Sanctification by Time Travel
Many books and films have explored the fascinating appeal of time travel. Usually a mad scientist constructs some kind of machine or potion that enables him or someone else to travel backwards or forwards in time. And of course, when they come back to the present, what they found out about the past or the future has a huge impact on how they view the present and what they do in the present.
Spiritual Time Travel
Although this remains a fantasy, something for science-fiction rather than non-fiction, the Bible encourages us to spiritual time travel. The believer uses faith to transport herself into the future, a spiritual experience that has significant sanctifying impact on the present (2 Peter 3:11). And in Romans 6, the believer uses faith to transport himself back in time, again with significant present impact.
This spiritual time travel is not an optional extra, something for high-flying Christians, but this is something for every Christian to try. In fact, you will never make much lasting progress in holiness if you do not travel back in time to Calvary’s cross and the empty tomb.
Let me put this as bluntly and as starkly as possible: The Christian’s holiness depends primarily on his/her ability to time travel by faith.
Yes there are other helpful strategies for pursuing holiness including diligent use of the means of grace, spiritual disciplines, remembering the warnings about disobedience, and the promises of spiritual reward for obedience. However, the greatest help to holiness, without which none of these others can have any lasting effects is learning to travel back in time by faith to the Cross of Calvary and the Empty Tomb.
So, let’s get in the faith machine and travel back about 1970 years. When we come out, what do we see?
Dead to sin
On a cross on Calvary’s hill we see a central figure limp and lifeless. We see Christ dead. More, we see Christ dead to sin (Rom. 6:10).
“Dead to sin?” What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that Jesus stopped sinning – that He was alive to sin, living in sin, and now he’s dead to sin, no longer living in it.
What does it mean then?
Well, when someone dies, their connection with everything in this world ends. For example, they are severed from their family and friends. In that sense they are now dead to their family. They have no relationship or connection with them.
Similarly, “Christ died to sin” means He has no further relationship or connection with sin’s guilt and penalty – that’s severed and ended. As Paul said earlier: “He that is dead is freed from sin.” “The death he died, He died to sin once for all” (7, 10)
Prior to His death, the holy Jesus was in a constant agonizing relationship with sin’s guilt and penalty. But by His death, this connection, this relationship was decisively, emphatically, effectively, and forever severed. Sin’s guilt and death penalty no longer have any relationship to Him or rights over Him (v. 9).
What an amazing sight! Christ not only dead, but dead to sin!
But look a bit closer, Christian believer, exercise the eyes of faith even more, and you’ll see something else, or rather someone else there.
Who is it? It’s you!
“Our old man was crucified with him…We died with Christ” (v. 6, 8). The believer’s union with Christ in His death is a fact. But if we are to get the benefit of the fact, we need to do some “reckoning” (v. 11). That involves believing that Christ’s death to sin is identical to ours.
Just as Christ died to sin, in exactly the same way as Christ died to sin, so we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. By virtue of our union with Christ, we have been decisively, emphatically, effectively, and forever severed from sin’s guilt and death as a penalty. They no longer have any relationship to us or rights over us (v. 9).
How much connection or relationship does sin’s guilt and death penalty have on Christ? So much connection does it have to the believer. None! Zero! Nada! Zilch!
Alive to God
But quickly travel three days forward with me and stand at the empty tomb. There you see a Christ who has risen from the dead and who is now “living unto God” (v. 10). Again this is not saying that prior to his resurrection He was not living unto God. No, He was perfect in every respect. However it indicates that his life with God, His communion with God, His connection with God was hampered, hindered, and reduced due to His relation to sin’s guilt and penalty. But once he was severed from those impediments, He resumed the life he enjoyed in perfect and uninterrupted loving fellowship with His Father that He had enjoyed from all eternity until He came to this world as the sin-bearer.
It’s a beautiful sight isn’t it? Christ living. More than that, living unto and with His Father as He had not done before in His human nature. “The life that He lives, He lives to God” (v. 10). No guilt or penalty to impede or obstruct or distance.
But look closer again, and you will again see yourself there again. “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” That’s why Paul not only says “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin” but also “reckon yourselves to be alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11).
Notice carefully, it’s not “Be dead to sin and alive to God!” The believer is already dead to sin and alive to God. It’s “Be convinced and persuaded of this.” Make this fact part of your faith.
And insofar as you are able to reckon this, insofar as you are convinced of this, so far you will have hope of obeying the imperatives in verses 12-13. Successful time travel to the past will result in successful sanctification in the present.
Free the Slaves
Sadly many Christians are like the older slaves after the declaration of emancipation. Even decades after the law was passed and they were legally severed from any responsibility and relationship to their masters, they found themselves still feeling obligated to them, bound to them in their minds and hearts, and fearing them, all of this damaging their present enjoyment of life. Perhaps if they could have traveled back in time and witnessed the signing of the declaration they could have lived more freely and happily.
Similarly some Christians continue to live with a paralyzing sense of guilt and a terror of God as judge and death as a penalty. But there is a solution. By faith we can travel back in time and see that we died to sin and now are alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. What a wonderful difference that should make to our present lives!