As I was growing up, we had a little Manchester Terrier named Judy. She was this shiny black bundle of energy and warmth. I received her in an ice cream carton on my first birthday. I taught her to sit, but try as I might, she didn't quite learn the "play dead" command very well. She had too much desire to be up in our laps, running after things, or just plain being loved on to actually "play dead". If you haven't seen a dog "play dead", it is kind of humorous to watch. There is this sudden lack of movement, even down to the eye contact ceasing, until they hear the command to get up. They aren't really dead, they are just "playing" along for a treat of some kind! I wonder how many times we "play dead" to sin in our lives, all the while having just an overwhelming desire to be up and running toward something we desire again? I also wonder how many times we are just plain "playing dead" to sin, but all the while imagining the "treat" awaiting us if we can only be awakened again to that passion or desire? I think it might just be one of the toughest things to move from "playing dead" to actually "being dead" to sin's pull!
If we shared in Jesus' death by being baptized, we will be raised to life with him. We know that the persons we used to be were nailed to the cross with Jesus. This was done, so that our sinful bodies would no longer be the slaves of sin. We know that sin doesn’t have power over dead people. (Romans 6:5-7 CEV)
Many times were are "deathlike" in our attempts to walk away from sin, but in essence, there is still life in the old beast! Deathlike is not dead, though. It is just "play acting". If we want to live above the pull of sin in our lives, we have to embrace death, not just play like we are dead. The cross was a means of death in the times Jesus walked this earth and it wasn't a very pretty death. Crucifixion, or death by the cross, was a practice which probably originated with the Persians. The main thing we need to remember about the cross is the purpose of it - slow, but certain death. Nails were driven into the wrists, attaching the arms in an outstretched fashion to the crossbar of the cross. Those who drove the nails in became proficient at missing arteries because they wanted to simply attach the person to the crossbar, not cause them to "bleed out" in the process. The cross was designed to be a slow death - not instant by any means. Maybe this is why we have this idea of our death to sin being rather slow, instead of instantaneous.
We must keep in mind that no one survived the cross. If it took days for the person to actually succumb to death, then they stayed up there until they had breathed their last breath. The insects could attack the open wounds; birds of prey pick at open flesh; and dehydration begin to takes the toll on the body - but the individual would not be released for burial until there were no signs of life left in the body. Kind of gruesome, I know, but I want us to understand the purpose of the cross - it wasn't for looks; nor was it something casual from which someone could walk away at the "end of their term". This was permanent in all senses of the sentence! No one survived! Families couldn't even bury the remains until a Roman judge declared the person dead and gave permission to release the body from the cross.
Bringing us back to our passage, we see this death we experience was by "proxy" - Jesus experienced the actual cross (crucifixion) for us - we just "enter into" his death by being baptized (symbolizing death to the old and resurrection to the new). If we all had to die a physically torturous death to overcome sin, none of us would be up to the challenge. We'd be like my little terrier - too antsy to get on with "life" that we couldn't sit still long enough to actually be "deathlike"! Too many times I think we might have the belief that "deathlike" is the same thing as dead, but trust me on this one, no one could "fake" their death on the cross. When we enter into the death of the cross through baptism, we aren't "faking" death to sin - we are trusting God to bring that death as surely as he has brought newness of life into us by his gift of salvation!
There is an exchange which occurs at the point of baptism. I think this is why Jesus commands us to be baptized. It isn't a "magical" experience whereby we mysteriously are "changed". It is an acknowledgement of just how deeply we are trusting God to bring death to the sinful parts of our lives - giving us the ability to walk into newness of life and stay there where we belong! There is an actual "exchange" which does happen at the point of baptism though - we identify with the death of Christ, accepting his death as the means by which we can finally walk away from sin and toward new life (right behavior). It isn't until we realize this "exchange" that we actually enter into the reality of how "permanent" our separation from sin is. Separation from sin is possible ONLY in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. In those actions on his part, we are set free from sin's penalty in our lives. It is by his Spirit which now resides within that we experience the newness of life which actually impacts our desire to move toward sinful behavior any longer. In fact, his Spirit within is what moves us "away" from sin - making death to sin a permanent and lasting part of our lives!
We may "play act" a little when it comes to dying to sin, but if we want to really get on with the death experience, we need to stop pursuing what we have been declared to be dead to already! Until we stop pursuing what produces nothing but death within, we won't fully experience the newness of resurrection. Resurrection is only possible where there has been a declaration of death and the subsequent burial of the "remains". That which is dead is dead! Once and for all - but it must fully die to experience new life on the other side of the grave! Just sayin!