Friends: My pastor and friend, suggested it would be helpful to further clarify one point in ‘yesterday’s’ post related to “the second way we die.” The first is that we were crucified with Christ – positionally. The ‘second’ is that we have to learn to ‘reckon ourselves dead to sin’. We have to mortify the flesh. We have to claim the reality of what Christ did positionally. (Romans chapter 6).
The premise of this week’s post and study is this: We can’t pursue the kind of life God calls us to live if we don’t know what happened to us when became a Christian. There’s a great deal of emphasis today, it seems to me, on what has happened for us in the cross, namely that our sins are forgiven, and that we are accepted, and that we are loved, and that we have eternal life. But there doesn’t seem to me to be as much emphasis on what has happened to us in becoming Christians, what happened to us because of the cross.
And it’s precisely this — what happened to us, what changed in us — that Paul emphasizes as the key to how we are to pursue holiness and love and righteousness and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So here is a further emphasis and clarification from John Piper’s study.
Who died, and who came to life, when we became Christians?
And Paul describes who died in at least four ways. First, he says, “I died.” Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lived.” So I died. Number two, he says our old self died. Roman 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Third, he says that our flesh died. Galatians 2:24: “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh.” Fourth, he says the body of flesh. Now that’s a reference back to what we just saw in Colossians 2:11, the body of flesh. He says that in being buried with Christ, we have put off the body of flesh.
Now putting those four ways of saying it together, here’s what I conclude. In so far as I am identified with my flesh and in so far as my body is the instrument of my flesh, I died and my body died because my flesh died. Now, what does that mean?
What Is My Flesh?
What is my flesh? And here’s Paul’s answer to that question in Romans 8:7: “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh” — that is in the control and sway of this thing called flesh — “cannot please God.” So the flesh is not synonymous with the body. The flesh is my old self in its hostility to God. It’s insubordination to God. It’s inability to submit to God and please God — that’s my flesh. That’s what died when I became a Christian. God killed my hostility to God. God killed my insubordination to God.
God killed my inability to submit to God and my inability to please God. He killed me in that sense. And in the place of that old self of hostility and insubordination and inability, God created a new self. He calls it a new creation in 2 Corinthians 5 and in Ephesians 2:10. And what are the traits of this new creation, this new self that came into being when I was united to Christ and died and rose with him? Galatians 2:19–20 give a beautiful answer that says I died to the law so that I might live to God:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and here comes the key phrase I think, the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
So three ways Paul describes his new self as a Christian. First, he’s alive to God. God is real to him, precious, beautiful, desirable. He isn’t hostile to God anymore, he admires God, he loves God, he trusts God, he’s alive to God. Second, his new self lives by faith in the Son of God. So he’s no longer insubordinate and self-sufficient and self-exalting, he trusts the son of God like a little child. He submits and depends upon the mercy of God in Christ. He’s a believer, that’s what came alive. A believer came alive. And third, another way to say it is that Christ himself lives in us. I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.
The new self of the Christian is the God-loving, son-of-God-trusting, Christ-inhabited self. That’s the new creation that came into being when I rose with Christ.
Be What You Are
Now, we should be asking how this reality, not possibility, reality, these things really happen to us, we don’t make them happen, they really happen to us, how that relates, to our battle with sin. And the answer is that this way of understanding ourselves is the way we do battle with sin. Paul didn’t say, “Oh, since this glorious death and resurrection has happened to you, there’s no more battle of a sin.”
He said this new reality of life from the dead and this old reality which has died with Christ is precisely the way we fight sin in our lives. For example, Colossians 2:20, he says, “If with Christ, you died to the legalistic elemental principles of dos and don’ts — do not taste, do not touch, do not handle. . . .” And he’s explaining the false religion there. If you died to those, why are you submitting to such regulations? You’re dead to those. Don’t submit to them, be who you are.
Then later in chapter 3, he said, “You have died. So put to death what is earthly in you, immorality, impurity, passion.” So Paul did not say because you have died, there’s no battle. He said, “Because you have died, reckon yourselves dead,” Romans 6:11. Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. In the other words, be what you are.
“Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. In the other words, be what you are.”
Cleanse Out the Old Leaven
It may sound paradoxical, but it is a profound and glorious truth. God has made us what we are. In Christ, we are new creatures. We don’t make ourselves new creatures; we are new creatures. We act the miracle that he performed. He performed the miracle, we act it out.
Listen to first Corinthians 5:7: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump of dough as you really are unleavened.” That just captures everything right in one verse. You are unleavened, so get the leaven out. I just love it.
So, I say to all of us, don’t let your death with Christ in your new life in Christ cause you to shrink back from making war on your sin as though that conflict should not be happening. Rather, let your death with Christ and your newness in Christ be the happy, confident ground where you take your stand and put to death the sin that remains.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently What Is Saving Faith?