Understand Union, Understand Grace - Romans 6:1-14

This week I came across an insightful statement that I want to share with you. Listen closely: “The greatest temptation that most of us face is to believe that very little has happened to us through grace.” Sinclair Ferguson states this in a short book about the essential truths of the Christian faith. I’ll read it again: “The greatest temptation that most of us face is to believe that very little has happened to us through grace.”


Now, he is not referring to “grace” as your short prayer before a meal, or “grace” as another word for “elegance” or “sophistication.” Ferguson is referring to the unearned, undeserved favor of God. It is by grace that we can be saved from sin and death through faith alone in Jesus. Without grace, there is no Christianity, there is no Easter. Yet one of the most influential pastors and authors of his time says that you and I are in danger of drastically undervaluing grace. When I was 8 years old, my family visited the Grand Canyon. I remember viewing the Grand Canyon. But I also remember visiting a gift shop where my brother and I got a Native American feathered headdress, a coon skin cap, and leather cowboy belts with silver belt buckles.

I was more impressed by our souvenirs than by the Grand Canyon because my young mind naturally could not grasp the greatness of what I saw. Nothing is more foundational to the Christian faith than the grace of God but we naturally misunderstand it. Sometimes we treat grace as a license to give in to sin. Other times, we act as though grace has boundaries and cannot completely cover our sins or the sins of others. Either way, we live as though what grace has accomplished is not very amazing. Ferguson follows that previous statement with this one: “Scripture encourages us to hold a different perspective by enlarging our understanding of what God has done for us and has begun to accomplish in us.”

God knows we need grace explained to us, because we think we understand it and live in light of it, but often, we don’t. Even on a day like Easter Sunday, we can miss it. We need to grasp the wonder of it. But how can we do that? This is the apostle Paul’s concern for the church in Romans chapter 6. He addresses one misunderstanding of grace, but in doing so, he addresses every misunderstanding. Paul corrects a wrong view of grace by discussing the believer’s “union” with Jesus Christ. He says believers are “united” with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.

If I asked you, “Who died on the cross?” you might readily say, “Jesus.” Most believers would not immediately add that they too died on the cross with Jesus. But Paul says that is the case. Not just Jesus dying for you, but also, you dying with Jesus. Not just Jesus being buried for you, but you being buried along with Jesus, And not just Jesus rising again for you, but you somehow rising from the dead along with him. As we read last Sunday in worship about his crucifixion, and today his burial and resurrection, were you thinking not only about what he went through, but also, that you were with him?

It sounds merely symbolic or metaphorical, not something to be taken literally. But it is literal. The union that believers have with Jesus is real. It is as real as anything ever was or will be. It’s not imaginary or theoretical. In fact, if it were not real, you would still be dead in your sins. Maybe you are dead in your sins. You’ve never turned from sin as the lord of your life to trust in Jesus as Lord, and turned from yourself as savior to trust Jesus as Savior. Perhaps today you will trust Jesus in this way. But here’s a question for everyone present, follower of Jesus Christ or not: wouldn’t you like for your various sins and hang-ups to no longer rule over you? Wouldn’t you like to change? Outside these windows, we see new growth and new blossoms. Wouldn’t you like to be made new? Don’t you need this in your life and in your relationships? Is it possible to know that you’ve been made new and that you can change?

Paul says it is. And what makes it possible is union with Christ by the grace of God. We can begin to understand the change grace brings as we come to understand union. Three things this morning about union from Romans 6. You see listed on page 6 of the Worship Guide. By God’s grace, those saved through faith move from death to life, change from slave to free, and transform from old to new through union with Christ.

Now, it was a misunderstanding of grace that prompted Paul’s words here. False teachers were arguing that grace meant freedom to go on willfully sinning. A few verses earlier, in chapter 5, Paul says that as sin increased, grace increased to cover sin. But does that mean that we should keep sinning so grace can keep doing its work? Verse [2] “By no means!” Paul writes. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” And he says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Paul is appealing here to those who have been truly converted. Not merely those who made an outward profession of faith or those who received baptism as the sign of membership in the covenant community. Those things do not save. Faith alone saves. Paul is using the term “baptism” here to refer to the whole conversion experience. He uses it the same way in 1 Corinthians 10 when he describes how the Israelites followed Moses across the Red Sea. Paul says those people were baptized into Moses. That meant there was this relationship such that where Moses went, the Israelites would go: out of Egypt, across the dry river bed of the Red Sea, through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai.

