Chapter 13: The Living Dead

At times it might appear to us that the concept of justification by faith almost takes on the dimensions of a fairy tale - especially in that it involves so much of what we might call "make-believe."

In this regard, we have already seen how, in exchange for simple faith, God makes believe that Jesus' character is our character, and how He makes believe that we have never sinned. How thankful we should be for this, and for that amazing facet of God's nature that impels Him to "call things that are not as though they were." (Romans 4:17)
In this section we will notice, however, that God also expects us to make believe. In fact, we will find that much of our hope, much of our confidence, and much of our strength depend on our ability to do this.
The foundation of our faith is the belief that Jesus bore our guilt for us, that He suffered the punishment that we deserve, and that He died our death on our behalf; that is, we believe that He tasted 'death for everyone.' (Hebrews 2:9)
Now notice an interesting statement found in the book of Romans.
'You too have undergone death, as far as the law is concerned, in the person of Christ crucified.' (Romans 7:4, Knox)
So here, in a sense, we even have the law making believe. According to this passage, when Jesus died it was the entire human family dying - at least as far as the law is concerned. This is why Paul wrote . . .
'We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.' (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Paul might just as well have said, If Jesus died in the place of everyone, then we can make believe that everyone died with Him on the cross - including ourselves. Notice how the Knox Translations confirms this thought.
'If one man died on behalf of all, then all thereby became dead men.' (2 Corinthians 5:14)
This is precisely what Paul was referring to when he admonished the Colossian believers . . .
'You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.' (Colossians 3:3)
As sinners, it is comforting indeed to realise that as far as the law is concerned, all of humanity died on the cross - and, more than this, that we all received our just punishment on the cross - in Christ.
'Our sins were laid on Christ, punished in Christ, put away by Christ, in order that His righteousness might be imputed to us.' (7ABC468)
The following extract from the Collegiate Sabbath-school Quarterly throws further light on this fascinating and most encouraging truth.
'We must know that when Christ died on the cross He didn't die alone; potentially we died with Him. How did this work?
'First, God put us in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). Then Romans 6 says that God dealt with us in Christ. He crucified us in Christ; He buried us in Christ; He resurrected us in Christ. Now we are seated in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6).' (Pastor David VanDenburgh, Collegiate Quarterly, Oct-Dec 1990)
Notice, therefore, that God not only considers us to have the characteristics of Jesus, but He even considers that Jesus' very life and death are our life and death.
This, of course, is only possible because 'God calls things that are not as though they were.' (Romans 4:17)
All of which confirms that our very hope rests on our ability to believe and to accept that the Father dealt with and resolved the problem of sin independently of the sinner. He dealt with us in Jesus and now, having done so, . . .
'[He] accepts humanity in the person of His Son.' (DA112)
'For Christ's sake the Lord pardons those that fear Him. He does not see in them the vileness of the sinner. He recognizes in them the likeness of His Son, in whom they believe.' (DA667)
From the above we can only deduce that Jesus is not only a complete and a perfect Savior, but that He is also a complete and a perfect Substitute.
'In assuming humanity Christ took the part of every human being [and now God] does not see in [us] the vileness of the sinner. He recognizes in [us] the likeness of His Son, in whom [we] believe.' (1SM252; DA667)
Clearly, therefore, when Jesus died, God considered that it was the entire human race dying; when Jesus, by His death, satisfied the demands of the law, God considered that it was the entire human race receiving their just reward; when Jesus was resurrected, God considered that it was the entire human race being resurrected; and now, today, as Jesus stands before the throne, He stands as a representative of the entire human race - He stands there in our place, presenting His perfect life to God as if it were our perfect life.
What this means is that, as far as God is concerned, all of us who are living today actually died before we were even born. This is why Paul once said . . .
'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.' (Galatians 2:20)
Not only did we die before we were born, but God even made us alive again before we were re-born. As Paul tells us, . . .
'When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.' (Colossians 2:13)
Thus, in the judgment, while our faith will be judged by our life [works], our worthiness for heaven will be based on Jesus' life - which God, in exchange for our faith, considers to be our life.
If this were not the case, what hope would there be for the penitent thief upon the cross? Though he died with Jesus, he also died "in Jesus." His expression of faith earned him the right to appear before God in the judgment as one who met the full penalty for his sin on the cross - not his own cross, but on the cross that was adjacent to his own cross. In the judgment, the fact that he died next to Christ will mean nothing. The fact that he died in Christ, will mean everything.
This concept of our spiritual death and resurrection in Christ needs to be well understood by baptismal candidates, for at the time of baptism we are actually acknowledging that we are worthy of death, while, in that same moment, we are accepting with joy the fact that Jesus died for us the death that we are worthy of dying. As we enter the watery grave, therefore, we should thrill at the thought that "as far as the law is concerned," we died on the cross of Calvary, and now, thanks to Jesus, we can live a new life "submerged in Him."
'The repentant believer, who takes the steps required in conversion, commemorates in his baptism the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He goes down into the water in the likeness of Christ's death and burial, and he is raised out of the water in the likeness of His resurrection - to live a new life in Christ Jesus.' (FLB303)
This is why baptism is referred to as the watery grave. Yet it is just as much a watery "delivery room" for, in the very moment that we accept that we died in Christ on the cross, in that same moment we may accept that we are alive "in Him" who was resurrected from the dead as our representative, and who thus overcame the sting of death on our behalf.
'Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism (ref. Col 2:12) into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [v.11] In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:2-8)
