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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:When you're united to Christ, you're united to both his death and his resurrection life
Text:Romans 6:5 (View)
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 30

Psalm 103:1,6,7 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 116:1,2,5

Hymn 32

Hymn 34

Scripture readings: Luke 24:1-12, Romans 6:1-12

Text: Romans 6:5

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The story is told of a king who wasn’t ruling, but had a right to.  This king’s name was Aragorn and he travelled to the realm of the dead.  In this place, Aragorn summoned the Dead Men of Dunharrow to follow him into battle.  Since they owed allegiance to him, they did.  This fictional story was told by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Return of the King.

In the story of this king summoning the dead to arise and go to battle, we hear echoes of Christ and what he’s done.  Christ has risen from the dead himself and he summons us from death too.  He calls us out of the valley of death to live and fight, to do battle against sin.  You see, today we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and his rising from the dead isn’t just about him.  It isn’t like this is just a miraculous story of Jesus that’s disconnected from our lives.  No, in fact, his rising from the dead has a huge impact on how we live right now. 

That truth was in danger in the early apostolic church in the days of Paul.  In the first chapters of Romans, Paul lays out the great plight of the human race.  He quotes Psalm 14, “None is righteous, no, not one.”  We’ve all sinned against God and are deserving of his judgment.  That’s the bad news.  But then in chapter 3, we begin to hear about the good news.  The good news is that by believing in Jesus Christ, we can be declared righteous by God, we can have justification.  Through his grace, we can enter into a relationship of fellowship with God – “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” as it says in Romans 5:1. 

Now the temptation is to hear that teaching of God’s grace in our justification and then think that we now have the freedom to sin however much we want.  If we’re forgiven all our sins anyway, if we’re justified anyway, why not continue in sin that grace may abound?  But Paul says at the beginning of Romans 6 that this can never be the case for a Christian.  A Christian just can’t think like this.  And the resurrection has a central role in why we can’t go on living in sin after we’ve been forgiven and justified.  So the theme of the sermon is:  When you’re united to Christ, you’re united to both his death and resurrection life.

We’ll consider our union with the risen Jesus and its:

  1. Meaning
  2. Certainty
  3. Result

Whenever we think about union with Christ, our thoughts ought to go to what he said about this in John 15.  Christ said he is the vine and we are the branches.  If we are in him, if we are united to him, we will bear much fruit.  So the idea of being united to Christ is illustrated there with a horticultural picture.  There’s a plant, a vine, and there’s a branch that gets grafted on.  The vine and the branch become one plant.  They’re united.  That’s a picture of our relationship to Christ.  Our union with him is through the Holy Spirit.  If you extend the metaphor of the vine and the branches, the Holy Spirit is like the sap flowing through both.  He is the life flowing through the vine into the branches.  Because the Holy Spirit lives in Christ and in us, we are one with him. 

That idea is being used by the apostle Paul in Romans 6:5 as well.  He speaks of us being “united with him,” united with Jesus Christ.  The word he uses in the original for “united” is a word taken from the world of plants.   Literally, we’re planted together with Christ.  So, in some important respects, what’s true of him has become true of us.

So the Holy Spirit says here in verse 5 that we have been united with Christ “in a death like his.”  When Christ died on the cross, our old sinful nature was crucified with him.  Like Christ died, so also our old sinful nature died.  What that means is that the curse of sin has been broken for us.  That old sinful nature which earned God’s wrath has been killed – in the eyes of God it’s dead.  If that old sinful nature has been killed, if it’s dead in the eyes of God, then there’s nothing in us that draws God’s wrath.  That’s what it means to be united to Christ in a death like his.  The body of sin has been brought to nothing – we’re no longer condemned.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  Because of what Christ has done for us, we’re righteous in God’s eyes.

Verse 5 also says we’re united to his resurrection.  When it says “we shall certainly be united” it’s indicating what is the case for every Christian.  You might be tempted to think that this is referring ahead to the resurrection of our bodies when Christ returns.  I was tempted to think that when first looking at this verse as well.  However, if you look at the context here, there’s nothing about the future resurrection of our bodies.  It’s not about that.  Instead, it’s about our union with Christ’s resurrection life right now.  It’s about something we experience in our lives as Christians at this very moment.  Christ coming to life and leaving the grave has a connection to you coming to life and leaving the grave and now being spiritually alive.  Because he lives, you’re now alive, spiritually speaking.  Just like Christ lives never to die again, you will live spiritually and never experience spiritual death again.  He was raised, you’ve been raised.   His life is your life.                    

