WANTED: Dead and Alive
Christ is Risen…He is Risen Indeed! These words, known as the Paschal Greeting, have been uttered as an Easter custom by Christians throughout the ages. In fact, if we lived in Eastern Europe, we would also exchange the Triple Kiss on alternating cheeks! Based on Luke 24:34, this greeting is used to affirm the profound truth that the early disciples found so encouraging: He who was once dead is now alive…really…it’s true!
And while this statement is a worthwhile tradition, we, as believers, have another powerful way to affirm that truth…our daily life in Christ, indeed! As we live in obedience to God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, we demonstrate that Christ’s death and resurrection are real! And, according to the Apostle Paul, the way this works out in the life of believers is for them to be found…Dead and Alive!
Paul lays out an argument in Romans chapter 6 that explains the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. However, in order to accurately comprehend Paul’s case, an understanding of his line of reasoning established in the first five chapters is foundational. In summary, Paul states in chapters 1-2 that God is righteous, man subverts the truth and God’s wrath is poured out on disobedience. At the end of chapter two, Paul points out that the Jews had subverted God’s truth by maintaining an outward show without an inward reality. With God it’s always been a matter of the heart.
Paul follows this initial point with a series of rhetorical questions and answers in Rom 3-5 to that God is faithful, He judges unrighteousness because all have sinned, and Christ has been provided as the propitiation to assuage God’ s wrath. Abraham is paraded as an example that justification is through faith alone, and God is the God of all, Jews and Gentiles. Because God demonstrated His love in that Christ died for His enemies, mankind can be reconciled to God and at peace with Him. Since sin and death reigned from the time of Adam, the offense against God was great as demonstrated through the law; however, God’s mercy and grace provided through Christ’s sacrifice were even more abundant...really...it's true!
Paul’s query that begins chapter 6 reflects the “logical” thought process of the human mind. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1) It seems logical that if sin brings grace and grace is good, more sin will result in more grace. Paul emphatically rebuts this claim; even though it appears logical, the perspective is unreasonable as it is contrary to the nature of grace. Grace is not directly proportional to sin; rather it is more effective than sin.
It is akin to the need for medical insurance. A person would be considered a little bit crazy if they insisted on continually getting sick in order to enjoy the benefits that the insurance coverage provides. The insurance is sufficient to cover the medical expense, but it is not intended to encourage illness! Likewise, grace abundantly covers the transgression of sin, but it does not promote the continuation of sin. Instead, grace brings about the death of sin! And as Paul then asks, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”(v. 2)
To solidify his argument, Paul winsomely gives the benefit of the doubt that there may have been a misunderstanding and proceeds to show the implication of baptism in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. “As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” (v. 3) While baptism serves as a sign and testimony of Christ’s work on our behalf, it also acts as a catalyst to join us with Christ in these acts. A chemical reaction may result in a solution or a compound. While a solution is a mixture of two components (i.e. water + salt = salt water), a compound reaction changes the nature of the parts joined together (i.e. hydrogen + oxygen = water/H2O). Believers are not just with Christ and in His presence, but they are in Christ. Their nature has changed. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (v. 4) In baptism the power of sin is dead and new life is produced. As John Calvin states in his commentary on this passage, “The death of Christ is efficacious to destroy and demolish the depravity of our flesh, and his resurrection, to effect the renovation of a better nature, and that by baptism we are admitted into a participation of this grace. Through baptism, the believer is inexplicably linked to Christ in the likeness of both His death and resurrection...really...it's true!
The debt has been paid so sin and death no longer have any control or leverage. “For he who has died has been freed from sin.” (v. 7) Once a mortgage or car loan is paid in full, it seems silly for the previous debtor to keep making payments. In fact, many debtors celebrate with a mortgage burning or by cutting up credit cards. And, they would refuse to give any additional funds if the banker demanded additional payments by claiming the debt had been paid in full! Paul reminds his readers at the end of this chapter that “the wages of sin is death.” (v. 23) The death of Christ pays off the debt. In his commentary Matthew Henry says, “Come and see the victories of the cross. Christ’s wounds are thy healings, His agonies thy repose, His conflicts thy conquests, His groans thy songs, His pains thine ease, His shame thy glory, His death thy life, His sufferings thy salvation.”
Believers have been crucified and resurrected with Christ, and they enjoy the same benefits that Christ has over sin. “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.” (v. 9) Since sin and death have no power over Christ, they have no power over believers. When an employee changes companies, the old boss no longer tells him what to do. The old employer has no control over the schedule, paycheck or benefits. Likewise, a freed prisoner does not keep reporting to the warden. In the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday contains this lament by Hades:
“Today Hades cries out groaning:
I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.
He came and destroyed my power.
He shattered the gates of brass.
As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.
Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!”
Paul then shows that this truth has implications for the daily life of a believer. The answer to the initial question is answered again, two-fold – stop sinning and start living a new life in Christ! “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead.” (vs. 12-13) Believers are called to follow Christ’s example in His resurrection and live as Christ lives because “…sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (v. 14) This reality is the benefit of grace that abounds! ...really...it's true!
In his monumental work, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo shares the life of Jean Valjean. Early in the story, Jean is released from prison after a 19-yearsentence. As he is making his way to report for parole, he is befriended by bishop who feeds and provides shelter for him. In desperate need of money for his journey, Valjean again follows his thieving tendencies, steals the silverware and continues on his journey, knocking out the bishop in the process. The authorities return with Jean the next day, looking for the bishop to press charges. Much to the surprise of the authorities, and Jean Valjean, the bishop says he gave the silverware as a gift. And, the bishop also expresses astonishment that Valjean did not take the silver candlesticks as well! In the end, the bishop gives Jean the candlesticks and does not press any charges! As he forgives Jean and sends him freely on his way, the bishop remarks, ”Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God." The rest of the story is about Jean Valjean living a life of kindness and service for others…a story of true redemption!
Christ’s words to Martha as she expressed concern about her brother’s death are fitting for this truth. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25) Do you believe this?
Christ is Risen…He is Risen indeed! And He will return again…may we be found Dead and Alive!