Only once we realize that, as far as the law is concerned, it was us dying in Jesus, and that He now stands as the representative of fallen humanity, can we fully appreciate the born again experience. One thing for sure, before we can be born again, we must understand, or at least make believe, that we died "in Christ." Quite simply, how can we be born again if we have not realized that "our old self was crucified with him?" (Romans 6:6)
Clearly, we must not wait for self to die in the here and now. By faith we must "make believe" that our old self died at Calvary. By faith we must "make believe" that we are now new creatures and that "the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Our new life began the moment our faith in God flickered into being. It was at that moment that we were re-born. Now, as born-again Christians, we no longer consider our old selves to be alive. Rather, we accept that we died "in Him" at Calvary, and that we now live "in Him" from moment to moment and from day to day.
We have been . . . 'buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through [our] faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.' (Colossians 2:12)
This, therefore, is what it means to be "in Christ." It is a "make-believe" situation wherein we are to see ourselves as members of the body of Jesus, both in the past and in the present. This does sound strange at first but, because He stood as our substitute, we are entitled to consider ourselves to have lived a perfect life "in Him" and to be living a perfect life "in Him" right now.
Notice from the following just how explicit Scripture is in regard to our life 'in Christ.'
'In Him you were chosen.' (Ephesians 1:4)
'In Him you were circumcised.' (Colossians 2:11)
'In Him we were crucified.' (Romans 6:6)
'In Him you were buried.' (Colossians 2:12)
'You also died to the law through the body of Christ.' (Romans 7:4)
'In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.' (Ephesians 1:7)
'In Him you become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.' (Ephesians 2:22)
'If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.' (2 Corinthians 5:16)
'God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.' (Ephesians 2:6)
'You have been given fullness (perfection) in Christ.' (Colossians 2:10)
'There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.' (Romans 8:1)
'But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.' (Ephesians 2:13)
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.' (John 16:33)
We can appreciate, therefore, that just as Paul admonished the Colossian believers, so we are admonished by his words today, . . .
'So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him.' (Colossians 2:6)
What closer relationship can there be than being "in Christ." It is so close in fact that . . .
'In Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen.' (DA25)
The precious thought that Paul draws out of this concept of being dead in Christ is that if our old body of sin is dead, having died on Calvary, how can we carry on sinning for, quite logically, the dead cannot sin?
'For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.' (Romans 6:6,7)
Once we understand and accept by faith that we are dead in Christ, sin is rendered powerless, for . . .
'Once dead, a man is absolved from the claims of sin.' (Romans 6:7 Moffatt)
This is a precious thought indeed - especially when tempted. As Pastor David Van Den Bergh states in the Quarterly previously quoted,
'Our freedom from the power of sin begins when we know these things.'
Knowing that Jesus' death has fully satisfied the demands of the law on our behalf, and that He has completed the work for our salvation, and realizing that, as far as God is concerned, it was us dying on the cross, and that it is us who now stand perfect before the throne - in Christ - the words of Paul have very special meaning.
'But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law.' (Romans 7:6)
This is why we are privileged to sing about the fact that "there is therefore no more condemnation," not because the law was done away with, but because, as far as the law is concerned, we received our just reward on the cross "in Christ." Our death, in Christ Jesus, satisfied the law completely.
What a complete Saviour! What a complete Substitute! What a magnificent God!
Therefore, being dead in Christ, we no longer strive in our own strength to obey the law. Rather, as members of the body of Jesus, we invite Him, through communion with Him, to live out His life in us. Thus He does for us that which we could never do for ourselves, and thus our lives are brought into harmony with His law.
May we ever remember, however, that this transformation of character, and all the good that results from this transformation is to the glory of His name alone. It cannot be otherwise because whatever good we now do, it is not us who are doing it - it is Jesus living out His life in us.
At first the concept of having lived 'in Jesus' in the past and being alive 'in Him' in the present, seems rather strange, and yet . . .
It is the very basis of our faith for it is only on the basis of this concept that God can consider the life of Jesus as if it were our life.
It is only on the basis of this concept that God can consider that we have never sinned.
It is only on this basis that God can consider Jesus' character to be our character.
It is only on the basis of this concept that we can begin to understand the deeper significance of baptism and the born again experience.
On what other basis could the penitent thief on the cross have received the promise of paradise?
In fact, only once we understand this almost mystical truth, can we find peace and joy in the knowledge that, as far as God is concerned, . . .
'We died with Him.' (2 Timothy 2:11)
Then, because God makes believe that we died with Him, we can find peace knowing that we are also accepted in Him - as if we were Him. Thus we can appreciate that . . .
'The word that was spoken to Jesus at the Jordan, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," embraces humanity. God spoke to Jesus as our representative. With all our sins and weaknesses, we are not cast aside as worthless. "He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." ' (DA113)
How comforted we should be, therefore, knowing that even though we are losers in ourselves, we are always winners in Him.
'Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.' (2 Corinthians 2:14)
For Our Meditation

'By His obedience to all the commandments of God, Christ wrought out a redemption for man. This was not done by going out of Himself to another, but by taking humanity into Himself. Thus Christ gave to humanity an existence out of himself. To bring humanity into Christ, to bring the fallen race into oneness with divinity, is the work of redemption. Christ took human nature that men might be one with Him as He is one with the Father, that God may love man as He loves His only-begotten Son, that men might be partakers of the divine nature, and be complete in Him.' (7BC927)
'In Him God and man become one, and it is in this fact that we find the hope of the fallen race. Looking upon Christ in the flesh, we look upon God in humanity, and see in Him the brightness of divine glory, the express image of God the Father.' (3SM128)

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