One of the most profound revelations of the gospel is that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Watchman Nee called it the Gospel for Christians: “The self you loathe is there on the Cross in Christ.”
If the average believer could grasp hold of this truth – I died – half of our church programs would end immediately. We would stop trying to reform the old man because the old man is dead. He no longer lives! Instead of coming together to work on our flesh or improve our lives, we would be free to go tell our neighbors about the One who offers us His life. Instead of praying for revival, we would be revival.
And if all of us did that, who knows what might happen.
Sadly, though, since most Christians don’t know they have died, they waste their lives trying to nail themselves to crosses. Jesus died once for all but they die daily. Instead of reckoning themselves dead to sin, they are trying to throttle the sin in them and it’s a flesh trip. Whether you indulge the flesh or whip the flesh you are walking in the flesh. It profits nothing.
Screwtape writes again
If you wanted to keep Christians ineffective and fruitless, there are two lies you could preach: (1) Make them believe that they haven’t died with Christ, or (2) make them believe that everyone has died and been raised with Christ – believer and unbeliever alike. Fifty years ago, in the time of Watchman Nee, the first lie was prominent. But look at the discussions lighting up Facebook today and you will see plenty of evidence of the second: Humanity died and was raised with Christ. Not everyone knows it, but humanity is now in union with Christ.
This is a faith-killing message that does little to draw the unbeliever into a relationship with the Author of Life. It extinguishes fires that God has lit in the souls of the restless by preaching false peace and it mocks repentance as a dirty work. This seductive message is turning young firebrands and dear friends into candy-floss sellers and I hate that.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re thinking, My old man is dead? Really? He no longer lives? then go read this post. It’ll bless your socks off. But if, like me, you are questioning the idea that humanity is now in union with Christ, I encourage you to examine the scriptures. To assist you, I have just uploaded Part 2 of my study series on the Doctrine of Inclusion, entitled “Was Humanity Raised with Christ?” You may not agree with my conclusions, but in my notes you will find most of the scriptures that figure in this debate. In today’s post, I want to look at just one:
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15, NKJV)
Some interpret Paul’s words – all died – as meaning the entire Adamic race died on the cross in Christ. The problem with this interpretation, is that it is at odds with scripture. Paul says elsewhere that those who have died are freed from sin (Rom 6:7), yet the world remains a prisoner of sin (Gal 3:22). If those in the world aren’t free from sin, they haven’t died with Christ and Paul never says they have. Instead he says they are perishing (2 Cor 2:15).
That Jesus died for all proves that all were in need of his death – all were dead in sins. Jesus died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous. Three times in two verses Paul highlights the vicarious nature of Christ’s death: “One died for all… He died for all…. Him who died for them.” So who died on the cross? Jesus died – just one person. Paul says so three times. But the redemptive benefits of this one death are for all:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb 2:9)
Jesus tasted death for everyone. He died so that all of us might be set free from sin and death and raised to new life.
The benefits of death
The benefits of Christ’s representative death are freely available to all but not everyone experiences those benefits. What are the benefits?
"…anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Rom 6:7-11)
The benefits of Christ’s representative death are not experienced in the lives of unbelievers. Unbelievers are not free from sin and living with Jesus. Neither are they dead to sin and alive to God. Paul is saying that Christ’s representative death applies to those who have faith in His representation, meaning all believers. All of you died. I died, you died, we died. None of us need wrestle with the old man any longer. This interpretation is the only one that is consistent with Paul’s other letters:
All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. (Rom 6:3)
When you put your faith in Christ you were baptized into Him and His death by the Holy Spirit. Water baptism, which is a re-enactment of that baptism, is best understood a burial service. When we go under we’re not drowning the old man – he already died with Christ – we are expressing our faith in the finished work of the cross. We are saying, “I trust Jesus. He died for me. His death is my death too.” These are not the sorts of things you will hear an unbeliever say. And that’s the one limitation of a representative death: it only applies to those who wish to be represented.
The wisdom of idol-worshippers
I lived in Asia for 15 years. In many Asian countries, if you give your life to Jesus and start attending church, it’s no big deal. Your superstitious, idol-worshipping parents probably won’t have a problem with it. But the moment you start making plans to get water baptized, watch out! Now you’re crossing a line.
In the East, faith without deeds is considered dead. So by all means preach universal salvation and write on Facebook that all died and are now in union with Christ. There’s plenty of room for passive ideology in the Buddhist/Taoist pantheon. But the moment you start to act on your faith, say, by getting water baptized, you will run hard into opposition. Many of the Chinese believers that I baptized went into the water against their family’s wishes.
Do you see the point? As far as the idol-worshippers are concerned, something that happened 2000 years ago is of no consequence unless you identify with it today. They seem to understand better than we do that grace unmixed with faith is worthless (Heb 4:2).
Preachin’ for a verdict
If Jesus had not challenged people to repent and believe the gospel, He would not have been tortured and killed. If He had preached, “It’s all cool, God loves you, hang loose – wait for Paul, He’ll explain it better than I can,” then the Pharisees would not have opposed Him with such violence. But Jesus preached for a verdict. “Who do you say I am?” Jesus wanted people to trust Him because those who don’t are condemned (Joh 3:18). Unbelievers have not crossed over from death to life (Joh 5:24).
In his letters Paul consistently compared two kinds of people: (1) those who have died and now live and (2) those who are perishing. We who have died and now live with Christ have a wonderful message for those who are perishing: Now is the time of God’s favor, today is the day of salvation – not yesterday, not 2000 years ago, but today.
~ Paul Ellis
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