Life and Death Part II

The Apostle Paul said, “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.”(Rom. 6:3-12)

The Big Question

In the previous post(Life and Death Part I) I asked the question: So why do Christians sin, if the body of sin has been destroyed? And if anyone thinks that as a Christian you never have a problem with sin, just ask the people around you, and they will tell you that you do. At any rate, for those who do realize that Christians can and do sin at times, let me reiterate the question. Why?

Adam and Eve were created perfect. They had no sin nature. The sin nature did not become a part of them until they ate of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Exactly how long it was between the time that they were created and the time that they ate the fruit, we do not know, but we do know that there was at least a short time when they were alive without the sin nature. Yet they had the choice to eat of either tree. They could eat of the tree of life, or they could eat of the tree of death. And this is the exact same choice that Christians have today. God has not taken that choice away from us. He gave each and every one of us the free moral will to obey Him or disobey Him, and we still have that choice even as Christians. If Jesus instructed His disciples to abide in Him(John 15), and He definitely did, then it stands to reason that there is the possibility of not abiding in Him.

Christians, as nothing else in nature, are a very peculiar species. James mentioned that a fountain cannot bring forth bitter water and sweet water at the same time(Jam. 3:11), yet Christians are able to praise and worship God with their tongue, and then turn right around and use profanity, lie, and even take the Lord’s name in vain, at times; all the time not wanting to do this, but seemingly not able to stop themselves from doing it. The good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can the evil tree bring forth good fruit, yet Christians are able to use their hands to serve God, and then turn right around and use those same hands to commit sin. Christians are able to use their eyes and their ears to read and hear the word of God, and then turn right around and desire to see and hear the evil things of this world. Christians are able to think on the things of God and His word with their minds, and love God with their hearts, and then turn right around and have unclean thoughts and evil desires that ought not to be.

The reason that we are capable of this, first of all, is that we are not the vine, and we are not the tree; we are the branches.Shield of Death (2) Either Jesus is the vine, or Adam is. Those are really the only choices that we have. And if we abide in Jesus, which means we continue to be a part of Him, then we will continue to bring forth good fruit, but if we do not abide in Jesus, which means we shift our focus from the tree of Life, which is Jesus, to the tree of Death, which is our own efforts, then we will by default end up rooted right back in the corrupt tree.

Notice that Paul first said that the body of sin has been destroyed, but then he turned around later and said to reckon yourself to be dead indeed to sin. The word destroyed there does not mean that sin has been annihilated, but rather we have become dead to the sin. We have been broken off from that old, corrupt tree, and we have become rooted in the new, good tree. But we still have the choice to go the other way. This does not mean that we, as Christians, become unsaved every time we fail, for if that were the case Jesus would need to save us over and over again. What it does mean though is that we as the branches of the good tree stop growing, and if we stop growing then we no longer have the capacity to bring forth good fruit, and we revert back to bringing forth evil fruit, though we do not want to do this. This is why Paul said: “for the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.”(Rom 7:19) He was saying that even though we may not want to sin, if we, by trusting in ourselves rather than Christ, become detached from the true vine, then we will bring forth evil fruit once again, and we will not be able to keep from doing it, no matter how hard we try.

The reason is that we are trying rather than trusting. We are trying to live without the vine, rather than trusting in the vine as the source of life. Once again, God is the one and only source of life in all the universe, and if we walk away from God and go off trying to find life somewhere else, we will find no life at all. And Jesus, as the vine that is rooted in God, is the only place where we can have life flowing into us, and if we try to get life from any place else, we will die. It is just that simple. Abide in the vine!

As a quick aside: in contrast to Adam and Eve who tasted of the fruit of the tree of death and were summarily banned from ever eating from the tree of life; Christians today enjoy a much more blessed hope. For Christians, at times, will look back to the tree of death(I.e. their own efforts) and be pulled back in to the old ways of sin(I.e. bring forth evil fruit). This should not be done, but sadly at times it is done, but if we by humility come back to God asking forgiveness, He is faithful and just to forgive us(I John 1:9), and then it is as if the sin never happened. We are placed back in to the true vine once again, and we begin growing again.

Dead either way

When the Bible speaks of being dead, as in “dead indeed unto sin”, in this and many other instances it is not talking about physical death; it is talking about spiritual death. This needs to be defined; because when most think of death, they think of falling asleep and never waking back up, etc. However, the idea of spiritual death would be better compared to the ritual known as shunning. Shunning, in brief, and for anyone who does not know, involves a community of people casting out or excommunicating a member or family of that community. The individual or family being shunned has in some way committed a heinous crime against the community and therefore they are to be punished. Or else, the individual or family has elected to leave the community voluntarily.

