FREEDOM FROM SIN, Part One

Romans 6

Nobody likes to talk about sin these days.  In fact, the popular preacher seldom mentions it anymore.  A great many Christians would have trouble listing the “seven deadly sins” enumerated in Proverbs 6:16—19.  In case you’re one of them, to refresh your memory, here are they are:

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

According to Oxford University Press, these “seven deadly sins” are not only a matter of faith, but are important to a society’s moral and psychological health.  This should come as no surprise to Christians, who know the damaging effects sin has a person’s entire being.

It is because of sin that man needs salvation.  Up to chapter 5 of Romans, the apostle Paul had dealt with this “sin problem,” and answered some pressing questions regarding how God has made salvation possible and what man must do to lay hold of it.  As you read this section of this great epistle, you note all that Christ has done, namely, His death, burial, and resurrection.  In these actions, man had no part; Christ’s work was done on our behalf; His was a substitutionary death that did not involve our participation, although our salvation wholly depended on all that He did.  His work on the Cross was not just substitutionary, it was also representative.  Exactly what that means is spelled out in eight simple words—

…one died for all, and therefore all died.  (2 Corinthians 5:14b)

From Heaven’s vantage point, then, Christians are completely identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  Not only that, death and sin have no claim on Christ because He literally died to them, so also they have no more claim on the believer, who is in Christ.  That is what Paul meant when he wrote the stunning declaration that should be memorized by every Christian—

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  (Romans 6:2)

And so, Paul moves from the topic of justification to sanctification.  Justification is an expensive theological word that takes in all the work that Christ did for us; the work that makes us appear before God “just as though we had never sinned.”  Sanctification takes in all the work that we need to do for ourselves in order to live up to what Christ did for us.  In other words, since we appear as Christ appears before God, we need to strive to be that way here, in the world in which we live, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

What chapter 6 of Romans deals with, then, is practical sanctification that leads to holiness and complete freedom from sin.  Wesley’s comments are helpful at this point:

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 problem, verses 1, 2

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Paul begins his discussion on sanctification and holiness by asking a question that relates back to what he had been discussing in chapter 5.   At first that question sounds ridiculous, but he is addressing a very real threat to the church’s continued existence at that time.  Antinomianism was the heresy then and it is common even to this very day.  Paul alluded to this heresy earlier in his letter—

Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—”Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!  (Romans 3:7—8)

The warped view is this:  the more I sin, the better God looks and the more grace He sheds on me.  This thinking is all too common during times of revival where God’s amazing and free grace is emphasized.  A nefarious by-product of that preaching takes the form of an acceptance of immorality or a tolerance of sinful behavior because God will forgive the person anyway.  Often this kind of preaching encourages one to “repent and get saved” without ever explaining what is involved in repentance and offering little or no meaningful discipleship in the days and weeks that follow the “conversion.”  What is true today was true in Paul’s day.

Paul was positively exorcised at such a thought; the very idea was an offense to him and an affront to God’s holy character!   A Christian can no longer be influenced by sin than Jesus Christ could be because they both have died to it.  Notice, however, Paul does NOT say that sin is dead to the Christian, but that the Christian is dead to sin.  That’s why sin keeps coming back time and again and we sometimes exclaim, “I can resist anything except temptation!”

What must be remembered and celebrated is that death to sin is NOT a future blessing or something to be hoped for.  It is the present possession of the believer.   Something very decisive has taken place in the life of the believer:  by God’s grace, we have died to sin.  Our bondage to sin has come to an end.   Paul, writing to the Colossians told them something similar—

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3)

Christians, then, are hidden with Christ and from sin.  But, that doesn’t stop sin from seeking us out!

2.  The Promise, verses 3, 4

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

These verses explain how our death to sin was made possible.  When he writes of being baptized here, Paul does not primarily have in mind water baptism, although that is certainly alluded to.  He uses the phrase “baptized into Christ Jesus” to mean “identified with Christ.”  Why does Paul use the word “baptize” then?   Bible translators, instead of translating the Greek word baptizo, chose to transliterate it; they merely spelled out the Greek word into English.  Baptizo has about 20 meanings, in fact, and here Paul is using it to identify, or link, believers with Christ.  One of Paul’s favorite words, he also used baptizo in 1 Corinthians 12:13 in slightly different, though complimentary, way—

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

So, to be “baptized into Christ Jesus” also suggests being brought into personal relation to Him.  It was also used that way to describe those who had a connection to Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2) and with Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13).  In Paul’s mind, then, baptizo or its English equivalent, baptize, carried all those meanings.  It’s a powerful way to describe the Christian’s position in Christ!  This is why water baptism is such an important ordinance, for it demonstrates precisely what happened to a believer in a dramatic fashion.

In verse four there is a “negative/positive” aspect to the believer’s conversion given.  As Christ died physically on the Cross to, was buried, and then rose again, so we go through the exact same process spiritually thanks to this identification with Him.  Godet:

In consequence of this death to sin undergone in Christ, we have therefore been buried with Him in order to rise with Him.  ‘Buried with Him,’ not with the aim of remaining in the tomb or issuing from it to return to the past life, but to penetrate into a new life, whence a return to the old is definitely precluded.

