Victory over Sin

| Romans 6:1-14 | March 12, 2017

Week of March 19, 2017

The Point:  Sin is no longer my master – Jesus is.

Dead to Sin, Alive to God:  Romans 6:1-14.

[1] What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [12] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.   [ESV]

United to Christ, or the logic of our baptism [1-14].  Paul begins with a vehement rejection of the notion that God’s grace gives us a license to sin. Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! But on what grounds can he be so categorical? At first sight, logic seems to be on the side of the antinomians, since the more we sin, the more opportunity God will have to display His grace. What counter-logic does the apostle propose? Because the first half of Romans 6 is such a tightly packed argument, it may be helpful to outline it in eight steps or stages.

(1) We died to sin [2]. Paul lays down this fundamental truth as being in itself a sufficient answer to the antinomians. How can we who died to sin still live in it? It is not the literal impossibility of sin in believers which Paul is declaring, but the moral incongruity of it. Paul is drawing attention to the essential anomaly of living in sin when we have died to sin. What, then, does he mean by our having died to sin? An incorrect view teaches that those who died to sin are now dead to the appeal and power of sin; that we no longer sin. There are at least three fatal objections to this incorrect view. First, it is incompatible with the meaning of the death of Christ. The expressions died to sin and dead to sin occur in this section twice of Christians [2,11] and once of Christ [10]. Since it is a right principle of interpretation that the same phrase recurring in the same context bears the same meaning, we must find an explanation of this death to sin which is true both of Christ and of Christians. What, then, did Paul mean when he stated that Christ died to sin, once for all [10]? It cannot mean that at some point He became unresponsive to it, since this would imply that previously He had been responsive to it. To be sure, His temptations were real. But was our Lord Jesus Christ earlier so continuously alive to sin that He needed on the cross to die to it decisively, once for all? That would be an intolerable slur on His character. Secondly, this view is incompatible with Paul’s concluding exhortations. If our fallen nature has effectively died, or we have died to it, so that we are no longer responsive to temptation, it would be unnecessary for the apostle to exhort us not to let sin reign in our body, lest we obey its evil desires [12], and not to offer our faculties to sin [13]. How could he have written these things if our fallen nature were dead and had no desires, or if we had a ‘sanctified disposition’ from which the inclination to sin had been removed? Thirdly, it is incompatible with Christian experience. Are all God’s people dead to sin in the sense of being unresponsive to it? No; scriptural and historical biographies, together with our own experience, combine to deny this. Far from being dead, in the sense of quiescent, our fallen nature is so alive and active that we are urged not to obey its desires, and are given the Holy Spirit to subdue and control them. To sum up the objections to this view: Christ did not die to sin in the sense of becoming insensitive to it, for He never was thus alive to it that He needed to die to it. And we have not died to sin in this sense either, because we are still alive to it, as Paul’s exhortations and our experience demonstrate. Indeed, we are told to put to death our fallen nature and its activities [e.g. 8:13]. But how can we put to death what is already dead? There must be a better and more liberating interpretation of the death to sin which is true of Christ and of Christians. So we turn now to Paul’s true meaning. In every analogy we need to consider at what point the parallel or similarity is being drawn; we must not press a resemblance at every point. To say that we have died to sin does not mean that we must exhibit every characteristic of dead people, including their insensibility to stimuli. We have to ask ourselves: at what point is the analogy of death being made? If we answer these questions from Scripture rather than from analogy, from biblical teaching about death rather than from the properties of dead people, we shall find immediate help. Death is represented in Scripture more in legal than in physical terms; not so much as a state of lying motionless but as the grim though just penalty for sin. Whenever sin and death are coupled in the Bible, the essential nexus between them is that death is sin’s penalty. Take Christ first: the death he died he died to sin, once for all [10]. The natural and obvious meaning of this is that Christ bore sin’s condemnation, namely death. He met its claim, He paid its penalty, He accepted its reward, and He did it once for all. In consequence, sin has no more claim or demand on Him. So God raised Him from the dead, in order to demonstrate the satisfactoriness of His sin-bearing, and He now lives forever to God. What is true of Christ is equally true of Christians who are united to Christ. We too have died to sin, in the sense that through union with Christ we may be said to have borne its penalty. The New Testament tells us not only that Christ died instead of us, as our substitute, so that we will never need to die for our sins, but also that He died for us, as our representative, so that we may be said to have died in and through Him.

