Union with Christ: Mind-Renewing Foundations

Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ

Well, it’s a privilege to be here. I’m grateful to John Piper for the invitation and the opportunity to do what I know many of you would give your right hand, at least metaphorically, to be able to do, to minister the word to so many ministers of the Word. We’re going to turn for this session to Paul’s letter to the Romans, 6. I’m going to read the first fourteen verses, which will be the focus of our study in this session.

Paul, of course, has just said in Romans 5:20, “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.

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. 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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1–14)

John Piper asked if I would choose two passages in the New Testament to try to expound some aspects of our union with Jesus Christ. And both of these passages, this one in Romans 6 and this afternoon in Colossians 3, are obviously chosen from the writings of the apostle Paul.

The Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul, at least in his recorded writings and speech, never referred to anyone as a Christian, and the few occasions in which the term is used in the New Testament, it may well be, it was originally a term of opprobrium that was used by enemies of the gospel about those who were Christ ones. But he does have a term that he uses again and again and again. He uses it of himself in 2 Corinthians 12 when he describes himself; he knows a man in Christ.

And the paradoxical thing about Christians’ reading of Paul’s letters is that so often they read him and miss his emphasis on union with Jesus Christ. But when you know he has an emphasis on union with Jesus Christ, you begin to see that it is absolutely everywhere.

It is on every page. It is either in every paragraph or under every paragraph. It is his absolutely fundamental way of describing what it means to be a Christian. It means to be a man or a woman in Christ Jesus. And the whole focus of our time together is to give us, as brothers, an opportunity to feel the waves upon waves of gospel teaching that encourage us to think of ourselves in this radically and dramatically new way.

If you don’t think of yourself fundamentally as someone who is in Christ, then I think we could say, from the New Testament’s point of view, you have missed the New Testament’s perspective on what it actually means to be a Christian. And what I want to do with us together is, in this first address, to take a kind of vista perspective on our union with Christ and then in the afternoon, to take a panoramic perspective on union with Christ.

I know that those two terms are sometimes used as though they were identical, but strictly speaking, a vista is a long, narrow, penetrating view, and a panorama is a wide-angle lens view. And so, we’re going to focus down here on what is important to Paul at this juncture in his letter to the Romans; that itself is a huge challenge.

Romans 6 as a Major Key

Some of you will know the story of the man who, after a morning service at Westminster Chapel in London, visited with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and asked him when he was going to begin a series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. And Lloyd-Jones replied, “When I can understand Romans 6.” Interesting not when he could understand Romans 5:12–21, not when he could understand Romans 7:14–25, not when he could understand Romans 9–11, but when he could understand Romans 6.

And my guess is that was an indication of the extent to which he felt he needed to be wrestled to the ground mentally and spiritually until the reality of this had dawned on him. That the description Paul gives here of the Christian was something that had seeped through the very pores of his being, captivated his understanding, inflamed his imagination. And given him this glorious new gospel perspective on what it means to be a Christian.

It is a major passage in Romans, and Paul’s teaching is a major key to the Christian life and a major key to pastoral ministry. The truth of this passage, as it were, combined with other passages, is the truth to which the apostle Paul brings virtually every pastoral problem as the place where he can look for the divine pharmaceutical that will dissolve the dangers of sickness and give the church and individual Christians a sense of the sheer glory of being Jesus Christ.

When he begins, as we well know, by the question that he raises, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:1–3). He could have surely expounded union with Christ without troubling us with references to baptism. He does so elsewhere.

Why Paul Appeals to Baptism

So why does he appeal to baptism here? The answer I think is very simple, isn’t it?

At the root of the matter in the New Testament, Matthew 28:18–20, we learn that what baptism is, in simple terms, is a naming ceremony. We have come into the world with the name of Adam written all over our lives. And now, in this amazing moment, for the first time in all history from the beginning of the world until the moment of the ascension of Jesus, for the first time in all history, someone rightly pronounces the name of God. For the first time in all history, it hasn’t been as clear as this. At any point in Jesus’s ministry, he’s unfolded it, hasn’t he? In the farewell discourse.

But now, right at the end, it’s as though he’s saying, “The last word I want to speak to you, I want to teach you how to pronounce the name of God because I want you to understand the fellowship into which you’re being brought.”

