Jesus Lives in Believers

 

Week of April 15, 2012

 

Bible Verses:John 15:1-5; Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 2:19-21.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about what it means for Jesus to live in believers Ė they share in His crucifixion, resurrection, and life.

 

We are Crucified with Christ: Galatians 2:19-21.

 

[19]For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. [20]I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [21]I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.[ESV]

 

Paul is writing out of his own experience, writing of things he knows. It was through the law that Paul died to the law. The demands that the law made on him were such that he could never meet them all. No matter how hard he tried he failed. As long as he remained a faithful and loyal Jew, with the divine law as the way he was meant to live, he was fighting a losing battle since he could never keep the law fully. So it was that he had to die to the law in order that he might live to God. It had always been Paulís aim to live for God, but as long as he tried to do this by the way of the law he was on the wrong track. The vice of legalism is that it comes between the soul and God, interposing law in place of God. Paul says I have been crucified with Christ, which is a strong affirmation of the certainty of the cross for Christian understanding and Christian living. The verb is in the perfect tense, which means not simply that at some time in the past Paul was crucified with Christ, but that he continues in the capacity of one crucified with Christ. What happened in the past is powerful in the present. To understand intellectually that Jesus died on the cross to save sinful people is not enough. Paul identified himself with the crucified Christ. He knew that a crucifixion had taken place within himself as he wholeheartedly believed in the crucified Savior. He had died to a whole way of life. That, of course, does not mean that he is no longer living. His death to the old way of life meant an entry into a new way of life, a way of life in which Paul was in some way identified with his Savior. And that meant that it was not the old Paul that lived (It is no longer I who live). The old Paul is dead; he goes as far as to say, but Christ who lives in me. This is a forceful way of making the point that his conversion to Christianity meant a complete change in his way of life. He saw now that upright living could never merit salvation, for we are sinners all. But at the same time Paul saw that Christ is the Savior of all who believe. He says that Christ lives in him. His faith in the crucified Savior has brought about a revolution in his whole way of life. So the life he now lives in the flesh is a life lived in faith. Faith is not simply a topic about which Paul preached from time to time. Nor is it a virtue which he practiced occasionally. It is central in all that he does. It is that which gave meaning to his whole way of life now that he had entered into the meaning of the death of Christ for sinful people. It is one thing to know intellectually that the Son of God died for the whole world, and quite another to be able to say with Paul, the Son of God Ö loved me and gave himself for me. And that is what counts. Continuing with the thought that salvation comes only thought the death of Jesus, Paul now says in verse 21 that he does not nullify the grace of God. Grace for Paul is central; here he particularizes by adding of God. There is never any real doubt that divine grace is meant when Paul refers to grace, but the addition of God means that there cannot be the slightest uncertainty about it. To nullify grace would be to put oneís trust, not in salvation as Godís free gift, but in oneís own efforts. To do this is to reject grace altogether, and relying on oneís own puny effort means that one nullifies that grace. Paul is clear that the way of grace and the way of law are mutually exclusive. The way to salvation is the way of relying on God, specifically in the atonement that was wrought out on Calvary. Those who opposed Paul evidently held that it was by the keeping of the law of God that people obtained the salvation of God. Paul now says bluntly that if they were right, then Christ died for no purpose. If salvation can come by our own human efforts, then there is no need and no place for the cross. Salvation by Christís atoning death and salvation by human effort are mutually exclusive. The cross is at the heart of the Christian way and the cross means salvation by grace. Anything other than this is not Christian.

 

We are Raised with Christ: Romans 6:1-7.

 

[1]What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2]By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3]Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4]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. [5]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. [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.