Now the thing you have to realize about our union with Christ is that it doesn’t come in bits and pieces.  You can’t pick and choose which aspects of Christ’s life and work you’ll be united to.  It’s not a buffet where you can make a selection of the things that appeal to you.  If you’re united to Christ, you’re united to the whole Christ.  You’re united to everything he is and to everything he’s done for you.  So, if you’re united through the Holy Spirit to him, you’re united to his death and you must also be united to his resurrection.  That gets us into the certainty of our union with Christ and his resurrection life.

There’s a logical and inevitable connection between all these things.  You can’t only be united to Christ in a death like his.  You can’t only be united to Christ in a resurrection like his.  We can’t parcel out these things.  They’re inseparable.  The same Christ who died, he rose again and lives now.  If you’re united to the Christ who was crucified and have experienced the spiritual blessings that come from that, you’re also inevitably united to the Christ who rose again and the spiritual blessings coming from that.  You have one Christ that you’re united to. 

That brings certainty about what’s been done in the past about our sins.  If we’ve believed in Christ, we’re united to him, and we can be certain that our old sinful nature is dead in the eyes of God.  We can no longer be condemned for it.  This is about our justification.  We have been justified through faith in Christ – that means God has declared us righteous.  That verdict can never be overturned or revisited.  If you’re a Christian, you are righteous in God’s sight now and you forever will be.  Isn’t that encouraging to know?

But then there’s also certainty about the present.  If we’ve believed in Christ, we’re united to him, and just as we’re certain about our sins nailed to the cross, we’re also certain about our new life in Christ.  We’re certainly alive in him, we are a new creation.  This too is part of the good news of the gospel.  The gospel promises not only the death of the curse of sin, but also new life in Christ.  In other words, the gospel also promises us sanctification – that’s the process of more and more living in Christ.  Sanctification is the process of living out of our union with the risen Jesus. 

The fact that it’s promised to Christians is important.  When it comes to living a Christian life, the temptation is there to become fatalistic.  If you’re fatalistic, you don’t have any hope for change in your life.  This is the way you are and this is the way you’ll always be.  Nothing can change, nothing will change.  When you think like that, you’re being fatalistic.  That’s not a biblical way for a Christian to think.  It’s not biblical because the Bible promises us that if we’re united to Christ, if his Spirit lives in us, we will change.  We are alive in him and there will be growth and increasing holiness in our lives.  God promises it here in our text in Romans 6:5, “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  God is saying, “I promise that if you are united to Christ, you are united to his resurrection life.  You are alive in him and there will be change in your life.” 

Now how that change takes place and what it looks like and how you experience it can vary.  Someone once compared it to a man holding a yo-yo.  The yo-yo goes up and down in the man’s hand and that’s like your life in Christ.  There are peaks and valleys – that’s how we experience it.  The yo-yo goes up and down.  But the truth of the matter is that if you could see the wide angle picture, you’d see that the man holding the yo-yo is standing on an escalator going up.  There is progress onwards and upwards, even if we can’t always perceive it.  As time goes on, Christ’s resurrection life in us means we can be sure the string on the yo-yo is getting shorter and shorter.  In other words, we actually do begin to perceive growth over time.  The gospel promises this to all Christians.  We can be certain there will be growth in our spiritual walk.

That brings us into our third point and the result of our union with the risen Jesus.  Here you have to remember the way verse 5 functions in chapter 6.  As I mentioned earlier, this is part of the way Paul is addressing the idea that Christians saved by grace can just live however they want. 

That way of thinking has a name – it’s called antinomianism.  ‘Anti’ means ‘against.’  And ‘nomos’ is the Greek word for ‘law.’  So antinomianism is being against the law.  An antinomian says, “I’m saved by grace, so I can ignore God’s law and live the way I feel led to live.”  An antinomian believes that union with Christ is just about having your sins forgiven.  In other words, an antinomian tries to pick and choose in what ways he or she is united to Christ.  An antinomian only wants to be united to Christ in his death, having the sinful nature crucified with Christ.  But living in Christ is out of the picture.  Resurrection is out of the picture. 