He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is this one named triune God. And when you baptize, you baptize men and women and young people out of the name of Adam, and into the name that gives you access to this triune God, the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, there is a sense in which, while baptism does not do something internally in the person who receives it.

There is a sense as real as what it meant to me that my parents gave me the name Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson. They didn’t realize what a mouthful that was going to be for the rest of my life. That did nothing to me internally, but it has determined the whole of my life. And as the significance of that name dawned on me as a little boy, whenever the name Sinclair was called, there was this deep-seated instinct created in me as I understood that this was how I had been named. This deep-seated instinct led me to say, “That is I.”

And this is what baptism is for, among all the other things it’s for; it’s for this. It is this naming ceremony. It does not have regenerating powers, but there is a sense in which it does something to me because it says I’m now named out of the name of Adam. And that part of Adam’s stock to which I belong, and now the name of the Lord Jesus is over me because I am mine, and he is my Savior. And all that I have been as mine is now his, and all that he is has become mine.

And it doesn’t take ten years or twenty years; it’s the reality from the very beginning of my Christian life. Don’t you sometime think that Satan has run down the wing, as it were, and done a dirty piece on the Christian church, diverting us from what it means to live in the astounding truth of being baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? That’s why Paul appeals here, and he’s really saying, “Don’t you understand what it means to be a Christian? Don’t you understand what it means to have been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus?” It changes everything.

And of course, he is doing this against the background of what is surely the theological foundation of the whole letter to the Romans 5:12–21. Where he’s very carefully and in detail worked his way down through the contrast between the heads of these two families, the disobedience and rebellion of the first Adam, and the obedience and faithfulness of the last Adam.

And the repercussions of that, in condemnation and in justification. And in Adam’s unrighteousness becoming mine, and Christ’s righteousness replacing Adam’s unrighteousness, and the reign of death giving way to the reign of life. And then this astonishing statement he makes as he speaks about the law of Moses coming in as a kind of interim arrangement. But since it carries with it the condemnation of the moral law, and trespasses increased. He says, “[Wonder of wonders], where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

And of course, he was accused (Romans 3:8). He had already said to us he was accused of teaching. You become a believer and then it doesn’t matter how you live, you become a believer and license breaks out. That was the accusation against Paul. That was the accusation you’ll remember against the reformers. You teach this free grace of God in Jesus Christ and licentiousness will break out.

And Paul is saying, if you say that kind of thing, you simply haven’t begun to grasp how the grace of God in Jesus Christ works. And so, he wants to say to us, “Let me do it all over again.” He says, “I’ve not been in Rome yet, I long to come to Rome to impart some spiritual gift.” I’m sure when they had Romans read out in the churches in Rome, they thought, that’s spiritual gift enough for us. He can stay at home. This is enough for us. But this is what he wants to teach, and I want to try and unpack what he does here under five heads.

Let me give you a roadmap in case either I or you lose the way. He begins with (1) emotion, (2) he goes on to explanation, (3) he develops an exposition, (4) he draws an implication, and (5) he concludes with an exhortation.

1. Renewal and Transformation of Your Emotions

He begins with emotion. If I hadn’t been a Scotsman, if I hadn’t been an American, I’d probably have used the word “explosion.” He explodes. This was one good thing about the Old King James Version, not that it was King James. That was one of the not good things about it, as a matter of fact. Scot, though, he was. But the way it translates it, God forbid, where does that come from?

Where does Paul’s me genoito come from? It comes from his soul, that’s where it comes from. This is not a thoughtless response, but you could from another point of view say this is an unthinking response. This is what happens when the truth has gripped the mind and has inflamed the affections that are born within the believer, such holy instincts as recoil instantaneously, virtually without thought from anything that will contradict the gospel. And it’s a terrific illustration of a very important principle, isn’t it?

This is how we want to grasp Roman 6, not so that we understand it up here, and it is a challenge to grasp it up here, but so that it will create in his gospel instincts, affections, and emotions that are driven by the fact that we live the whole of our lives in union with Jesus Christ.

And we often have to say to people, don’t we? That you do not live your Christian life on the basis of your emotions. But in the Christian life, there takes place a glorious renewal and transformation of your emotions; your emotions become gospel. Remember what Spurgeon said about John Bunyan, that if you pricked him anywhere, his blood would flow Bibline. And Paul is teaching us that if you prick him anywhere, his blood will flow. Union with Christ that finds the very idea that someone would continue in sin, and emotional as well as intellectual anathema.

