Definitively Dead and Alive
In one sense, we rightly think of sanctification as a progressive work. As the 1689 LBCF states, this is the Spirit’s work of destroying “the whole body of sin” and strengthening “all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness” (13.1). When we encounter hagios/hagiazo (ἁγίος / ἁγιάζω) in NT usage, however, we also find a definitive aspect in the way the words are used.
We can also push a bit further by exploring how the New Testament describes what happens in conversion. There are several passages we could look at, but let us draw our attention to the one that is probably most familiar, Romans 6:1-14:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Dead to Sin, Alive to God
Probably no passage is more instructive when it comes to definitive sanctification than this text. The constraints of this post will not allow me to give a full and detailed exposition of it, but here are the main lines of thought. Paul has just demonstrated in Romans 3:21-5:21 that the believer’s righteous standing and acceptance with God is not based on his own works but on the work of another on his behalf, even the redemptive work of Christ. He has been setting forth the glorious doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But now in Romans 6:1, he anticipates an objection to this doctrine and a potential abuse of it by wicked men: “But Paul, if, as you say, sinners as sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone, why not just keep on living in sin that grace may abound? It doesn’t matter how we live.” This is the error and the objection Paul is anticipating as he begins this chapter.
He writes in verse 1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Having anticipated the objection, he then answers the objection: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” We have an aorist in the indicative mood, which normally points to a past time event. There was a specific point in the past when this death occurred.
Paul next goes on to give an extended explanation in vv. 3-10. He explains that the believer died to sin in the death of the Lord Jesus. We who are in Christ are united to Him in His death to sin, and we are also raised with Him in His resurrection to live a new life. This is symbolized by our baptism.
When did this happen? In one sense, we died with Christ when He died. Jesus was dying as our substitute and representative, even before we existed. In fact, we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, (Eph. 1:4). But we do not actually die with Him in our legal position and standing before God until our conversion. Our old man was crucified with Him as a completed past action in that very moment that we were joined to Him by faith. Sin can no longer damn us, for we already died in the death of Christ for us.
Furthermore, being joined to Him in His death, we are also raised with Him. Union with Christ in His death always involves union with Christ in His resurrection as well. Christ is one, and His work is one — His death and His resurrection cannot be separated. Notice how Paul brings the two together in vv. 3–4:
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
And again in v. 5,
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
And once more in v. 8,
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
Why is it important that being united to Christ in His death, we are also united to Him in His resurrection? Because this is the reason that having died with Christ we are no longer the slaves of sin. Christ, having finished the work of our salvation, rose from the dead. His resurrection takes place by the power of the Spirit. Believers, being united to Him, receive that same Spirit by which Christ was raised from the dead. We enter into a new life by the Spirit, a new spiritual life, in which sin no longer reigns over us. Because our sins have been dealt with and our old man has been crucified with Christ, the barrier that existed between us and God has been removed and we now receive the gift of the Spirit. And by the power of the Spirit we are enabled to walk in newness of life.
Notice, this is exactly the way Paul puts it in Romans 7:6: “We have died to that which we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit.” Or in Romans 8:1-2, 4: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death... that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” And he goes on in that chapter to tell us that, if we are in Christ, the Spirit of Christ dwells in us and he describes this new life that the Spirit produces in God’s people.
Going back to Romans 6, Paul is telling us that our justification in Christ inevitably produces sanctification because it brings us into this new realm of the Spirit’s power. It was our guilt and our sin that separated us from God, and that included the fact that it separated us from the life-giving Spirit of God, who is God. Our old man was separated from the life of God by our sins. Therefore, until our sins were dealt with and we were justified, we remained in bondage, not only to the guilt, but also to the enslaving power of sin. But in Christ our old man was crucified, put to death, and we have been justified from sin (6:7). And just as Christ was raised from the dead, we also are united with Him in His resurrection. Because of our union with Christ, His Spirit dwells within us and we are raised together with Him to walk in newness of life. John Stott called this the “two volumes” of the Christian’s biography:
"Volume one is the story of the old man, the old self, of me before my conversion. Volume two is the story of the new man, the new self, of me after I was made a new creation in Christ. Volume one of my biography ended with the judicial death of the old man. I was a sinner. I deserved to die. I did die. I received my deserts in my Substitute with whom I have become one. Volume two of my biography opened with my resurrection. My old life having finished, a new life to God has begun."
This has occurred once and for all for the Christian. This sanctification is definitive. We have died with Christ and we have been raised with Christ.
Living in the Light of Definitive Sanctification
Paul follows these statements of fact with exhortations. Definitive sanctification forms the basis of progressive sanctification. In other words, what has happened has consequences for how we live. “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). He is not saying “reckon this to be so in order to make it so.” It is so. You are dead to sin and alive to God in union with Christ. This is a fact. But now you must believe it and reckon it to, indeed, be so. Then in light of this reality here is what you must “not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (v. 12). You are not what you were. You are united with Christ, and His Spirit now dwells in you. Therefore, in this confidence, put away sins and pursue holiness!
The implication is that the old slave master, sin, will be constantly attempting to frighten you and to reestablish his cruel mastery over you. But we are not to give ourselves up to his claims. We are to resist him in the confidence that he is no longer our master. In Christ, I am not the same man I once was. I am a new man who has been freed from sin’s tyrannical dominion. According to verse 13, you are, “not to present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness.”
Now there are three simple principles that may be derived from this overview of Romans 6:
1. We learn from this passage that every believer, everyone who has been justified by faith, has also been made spiritually alive in Christ to walk in newness of life (definitive sanctification).
2. We learn that every believer who is a new man in Christ must still constantly and deliberately battle with remaining sin (progressive sanctification).
3. We learn that every believer who has died and been raised to new life in Christ and must deal with remaining sin, must do so from this perspective and confidence that he is no longer the old man. His old man has died with Christ and he has been made a new person in Christ. In other words, progressive sanctification is to be pursued in the confidence of definitive sanctification.
The two aspects of sanctification hang together. We’ve looked at length at the definitive aspect. Next time, we’ll turn to consider further the progressive.
Editor's Note: This post has been adapted from A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, edited by Rob Ventura, slated for release by Mentor Books in November 2022.
Jeffery Smith has been in pastoral ministry since 1990 and since 2009 has been serving at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek, FL. In addition to his regular pastoral and preaching responsibilities, Jeff serves on the governing board and as a lecturer for Reformed Baptist Seminary. He is the author of: The Plain Truth About Life After Death (Evangelical Press, 2019) and Preaching for Conversions (Free Grace Press, 2019).
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 The word translated “freed” in v.7 of Romans six is dedikaiotai (δεδικαίωται), which is a perfect passive form of the verb dikaioo (δικαιόω), to justify
 John Stott, Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 6-8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 38-39, as quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Romans Volume 2: The Reign of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992), 655.