of sin has been broken. Christ broke it, and we have become new!

Yet while we’re on this earth, sin isn’t done with entirely. As Christians we must continue to put to death whatever in us is still the work of Satan. Mortify in yourself whatever is impure, unholy, displeasing to God. This is where that question in the Form comes in: Will you crucify the old nature?

This is also where the Catechism is going with its own question, “What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?” (Q&A 43). The answer is given, “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him.” It’s graphic language: We’re called to crucify our old nature! Think about what a crucifixion was. It was far less clinical and tidy than administering death by lethal injection, which is over in a matter of minutes. No, crucifixion was absolute torture. It was the hours-long process of draining all the life out of a human being. By loss of blood, by suffocation, by the onset of total shock, a man who was crucified was sure to die.

God says that this is what we must now do with our remaining sin and sinfulness: You have to crucify it! Deal with your sin, firmly and resolutely, to get rid of it. In the power of Christ’s Spirit, address your sin decisively. Uncover your sin with every intention of wiping it out—to completely kill the evil within you, and “not live in it any longer.”

We’ve spoken of going easy on our sin. Instead of fleeing wickedness, we come to terms with it. We accept certain sins as a part of our life, maybe a part of our character. “This is just how it is. This is how I am: I have a short temper. I like to talk about people. I need nice things, expensive things. I keep drinking, or I keep looking at porn, because I just have an addictive personality.” Maybe we consider some sins as acceptable if we’re going to have a good time—how can we have any fun on the weekend without this? How can we handle stress without this?

But to crucify your old nature means we strive to destroy sin, to be rid of all the wickedness that remains. It means not just regretting your sin, not just wishing it was different for you. But it means taking real action against it. As Jesus once said: Pluck out the eye that sinned. Cut off the arm that offended!

In practical terms, it could mean dumping your bottles of alcohol, and not going back to the liquor store. Don’t go there, if wicked things or foolish things happen every time you have a drink. Taking action against our sin could mean voluntarily restricting your internet access, or letting others see what websites you’ve been looking at all week. Maybe crucifying the old nature means cutting up the credit card so that you don’t make purchases that you can’t afford. Or it means selling the car that’s become an idol to you, or giving your money away so that you don’t trust in it so much. Perhaps it means breaking off a friendship that’s starting to lead you into temptation. Or it means picking up the phone, and facing up to the conflict that’s been simmering between you and someone else—dealing with it head-on. You want to put this thing to death! Crucify your bitterness and resentment.

These are just a few examples. Everyone has a different struggle. But these are the kind of things we can do to put an end to whatever is sinful—things we can do to “crucify the old nature.” Maybe it feels like an overreaction, like we’re blowing it out of proportion. Maybe it’d be easier to leave it alone. But remember Christ’s words about plucking out the eye or cutting off the arm, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” So be rid of sin. Eternal salvation: that’s what is at stake with sin, if we’re not willing to repent from it, and repent truly.

Thankfully, it all begins with knowing who we are in Christ. In him, we can die to sin. Because of him, temptation can lose its power. In the strength of the Lord, we can carry on that lifelong process of crucifying our sins—be done with them, bury them, and don’t dig them up again. It is a struggle, a desperate struggle at times, fighting the temptation that’s all around us and that’s even within us. But Christ is with you, and He is for you. United to Christ, we can live a new life: a life of blessing and peace.


3. We live a new life: We were dead in sin, but we’ve been made alive in Christ. And if we’ve been raised up in him, then we don’t stay like that body in the coffin, still and silent and passive. Instead, it’s time for a new beginning. This is what Paul says, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:11). We don’t stay in the graveyard, occupied with death. That’s not what we’re here for! “But present yourselves to God, as being alive from the dead” (6:13). Christ has given us a new calling, to embrace with heart, soul, mind and strength.

And being a child of God in Christ is much more than staying away from the obvious evils of this world. We’re good at identifying what’s wrong with the world, and where the dangers are. But being a Christian is much more than turning down Satan’s offers, remaining sober and celibate and self-controlled. We think that’s enough for us: “I don’t steal. I don’t cheat. I don’t curse. I don’t watch a lot of bad movies. I’m doing pretty well.”

But that’s empty. If your Christian life is only about putting up walls, only protecting what you have and fleeing the world’s contamination, then after a while you’ll probably have become self-centred. Maybe even self-dependent. An ingrown Christian.

God has more in mind for his children. His children go from the graveyard to the worksite, from the graveyard to the public square, and to the church. Being one of God’s children means a life of actively doing good, a life of energetically carrying out the Father’s will. When we serve others in love. Tell those who are lost about what’s available in Christ. Get involved in your congregation, with the brothers and sisters you see every Sunday. Besides “crucifying the old nature”—important as it is—this is the positive side of being in Christ, the active side, the productive side.

Like the Catechism explains: We must crucify our old nature, “so that… we may offer ourselves to God as a sacrifice of thankfulness” (Q&A 43). In the Old Testament, a sacrifice of thankfulness was something given to God in gratitude. Not given to atone for sin, but to praise God for his goodness. In that spirit we are called to offer ourselves to God: in worship, in prayer, with our gifts. This is what Paul calls “walking in newness of life” (6:4). Now we live—not for preserving ourselves—but for serving God!

It means you should find ways you can contribute, where you can put your gifts to good use, for the glory of your Master. This is something for everyone who’s in Christ to do—it’s the fruitfulness that our God expects from all of us. Remember John 12, where Jesus said that his body is like a grain of wheat that’s pressed into the ground. When such a grain is planted in the soil, it has to die. It gives itself up, so new life can come about. By dying it produces much grain.

That’s what Christ did. He died, and He was buried. But through his death there comes a great beginning. Through his death, there comes a new harvest of life and fruitfulness—the harvest is yielded by those who believe in him.

So if you believe in Christ crucified, if yours is a real faith, then you should also see its beautiful results. The seeds have been planted, and now they should be growing. Believing in Christ crucified, you should see that sure production of fruit. Because you’re not dead anymore, but you’re alive: alive in Christ! He died for the ungodly, so that we might live for him.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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