And this is the glory of the gospel. You think of this little man with the bull legs, as the old description has him, and you think of how tightly wound he was, how driving, how ambitious, how coiled, and filled with hatred against the gospel. And what the gospel has done has been to steady him by stretching him, so that not only is his capacious mind gripped by the gospel, but his affections and emotions flow gospel.

2. Explanation

And so, he begins with a little emotional explosion, but then he goes on to explanation.

Of course, he does because the gospel life is the life that is transformed by the renewing of our minds. And what he says to these Roman Christians is, “Haven’t you yet grasped what it means to have been baptized?” Now, one is treading on water, whenever one says anything about baptism in mixed company. But the one thing that is true of us here is we are all Baptists.

And the way for Paul, baptism functions is not simply as a sign of something he has done in the past. The way baptism functions for him, as would be true of the Lord’s Supper, is the way it serves to draw our eyes to the Lord Jesus Christ and all that is in Christ for us and all that we have become in Christ. So that it would never simply be the event of an isolated moment in my life, whatever part of my life involved it.

It would be like a rubric under which the whole of my Christian life would be lived, that I’d be able to say every single day with Luther, baptizatus sum — I’m a baptized man and I’m living the baptized life. And that means as I rise in the morning, as I put my head in the pillow in the evening, every point in between and even when I sleep, and even when my body sleeps the sleep of death, that body in all its disintegration will remain united to Jesus Christ. That’s why the scripture says the dead in Christ shall rise, but the dead in Christ are never dead.

And so, this is a glorious truth for the apostle Paul to be brought into this holy name and to live the whole of my Christian life as if drinking from, drenched in, if you want, immersed in the truth of my union with Jesus Christ.

Dear brothers, how devilish it is that we wouldn’t understand that the real immersion is immersion into union with Christ? And that we would, in a sense, fuss in a neurotic way about amounts of water and not see the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, he’s saying, “Don’t you understand what it all means?” And what it means is this Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Let me try and retranslate that to bring out what I think Paul means here. Because in his statement here, he doesn’t use the ordinary relative pronoun. He uses a particular form of the relative pronoun that denotes the idea of identity or category. And what he says is this: we, who by definition are the people who died to sin. How can such people ever dream of continuing in sin?

Becoming a Christian Through Union with Jesus

And the thing for us to grasp is this. He’s saying this is what is definitive. This is the definition of becoming a Christian. That in becoming a Christian, through union with Jesus Christ, you became a person defined by the fact that in Christ, you have died to sin. And in Christ, you have been raised to newness of life.

It’s not some additional extra; it’s not some super thought about the Christian life. It is of the very essence of being a Christian. This is who you are. You have been taken out of Adam, and you have been placed into Jesus Christ. And in Jesus Christ, in his death to sin, you have died to sin, and in his resurrection, you have been raised up. Will you not think about yourself that way?

I guess another way to understand this is in John the Baptist’s reluctance to baptize Jesus. He has pointed out the sinless, holy Lamb of God who is going to take away the sin of the world. And Jesus comes to him and says, “Now, baptize me.”

And John says in so many words, “Please don’t do this to me, Jesus. Please don’t do this to me. Do you see this water, this water of the river Jordan in which I have baptized dozens, hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands? This water is polluted with their sin as they have come repenting of their sin, to wash away their sin in this baptism, this conversion. Please, Jesus, please do not tell me to take water from this river and in any way touch your holy head with this filthy water of their sin.”

Now, you remember, later on, Jesus will look back to his baptism in the river Jordan, and then forward to his baptism on the cross. And he will speak about having a baptism to be baptized with, and the way he’s held in until that baptism is accomplished. So we understand what takes place in the river Jordan is connected to the baptism and blood that he experiences on the cross of Calvary.

Now, what’s happening here? Why does Jesus say, “John, I know you don’t understand, just do it. Let’s fulfill all righteousness.” And the scholars are constantly arguing about what does that mean? Jesus is saying, “Let’s do it, John. You don’t understand.” He understands. What does he understand?

He understands this. He is being baptized into me and my sin in order — through his baptism on the cross and his resurrection from the dead — I might be baptized into him. He has been baptized into the name of the sinner. And so, all that is mine falls upon him. And I have been baptized into the name of the Savior, and all that is his falls upon me. Every single breath that he breathed these 33 years, every act that he did, every word that he said, he did it for me.

