(The following is the third in a series of excerpts from Pastor Stam’s classic work on true spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)
“Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
THE NEW BIRTH AND NEWNESS OF LIFE COMPARED
While the Old Testament Scriptures do employ the figure of resurrection in connection with Israel’s conversion and future blessing in the land (e.g., Ezek. 37:1-14) this figure like that of the new birth, is used with fuller, deeper significance in the great Pauline revelation regarding Christ and the members of His Body.
Also, the doctrine of our resurrection with Christ to a new life is an advance on what even Paul, by the Spirit, has to say with reference to the new birth.
Birth speaks only of a beginning; it does not contemplate the past. When Nicodemus asked: “Can [a man] enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” our Lord was quick to explain that in using the phrase “born anew”1 He did not mean being born again in the same way, but being born again in a different way. God does not undertake to improve the old nature or to induce the “old man” to begin all over again for, as we have seen, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (John 3:6; Rom. 8:8). No matter how intellectual or cultured or religious, “the flesh” is still that which has been generated by a fallen begetter and therefore cannot please God. Hence, “that which is born of the flesh” needs, not merely to be born over again and given another start; a new and different nature must be imparted; an entirely new life, begotten of the Spirit of God. This new life is separate and distinct from that which was generated at natural birth; in fact, is “contrary” to it. The conflict resulting from this will be discussed in a later chapter. Here we emphasize simply that the new birth speaks only of a new beginning and does not contemplate the past.
The new birth is the spiritual counterpart of natural birth. We do not speak of a new-born infant’s “past.” As an individual it has no past. It has barely begun to open its eyes and look about, unable even to focus its vision upon any particular object. Thus the new birth speaks simply of the beginning of a new life.
But now we go a step further and find that we receive this new life by identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and the doctrine of our resurrection with Christ does contemplate the past. Resurrection presupposes a former life and death.2 The identity of the individual is preserved throughout. The individual who lived a certain kind of life, and died, is now raised to live a new life. Now, raised from the dead, he is the same person, yet not the same. Thus the Apostle Paul could say: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal. 2:20).
It is true that Ephesians 2:1 teaches that we were already “dead in trespasses and sins” before ever having become identified with Christ in His death, but this does not change the picture, for even in that passage we go on to read that “in time past” we “walked according to the course of this world,” etc. Like the woman described in I Timothy 5:6, unbelievers are dead while they live, and can be quickened from their death in trespasses and sins only by identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, for the simple reason that He came to identify Himself with us in our death to bring us through with Him to resurrection life.
THE BELIEVER’S RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST
But how can one become thus identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection? How can one die to the old life and be raised to walk in newness of life?
The answer is: by grace through faith. What Christ has done for us by grace, we must accept and appropriate by faith. He, by an act of infinite grace, identified Himself with us, dying our death. We, by an act of simple faith, must identify ourselves with Him, confessing: “I am the sinner. It is my death He is dying. I will accept His grace and commit myself to Him for salvation.” The moment this is done we become one with the once-crucified, ever-living Christ.
Mark well, Calvary is the meeting place, the place where the identification is effected. No man was ever made one with Christ without being made one with Him in His death. “Know ye not,” asks the apostle, “that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:3). And it is for this reason that we are buried with Christ, by that same baptism, and raised with Him to walk in newness of life (Ver. 4).
What a tragedy that the sublime truth of this passage has been obscured by the injection of a water baptism ceremony into it! As though water baptism could ever bring the believer today into any relationship to Christ! As though it could really bury the old man and help us to put on the new! Those who have fallen into this error have taken a ceremony which never did speak of burial but only of washing (Acts 22:16, etc.) and have confused it with our actual baptism by the Spirit into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Little wonder the apostle cries, with reference to this very subject: “Beware lest any man spoil [rob] you….Ye are complete in Him…In whom also ye are circumcised…Buried with Him…risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:8-12).
How perfect and wonderful is the divine plan! In grace Christ died our death. In faith we acknowledge it was our death He died, and trust in that death to save us. And there at the Cross we become one. The response of faith to grace has united us inseparably and eternally together.