[7]For one who has died has been set free from sin.[ESV]

 

Then is important. Paul is not going on to some new and quite unrelated subject. Because of what he has said in the previous section, certain things follow. In the light of the fact that we die in Adam and live in Christ he asks, What shall we say? The question leads to a suggestion that Paul repudiates strongly. Evidently some had argued that since everything depends on grace, we should continue in sin that grace may abound all the more. Paul is thinking of sinners staying where they are, declining to budge from their habitual sin, because they think that the more they continue in sin the more they will experience the grace of forgiveness. Paul repudiates this with his vigorous By no means! This is a strong rejection of a conclusion that he thinks might falsely be drawn from what he has said. He will have none of it. It is quite erroneous. Instead Paul invites his readers to reflect on what it means to have become Christians. Previously they had been dead in sin [Eph. 2:1]; now they were dead to sin. Becoming a Christian is a decisive step; it is the beginning of faith and it means the end of sin. There is, of course, a sense in which Christians die to sin every day; they constantly commit themselves to God and become dead to all evil. There is also an eschatological sense; after this life sin will be over; believers will be raised up to live without sin in Godís presence. But here Paul is not talking about these senses of sin. He is referring rather to the death to sin that marks the beginning of the characteristic Christian life. It is the end of the reign of sin and beginning of the reign of grace [5:21]. Paul is bringing out strongly the truth that continuing in sin is incompatible with being a Christian: How can we who died to sin still live in it? Paul can express this truth in other ways; for example, by saying that Christís people have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires [Gal. 5:24]. Paul turns to baptism, which helps him make his point emphatically. If his readers do not understand what it means to die to sin, they do not understand what baptism means, and baptism comes right at the beginning of the Christian life. His question implies that this is something the Roman Christians would be expected to know. Since Paul had not been to Rome he plainly regards this as knowledge common to all Christians. Paulís point is that Christians are people who have died, and the symbolism of water baptism emphasizes that death. Death runs through this passage and is mentioned in every verse up to verse 13. Paul is saying that it is quite impossible for anyone who understands the meaning of what water baptism symbolizes to continue cheerfully in a sinful life. Paul goes on to characterize baptism as into Christ Jesus or into union with Christ. Baptism, so to speak, incorporates the baptized into Christ; they are baptized into one body [1 Cor. 12:13], made part of that body which is the body of Christ. It is the death of Christ that makes anyone a Christian, and apart from the reality of that death baptism is meaningless. Christís death alone is the ground of our justification ,and when we make that our own by faith we are united with Christ Ė united with Him in His death, united with Him in His burial, united with Him in His rising again, united with Him in life. Being united in living out the life of Christ is not an option but a necessary part of being saved in Christ. The logical consequence continues in verse 4. Not only are we dead, but we are buried with Him. Being with Christ is an important category for Paul. The burial emphasizes the completeness and finality of the death. And our identification with that death is also complete. When we are baptized we are buried in the water indicating our death with Christ. But that is not the whole story; the death has purpose. The parallel with Christ is followed through. His death was followed by resurrection, and our death to sin and our baptism into His death are followed by our being raised to newness of life symbolized by our being brought out of the water. The resurrection in order to live or walk in newness of life is the purpose of the believerís union with Christís death, burial and resurrection. In verse 5 the same truth is put another way. Paulís conditional if implies that the condition has been fulfilled. And we could translate the if as Ďsinceí. Since we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Paulís point is that the spiritual life of the believer is not self-originated but is derived from Christ, with whom he is now one. The union is of the closest sort, and life from Christ flows through to him. Paul is primarily concerned with the present moral life of the believer; this is part of his argument that we should not continue in sin so that grace may abound. He is emphasizing that the believer has already risen to new life in which he must now walk. Again Paul appeals to knowledge. He goes over some of the ground again as he hammers home his point that the believer has died to an old way. Our old self is really our old man, an expression used twice elsewhere in the Pauline writings [Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9], in both cases with verbs expressing repudiation. And our old self was crucified with him which conveys the thought that the old man was thoroughly destroyed. This does not mean that the believer lives untroubled by the possibility of sinning. There is a sense in which a death has taken place once and for all in the believer, but there is another in which he dies every day [1 Cor. 15:31]. But the crucifixion language is another vivid way of saying that the power of sin is broken in the believer. To come to Christ means the complete end of a whole way of life. They may be slips, but they are uncharacteristic. Further, this crucifixion has a purpose; it is in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing. As a result of crucifixion with Christ this sinful body is rendered powerless, completely nullified. The sinnerís terrible situation is completely changed by the work of Christ so that we are no longer enslaved to sin. In our natural state we were unable to resist sin and thus were slaves. But no longer. Now we have been set free from sin. Paul is not referring to physical death in verse 7 but to dying with Christ. The person who has died with Christ enters into Christís atonement and is justified from his sin. A slave who dies is free of his master, and those who die with Christ are freed from their old master, sin. Sin has no claim on the justified person. Even though the believer may still commit sins in this life, he is no longer under sinís guilt and condemnation.

