Let it be clearly borne in mind, dear reader, that the apostle is championing the gospel truth in these verses, that where sin abounded grace did much more abound. The truth of the glad-tidings of salvation is that they, who have received much grace of forgiveness of sins, are also thankful for much. We have but to call to mind the woman, who was a sinner, and who comes to anoint Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon, the leper. This woman did not cease to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears of gratitude, to dry His feet with her hair; in the overflowing gratitude she did not cease kissing the feet of Him whose shoe-latchet John the Baptist was not worthy to unloosen. Calling this graphically portrayed incident to mind is sufficient to give us a clear understanding of the grace of God, that is greater than all sin.
Shall we present this contrite and thankful sinner, who is redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, as reasoning thus: where sin abounds, grace does much more abound; hence, I shall continue in sin, that grace may abound? Would any, who receives forgiveness, will to sin ad infinitum in order that grace might correspondingly abound the more?
Take one fleeting glance at this woman, who was a sinner, and you will be convinced. Nay, take one look of faith at Calvary, and the implication of Christ’s death and resurrection, and you too will cry: God forbid! How shall I, who am dead unto sin, live any longer therein? For as many as we have been baptized through the Holy Spirit into Christ crucified, we have been baptized into His death! And to be baptized into Christ’s death is a singular thing. It is the wonder of grace. It is the way into the life of Christ, which means: to live unto God through the newness of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit writes God’s law, the keeping of God’s law in our hearts. Thus the oldness of the letter must give way for the newness of the Spirit.
This point is emphatically underscored by the apostle. Writes he in verse 5: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall also (in the likeness) of His resurrection”. The fine point in the Apostle’s reasoning in this quotation is, that where the former is the latter cannot possibly be absent. He who does not have the latter does not possess the former. The two are inseparably connected. Thus they are in Christ; thus they are also in us.
Of course, it should be kept in mind, that what is true in Christ is true for all who have been baptized into Him by a true faith. However, it should not be forgotten, nor should it be overlooked, that what is true in Christ is true in Him in a very unique way. It is true in Him, as in the Son of God, the anointed Christ, the Mediator of God and man. Now, it stands to reason, and it is also the plain teaching of scripture, that the truth of dying unto sin and living unto God can never be in us as it is in Him. In us it is as in the redeemed ones; in Him it all is a reality as in the Redeemer!
That is an important distinction, which must not be forgotten. It is this important distinction between the death and resurrection of Christ on the one hand, and the death and resurrection of us on the other hand, that is here maintained and taught in the text. At the same time the holy writer emphasizes the point of similarity between the death and resurrection of Christ and that of us, the believers.
Wherefore the apostle writes: For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection!
We shall not weary ourselves with too detailed an exposition of this passage. It is sufficient for our purpose to point out the following:
In the first place, we should keep in mind, that the apostle argues against all antinomism, the walking in sin that grace may abound, and that he proves conclusively, that walking in newness of life is the order of the day for the Christian; it is the need of the thankful heart of the forgiven sinner. This follows from the very nature of the work of Christ as our Mediator, who died and rose again in our behalf.
Secondly, this needs a bit of explanation. Hence, the “for if we have been united. . . .” This “if” sentence does not mean that the apostle presents it as something doubtful whether the congregation has arisen with Christ subsequent to having died with Him, nor that he presents this as a mere objective possibility, but the “if” sentence is a sentence-construction, which presents the matter as being established reality. In the mind of the apostle the believers have become most intimately united with Christ in His death, and, therefore, they have also most assuredly become united with Christ in His resurrection. If the one is there, then the other is there too.
If such is the case, how can anyone live in sin, that grace may abound? We have died with Christ to live! As He died so we died, and as He lives so we live!
