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Gospel Motivations about Death and Life

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What motivates you more—being told what you should do for Christ or what Christ has already done for you?

Personally, I’m motivated by hearing what Christ did for me, an unworthy sinner. The more I’m amazed at the Lord’s love and mercy, the more I want to serve Him.

By the way, that’s a common New Testament strategy—to motivate Christians to live for Christ by first proclaiming the good news of what Christ has done and then urging us to live in light of that truth. In a previous blog, I noted that Robert Koester called these “gospel motivations.” As you read the New Testament, you’ll find that the writers looked at Christ’s work from many different angles to explain what He did for us. I call those redemption truths. Then they would often urge us to live for Christ in light of that. I call those response truths.

One of the big themes of these motivations is what Koester called “the gospel of death and life.” That group of passages uses the imagery of dying and rising with Christ as motivation for Christian living.

For example, here’s how Paul uses that dynamic between death and life in Romans 6. I’ve put what I call the redemption truth in bold and the response truth in italics:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Rom 6:1-2 NIV).

For context, Paul was responding to a common objection to his grace preaching.  When you make clear that salvation is by grace—which means you cannot earn or keep it through good behavior—people will object that message encourages sinful behavior. Indeed, someone might reason, shouldn’t we keep sinning so that God’s grace can increase over it? If no one has ever asked you that question, then you’re probably not preaching grace.

Paul’s response wasn’t to deny that someone could continue in sin. Believers still have free will, and we can still choose to disobey God. Instead, Paul insisted that kind of attitude is theologically inconceivable. It makes no sense, given the gospel. Why not? Because we died to sin. If you died to it, why would you live in it any longer? It has no power or authority over you. It’s not what you belong to anymore, so how could you possibly continue living in it? So here are the two categories of truth—

Redemption truth: You have died to sin.

Response truth: Therefore, do not live in it any longer.

Next, in vv 3-4, Paul continued to show why the believer’s new position makes continuing to sin inconceivable:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom 6:3-4 NIV).

This part of Paul’s argument hinges on the meaning of baptism. Whether you think this refers to what water baptism does, what it represents, or whether it is really about Spirit baptism, the point is the same—baptism reveals a truth about us.

Redemption truth: You were united to Christ in His death and resurrection.

Response truth: Therefore, live a new life.

Again, Paul wasn’t trying to motivate the Romans by urging them to strive as hard as they could to be good Christians because they were already strong, smart, or good enough to do it on their own. Instead, he was motivating them with gospel truths.

Why shouldn't you sin? Because you died with Christ. Why live a God-pleasing life? Because Christ was raised from the dead, and He raised you with Him. Now, live like it!

Let me give you one more example:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires (Rom 6:11-12).

Redemption truth: You are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.

Response truth: Do not let sin reign in your body or obey it.

Gospel motivations begin with assurance—you’re already dead to sin and alive to God. That issue was settled forever the moment you put your faith in Christ. That’s how God sees you in Christ. The more you see yourself in light of that redemption truth, the more your daily life will reflect it.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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