He had no need to do it for himself; he did it for me. And so, he comes to John, and he says, “Baptize me into their name because one day, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m going to baptize them into my name. For now, everything that is theirs is mine. And for all eternity, everything that is mine is theirs.”

And so, this is the grandeur of what Paul is speaking about here in Romans 5:12–21. He’s saying, “Don’t you realize that you’ve been baptized into Jesus Christ because he has been baptized into you? That just as everything that was Adam’s has become yours. But now, has become his. So everything that is his by grace has become yours through the Spirit and by faith.”

And so he says, “Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And therefore he says, “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” (Romans 6:4). He walked forth from the river Jordan bearing my life, my sin.

He walked out of the garden tomb, released from that and the power of the resurrection, but united to me and me united to him through the Holy Spirit, so that everything that is true of him in terms of what he has done for me becomes true also for me. The moment I am named for Jesus Christ, it’s all mine because he’s all mine. That’s what Paul is saying. Do you see his sheer greatness? It’s all yours.

3. Exposition

But then, of course, he wants to explain this to us. He says in Romans 6:6. And here he comes through explanation to exposition. His explanation is this: if you know who you are in Christ, you would not contemplate living in sin.

Years and years ago, I’d been teaching at Westminster Seminary, probably ten years. The president stopped me as I walked across campus. He said to me, “Sinclair, have you become an American citizen?” I said, “Pardon?” He said, “Have you become an American citizen?” I said, “An American citizen?” He said, “Yes, have you become an American citizen?” The only thing I could think of to say was, “But George, I’m a Scot. How could I do such a thing?”

Now, metaphors break down, as do all illustrations. It is a great thing, brothers, to be an American citizen. But you understand my instinct. If I said to you, “Would you like to become a . . . “ If I said, “Come on, there are two thousand of us. We can march on Washington, we can take over the Capitol Building, we can bring the nation back to its lawfully constituted authority.” Now, some of you are cynical enough to say, “Hey, that’s quite a good idea.”

But what’s your instinct going to say? Your instinct is going to say we could never do that because we are Americans. And that’s what Paul has injected into him. It isn’t just a matter of theological reasoning; it’s the way his theological reasoning has gripped his very being that he sees this is that way of life. It’s an ontological contradiction for the Christian to go on living and sin.

Of course, people will say to us, “But I feel the sin.” And we need to say to them, “Your citizenship does not depend on how you feel; it depends on who you are.” You’ve been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Grasp it. All that is his is for you, all that is his is yours, and that means, and here is his vista. That means, in particular, that you have died to sin in Christ, and you have been raised to newness of life.

The Old Self Is Not the First Part of My Life

Now, what does that mean? He explains, doesn’t he? In his exposition in Romans 6:6–10, he says,

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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6–7)

Now, this is probably the most tightly wound, complex statement that Paul makes, and I want to say just a word or two about how I think we should understand it.

First of all, when he says ESV has our old self, which I think actually is a little unhelpful, he isn’t thinking just about my previous life as a non-Christian. The reason he uses the language of the old man or palaios anthrópos, is because he’s just expounded Romans 5:12–21.

The old self is not the first part of my life. The old man is all that I am by nature, united to Adam. And what he’s saying is this: it’s not just a few years of my autobiography; it’s all that I am under the condemnation of God, under the power of the reign of sin, caught in the flesh without God and without hope. He’s saying all that I was in union with Adam has been brought to an end because I’m now united to Jesus Christ.

If I can put it this way, it isn’t Adam’s life, and your past that now determines your life. It’s Christ’s life, and Christ’s past that determines your life. The man who was united to Adam is no more, only the man who is united to Christ remains. So he says, our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin, and I take that to mean actually the body as it is characterized by the dominion of sin.

Later on in Romans 7:24, he calls out to be delivered from the body of death. That is a body that is characterized by death — a lifeless body. And what he’s saying is that when we are now united to Jesus Christ, one of the realities that becomes true is that this body, which was formerly addicted to sin and under its dominion, is now no longer under that dominion and increasingly becomes infertile soil for the seeds of sin.