Thirdly, it should be noticed, that this former is true with a restriction. We suggested this already earlier in this essay. It is the restriction of the nature of the death and resurrection in Christ in distinction from the death and resurrection in us. He died as the Son of God, our Goel and Redeemer; we die as those who have been redeemed by Him. And this our death is not simply true of Christ’s work for us, but it is, according to the text, most emphatically true in us; it is true in us, who have been engrafted (united) in Christ by a true faith, and who thus receive all Christ’s benefits by such an engrafting-and-evermore-uniting-faith!
It is true, that commentators are at variance over the meaning of the term employed in the Greek original which is translated by the Staten Vertaling “een plant geworden zijnde”, and by others as “being most closely united by faith”. The former rendering is then pressed as the correct one by those who favor the idea of “engrafting”, the latter by those who would see in the term the dynamic growth of faith. In favor of the latter rendering is the meaning of the term itself. The term is: sumphotos gegonamen. Sumphotos is derived from the verb: sumphuoo: The latter does not mean: engraft, it means: to grow together. It follows the engrafting proper, or it may be the process of making the engrafting a conscious engrafting under the operation of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Lord’s Supper.
Most intimately and consciously we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection! Here is the mystic tie of faith, relying upon the promise of the gospel. This being united with Christ in this manner causes Paul to say: I no more live, but what I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and delivered Himself in my behalf. Gal. 2:20. And, again, in this faith, in this most intimate fellowship and the longing for closer fellowship, Paul says: “that I might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, becoming conformed unto His death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.”
This is the being united, the growing together, the implanting with Christ of which the text speaks. It is not simply an engrafting into Christ in one moment, but it is the entire conscious experience up to the present moment of the church at Rome. This is indicated by the use of the perfect tense in the Greek. It is a complete action up to the present moment that is indicated by this tense. And in this case it means: united with Christ as a conscious experience by faith; is the glorious reality of the life of Christ in us.
Of course, we have only thus been conformed unto the likeness of Christ’s death, and the likeness of His resurrection. The question is: what does this mean?
The text speaks of the likeness of Christ’s death. What does it mean to be most closely united with the likeness of Christ’s death, and the “likeness” of His resurrection?
The term likeness suggests the strongest affinity without implying identity. When God says: Let us make man in our image, and according to our likeness, then this “likeness” evidently underscores the strong affinity to God. God is holy, righteous and just. He is the supreme ruler over all. Man must be made in His likeness, in true righteousness and holiness, to rule over the earthly creation. He is like God, but He is never God. There is a very strong affinity. Thus too Christ said in Romans 8:3 that “God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” His flesh was just like ours, sin excepted. In this likeness we see the strongest possible affinity to our nature, but there is no identifying. Christ’s nature was not sinful, His mind was not darkened, His will was not perverse. He was very really man, like unto us, out of one blood, Adam.
So too in our text.
We are most closely made like unto the death of Christ, and our resurrection is most closely like His resurrection. Yet they are not identical.
Surely it ought to be evident, that when the two murderers are crucified with Jesus on their crosses, that in a certain sense they died like Jesus did. They died on a cross. They were crucified together with Christ. Yet, their crucifixion is far removed from that of Christ. Upon Him the wrath of God came as upon the Lamb of God. That is not true of the other two hanging on either side of Him. Now we, who have been united with Christ in His death, are not thus crucified with Christ as these two men were.
In what sense then?
We have been made one plant with Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection as the one murderer on the cross was, when he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom. Then he too was crucified with Christ. It was Christ’s crucifixion in its power and efficacy coming to manifestation in this murderer. He died unto sin and its guilt in Christ. As Christ died unto sin, condemning sin in the flesh, so we die unto sin entering into this work of Christ, wherein He condemned sin in the flesh. And as Christ arose in newness of life, so too we arise in faith in newness of life in the power of His resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life. He is its very power. And we rise in His power, and thus are conformed to the likeness of His death!
But if this is true, then surely we must not continue in sin that grace may abound. God forbid! We shall evermore will to come to the resurrection of the dead. We shall not count ourselves to have attained, but we shall keep the goal of the upward calling in Christ before our eyes, running the race lest anyone take our crown of life!