Just as Jesus’ physical body underwent a change after His resurrection, so we undergo a spiritual change after our spiritual resurrection.  The old laws of this world no longer applied to Jesus after His resurrection; He walked through walls and suddenly appeared to people, for example.  After our spiritual resurrection, similarly the old laws of this world no longer apply to us, namely, the old laws of spiritual death and bondage to sin.  The world no longer has any claim on our souls; we are no longer obliged to sin.

3.  The provision, verses 5—7

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Verse 5 is not without some controversy.  Some scholars believe Paul to be referring the future bodily resurrection of believers, taught elsewhere in Scripture.  In the Greek, the verse is written in the future tense, and generally that always refers to something yet to happen.  This is why verse 5 is often recited during the funeral service, usually at the graveside.  There is nothing, however,  in the context of the entire chapter relating to the future bodily resurrection of believers, so it seems unlikely that Paul would slip in one, single verse dealing with a topic not under discussion!

The use of the future tense doesn’t always refer to a future event, sometimes in the New Testament it refers to events that occur in a logical order.  We may paraphrase Paul’s thought like this, then:  Just as Christ experienced a bodily death followed by a bodily resurrection, so the believer, in Christ, experiences a spiritual death followed by a spiritual resurrection.

How certain is this spiritual resurrection and new life?  We have been “united with Him.”  This is a powerful Greek thought meaning “fused into one.”   This fusion is not a gradual process; it happened at the moment of conversion, which is why Paul exclaimed to his Galatian friends—

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

This brings us to verse 6, the great “verse of liberty” for the Christian!

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

Here Paul introduces a subjective truth: “we know.”  The truth of this verse is something each and every believer should know because each and every believer has experienced it.  As noted by E.F. Harrison, our spiritual history began at the Cross; in God’s sight we were there, joined with Christ while He suffered on it on our behalf.   Some people have difficulty wrapping their minds around the time element.  How could we have been present with Christ on the Cross when that event happened 2,000 years ago?  If we accept that “we all sinned in Adam,” then we ought to no issue accepting that we died with Christ!

“Our old self,” which means literally “our old man,” is a way of describing the person we used to be; our human nature apart from God’s redeeming grace.  Another way of describing the person we used to be is “the body of sin,” this is Paul’s way of describing our old selves, completely under the control of sin.  In simple terms, the part of us crucified with Christ on His Cross was our unsaved, unredeemed human nature.

And yet, though our old human nature is dead to sin, sin keeps coming back to tempt our new nature.  Born again people do not have a dual nature—a white dog and a black dog fighting for dominance—but sin is still after us.  We are, as Paul noted elsewhere, a “new creation,” no longer in bondage to sin.

Does our new position in Christ mean that may live sinless lives?  Of course not!  Scripture does not teach this nor does our experience.  Sin is just as real to the believer today as it was before his salvation.  However, now, because of a new nature and aided by the Holy Spirit, the believer may resist sin.  Peter taught this—

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  (1 Peter 5:8, 9)

Conclusion

The first seven verses of Romans 6 are among the most profound and powerful verses in all of Scripture.  They are packed with meaning and full of encouragement.  Christ’s death was, as noted by Richardson, “potentially the dying of the whole human race, just as His resurrection was potentially the re-creation of all mankind.”

Through faith in His finished work, we are participants in that great work.  We are the beneficiaries of redeeming grace and all that goes with it:  forgiveness of sins, past and present, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live up to new life we have laid hold of.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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2 Responses to “FREEDOM FROM SIN, Part One”


  1. 1 skopos July 28, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Mike,
    This is the best blog exegesis of Romans 6:1-7 that I have seen. The major hurdle for people is as you said – the transliteration of baptizo. Since people ascribe water baptism as the experience of dying with Christ, these truths get confused as similitude instead of historical facts. The second hurdle is failure to understand 2 Cor 5:14 in comparison to Romans 5:12, that is, the similarity of our dying to sin with and in Christ to our dying to righteousness with and in Adam. One of the main resaons again is the failure of the KJV translation of this verse. Weymouth and others bring out the true meaning when rendering “that One having died for all, His death was their death.” A third hurdle is the dual nature teaching which by definition negates the imputational aspects of our union with the death and resurrection of Christ and again causes these truths to be taught in allegorical fashion.
    So thanks again for such clear exegesis and I hope you teaching not only reaches many but liberates many by helping them overcome these hurdles. – Skopos Theou

  2. 2 Dr. Mike July 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for your kind words. I try to keep my posts here down to about 2,000 words, give or take, and I think I sliced and diced this entry a tad too much. I am glad the essence of it got through, though.

    Romans 6 completely changed my life when I came to understand exactly what Paul was getting at. I wish all believers could just grasp what Christ did for them; imagine the victorious lives they would live!


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