Christian theology explains in succinct statements that it is Jesus that overcomes sin and death (Romans 6:8-10; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Hebrews 2:14). Since it was Jesus who was promised to die for sin, then it is true we cannot die for our own sin. Our sin produces death (James 1:15), yet we cannot live purely enough in life nor die enough in our death to pay for our sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). This is humanity under the fall, our sinful flesh.
In order to make sense of this point we must, along with Herman Ridderbos, insist that ‘in approaching the Pauline doctrine of sin, we must not orient ourselves in the first place to the individual and personal, but to the redemptive-historical and collective points of view.’ In light of such Pauline texts as Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 8:9, and Philippians 2:6, we must view sin as the supra-individual mode of existence in which one shares before we see it as an individual act. By viewing sin in this Pauline way, we can more fully see how it was that Christ could ‘be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), that is, assume a sinful human nature, and yet remain perfectly sinless.
John Owen explains it this way:
The body is not only doomed to death by reason of original sin, as death entered upon all on that account; but the body must be brought to death, that sin may be rooted out of it. Sin has taken such a close, inseparable habitation in the body, that nothing but the death of the body can make a separation. The body must be dead because of sin. … Here lies the great mystery of the grave under the covenant of grace, and by virtue of the death of Christ. … A secret virtue shall issue out from the death of Christ unto the body of a believer laid in the grave, that shall eternally purify it, at its resurrection, from every thing of sin.
Be not afraid to enter into darkness: as there is no sting in death, so there is no darkness in the grave. It is but lying so long in the hands of the great Refiner [Jesus}, who will purge, purify, and restore you. Therefore, lie down in the dust in peace.
Owen explains elsewhere:
We cannot die for sin. Our hope and faith is, in and through him, that we shall never die for sin. No mortal man (unbelieving person) can be made like unto Christ in suffering for sin. Those that undergo what he underwent, because they were unlike him, must go to hell and be made more unlike him to eternity.
Even death itself brings a terror with it, that nothing can conquer but faith; I mean, conquer duly. He is not crowned, that does not overcome by faith. It is only to be done through the death of Christ, he “freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). There is no deliverance that is true and real, from a bondage-frame of spirit [with reference] to death, but by faith in Christ.