THE REALITY OF OUR RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST
The judicial, or positional aspect of this truth is, of course, most important. We read that our Lord was “delivered for our offences, and was raised again for [on account of] our justification” (Rom. 4:25). In other words, His death paid the whole penalty for our sins and procured for us full justification. Therefore He was raised from the dead. And since His death was ours, the penalty for our sins, and we have appropriated this by faith, therefore the justification and resurrection life is ours also. As we recognize Christ’s death as ours, God reckons us one with Him, as having already died for and to sin, and having been raised to walk in newness of life.
Now this judicial, positional aspect of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection is far from mere theory. It is fact. It is vitally real. God’s just condemnation of us for sin was real. Christ’s suffering and death for us was real. And we had to exercise real faith in Christ’s finished work before God justified us and pronounced us righteous, counting us as having already died for and to sin.
It is on the basis of this judicial transaction that the apostle argues that we have no right to continue in sin. The sins we are so prone to commit after having been justified belong to the old life, not to the new which we have in Christ. Therefore we have no right to go on in sin. “How,” he asks, “shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). And pointing to the fact that Christ “died unto sin once,” but now “liveth unto God,” he goes on to say:
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:11-14).
But the judicial or positional truths we have been considering are only part of the whole doctrine of our baptism into Christ, for while these positional realities affect our experience as we appropriate them by faith, our baptism into Christ is also in itself a practical and experiential matter.
When the sinner acknowledges Christ’s death as his own and trusts Christ for salvation, not only does he receive a standing before God as having been crucified, buried and raised with Christ, but the Spirit seals the transaction, uniting him in a vital, living relationship with Christ. Thus the believer actually becomes a partaker of Christ’s resurrection LIFE. There is more than justice in view here; there is the need and the impartation of life and this life, while spiritual in its nature, is none the less real.
Once more we ask: Was not Christ’s death real? Was not His death really our death? Then just so real is our resurrection life! In the first place, when we accept Christ’s death as our own and become identified with Him, we actually die to the old life in the sense that we can never again go back to our lost estate. That condition is past forever. Furthermore, we now become partakers of the resurrection life of Christ, which we can never lose (Rom. 6:9) since it is His life. As the Father has raised us from the dead judicially, so the Spirit has raised us spiritually, in the sense that He has actually imparted spiritual life. It is now ours to appropriate and enjoy the fullness of that life by faith.
In Romans 8:2 Paul speaks of this impartation of life by the Spirit as a law which operates in every believer:
“For the law of the Spirit, [that] of life in Christ Jesus, hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
And then the apostle proceeds to show that what the law of Moses “could not do” because of the character of “the flesh,” God sent His own Son to accomplish:
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).
Thus, besides the moral reason why we should not continue in sin, there is also a very practical reason: the new life which the Spirit has begotten within us. This the apostle emphasizes in Romans 8, as he goes on to say:
“But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [give life to] your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Vers. 11,12).
This passage is sometimes supposed to refer to the future bodily resurrection of the dead, but note that the Spirit, who dwells in us, energizes our mortal (not dead) bodies. Thus we are debtors—not to sin, but to God. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying, “I am only human after all,” or “the flesh is weak,” for we have the Holy Spirit within to strengthen our mortal bodies and help us to walk in newness of life.
The judicial and practical aspects of our resurrection with Christ are, however, closely intertwined. Ephesians 2:4-6 seems to refer to both at the same time:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Thus the believer’s position is already in heaven, and by faith, through the power of the Spirit, he may occupy that position and enjoy its blessings experientially. This is why the apostle opens the Ephesian epistle with the doxology:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
And this is why he challenges the Colossians:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).
- Lit., “from above,” but used to express: from the top, from the start, from the very beginning.
- We are aware of the fact that the Greek word for actual resurrection (anastasis, lit., standing up) is used almost exclusively of bodily resurrection. The words, zoopoieo, to quicken or reanimate, and egeiro, to awaken or rouse up, are the ones mainly used in connection with our present subject. This does not mean, however, that resurrection is not here contemplated, any more than that quickening or awakening are not contemplated where bodily resurrection is concerned. It is simply a matter of emphasis, for in the doctrine we are here considering, the impartation of resurrection life is mainly in view. All three words: zoopoieo, egeiro, and anastasis are used in I Corinthians 15 with reference to the resurrection of Christ.