 

We are Productive with Christ: John 15:1-5.

 

[1]"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2]Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3]Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4]Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5]I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[ESV]

 

The allegory of the vine brings before us the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life and the truth that this is the result, not of human achievement, but of abiding in Christ. There is a stern side to this. Branches which are not fruitful are purged out. Jesus is not simply issuing some comforting advice. He is outlining the difficult, but important way of service. There seems little doubt that Jesus has in mind passages in the Old Testament which regard Israel as a vine. Interestingly all the Old Testament passages which use this vine symbol appear to regard Israel as faithless or as the object of severe punishment. Jesusí description of Himself as the true vine is to be seen against this background. The passage is the Johannine counterpart of the Pauline view of the church as the body of Christ and of believers as in Christ. Both are ways of bringing out the vital connection that exists between Christ and His own. Jesus begins in verse 1 by laying it down that He Himself is the true vine. Jesus does not say that the church is the vine but that He is. The church is no more than the branches which are in the vine. And not only is Jesus the vine, but He is the true vine. In a way characteristic of the Fourth Gospel there is an immediate reference to the Father. Father and Son are never regarded as separate entities each going His way regardless of the other. John sees them at work together. So when he reports Jesus as speaking of Himself as the true vine he immediately goes on to the thought that the Father is the vinedresser. The role of the Father here is decisive. He watches over the vine and takes action like that of a vinedresser to secure fruitfulness. Every fruitless branch He takes away. The emphasis is on the bearing of fruit. Pruning is used to ensure that fruit bearing takes place. Left to itself a vine will produce a good deal of unproductive growth. For maximum fruitfulness extensive pruning is essential. This is a suggestive figure for the Christian life. The fruit of Christian service is never the result of allowing the natural energies and inclinations to run riot. The fruit is not defined here. But we need not doubt that qualities of Christian character are in mind as elsewhere in the New Testament [Matt. 3:8; 7:20; Rom. 6:22; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; Phil. 1:11]. The disciples are not to think that they are being singled out for criticism. They are already clean on account of Jesusí word spoken to them. He is not reproaching them, but encouraging them. He is pointing out the way in which they may continue to progress spiritually. But they must not presume. Let them take care that they abide in Christ [4]. Jesus means that the disciples should live such lives that He will continue to abide in them. The two abidings cannot be separated, and abiding is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness. No branch bears fruit in isolation. It must have vital connection with the vine. So to abide in Christ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness for the Christian. The roles of Christ and of His followers are not to be confused [5]. But there is a mutual indwelling and this is the condition of fruitfulness. The man who so abides in Christ and has Christ abide in him keeps on bearing fruit in quantity. And the verse concludes with an emphatic declaration of human helplessness apart from Christ. In isolation from Him no spiritual achievement is possible.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What does Paul mean when he says that he died to the law and has been crucified with Christ? Why must both of these things happen in every believer before they can then live for Christ? Why are the way of grace and the way of law mutually exclusive?

 

2.†††††††† Why does Paul teach that it is unthinkable for a Christian to continue living a life controlled by sin? Paul points to the truth that the believer had been united with Christís death, burial and resurrection in order to prove his point. How does our union with Christ enable us to walk in newness of life rather than continue in a life of sin?

 

3.†††††††† In the allegory of the vine, what roles do the Father, the Son, and believers play? What is the purpose of the pruning of the vines by the Father? What do you think the pruning represents in your life? What must you do in order to abide or remain in Christ and have Him abide in you? Note that this mutual abiding is the only way the believer can bear fruit.

 

References:

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BECNT, Baker.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman.

Galatians, Leon Morris, Inter Varsity.