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Part 31

15 Sep 2021

Peace From the Wrath of God Through Three Deaths

Romans 5-7

Part 2: The Second Death

“We have been buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 

Romans 6:4-5

In Part 30 we spoke about the first of three deaths that bring about peace with God, that first death being, of course, the death of Messiah Jesus. We also spoke of how, through faith, we have been included in His death. By faith, His death is counted as our death. By faith then, we have died with Christ.

This week I want to explore the second death which brings peace with God. This second death comes only as a consequence of the first death. The death of which I now want to speak is our death to sin.

For as long as I’ve known him, my Dad has been a fight fan, boxing that is, not this modern MMA business. As such, I’ve grown up watching all the big fights with my Dad, following the fortunes of the big names of the day, and rewatching the biggest fights in history featuring the biggest personalities in the history of the sport. There is of course no bigger personality in boxing history, and maybe even sporting history, than Muhammad Ali.

One of Ali’s most legendary fights was with George Foreman in what was dubbed “The Rumble In The Jungle”.

In the 90’s a documentary film called When We Were Kings was released. It tells the story of the fight but also showcases the cultural and music festival that took place alongside the fight in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo). It is recommended viewing, not only for lovers of the sweet science, but also for lovers of music. It features musicians such as James Brown, The Spinners, B.B King, Bill Withers and heaps more amazing talent.

Ali, almost incredibly, was the underdog going into the fight. His opponent George Foreman was terrifying. A big man with a huge punch who simply terrorised the heavyweight division and all who dared to get in the ring with him.

The two men couldn’t have been more different personalities. Ali was full of himself, always something to say. Foreman was an imposing figure who rarely spoke and his silence made him all the more menacing.

I remember watching the documentary and being struck by something I saw in the way the two men approached the fight.

Foreman, as ever, went about his business quietly, with a self assurance that oozed confidence that the outcome of the fight was a foregone conclusion, Foreman would knock Ali into the second row. Ali, on the other hand, just never stopped talking. Even while training he talked at length about his heritage in Africa, how he was going to win the fight for his people and bring the title back to Africa.

Ali was preaching to himself. He had seen Foreman fight and seen him train. He had seen how big and strong Foreman was, how powerful his punch, and he knew that, in order to beat Foreman, Ali would have to look beyond himself. He would have to be fighting for something much bigger than himself.

Ali went on to win that fight in a spectacular of boxing history.

What was true of Ali is true of us all. None of us can live life in this world without making sense of our lives through a lens bigger than ourselves.

The problem we face is that, if there is no God, then what is there in this vast, empty, meaningless universe that is greater, of more significance, than the self.

There are many examples that people might draw from, ideologies and philosophies that people might use in order to ground their story in something bigger than themselves. For Ali it was Africa, his heritage and people. However, this was merely a tool that Ali used in order to focus himself so that he could win back his title. It was a framework he exploited for his own gain, the fulfilling of his own ego. It’s not that he didn’t care about Africa, he did, it was that ultimately, the thing he cared most about was himself and his legend.

There was, in the end, nothing bigger in Ali’s universe than Ali, and everything ultimately served as offerings given in worship to himself.

What was true of Ali is true of all of us. There is nothing greater in our own universes, the universe over which I rule as god, than the self.

This is what the flesh does. It enslaves everything in service to self. And so we go through our lives consuming everything and everyone we touch in service to self. We use everything and anyone in the gratifying of our own selfish desires.

This is the flesh. This is sin.

In Romans chapter 6 verse 21, the Apostle Paul puts to you and me a question.

“But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

The American psychologist and T.V personality Dr. Phil puts it this way, “How’s that working for ya?”

Paul follows up his question by saying “The end of these things is death”.

The fulfilling of the flesh in the pursuit of our selfish desires leads to death. Death is the end, the final destination to which our sin leads, and we follow it slavishly to that bitter end.

We are slaves, as Paul says, to sin, slaves to the selfish desires of the flesh. They lead us by the nose to our damnation and destruction, but sadly, we also go as willing and obedient servants.

We pursue that which we desire believing we will be filled by obtaining that which we pursue, only to find that we are emptied out, hollowed out in the process.

