A Life of Holiness

Romans 6

With the beginning of chapter 6, Paul begins a new subject.  He moves from one fruit of justification, peace, to another, holiness.

The word “sin” occurs often in chapter 5 and occurs even more frequently in chapter 6.  In this connection, the emphasis turns away from the believer’s legal standing before God (God as Judge declared him to be holy) to that same believer’s actual condition.  Paul’s new line of thought centers around holiness, living a new life, dying to sin,and living for God.

But as Hendriksen correctly observes, the two chapters are intimately connected, just as the concepts of justification and sanctification are.

The God who declares the sinner just at the same time, and in close connection with it, pours the sanctifying Spirit into his heart, producing holiness.

John Wesley writers about the difference between the two, justification and sanctification:

Justification is not the being made actually just and righteous.  This is sanctification, which is indeed, in some degree, the immediate fruit of justification, but nevertheless, is a distinct gift of God, and of a totally different nature.  The one implies what God does for us through His Son; the other what he works in us by His Spirit.

1.  The Fact, verses 1-10

Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin – how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? We were dead and buried with him in baptism, so that just as he was raised from the dead by that splendid Revelation of the Father’s power so we too might rise to life on a new plane altogether. If we have, as it were, shared his death, let us rise and live our new lives with him! Let us never forget that our old selves died with him on the cross that the tyranny of sin over us might be broken – for a dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin. And if we were dead men with him we can believe that we shall also be men newly alive with him. We can be sure that the risen Christ never dies again – death’s power to touch him is finished. He died, because of sin, once: he lives for God for ever.  (JBP)

This is an amazing portion of Scripture.  Christ passed through certain epochal experiences (death, burial, resurrection).   These events never involved us; indeed, He was our substitute.  Yet our very salvation depends on His experiences.  Even though Christ went through His epochal experiences alone, His work on the Cross is not just substitutionary; it is also representative.  Consider the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14-

[O]ne died for all, and therefore all died.

Christians are pictured as being identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  And because He has been delivered from the power of sin, so the Christian is delivered from the power of sin.

Paul begins his discussion with an argument and an answer to that argument.  Sensing that some might use God’s grace an excuse to sin, Paul says that’s not at all what he was trying say.  His answer is short and to the point: We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (NIV) Unfortunately, Paul does not say that sin is dead to the Christian,but that the Christian is dead to sin.  It’s a statement of fact, not of hope.  It is something already accomplished.

Our “death to sin” was accomplished by being “baptized into Christ Jesus.”  This phrase means being brought into personal relation to Christ.  Paul is referring the spiritual reality behind the ceremony.  He uses similar language in 1 Corinthians 10:2,

They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (NIV)

The Israelites were baptized into Moses by means of crossing the Red Sea.  What does that mean?  Simply this: they became united to Moses, recognizing his leadership and their dependence on Him.  Similarly, when we are identified with Christ in His death,burial, and resurrection, we are identifying with the end of our old life and the beginning of our new life.  The God who raised Christ from the dead has imparted life to those who are His.

The crux of Paul’s argument rests of verses 6 and 7.  The antinomian heresy is what Paul is addressing in this letter, and understanding that helps us understand these verses.  The antinomians were preaching a dangerous distortion of grace, suggesting it was good to wallow in sin so that grace might be experienced to its fullest.  But Paul combats that by saying such a thing would defeat the very purpose of our lives as believers.  Verse 6 begins with “For we know,” or “As we are all aware of,” suggesting what he is about to say was common knowledge.  The common knowledge was  that our old self (literally, our “old man”) was crucified with Christ.  The old self is taken to be the person we were before we came to know Christ as Savior.  Paul said something similar in Galatians 2:20, saying that there is no doubt that our “old man” is dead and gone:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (NIV)

However, in Ephesians 4:22 we read something slightly different:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.  (NIV)

Here, rather than an accomplished fact, the “old self” is seen as something very  much alive and believers are encouraged to put it off.  In one sense, then, we see the old self as dead and gone, but in another sense, it is still something to be dealt with.  Here is the balance between justification and sanctification: one occurs immediately, the other is progressive.

Paul  never teaches that in this life one can attain such a level of holiness as to never commit another sin.  But  what he does teach is that by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit a person may reach the point where no longer wants to be a slave to sin.  This is entirely within the realm of possibility given this statement:  a dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin. Another way to translate the sentence is:  for he who hath died hath been set free from the sin.  (YLT). Paul is likely quoting a familiar rabbinical rule, which says “death pays all debts.”  When a person dies spiritually, they no longer “owe sin” anything.  Sin has no claim on the believer’s time or talents or desires.

