For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old self crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be done away with so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again, death no longer is master over Him.
Here Paul is reminding us of our place in Christ. If we are a believer, then we are united with Him. In death and the resurrection. We have been made new through the cross, and our old nature has been laid on the altar. This means we are no longer a slave to the things that displease God. We are free to choose a life of pleasing God. In choosing a life with Christ, we should not fear death, for we are also united with Him through eternity’s future. We cannot be separated from the God of the universe.
What exactly does being united with Christ in the likeness of his death really mean? Yes, it says that our old self is crucified, so our body of sin might be done away with and no longer slaves to sin. But how do I live that out in my life? Is the goal to follow rules that measure up to a righteous life in Christ? Am I to read the bible cover to cover every year? Take notes on what and what not to do. Is that how I become free from the slavery of sin? Overcoming my broken flesh by working harder at righteous things so that my works win out?
That sounds like a painfully long, excruciating life. How does any of that set me free? I would be trading the master of sin for a master of works. Neither have grace involved. But when we find the One full of grace, the bible still calls us slaves of Christ. I thought I was finding freedom in Christ and still being called an enslaved person. I get that Jesus is our example of holiness and righteousness, but He was also perfect. I am an imperfect man living in an imperfect world that is broken and wants something more significant than self.
What does it mean
I think our issue is we are applying a modern definition to an older word. Slave, servant, and bondservant in the Greek text all are Doulos. A bondservant was someone indebted to someone else. If the indebted individual could not pay the debt, the individual would become a bondservant to pay off the debt. They would use work to free themselves from debt. A bondservant/slave was not a lifetime requirement. However, when the individual reached the end of the term to repay the debt, the individual had a choice.
Do I go back out in the world with what I have, or do I stay with the master willing? Will my life be better if I try to do things on my own, or will my life be better under someone else’s authority? I am making a choice. But in that choice, I must be fully committed to that choice. There was no halfway. In my decision, the individual was marked, and everyone knew that the individual belonged to a master freely chosen. No one decided to be marked and six months later changed their mind. You were all in, or you weren’t.
Where do you fall in your choice? Have you been freed from the bondage of sin, or do you still free trapped by the sin that so easily entangles us? Do you call Jesus Lord? Has the master marked you? Does it mean that being under the authority of the master, we won’t ever struggle with sin? Of course not. We are still broken people who do the things we don’t want to do. But now, we at least have the ability to be an overcomer. Before believing in Christ, we had no chance of moving past our sins controlling us. We were at the mercy and will. Could we have good days when the struggle was lighter than others? Sure.
But to overcome and be free to choose not to follow through in sin comes from being united with Christ in death and the resurrection. We now have the option and opportunity to choose to follow God instead of our flesh. Our freedom comes from knowing Him and the power of His name in our lives. We can do nothing in ourselves; it is Christ living in us. His power is the power to overcome, to say no to disobedience. It is his righteousness that the Father sees in us. I think the church needs to understand better who we are in Christ and what it means for Christ to live in us.
Father, help us understand what it means to be free in Christ.