That emptying, that debasing and hollowing out of ourselves leaves us feeling ashamed. We then seek to cover our shame either by self-loathing and self pity, or we overcompensate with self-confidence and self-belief.

No matter which way we turn on that spectrum it is all, in the end, the same; self.

The pursuit of self doesn’t lead to fulfilment, it leads instead to death.

Make no mistake, your flesh is trying to kill you.

However, not only is death the end result, the final destination to which sin leads, death is also the end of sin, the conclusion of it. Death brings sin to an end. One who is dead sins no more.

“How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Paul asks. The answer? You can’t.

We who believe are considered to be in Christ. We are included in His death. His death is considered to be our death. We have died with Him, and given this fact, we have also died to sin and the flesh. We are dead to it and it is dead to us.

We must see and understand ourselves as God does. God reckons us to have died with Christ, to be dead. On that basis we are also to consider ourselves to be dead to sin.

“For the death he died he died to sin, once for all. But the life he lives he lives to God. So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:10-11

The truth is that we must die before we can be granted new life. There must first be a death before there can be a new birth. It is only on the basis of our death that our resurrection can occur.

As believers then, what is our relationship to sin now?

Throughout chapters five, six, and seven of Romans, Paul is weaving a picture that he states clearly as well as illustrates for us. We can see what Paul has to say clearly stated in Romans 5.

“If because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17

“…as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 5:21

Paul is adamant, death and sin shall not reign over us, instead, through the grace that comes through Christ, we now reign over our sin.

For me, this immediately calls to mind the story of Cain and Able, particularly in Genesis 4:7 where the Lord tells Cain “…sin is crouching at the door. Its (sin’s) desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Where Cain failed, Christ has succeeded on our behalf. Because of the faithfulness and righteousness of Christ and our subsequent inclusion in the death of Christ, sin has been rendered powerless over us. It no longer reigns over us, it is we who rule over it.

We see Paul illustrate this vital truth throughout chapter six in a number of different passages.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” 6:6

We must die so that the old can be done away with, as Paul puts it, that “the body of sin might be brought to nothing”. The word translated here as ‘brought to nothing’ could also be translated as nullified, destroyed, or be rendered powerless.

We had to be considered dead so that the old nature, the flesh, or the body of sin could be rendered powerless, so that sin could have no more power over us.

Paul uses the language of reigning, rule, and dominion a number of times in Romans Six. Clearly he is trying to make what he believes to be an important point.

“We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” 6:9

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” 6:12

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.” 6:14

Paul is teaching us that, in Christ, we have entered into an entirely new state. Where once we were slaves under the rule of sin and death, now we have been set free from our slavery. Those who were once slaves however, have not only been set free from their slavery, they have in fact had the tables entirely turned. The slave has become the master, the subject has become the ruler.

So how then are we to respond to this new state of affairs?

We are to consider ourselves dead to sin, and as such, we are no longer under its rule. But conversely, we are also to consider sin dead to us, in that it no longer has any power over us.

We are ‘to put to death the deeds of the flesh’ (8:13), to ‘cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’ (13:12), to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’ (13:14).

Does being set free from our slavery to sin mean that we will not experience temptation any longer?

No. Simply because we are free from the power of the flesh and the sins that flow from its desires, does not mean that we will not still experience temptation and the desires of the flesh. It instead means that we are no longer enslaved to those desires. We have a new power to resist those desires, to not give in to those desires as we would have in our former lives.

We no longer have any obligations to the flesh as we did when we were its slaves. We no longer need to live according to its desires. In our former state we had to obey the flesh,  we were enslaved, we had no choice in the matter. But that is no longer who we are. 

Because God has made us new in Christ, we now have a new heart, a new nature, new power, and new desires. As new creatures in Christ the desire of our hearts is to live in a way that demonstrates our love and gratitude to the Lord by living our lives in a way that honours Him, in a way that is worthy of the Gospel by which we have been called (Eph 4:1, Phil 1:27, Col 1:10 et al).

We are to reject those evil desires, to turn away from them and turn towards God and His righteousness revealed in Christ. We are to trust in Christ and in the Spirit that He has granted us, believing that all we need in order to overcome our selfish desires has already been granted to us in the Holy Spirit.

