Welcome to a year of reading Richard Sibbes together! The reading plan for the entire year can be accessed here. I encourage you to stick with us, allow yourself time to read, and soak in the riches of this gifted and prolific Puritan preacher. You will be edified and encouraged.
If you have trouble with how Sibbes used words, check out the Lexicons of Early Modern English for definitions from the period.
“You are dead.” Something the movies say we’ll hear from some creepy person who is apparently an angel and come to take us to the afterlife. This guy usually has some beatific face and casually (though with hushed reverential tones) explains that we’re now going to heaven. What is also usually conveyed is the person’s surprise that there is a heaven and that they’re going.
Colossians 3:3-4 are not the words of an angel to the recently deceased and surprised human. These are the words of God to his church about their life. We are dead, the Spirit says. Our life is hid with Christ in God. How are we dead and yet live? “See,” says the scoffer, “the Bible doesn’t make sense!” Oh but it makes sense, it coheres, in every way.
We are dead to the law and its demands, in Christ. We are dead to sin and its authority, in Christ. We are even dead to death itself, in Christ. Brother Sibbes said it so eloquently:
“Though we live here for a time, we are dead in regard of the sentence that is passed on us, as we say a man is dead when the sentence is passed on him. In that respect we are dead men, for our life is but a dead life. Besides the sentence that is passed upon us, death seized upon us in the time of our life, in sicknesses, etc. And so they prepare us to death.
We are dead, and yet we have a life. A Christian is a strange person. He is both dead and alive, he is miserable and glorious. He consists of contraries. He is dead in regard of corruption and miseries, and such like, but he is alive in regard of his better part, and he grows two ways at once. It is a strange thing a Christian doth. He grows downwards and upwards at the same time; for as he dies in sin and misery, and natural death approaching, so he lives the life of grace, and grows more and more till he end in glory.”
Application / Further Discussion
We are dead to sin and yet alive to Christ, if you believe the Gospel. We are dead to our old self, dead to our old life, dead to our passions and desires that we identified so tightly with. We have been reborn in Christ our Lord, ready to appear in glory with Him. What implications does this union with Christ have on us, who have been ransomed from death’s embrace into Heaven’s glory?
- We are not yet what we will be. (Phil. 1:6) We are the body, joined to the head, Christ. Just as with your body, where your head goes, your body goes. Christ has gone before us in to heaven, in to glory, and so will we. Just as he suffered for righteousness, so will we. He is holy, and so we must be holy. (1 Peter 1:13-16)
- We are dead to sin’s authority, not our capability to sin. The old man in us died, our sinful nature was buried with it, and we have been raised in the newness of life that is Christ. This is what baptism signifies. It is a visual representation of the gospel. Yet, as the above states, we are not yet there. We are not yet glorified because we are still living in a sinful world, and we sin because we are sinners. Christ gave us a heart capable of resisting temptation.
- We are dead to the law, yet we are not free to do as we please. The law is full of commands, both of what to do and what not to do. Some confuse the freedom we have in Christ with the freedom to do as they choose. This is not freedom. What they have chosen is themselves as God. God never released us from obedience. We are no longer under sin’s authority, because we are now slaves to Christ. We have been freed from the taskmaster of sin, to serve God. Anyone who cloaks their sin by invoking their “freedom in Christ” is attempting to make holy that which is profane. Christ makes the sinner holy, not their sin. We are called to die to self and live to God. If you think that means doing what you want because Christ paid for the sin, you are putting God to the test. God will not be tested. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith, or in deluded self-worship with Christian veneer.
- Death is not cause for fear, living contrary to God is. In Christ, death is the consummation of the change wrought in is. When we who are in Christ die we will go to be with him where he is, in glory. “It is vain to believe well unless a man work accordingly. He that lives against his faith shall be damned, as he that believes against it.” If you believe Christ, you will do as he says. Put to death in yourself that which rebels against him, that your faith may be proven by your works. (James 2:14-26)
Much more could be said. Live without shame before God, who became shame for you. Put sin to death in your life, for Christ died for your sin. Honor Christ who deserves all glory, for he is holy beyond measure. Eagerly await his return, he is coming for you.
“He, as the sun, shall cast a lustre and beauty and glory upon all that are his; and then they shall reflect that glory they have from him upon him again, and he upon them again. So he shall be glorious in them and they in him; but the ground of all is, he is first in glory. He shall appear in glory, and then we in him.”
Last week, we read The Art of Contentment.
Next week, we read Christ’s Exaltation Purchased by Humiliation.