It isn’t that sin doesn’t remain; it isn’t that sin doesn’t end well; it isn’t that sin no longer has influence. It is that this body no longer sins. Now, one of the great things we need to grasp in a world that is full of dualisms and, in many ways, evangelical traditions that are full of dualisms, is that it’s not some abstracted part of me that’s united to Jesus Christ; it’s me. It’s the whole of me, body and soul. It isn’t just inward, as I hope we’ll see this afternoon; it’s the whole person.

And he’s saying now, as a whole person living a bodily life, he’s really saying, “Brethren, sanctification is nothing if it doesn’t affect bodily life because you are bodily existence.” And now, thank God. And you see the power of this in the life of someone who continues to feel the tentacles of past addiction to sin when sin reigned in their lives.

The gospel tells us it no longer reigns in my life, and so my body is no longer under the dominion of sin. Oh, what a glorious truth that is. That, of course, is why my body can fight back, and why I, as a bodily being, can fight back. Paul’s going to make strong points about the importance of that. But in Christ, the reign of the addiction has been finished, although the presence and the effects of it will remain until the very reality of the lingering influences of our past addiction to sin will be abolished in the glorious resurrection body.

What a day that will be. You’ve never lived a day when you can get up in the morning and say to yourself, “I’m retired now.” And one of the odd things about it is I wake up in the morning and think, apart from my wife, no one will know if I stay here in bed all day long. It’s the weirdest thing. No longer to have the demands.

But of course, there’s the presence of my wife; she’ll know. You wake up in the morning, and you say, “This frail body, in which I live, I need to put lenses in front of my eyes to see what time it is.” I feel what I used to hear old people say when I come out of the shower and cricked my neck, and I say, “It must be wonderful to have a body that works absolutely perfectly.” And I say, “What will it be like to have a body that has no longer any influence of my past addiction to sin and my bondage under it,” and the day will come. But its dominion is already broken; that’s his point.

And John noticed that throughout this passage, he keeps using language about sin that personifies sin. He’s not here speaking about sin as guilt. He’s speaking about sin’s reign, its authority over my life. And he’s saying here, “The wonderful privilege of being a Christian is that we are now in Christ. The old man has been crucified with him, so that this body, as to its previous ownership, might be brought to nothing, so that I would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

So important, isn’t it, to distinguish the presence of sin from the reign of sin? He’s not saying he’s sinless, he’s not saying he never feels the tugs. He’s saying he is no longer a slave, and the reason is because the one who has died has been set free from sin. Now, you all know the difficulty in this verse that the commentators discuss, that Paul uses justification language here. But by and large, the translations translate it with liberation language.

And I think there is good reason for that, partly because Paul is speaking here about sin as dominion and not sin as guilt, sin as power and not sin as action. And he uses all this personified language. It reigns like a king. It pays wages like an employer. It is a general that uses our members as instruments in its warfare. And so, I really do think he is saying he’s using this justification language with this kind of nuances that we are quit with sin.

Actually, there’s a very good illustration of this in Scots law, believe it or not. And in the patterns in older days when a notice would be affixed to a prison door after eight o’clock in the morning when a condemned prisoner was executed. Let’s just say it was Angus McDonald, and the execution time in Scotland is eight o’clock in the morning or used to be. And the notice would read, “At 8:00 a.m. this morning, such and such a date, such and such a year of our Lord, Angus McDonald was justified.”

He was justified. What did that mean? It meant that the law had no more claims on him; they’d all been paid. And in that sense, he was now free. And that’s what Paul is saying. He’s saying a union with Jesus Christ in that vital union that we enjoy with him, the Vine. If I can take the Vine from John 15 and move it into Romans 6 and mix the language.

The Vine has, as he says here “Not only died for our sin, he himself has died to sin.” Romans 6:10: “The death he died, he died to sin.” That isn’t for our sin, of course, he died for our sin. But Paul’s point here is he died to sin in his death, in a way that is beyond our power to grasp. Jesus allows himself to come under the dominion of sin in death and to die that death in our place so that in a sense on the day when he stepped forth, there could have been a sign placed on the tom

Jesus Christ has been justified. All the claims of the reign of sin over my life, he has borne in his mortal body on the cross, and he has broken its power. And now all those who are united to him draw from what the Westminster Divine is called the virtue of his death and resurrection, the virtue, the nourishment of the crucified and raised vine. And now it’s mine.