This theme of putting off the flesh and putting on Christ, or putting off the old man and putting on the new is writ large throughout Paul’s writing. But in a culture where being true to yourself is the mantra repeated ad nauseam and the ultimate goal of life, it has become a message relegated to the supposedly rigid confines of a legalistic past. In casting it off, however, we are missing something that, it seems for Paul at least, is central to the Gospel of Jesus.

Here are three passages that are worth considering in this regard.

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:17-24

“In him also you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  

Colossians 2:11-15

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these things the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Colossians 3:1-10

Can you see just how important to Paul’s teaching it is that we understand that we have been included in the death of Christ and so we are to consider ourselves as dead with Christ, and as such dead to sin? We have died with Him and so we shall also live with Him. Because this is so we are now to live our lives in a new way, not enslaved as we were to the old self, but to live out of the freedom and power that we have been granted in Christ.

Does this mean that we will now live perfect lives, lives totally free from sin?

No. It means that the body of sin has been put to death in Christ. Our sin nature is reckoned as dead in the eyes of God, and, on this basis, a new life has been granted us in the Spirit. However we don’t experience the fulness of this in the here and now.

Our true state will only be finally revealed with the return of Christ and the final resurrection to life eternal. In the meantime, we are to live our lives now in the light of our true nature, state, and position in Christ, in whom our lives are hidden.

In this life we are to pursue the things of the Spirit not the fulfilling of the flesh.

We can only do this by virtue of two truths, two facts, in light of the fact of who we truly are in Christ, and by the fact that a downpayment of our final inheritance has been granted to us in the Spirit that indwells us.

We wrestle now with the flesh knowing that our final victory over the flesh, as well as the world and the Devil, is guaranteed in Christ. We will prevail because He has prevailed. We have been included in His victory over sin and death, and as such we shall share in that victory. We will overcome because we have been made to be more than overcomers in Christ Jesus.

We wrestle against the flesh now, not in the flesh or by the power of the flesh, but instead by the power that has been granted to us by the Spirit of God dwelling in us. And so, by faith, we no longer set our minds on the things of the flesh but instead set our minds on the things of the Spirit. We who are in Christ no longer live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. After all, ‘How can we who died to sin still live in it?”.

This will lead to a transformed life, not a perfect life, but one that is being made perfect in the Perfect One. As we commit ourselves in faith to walking out the truth of who God has made us to be in Christ, we will embody this truth more and more consistently in this life, never perfectly, always falling, always failing, always requiring repentance and forgiveness, but always growing in our conformity to Christ, growing into the final state which has been guaranteed us in Christ.

For any of this to be possible we must understand the truth that in Christ, we have died, and as such died to sin. It is only by virtue of the fact that we have died with Christ that we can have new life in Christ. It is only in our death that we have been set free from sin, and only because of that fact that we have now been set apart for eternal life in Christ.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:22-23

Part 25

04 Aug 2021

John 6:22-71. It’s the day after the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus and His disciples have crossed over to the other side of the sea from where that great miracle of multiplication was performed.... continue reading...

Part 19

23 Jun 2021

Matthew 5:27-30. Deep breath… I’m going to need to take this slow, this is a hard, biting passage of scripture. Jesus lays out here a challenge that can’t be ducked, dodged, or evaded in any way.... continue reading...

Devotional Part 13

13 May 2021

Matthew 4:1-11. We return to the scene of Jesus temptation in the wilderness, this time from the recollections of Matthew. Here we have the detail we lacked in Mark’s account, so we can begin to answer that question regarding how Jesus was tempted in the flesh?... continue reading...

Devotional Part 12

05 May 2021

Matthew 1. Here we have the genealogy of Jesus laid out for us. His physical heritage, ancestry, pedigree, call it what you will. But with regards to this study one thing immediately springs to mind and it is this, whatever we mean by ‘the flesh’ it is not simply the body, or the physical self.... continue reading...

Devotional Part 11

28 Apr 2021

Mark 14:32-42. Facing His impending arrest, Jesus commits himself to prayer, and asks the disciples to do the same. However, upon returning to them He finds His disciples asleep. But then He says something that catches my attention.... continue reading...

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