(2) We were baptized into Christ’s death [3].  Those who ask whether Christian people are free to sin betray their complete ignorance of what their baptism meant. In order to grasp Paul’s argument, three clarifications need to be made about baptism. First, baptism means water baptism unless in the context it is stated to the contrary. It is true that the New Testament speaks of other kinds of baptism, for example a baptism with fire [Matt. 3:11] and a baptism with the Holy Spirit [John 1:33; Acts 1:5]. It is safe to say that whenever the terms ‘baptism’ and ‘being baptized’ occur, without mention of the element in which the baptism takes place, the reference is to water baptism. Secondly, baptism signifies our union with Christ, especially with Christ crucified and risen. It has other meanings, including cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but its essential significance is that it unites us with Christ. Thirdly, baptism does not by itself secure what it signifies. To be sure, the New Testament speaks of baptism in terms of our washing away our sins [Acts 22:16], our clothing ourselves with Christ [Gal. 3:27], and even of our being saved by it [1 Peter 3:21], but these are examples of dynamic language which attributes to the visible sign the blessing of the reality signified. It is inconceivable that the apostle Paul, having spent three chapters arguing that justification is by faith alone, should now shift his ground, contradict himself, and declare that after all salvation is by baptism. No, we must give the apostle credit for consistency of thought. So union with Christ by faith, which is invisibly effected by the Holy Spirit, is visibly signified and sealed by baptism. The essential point Paul is making is that being a Christian involves a personal, vital identification with Jesus Christ, and that this union with Him is dramatically set forth in our baptism.

(3) God intends us to share also in Christ’s resurrection [4-5].  Verses 3-5 contain references to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and to our participation with Him in all three events. For the basic theme of the first half of Romans 6 is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not only historical facts and significant doctrines, but also personal experiences, since through faith-baptism we have come to share in them ourselves. These verses seem to allude to the pictorial symbolism of baptism with the believer’s dying to the old life and rising to the new. For by faith inwardly and baptism outwardly we have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, and have thus come to share in their blessings.

(4) We know that our old self was crucified with Christ [6-7].  Verse 6 contains three closely related clauses. Perhaps the best way to grasp Paul’s logic is to take these three stages in the opposite order. God’s end-purpose is our freedom from sin’s tyranny: so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. But before our rescue is possible, the body of sin must be brought to nothing. This conquest must precede our deliverance. What is it? The body of sin means the sinful self, our fallen, self-centered nature, body being used here as a synonym for flesh. Now God’s purpose is that this sinful self should be destroyed or done away with. To understand how this has happened we come to the first clause of verse 6, which says that our old self was crucified with Him. Our old self denotes our former self, the man we once were, our old humanity, the person we used to be in Adam. So what was crucified with Christ was who we were in our pre-conversion state. But how has the fact that our former self was crucified with Christ resulted in the disabling of our sinful self and so in our rescue from sin’s slavery? Verse 7 supplies the answer. It is because one who has died has been set free from sin. The Greek verb translated set free is the word for ‘justified’. So the verse could be translated: ‘he who has died has been justified from his sin’. But exactly how are our death and consequent justification [7] the basis of our liberation from sin [6]? The only way to be justified from sin is that the wages of sin be paid, either by the sinner or by the God-appointed substitute. There is no way of escape but that the penalty be borne. But if we pay the penalty of sin which is death then we are no longer alive to live a life freed from sin. Therefore we must die, not in our own person, but in the person of Jesus Christ our substitute, who died in our place, and with whom we have been united by faith and baptism. And by union with the same Christ we have risen again. So the old life of sin is finished, because we died to it, and the new life of justified sinners has begun. Our death and resurrection with Christ render it inconceivable that we should go back. It is in this sense that our sinful self has been deprived of power and we have been set free.

(5) We believe that we will also live with Christ [8-10].  Verses 6-7 elaborated the implication of Christ’s death in relation to us, namely that our former self was crucified with Him. Now verses 8-9 elaborate the implication of His resurrection, again in relation to us, namely that we will also live with Him. The guarantee of the continuing nature of our new life, beginning now and lasting forever, is to be found in Christ’s resurrection: death no longer has dominion over him [9]. Next Paul summarizes in a neat epigram the death and resurrection of Jesus about which he has been writing. As he does so, although he implies that they belong together and must never be separated, he also indicates that there are radical differences between them. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God [10]. There is a difference of time (the past event of death, the present experience of life), of nature (He died to sin, bearing its penalty, but lives to God, seeking His glory), and of quality (the death once for all, the resurrection life continuous). These differences are of importance for our understanding not only of the work of Christ but also of our Christian discipleship, which, by our union with Christ, begins with a once-for-all death to sin and continues with an unending life of service to God. We died with Christ [6-7]; we have risen with Christ [8-9]. Our old life terminated with the judicial death it deserved; our new life began with a resurrection.