It’s all mine because it’s all his. And he has said in his betrothal to me, “All that I have, with all my worldly goods, I, and thee endow.” And I have said to him, “I will take this man,” and he’s placed his ring on my finger, betrothed me to himself, made me a branch in the Vine, and his father is there. His father has brought me down the aisle to his son. And the archangel has said, “Who gives this man to this woman?” And he has said, “I gladly do.” And he’s ours, all that he is for us.

4. Implication

And this leads Paul, doesn’t it, from exposition to implication. He says in Romans 6:9,

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Romans 6:9–10)

So what’s the implication? Well, it’s this: you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I don’t need to tell you. He’s not saying sit down in a darkened room, clench your fists, close your eyes, and say, “I have died to sin.”

Now he is saying, realize it. Let it dawn on you. Reckon this to be true, precisely because it is true. This is not theological make-believe. This is gospel truth. Therefore, he says, “You must consider, you’ll make no headway policing unless you do this in response, unless you let it come over you, wave upon wave for the rest of your life.”

I woke up this morning at the end of some four-dimensional dream, and somehow or another, it was about union with Christ. And I woke up earlier than I wanted to say, “Lord, there’s just too much here. I can’t take it in, and I can’t give it out.” Not in one day, not in two hours, not in an entire lifetime until I see him face to face. So he is saying, “Let this be your settled understanding of who you are.” Consider yourself as someone, as C.K. Barrett, I think, well puts it. Think about yourselves as dead men brought to life in Jesus Christ.

5. Exhortation

And of course, there are implications and applications that he moves to as he comes to exhortation. Just incidentally, I want you to notice, I don’t think there is actually an imperative in Romans until this point. And there are no more imperatives in Romans until Romans 12; it’s fascinating.

But this is a kind of miniature of the whole book here. This is a miniature of the whole book. And so, one of the things that you see in Paul, because he has this amazing grasp of union with Christ, when he is expounded union with Christ in the existential indicative of the gospel, the floodgates open, and it’s now safe to pour out imperatives on the people of God.

And when he gets to Romans 12, it’s the same thing: in view of the mercies of God, as he’s been mounting up this amazing sense of the grandeur of the mercy of God, and then the floodgates open. Because he understands that when we expound the riches of our union with Christ, then it is safe to tell the people of God that there are imperatives from the heavenly Father that they now live out in their union with Jesus Christ. And so, imperatives become safe.

What are the imperatives? Well, they’re very simple. He says, “If all these things are true, don’t let sin reign in your life.” If you’re no longer under its reign, don’t let it reign. The two things go together. If you’re no longer under its reign, don’t let it reign. And therefore, don’t yield to sin with any part of your life. Your body is now Christ. So he says, “Take the members of your body and yield them to General Jesus and say, Lord Jesus, everything is yours, my mind, my affections, my body. I am entirely yours. I give myself to you, body and soul, for your sanctifying ministry.”

The Dominion of Sin and Grace

And so, he says at the end, “Here is a glorious promise because you’re not under law but under grace.” And he’s been expounding to us for six and a half chapters, really in one way or another. What this grace is, sin will no longer have dominion over you.

John Owen says in his book The Dominion of Sin and Grace. I paraphrase him: There are actually only ever two pastoral problems you will encounter. The first is this: persuading those who are under the dominion of sin that they’re under the dominion of sin. That’s the task of evangelism. And persuading those who are no longer under the dominion of sin that they are no longer under the dominion of sin because they’re in Christ.

Years ago, I had a student from the far East, Chinese, and his name was Timothy, and we became good friends. Friends, enough for me to be able to say to him as a shy Scot, “What’s your real name?”

He said, “Timothy.” I could hardly pronounce his second name. So I said, “I’ll try another way.” It’s my English accent. I said to him, “What was your given name?” And out came a Chinese name I couldn’t pronounce. And I said, “Oh, so your real name is . . . “ I tried to pronounce it. “No,” he said, “My real name is Timothy. That’s the name I was given when I was baptized. That’s who I am, that’s my real name.” Your real name.

You’re somebody who’s been named for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And have access to that communion through the union that you have with the Lord Jesus. And he’s all yours. The power of no reign of sin broken in him, for you. The wonder of new life begun in you, through him. There is absolutely nothing you need to get from here to seeing him face to face that he hasn’t already given you in himself.

And by that power, he will keep you until union becomes communion and faith becomes sight. What a Savior! Union with Christ, you see, is not so much about union as it is about Christ. Let’s look to him.

is a Ligonier teaching fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.