In his correspondence with the Roman Christians the apostle Paul makes a statement that helps explain an important issue regarding the death of Christians. He says, For one who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:7). It is through death that liberation from sin’s power and dominion is achieved. Now of course that has to do primarily with the death of Christ, who died for us that we might be freed from sin’s clutches and might live in Him for God. But it also helps clarify the reason why believers, now forgiven and accepted by God, must still experience physical death as sin’s wages.
The Westminster Divines dealt with this question and codified it in the Larger Catechism. They asked, Death being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ? (Q 85) Their answer echoes the apostle and is very illuminating: The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon (A 85). While the death of Christians seems to be an inconsistency, it is really a severe mercy by which our loving Father frees us from sin and introduces us into glory. So in Christ’s death we are freed from sin legally, morally, spiritually, and in our own death we are freed from sin perfectly. What a glorious gospel! God in Christ has overruled the curse so that the very punishment for sin itself is now a means of tremendous blessing. What a glorious God! Is death an enemy? On one level, yes it is. On another level, it is not at all. It comes out of God’s love to free us perfectly from sin and misery. This is why Christians may look forward even to death itself. It is why we need not fear the valley of the shadow. For the one who dies has been set free from sin!