Christ Suffered and Died: That We Might Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying that we might die to sin and live unto righteousness.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24)

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STRANGE AS IT MAY sound, Christ’s dying in our place and for our sins means that we died. You would think that having a substitute die in your place would mean that you escape death. And, of course, we do escape death—the eternal death of endless misery and separation form God. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 11:26). The death of Jesus does indeed mean that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But there is another sense in which we die precisely because Christ died in our place and for our sins. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die…” (1 Peter 2:24). He died that we might live; and He died that we might die. When Christ died, I, as a believer in Christ, died with Him. The Bible is clear: “We have been united with Him in a death like His” (Romans 6:5). “One has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

hands of peace

Faith is the evidence of being united to Christ in this profound way, believers “have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). We look back on His death and know that, in the mind of God, we were there. Our sins were on Him, and the death we deserved was happening to us in Him. Baptism signifies this death with Christ. “We were buried… with Him  by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). The water is like a grave. Going under is a picture of death. Coming up is a picture of new life. And it is all a picture of what God is doing “through faith.” [You have] been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

water baptism

The fact that I died with Christ is linked directly to His dying for my sin. “He Himself bore our sins… that we might die.” This means that when I embrace Jesus as my Savior, I embrace my own death as a sinner. My sin brought Jesus to the grave and brought me there with Him. Faith sees sin as a murderer. It killed Jesus, and it vicariously killed me. Becoming a Christian means dying to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself. Therefore, the believer is dead to sin, no longer dominated by her attractions. Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal. She has become an enemy.

My new life is now swayed by righteousness. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might… live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The beauty of Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is the desire of my soul. And His beauty is perfect righteousness. The command that I now love to obey is this: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

 

From Head to Heart

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

This statement by the Lord Jesus begins in a very profound manner: “And this is eternal life.” To complete such a statement requires comprehensive truth. If the statement had started with “this is included in eternal life,” many non-comprehensive matters could be used to finish the statement. After all, we could certainly argue that forgiveness of sins is included in eternal life. Escaping hell and securing heaven are also included in eternal life. Likewise, meaning and purpose for living are included in eternal life. Additionally, we find spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit in eternal life. Of course, fellowship in the body of Christ and new understanding of the Scriptures are included. Nevertheless, none of these individually, nor all of these collectively, are sufficient to complete the statement: “And this is eternal life.”

To finish that profound beginning, we need to add an all-encompassing truth. We must speak of the full dimensions of eternal life. What is large enough to complete that majestic opening? Only the one reality of knowing God would be adequate: “that they may know You.” Yes, knowing God is what eternal life is all about. It is only through meeting the Lord that forgiveness is found. It is only by being in Christ that we escape hell and secure heaven. Then, it is only through getting acquainted with the Lord that meaning and purpose for our lives are made real to us. Also, it is only through a growing intimacy of trust in Christ that spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit can properly mature. Furthermore, it is only through an increasing acquaintanceship with the Lord that Christian fellowship and biblical insight are appropriately developed.

These truths certainly concur with those prophetic words of old that promised a new covenant of grace to replace the old covenant of law. “I will make a new covenant…not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…But this is the covenant that I will make…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Hebrews 8:11 applies these words to followers of Christ. “All shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The new covenant provides a growing, intimate acquaintanceship for all who will walk in its terms of grace.

A good friend of mine has said to me repeatedly, “I hope one day you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Naturally, I’ve argued again and again that I already have God in my heart. Then I think about many of the decisions I make. How I decide (basically, how I rationalize) that the rules don’t apply to me. I decide to do something because it suits my situation. I feel justified because of how I’ve been treated, or because others have been able to “get away with it.” On the surface, it seems like nothing more than survival. But when I consider my behavior from a Christian worldview, I realize what I’ve done is unacceptable.

Consider, for example, writing a check. This is a normal everyday practice for millions of Americans. For me, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve written many checks hoping to cover them “in time,” justifying my decision because I needed medicine or food, or the rent was due. As you can imagine, each time I do that, I increase the odds that I will not be able to cover every check. When I reflect on that behavior now, I think of two of the Ten Commandments. We are not supposed to steal, and we are not to bear false witness. Isn’t writing a bad check breaking both Commandments? Is this proper Christian behavior?

Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (NASB) A pastor friend of mine, who comes from a lineage of pastors, said he memorized Scripture growing up in order to aid in standing against the wiles of the devil. It is certainly not a fool-proof solution to sin (we are, after all, finite, fallible, easily tempted), but he is able to consistently avoid sexual immorality, such as pornography, has remained a virgin until marriage, and in the two years I’ve known him I have never heard him utter a curse word or use the Lord’s name in vain.

What I’ve come to understand is that although I have God in my heart, I have not given Him every room. It’s funny, but I see some of this as sinful pride. Like I’m saying I am too far gone even for Christ to save. Thankfully, I don’t fully believe this, and it’s only been a passing thought here and there. It is truly a slap in the face of Christ to tell Him what He did on the cross was enough for everyone in the entire world but me. When I get the sense that I’m acting as though I believe this, I repent of it immediately. There could be no greater propitiation for my sin. There is no other solution. The entire Creation has been groaning since the Fall as a result of sin entering the world. Obviously, nothing else could rectify the problem but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.