2.  An encouragement, verses 11-14

In the same way look upon yourselves as dead to the appeal and power of sin but alive and sensitive to the call of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do not, then, allow sin to establish any power over your mortal bodies in making you give way to your lusts. Nor hand over your organs to be, as it were, weapons of evil for the devil’s purposes. But, like men rescued from certain death, put yourselves in God’s hands as weapons of good for his own purposes. For sin is not meant to be your master – you are no longer living under the Law, but under grace.  (JBP)

Paul turns from teaching the doctrine, to imparting some encouragement.  The best commentary on verse 11 are Paul’s own words:

If you are then “risen” with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of Heaven, where your master reigns in power. Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth. For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in Christ. One day, Christ, the secret centre of our lives, will show himself openly, and you will all share in that magnificent dénouement.  (JBP)

Verse 12 is interesting.  Paul tells his readers that they have a part to play in this.  Their responsibility is to refuse obedience any longer to sin’s enticements.  But his teaching is much deeper and is two-fold:  believers are to stop offering our bodies to sin, but we are to offer them to God, to be used by Him as “instruments of righteousness.”   The word “offer” implies a “critical resolve, a decision of surrender,” meaning it won’t come naturally or easily.

Paul stresses that Christians are living under grace.  Verse 14 suggests “grace” is not only a sphere in which we live, but also a disciplinary power. In other words, sin was once our master, now grace will be our master.

3.  Slaves to righteousness, verses 15-23

Now, what shall we do? Shall we go on sinning because we have no Law to condemn us any more, but are living under grace? Never! Just think what it would mean. You belong to the power which you choose to obey, whether you choose sin, whose reward is death, or God, obedience to whom means the reward of righteousness. Thank God that you, who were at one time the servants of sin, honestly responded to the impact of Christ’s teaching when you came under its influence. Then, released from the service of sin, you entered the service of righteousness. (I use an everyday illustration because human nature grasps truth more readily that way.) In the past you voluntarily gave your bodies to the service of vice and wickedness – for the purpose of becoming wicked. So, now, give yourselves to the service of righteousness – for the purpose of becoming really good. For when you were employed by sin you owed no duty to righteousness. Yet what sort of harvest did you reap from those things that today you blush to remember? In the long run those things mean one thing only – death.
But now that you are employed by God, you owe no duty to sin, and you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life for evermore.
Sin pays its servants: the wage is death. But God gives to those who serve him: his free gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (JBP)

While not under the law any longer,  believers are not set free from the demands of righteousness.  E.K. Harrison makes this astute observation:

It would be strange and contradictory if those under grace should evidence a  manner of life inferior to the standard held by those under law.  As  a matter of fact, the believer must face the fact that his salvation means a change of bondage.  As he once served sin, he now committed to a life of practical righteousness.

However, the two bondages are not the same thing.  One is rigorous and relentless and leads only to death; the other is joyous and satisfying, leading to life and peace.  Being free from sin is wonderful in and of itself, but life is not lived in a vacuum; serving God’s righteous cause must take sin’s place, and adds meaning to life.

Verse 23 is an apt conclusion to the matter.  The word “wages” has been the subject of some discussion, and H.W. Heidland writes about a three-fold meaning:

  • Opsonia means “provisions for one’s living expenses.”  Sin, then, turns out to be a wretched paymaster, promising life but meting out death.
  • Wages are usually paid periodically, not in a lump sum.  Death is not merely the final and only payment, but it casts its dark shadow over one’s whole life.
  • Opsonia is also a legal term, in opposition to charisma, “gift.”  What God gives is a gift, undeserved,unearned, and unexpected.  Sin’s reward is earned and death is the only payment a sinner can expect.

Hendriksen sees a fourth consideration.   Opsonia, elsewhere in the New Testament, 1 Cor. 9:7; 2 Cor. 11:8,  carries with it a “military” sense.  Paul often used metaphors based on life, and several commentators see a “military metaphor” here.  Sin is viewed as the General  who pays out his soldier’s wages; the General who has the edge over his soldiers and orders them around at his discretion and whim.  Whatever meaning Paul had in his mind, only he knows.  But one thing is very certain:

Man  has rights only in relation to sin, and these rights become his judgment.  When he throws himself on God without claim, salvation comes to him. (Heidland)

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