Union with Christ

September 18, 2022 Download: Audio

Romans 6

The law of God is, more often than not, a misunderstood thing. We don’t quite know what to make of it. Is it a life-giving thing or a life-robbing thing? We wouldn’t be the first ones with this kind of confusion. Paul writes about the law in the next couple of chapters for u,s addressing this very thing. What’s the answer? It depends on how you view the law. If you view the law as the means of approaching God, you will find yourself feeling lots of things (superior if you feel you’re keeping it well, guilty if you feel like you’re not), but not the one thing you hoped. You won’t feel closer to God. Does that mean the law is a bad thing? No. Only your use (or “abuse”) of the law.

There is a fascinating story found in the 18th-century Scottish Church that highlights this confusion over the law. When a candidate for ministry was being examined by his presbytery to make sure he was qualified and called to the task, he was asked to affirm this short creed:

“I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that you must forsake sin in order to come to Christ”

Admittedly, its wording is confusing. What was its purpose? It exposed a division in the Church of Scotland at the time over the place of the law. Was it something that had to be sought in order to come to Christ? That was the real question. And we can understand the struggle. After all, when we interview someone for membership to Cornerstone we ask them to tell their story of how they came to trust in Christ and as we listen, we’re listening for evidence that, indeed, God has been at work in them. A strong piece of evidence, of course, is a desire to forsake sin. But evidence is just that: evidence. It is not the means of coming to Christ, it is evidence that someone has been brought to Christ. The only way a person is brought to Christ is by grace. As Paul hammers hard in these opening chapters of Romans, eternal life is a FREE GIFT of God. It is not earned. Christ died for you WHILE you were still a sinner. That is so paramount to understanding the gospel! It draws your eyes, not to the deservedness of the one God chooses, but to the wondrous love and grace of God that gives everything to bring the undeserving close. If you don’t get this part of the good news, you don’t have good news.

So, why then do we have the law? The answer Paul has been giving is this in Romans 3:20

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

“Through the law,” he writes, “comes knowledge of sin.” This is the paramount purpose of the law when it comes to understanding that the free gift of God is completely a work of God’s grace. Works of the law are NOT a means of justification.
But that does NOT mean that the law therefore has no other purpose. Thinking this is the only purpose of the law is the mistake that both the legalist AND the antinomian make. The legalist says, “you must keep the law in order to be justified.” The antinomian says, “you can ignore the law since it is not the means of being justified.” The law has another important purpose for the believer, which is to show him what a life of faith well-lived looks like.

Think about the Israelite’s timeline. They were enslaved by the Egyptians before they had the law, and yet God chose to rescue them. He did not choose them because they had “works of the law” to their credit. They couldn’t possibly have works of the law to their credit since the law had not yet been given, not to mention their enslavers had another way of life forced upon them. While they were still enslaved, God rescued them. That is the story of Moses and the Exodus, when Moses led the people out of Egypt after bringing plague upon plague upon the Egyptians until they relented and let them go. And where did God bring them? He brought them to himself on Mt Sinai. Not until they were brought to God did God give them the law so that they might know what it looks like to live in God’s presence.

When it comes to the New Testament, this hasn’t changed. Living in accord with the moral law of God is still what a godly life looks like. But it CANNOT be lived until God empowers you to live that way and that is what Paul is describing in this chapter. A vitally important result of this free gift of justification is union with Christ. Because you have been united to Christ, you have the power to follow the moral law of God. Look at Romans 6:4

We were 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 newness of life.

The goal of God’s great work of redemption is that “we might walk in newness of life.” That is the point. How you live does matter. And now you have the ability to do so. How do we know? Because you have been united to Christ. You have been united to Christ in his death and you have been united to Christ in his life. You have a new master.