9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
These three verses return to the subjects of death and resurrection. Verse 8 restates our union with Christ in death and life, summarizing primarily verses 4 and 5. Then verses 9 and 10 focus on Christ’s final and permanent victory over death (and, surprisingly, his death to sin), so that he now lives to God. These truths set the stage for Paul’s command in the next verse that we must reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We begin with the promise that we will live with him.Present and future life
We live in a time between Christ’s victory on the cross and the final elimination of opposition to his rule. Death, sin, and the devil have been defeated, but they still wreak havoc on humanity, including on those who by dying with Christ share his victory. This age has been likened to the period between D-Day and V-Day in World War II. Victory over the Nazi menace was guaranteed by the Normandy invasion, but many soldiers continued to fight and die until the enemy’s surrender nearly a year later.
In this chapter Paul is like a general assuring his soldiers of victory so they will push hard against the enemy. He wants us to keep our eyes on the promise of future resurrection life so we will enjoy to the fullest our new life with Christ today. This explains his mix of tenses when referring to resurrection life throughout this chapter.
We believe we will live with Christ, he tells us in verse 8. We shall be united with Christ in a resurrection like his, he says in verse 5. But God’s gift of life is not restricted to the future. It overflows powerfully in the believer’s present life, gushing up like a spring of water (John 4:14). As Paul says, we walk in newness of life now (verse 4). As Christ lives his life to God (verse 10), we reckon ourselves alive to God (verse 11). We are to present ourselves to God as having been brought from death to life (verse 13).Tension between this age and the age to come
As the above verses make clear, salvation is both already fulfilled and not yet completed. It progresses in stages. In this age still marred by sin, death, and condemnation we walk by faith and hope, seeing in a mirror dimly, until in the age to come we see the Lord face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12–13). We endure affliction by looking to the unseen things of future glory (2 Corinthians 4:17–18; see Paul’s focus on hope in Romans 5).
If we look on the circumstances of this age, we become discouraged and falter, so Paul exhorts us to orient our lives to the realities of the age to come. Here is how he begins Colossians 3, a marvelous chapter on the ethical implications of our union with Christ in death and life:
Although our life will remain hidden with Christ until we appear with him in glory, Paul wrote this passage of Romans to prove that we are just as alive to God now as Christ is. This parallel between Christ and us is the subject of verses 10 and 11, and Paul reinforces his argument with a stunning claim.
Christ “died to sin”
What can Paul mean by this statement? We died to sin through our union with Christ, whose death paid the penalty for our sin, but Christ committed no sin so owed no penalty. Why would Paul use the same phrase for both sinful humanity and sinless Christ?
Douglas Moo reminds us that Paul speaks of death and sin as ruling powers (see 5:15–17 and 5:20–21). Jesus Christ became subject to the authority of those powers through his identification with sinful people. Moo says Christ came to earth as a “man of the old age,” making him “subject to the power of sin—with the critical difference that he never succumbed to its power and actually sinned.” Even before the cross, he was able to forgive some people and raise others from the dead. But only by dying on the cross did he free both himself and us, for all time, from the dominion of sin and from the dominion of its consequence, death.
Heinrich Meyer on Christ’s death to sin: “He submitted Himself to its power in His death, but through that death He has died to its power” (Meyer’s emphasis, cited by Everett Harrison). As Christ died to sin once for all, never to die again, and now lives to God, so we through union with him have forever escaped the rule of sin and also live to God.
Friends, we don’t have to wait until the age to come to enjoy this freedom. Our challenge is to think of ourselves as now being, like Christ, dead to sin and alive to God.