In this process of shunning, at least by my understanding, the elders of that community, as representatives of the whole community, will get together forming a circle around the individual or family that is to be shunned, and one by one they will turn their backs on the person signifying: “you are now dead to us, and we are dead to you. We will not talk to you, we will not help you, we will never again acknowledge your existence.” While the person may still be alive in the natural sense, they are symbolically dead to that community. They are no longer a part of that community, and in fact they are treated as though they no longer exist. They are dead.

Some may say that this is what God did to the human race, but, in truth, it is the other way around. This is what Adam and Eve did to God; they turned their backs on God, and humans have been doing the same thing ever since. But with Adam and Eve making the election to turn their backs on God, thereby shunning Him, God had no choice but to honor their decision, and so when God became dead to them, and they became dead to Him, God respected their choice. And while God would provide a way for them to come back to Him, it would have to be their choice. He would not force them to come back to Him, just as He will not force a Christian to choose the right way. He still puts both trees in the garden and says: “It is your choice.” But just as with Adam and Eve, He does tell us what the consequence will be if we choose wrong, and what the reward will be if we choose right.

So herein lies one of the biggest problems as far as the choice between life and death. Just as with Adam and Eve, so also it is with us today. We choose the wrong tree; because we simply do not believe what God has said. And while we may not look at it that way, it cannot be explained any other way. If you eat of the tree of Life you will live; if you eat of the tree of death you will die. If you eat of the tree of death thinking that it will give you life, then either you were not listening when God said that tree will kill you, or else you just did not believe what He said. It’s that simple. Choose the right way.

Now, when we were born into this world, we were born spiritually dead. That means that we were born in a state of being dead to God. In fact, this is how that many, even most, can be walking around physically on this earth, yet the Bible says that they are dead. They are truthfully the walking-dead. In fact, this is the very reason we must be born-again. We were once dead to God and alive unto sin, but when we are saved we become dead to sin and alive to God. In one way or another we are all dead to something, and once again there are only two choices. We can live our lives with our back turned to God and our face turned to sin, or we can live with our back turned to sin and our face toward God.

Jesus, obviously, had no sin, but on behalf of the rest of sinful humanity, Jesus died unto sin once for all, and He now lives unto God. And if you abide in Jesus, then you are dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God, as well. Jesus, obviously, always looks toward God and never toward sin. He cannot fail as we can. And so if we are a part of Him, God reckons us to be dead indeed unto sin just as Jesus is. But if we take ourselves out of Christ, thereby failing to abide in Him, the clock stops right where we are as far as our growth in Christ, and our roots in the evil tree start to thrive once again. And if we are not careful, the evil roots will gain enough ground that they will choke and kill the good roots that we have. The death to God may become permanent if it goes on for too long.

So, if I am dead to sin, then how is it that I am still able to sin? As stated, we still have the capacity to choose to trust in our own efforts, which means that we are not trusting in Jesus and the cross. You cannot trust in both at the same time, and if we trust in ourselves, which means we are trusting in the flesh, we are once again looking to the sinful, corrupt tree for life, and we will bring forth corrupt fruit no matter what we may claim.

The Two of Me

Paul would say in the 7th chapter of Romans: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Notice here that Paul is saying that there is in fact two different natures within me now, and that they are constantly warring one against the other. In fact, Paul tells us this same thing in many and different ways throughout all of his writings. There is a sin nature within us, which we already had the moment we were born. There is no one who is immune to this disease called sin. In fact, Jesus was the only one who ever lived without this sin nature, and because His conception and birth into this world were completely unique. But as Christians we also have a divine nature within us as well, which began growing within us the moment we were saved. One nature is the nature of Adam after the similitude of the flesh, while the other is the nature of Christ after the similitude of the Spirit. One brings forth nothing but evil fruit, while the other brings forth nothing but good fruit.

Notice also a few key points that Paul makes here: first of all, he uses the words delight in the law of God, and while the connotation may seem subtle here, he is not saying that he is constantly trying to keep the law. What he is saying is that the inward man delights to do the will of God. It is not a matter of trying to do anything. It is now his nature to want to serve God, and in fact it is his nature to serve God. Just as the Psalmist would say of Jesus: “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” And let us say it again: if Jesus delights to do the will of God, then the Spirit of Christ within the Christian also delights to do the will of God.

Second, Paul is also telling us here that there is another separate law within his members, meaning his physical body. This law is trying with all its strength and effort to trust in itself to do the good and right, while another part of him, the inward man, is not making any effort at all except to trust in God. Paul knows in his mind that he must trust in Christ if he is to bring forth good fruit, but the flesh is constantly telling him, “no, it is up to me: trust in self.”, and this brings him into captivity. The law of sin, which is in his members, is the law that says that if he trusts in himself and not in Christ, he is going to bring forth evil fruit. It is a law, and it cannot be broken. It is going to happen no matter what.