In a similar way, if you have saving faith in Jesus, where he went, you went. So, in verse [4], Paul 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.” This makes sense considering what we know about the origin of our sinful nature. Adam represented mankind. And in that sense, we were there with him when he sinned. There in the garden of Eden, Adam moved from life to death. And all mankind moved with him.

In 2016, my family and I relocated from Charlotte to Florence. We left our house there, and someone else moved in. Could we go back and act like we still live there? No! Why? Because we don’t belong there anymore. Even though grace covers all sin, believers in Jesus do not belong in a life of willful sin. We have been permanently relocated from death in sin to live in God. We moved. In Ephesians 1, Paul writes that God, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Were you literally there before the foundation of the world? Were you literally there in the garden with Adam? Not physically, but still, literally.

God did not hypothetically plan to save his people. He actually did it. Early this morning, I listened to Johnny Cash sing, “Were you there when they crucified by Lord? Were you there when they took him from the cross? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

Through union with Christ, those whom God would save were there with him. His dead body was placed inside a cave. And every believer, on that day, was placed in the cave along with him. In dying, Jesus became subject to sin’s reign over him. But he rose - he moved from death to life - sin no longer reigned over him – and if you are in Christ, you were with him, and sin no longer reigns over you. It no longer reigns to shame you, to burden you, to control you or cause you to fear. By grace, you moved from death to life.

Also, you changed from slave to free through union with Christ, which is to say, the believer can resist sin and choose righteousness. Verse [5] Paul says, 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. By saying, “we shall certainly be,” Paul points to the future, to the second coming of Jesus. We will receive our resurrected immortal bodies at that time. But make no mistake – Paul means to tell us that we live in resurrection power even now.

Verse [6] 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. The power and influence of the sinful nature is no longer the same. Verse [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Resurrection power over sin in the here and now.

Paul later says in chapter 7 that the sinful nature is still present in the believer during this life, and when you are born again, a war begins between your old, sinful nature

and your new, redeemed nature. But the believer is no longer a helpless slave to the sin nature. Your will is set free to obey God and live. Yes, we have our habitual hang-ups, and some change comes slowly. But we can change.

I’ve recently planted some things in my yard and I want to see growth. So, I’m watching for progress all the time. Things might grow; they might not. May have to try something different. Might have to start over. Big change does not happen quickly. This is often the case as we battle habitual sin. But believers presently live in and with the power of the risen Jesus over sin.

This is why Paul can say in Colossians 3, [12] Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [13] bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. How did God go about forgiving us? By grace, he placed us in union with Christ. We must look at ourselves and each other in this way. In the body of Christ – the church – we are to view one another and treat each other as people who are where we are and are who we are only because of grace. We were moved, we were changed, and we were transformed, from old to new.

You may be familiar with the books and movies of the Bourne trilogy. Robert Ludlum created the character Jason Bourne, a CIA agent who loses his memory in an accident. As the plot unfolds, Bourne tries to discover his identity, and he’s confused because he has memories of two identities. It turns out that, at some point, he assumed a new identity to carry out dangerous government missions. In effect, he became someone else and left his old life behind.

Elsewhere in Paul’s letters to the churches, he wrote, “You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” If you have saving faith in Jesus, your identity has been changed. But it’s different from Jason Bourne. Bourne assumed him a new identity, but he was still the same person. When you are born again, you don’t stop being you, but the old “you” is gone. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” New like Jesus when we walked out of the tomb. You have the righteous record of Jesus Christ; you can live and see yourself as a new person.

Look at verse [12], Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] 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. You are someone new. Don’t give yourself over to those old ways. They don’t suit you anymore. Why? Verse [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What does this mean? Your standing with God no longer rests on your own ability to keep God’s moral law. Your standing with God rests on Jesus’ ability to keep the law. Grace reigns over you. How? Through union with Christ.

As you think about your daily life, do you find that you fall into one or the other of these pitfalls: either seeing grace as a license to go on sinning, or seeing grace as insufficient to cover sins – yours or others around you? To live either of those ways is to begin with a vastly diminished view of Jesus’ finished work. Sing it with me:

“He's our Rescuer, He’s our Rescuer, We are free from sin forevermore! Oh how sweet the sound, Oh how grace abounds, We will praise the Lord our Rescuer!”

Turn from your sins today, call out to Jesus in faith, rest in that union with him and rejoice in God’s grace. Bow with me in prayer.