By His atoning sacrifice on the cross, Jesus “set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain[ed] for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 37). These are wonderful blessings indeed, all of which we begin to experience before our deaths. Yet there are further blessings we experience in this life beyond the privilege of knowing that the debt of our sin has been fully paid in Christ. Several of these blessings, or advantages, are enumerated in today’s passage and summarized in question and answer 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
In sum, our bondage to sin is ended, and we are set free “so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us” (A. 43). This is a truth the Apostle Paul emphasizes particularly in his stress on our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. As we see in today’s passage, we were “buried with [Jesus] in baptism,” not baptism as a mere washing with water but the true spiritual baptism that is accomplished when through faith alone we renounce sin and trust Christ alone (Col. 2:11–12). (This spiritual baptism is signed and sealed in water baptism for those who believe.) When God imputed our sin to Jesus, He also imputed its guilt and other consequences, including our enslavement to wickedness. Because we are so closely identified with Christ in our union with Him, it is as if we, in our Adamic state of slavery to sin, were killed and buried. Any rightful claim of ownership that our sin and fallenness had over us died at that point. The power of wickedness to enslave and compel us was rendered for all those who trust in Christ alone and walk in the Spirit (Rom. 6:1–14; Gal. 5:16–25).
Therefore, unlike those who are outside of Christ and still in Adam, Christians can now choose not to sin and to pursue true holiness. John Calvin states, “[Paul] employs the term body, by an elegant metaphor, to denote a mass, made up of all vices.” Moreover, the Apostle “takes the term flesh, as he is wont, to denote corrupt nature. The body of the sins of the flesh, therefore, is the old man with his deeds.” The Adamic nature of every believer was crucified and buried with Jesus. A holy nature, the new man in Christ, was raised instead to serve God in freedom (Gal. 5:1).
Our old Adamic nature has been mortally wounded, but it refuses to stay buried. Having a new nature in Christ, we must put sin to death when it rises up. This means that we must resist temptation and repent when we give in, for we will not be perfect until we are in heaven. Calvin comments on today’s passage that “burial expresses a continued process of mortification.” Sin is powerless to control us, but it is still dangerous and must be resisted.