Let’s say it this way for further clarity: if you are trying in your own strength and ability to do the good and refrain from the evil, then, although you may be doing good things, you are doing them according to your own will, and not according to the will of God, which means you are rebelling against God’s will—even if you don’t mean to do it. You are saying, “I don’t need Christ; I can do it myself.”

Paul also says, “O wretched man that I am!” meaning he is calling himself that. He lays the blame at his own feet and says that he is the wretched man. But then he also says that he is stuck in “this body of death”, and he cannot get out of it on his own. Someone must deliver or rescue him, and he gives us the solution to that in the next verse, but let us first look at the body of death that he is talking about.

The Body of This Death

As we have stated, the old corrupt tree, which sprang forth from Adam, and which cannot bring forth anything but evil fruit, is dead to God. And while we can call it flesh as the scripture does, it might better help the discussion to call it self; because self is the problem. The human body, and the human nature are not evil. In fact, they were both created by God, and God cannot create evil. And in this way it can be said that we truly have three natures: the human nature, the sin nature, and the divine nature, and at the day of Christ’s appearing there will be no more sin nature. So the human body, while it may be frail because it is made of dust, is not the problem. The problem is the choice. The human body, just like the rest of creation, became subject to vanity, meaning it has become corrupted. Not evil but corrupted; there is a difference. But it is the spirit that we were born with, and that we inherited from Adam, that is bent toward evil and the physical body goes in the direction of evil because the spirit of rebellion within us tells it to. You can use many things on this earth for good or for evil(e.g. computers, books, medicines, etc.), and the human body is definitely one of those things that can be used for either one.

Paul would say again in another place: “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” First of all, and without any contradiction, if we are in Christ, meaning we are rooted in Him, then He is also in us. And what he is saying here is that the Holy Spirit, who works on behalf of Christ, is in us and He is in control. At least, He is supposed to be, and He will be if we do things the way that He has told us to do them in His word.

Here now Paul takes the illustration that we have been talking about(I.e. the two trees) and he likens it to twoShield of Salvation (2) bodies. We have the body of sin, with Adam as the head of that body, and we have the body of righteousness, with Jesus as the head. We were born into the body of sin, and then, as Christians, we were reborn into the body of righteousness. And Paul is telling us that the old body was crucified on the cross, buried in the tomb, and it is still in that tomb. When Jesus arose from the dead, He arose for us—in our place. Moreover, we are now a part of the new body that came out of that tomb and left the old body behind. I am no longer a part of the old body of sin; I am now a part of the new body of righteousness, with Jesus as the power source and the life source.

Once again, this raises the question: if the body is dead because of sin, then why, as a Christian, am I still walking around on this earth, and why am I still capable of sinning?

The reason that the sin nature is still present within us as Christians is that we are still in a body of flesh. The only way to get out of this body of flesh is to die; and in this case I am speaking of physical death, where the soul and spirit are forever separated from the body. However, the way this process is supposed to go is that we mortify the deeds of the body by faith in the fact that we died on a cross nearly 2000 years ago. Of course it was Jesus who died there, but Paul specifically says that we died with Him. “For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”(Col. 3:3)

So this is what is happening. A part of what we call self is still held prisoner within this body of flesh, and still has a propensity to look back to its own strength and ability. And that is the part of us that Satan targets; because he knows that that part of us desires to be in control. Another part of self is hidden in Christ, and that part of our spirit or mind knows: “I need Jesus. I can’t do anything without Him.” Moreover, that part of our spirit is then being led and nurtured by the Holy Spirit. This part of self becomes exclusively dependent on Christ. Then the Holy Spirit, who once again works on behalf of Christ in us, raises us and nurtures us and feeds us and cares for us as a parent cares for a child. He waters us and tends to us as a Husbandman tends to a tree or a grape vine, so that it may bring forth much fruit. And this part of us, more and more, begins to realize, “I don’t want to be in control, because all I ever do is bring forth evil fruit. I want the Holy Spirit to be in control, because He is the one who knows how to bring forth good fruit.”

So in this way, it seems that the answer is to do nothing at all; however, the answer is that our looking to Christ, which means faith in what He has already done, is what we do in order to bring forth good fruit. Believe me. Trust me. I know what I am saying, because I have experienced it. If you keep your eyes on Christ and the cross, you will begin to bring forth good fruit. And the tree that you feed, whether the corrupt tree or the good tree, will be the tree that grows and increases. “For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”(Gal. 6:8)

Paul then answers his own question by saying that it is God the Father who has already delivered us from the body of this death, and He has done it by sending His Son in order that the old body of sin may be crucified in Him, and that the new body may be raised, with Jesus as the Head. So that we may be raised with Him in newness of life. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So here is a process that must be examined further, and that is: how do I maintain this newness of life, and how do I mortify the deeds of the body? And this question will be answered in the next post —The Laws of Life and Death.