I’ll be up front here: I wonder sometimes if there’s a form of antinomianism that lives among us.  For example, the Bible clearly teaches that sexual relations belong only in marriage, as in after you have properly married with a wedding.  That’s what the Bible says and that’s what the church teaches too.  But I wonder sometimes if there’s a kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge that goes on with those who aren’t yet married.  As if, “We know what the Bible says, but we also know that nobody follows it and nobody can follow it, so we won’t follow it either.”  That’s antinomianism.  I’m not talking about a couple that falls into sin once or twice and repents from it, they hate it and they put measures in place to keep it from happening again.  That’s not antinomianism.  I’m talking about those who do it and keep on doing it and think it’s okay.  They think they’re Christians, but they just do like the world does.  But the difference is that they know about God’s grace.  And so perhaps they think, “Well, God has forgiven us anyway, so what difference does it make?”  The Holy Spirit asks us in Romans 6, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  And maybe we say with our lives, “When it comes to sex before marriage, yes, we will.  We will sin that grace may abound.”  But loved ones, that’s exactly what Romans 6 is saying can’t be our way of thinking.  It’s directly confronting that way of thinking.  God is telling us we can’t think that way if we suppose ourselves to be Christians.  And this is true not only for sexual relations before marriage, but for other things too, whether it’s materialism, pornography, drunkenness, smoking, gluttony, pride, and the list could go on. 

If we’re united to Christ, we can’t sin that grace may abound.  That thought ought to perish from our minds.  That’s why verse 11 says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  The root of our sins is in our minds.  In our minds, we have to learn to think a certain way.  A new way.  That new way has to do with our new life in Christ, our union with his resurrection life.

This is how it works:  we talk to ourselves.  We remind ourselves regularly how we are certainly united with Christ in a resurrection like his.  Because he is alive, we’re alive.  Because he lives and we live in him, we’re able to say ‘no’ to sin.  You tell yourself that.  You say, “I can say ‘no’ to this sin.  I don’t have to sin.  I can say ‘no,’ because I’m united to Christ.  He lives and I live in him.”

We talk to ourselves and we also talk to God.  We pray and we ask for his help to live out of our union with Christ.  We pray and say things like, “Father, I know I am united to Christ in his death and resurrection life.  Your Word promises me that.  Please help that to be a concrete reality in my life.  Please give me strength with the Holy Spirit who lives in Christ and in me.  Please help me to say ‘no’ to sin.”    

Doing this doesn’t mean that we always will say ‘no’ to sin.  We may sometimes fall.  But it does start to shift our mindset from what’s leftover of our old nature to the new creation that we are in Christ.  We begin to think more spiritually, in ways that are more glorifying to God.  And as we think that way, it translates into godly living.  We begin to grow in living in a way that pleases our heavenly Father.  But it all starts with thinking straight, having thinking that takes into account our union with the risen Jesus.

Thinking in this way not only results in concrete changes over the long haul, it also leads us to enjoy the life and freedom we have in Christ.  You know, slavery was a sad reality that existed in the United States until the 13th amendment abolished it in 1865.  After 1865, the slaves in America were freed.  Some of them had a hard time with their freedom, they couldn’t accept it, couldn’t grasp it.  They were free, but they still had all the habits and thinking of slaves.  They had the slave mentality.  They were free, but could never enjoy their freedom.  When we follow what Scripture says and our thinking changes to take into account our life in Christ, we can really enjoy what we have in him.  It becomes a delight and a pleasure to us.  That leads us to worship.  The more we enjoy Christ and our union with him, the more we worship him.  His name is lifted up and praised in our hearts and lives.

There’s a powerful picture of resurrection and renewal in the book of Ezekiel.  In Ezekiel 37, the prophet sees that valley of dry bones.  It’s a valley of death.  The dry bones are scattered everywhere.  But through God’s Word and Spirit, life comes to all those dry bones.  They’re resurrected to become a living army.  And what is an army for?  It’s for fighting.  Similarly, we’ve now been raised up with Christ to new life, a new life where we’re able to now fight against sin.  If you’re a Christian, you can fight and you will fight.  You’ll do it because you’re alive in the risen Saviour.  AMEN. 


Our Father in heaven,

We thank you for raising our Lord Jesus from the dead.  We thank you that in him we have the death of our old nature.  O God, we praise your Name that our sins are dead along with him on the cross.  We’re grateful that we also have new life in Christ, that we share in his resurrection life.  We’re a new creation in him, and we pray that you would help us to think that way and help us to live that way.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so that we say ‘no’ to sin in our lives.  That we instead live in your ways, your ways which are good and designed for our blessing.  We pray that with your help we can enjoy what we have in our union with Jesus, so that more worship is brought to him and to you.                                                        

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

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