(6) We must count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God [11]. We could put it in this way. If Christ’s death was a death to sin (which it was), and if His resurrection was a resurrection to God (which it was), and if by faith-baptism we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection (which we have been), then we ourselves have died to sin and risen to God. We must therefore consider, ‘reckon’, ‘regard’ ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus [11]. This ‘reckoning’ is not make-believe. We are not to pretend that our old nature has died, when we know perfectly well it has not. Instead we are to realize and remember that our former self did die with Christ, thus putting an end to its career. We are to consider what in fact we are, namely dead to sin and alive to God [11], like Christ [10]. Once we grasp this, that our old life has ended, with the score settled, the debt paid and the law satisfied, we shall want to have nothing more to do with it. So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing [6] that our former self was crucified with Christ, in knowing [3] that baptism into Christ is baptism into His death and resurrection, and in considering [11] that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God. We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. For our union with Jesus Christ has severed us from the old life and committed us to the new. We have died, and we have risen. How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?

(7) We must therefore offer ourselves to God [12-13].  The word therefore introduces the conclusion of Paul’s argument. Because Christ died to sin and lives to God, and because through union with Christ we are ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, and must consider ourselves so, therefore our whole attitude to sin and to God must change. Do not offer yourselves to sin, because you have died to it; but offer yourselves to God, because you have risen to live for His glory. Paul’s exhortation has negative and positive aspects, which complement one another. The negative comes first: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions [12]. Sin can use our body as a bridgehead through which to govern us. So Paul calls us to rise up in rebellion against sin. A second negative exhortation follows: do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness [13a]. Instead of giving in to sin, letting it rule over our bodies and surrendering them to its service, Paul now exhorts us to the positive alternative: but present yourselves to God [13b]. Whereas the command not to offer ourselves to sin was in the present tense, indicating that we must not go on doing it, the exhortation to offer ourselves to God is an aorist, which is clearly significant. Although it may not be a call for a once-for-all surrender, it at least suggests deliberate and decisive commitment. As with the negative prohibitions, so with the positive commands, Paul looks beyond a general self-offering to the presentation of the parts of our bodies to God, this time as instruments for righteousness [13c]. And the ground on which these exhortations are based is that we have been brought from death to life [13b]. The logic is clear. Since we have died to sin, it is inconceivable that we should let sin reign in us or offer ourselves to it. Since we are alive to God, it is only appropriate that we should offer ourselves and our faculties to Him. This theme of life and death, or rather death and life, runs right through this section. Christ died and rose. We have died and risen with Him. We must therefore regard ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. And, as those who are alive from death, we must offer ourselves to His service.

(8) We are no longer under law but under grace [14].  The apostle now supplies a further reason for offering ourselves not to sin but to God. It is that sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace [14]. This is the ultimate secret of freedom from sin. Law and grace are the opposing principles of the old and the new orders, of Adam and of Christ. To be under law is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse or condemnation. To be under grace is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free. Thus the first half of Romans 6 is wedged between two notable references to sin and grace. In the first verse the question is asked whether grace encourages sin; in the last verse [14] the answer is given that, on the contrary, grace discourages and even outlaws sin. It is law which provokes and increases sin [5:20]; grace opposes it. Grace lays upon us the responsibility of holiness.”  [Stott, pp. 166-182].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In what sense has the believer died to sin [2,11]? In what sense did Christ die to sin [10]? How is the believer’s death to sin connected to Christ’s?
  1. The concept of the believer being united with Christ is at the heart of Paul’s argument in this passage. How is the believer united with Christ? In what aspects are we united with Christ? What is the result of our union with Christ? How is baptism the sign and seal of this union?
  1. The word therefore in verse 12 indicates the conclusion to Paul’s argument. How does Paul conclude his argument in verses 12-14? How should the believer view and handle sin in their life? How do you present yourselves to God as instruments of righteousness? What does it mean to live under grace instead of under law?
  1. Paul began this passage with a question: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Explain how Paul answers that question. List and explain the eight steps or stages that Stott uses to outline the logic of Paul’s answer.

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, BENT, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.