HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN

If you misunderstand God's grace, you'll end up like this guy, Rasputin, the Mad Monk!

By the end Romans 5, Paul has concluded the main points of his teaching. All human beings stand condemned before God as sinners—rebels against Him. That same God, however, has intervened on behalf of all those sinners by providing acquittal and forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus His Son, Jesus Christ. What’s awesome about this acquittal is that it comes to sinners initially irrespective of our lack of moral values and sinfulness. Acceptance by God is based solely on our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

As if that weren’t enough, our continuing standing before God—our salvation—does not depend on anything good thing we do, but on God’s amazing grace. Paul even goes so far to state that as sin increases, grace increases even more.

1. Paul and a mad monk

Without a doubt, all that sounds good; maybe too good to be true. No wonder God’s grace is so abused! Paul foresaw the potential that for some believers, God’s grace and forgiveness could lead to a kind of spiritual laziness. Such was the case with a monk; a man of God who confused the gospel of grace with a form of “antinomianism,” a perversion of doctrine that encourages the casting off of all moral restraint so as to experience more and more of God’s grace and forgiveness. This monk, because of his misunderstanding of grace, became a chief contributor to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.

His name was Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (1972—1916). He was born into a poor, peasant family in a desolate region of Siberia, Russia. Until his religious conversion around 18, young Grigory became known as “Rasputin,” a Russian word for “debauched one,” because of his immoral lifestyle. After his conversion, however, he found himself at a monastery, which was part of Flagellants sect. Thanks to Rasputin’s ungodly influence, their sect became perverted—leaving the teachings of Scripture and embracing absolute antinomianism. The monks believed that one drew closest to God through sexual escapades and prolonged partying.

Eventually Rasputin left the monastery, traveling thousands of miles through Europe and much of the Middle East, finally lighting in Jerusalem. It was there that the “mad monk” solidified his reputation as a holy mystic with supernatural healing and prophetic powers, and in 1903, Rasputin was welcomed by church leaders and by politicians into the highest political circles in the land in spite of the fact that he hadn’t bathed in years.

Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were completely taken in by the charismatic Rasputin, largely due to a supposed miracle wrought by the monk which saved their young son and heir to the throne, Alexey. This event endeared Rasputin to the royal family and gave him extraordinary influence with them. Within the royal court, Rasputin was viewed as a humble, gifted monk, sent by God. But outside the court, he lived up to his nickname wholeheartedly.

In spite of persistent rumors that Rasputin was having an affair with Alexandra, he was placed in charge of Russia’s internal affairs when Nicholas II left St. Petersburg to command Russian troops when World War I broke out. The “mad monk’s” influence proved to be so disastrous, that a group of conservatives, some related to Nicholas II, met to plot the assassination of Rasputin, ending his evil influence over the nation. They accomplished this in December of 1916, but it was too late to save the political structure of Russia. The Bolsheviks seized the opportunity of national discontent and their revolution broke out in 1917. Russia became as godless as the Emperor’s closest adviser.

Misunderstanding the nature of God’s grace can lead to all kinds of problems, which Paul refutes in Romans 6.

2. An answer to two questions, vs. 1—4

With the beginning of chapter 6, Paul picks up a line of thought he began back in 5:20—

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…

We can imagine how some might interpret a statement like that! As if to head off any misunderstanding of what he was teaching, Paul asks the obvious question:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (vs. 1)

This, of course, was the fatal flaw in Rasputin’s thinking. It’s a good question to ask, though, because it explains a fundamental truth about grace that isn’t always obvious. To answer the question, Paul exclaimed using a favorite Greek phrase of every student of that language: me genoito. The reason we all like me genoito is because it can mean so many different things:

  • Not at all!
  • Certainly not!
  • By no means!
  • Never!
  • Absolutely not!
  • May I never!

The sense of me genoito is obvious: “No way!” There is no way that Paul means to say that the more you sin, the better it is. After getting their attention, Paul warns the Roman church:

By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (vs. 2)

The two tenses of the verbs in verse 2 are important to note:

  • We died to sin. “Died” is in the aorist tense, indicating a past, completed action.

  • How can we live in it any longer? “Live” is in the future tense, suggesting an ongoing, habitual action.

The NIV’s translation here is, perhaps not the best. Eugene Peterson paraphrased verse 2 in a way that brings out the tenses using a clever word-picture:

If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

The NIV of 1984 leaves out a very important word that the NIV of 2010 has included:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 1984

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 2010

It’s a minor point, but an important one. The word left out in the older NIV is a specialized Greek form of “who.” The sense of the phrase is this: We who are true believers, we have died. The suggestion is that there may be those who call themselves Christians or who are at best nominal Christians who have not died to sin. The fact is, to be a true Christian means to have died to sin. Therefore, it is a moral contradiction for a Christian to remain living in sin, when he has, supposedly, died to it.

But, what does it mean to have died to sin? To answer this question, Paul uses the example of the believer’s baptism:

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. (vs. 3, 4)

Here is Paul’s theology of water baptism, for this is the baptism to which he is referring. Notice he begins with “don’t you know.” The idea he is conveying is that it was the norm for Christians to be baptized in water; it was something each and every member of the Roman church would be familiar with because they would have experienced it firsthand. For the Christian, water baptism is not an optional experience.

The ordinance of water baptism, though not spiritually efficacious in any way, demonstrates outwardly in dramatic fashion an inward truth. To be baptized into the name of Christ means to be baptized, or placed, into union with Christ. It means to be dedicated to Him, and it means to participate in all that Christ is and has done.

To be baptized into Christ also means to be “baptized into his death.” When Christ died, He died to sin. His death literally cut Him off from all further contact with sin. Our water baptism demonstrates that we, like Jesus, have been cut off from sin. What that means precisely is covered in the next verses.

3. Killing my old man, vs. 5, 6

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (vs. 5)

The phrase “united with him” comes from the Greek symphutoi, which means literally, “grown together.” The sense of the word is that of “grafting,” as in a tree graft, or a “vital joining together” or “fusing.”  The believer has been “glued” to Jesus; our identification with Him is that complete.

Paul is still using the water baptism metaphor to illustrate a spiritual truth. Clearly, the believer didn’t die when Christ died, nor does he die at his baptism. He also won’t rise from the dead in the future the way Christ was resurrected. Paul’s point in verse 5 is actually must simpler than most people think. Water baptism is designed to show to the whole world that a change has occurred within the believer that is as radical as Jesus’ death and 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… (vs. 6)

Believers have been freed from sin because they have been crucified with Christ; that is, just as Christ severed all contact with sin when He died, so sin’s constant contact with us has been severed. Only one thing can free a man from the temptation to sin: death. The highway of sin leads to one destination: death. The only way to get off that highway is to die before reaching the end of it. Now, obviously, believers haven’t really died; we’re all very much alive. What is verse 6 teaching? What is “our old self?” All those who have identified with the death and resurrection of Christ—believers, “glued to Him”—still have the potential to sin, but no longer the obligation to sin. Identification with Christ through faith, demonstrated by water baptism, does nothing to free one from the possibility of sinning, but it does free one from having to sin.

If we look at what Paul is saying in verse 6, his point become crystal clear:

  • Our old self was crucified with Christ. Again, Paul is not saying a believer is given the ability to never sin, but the ability to say NO to sin.

  • The body of sin has been done away with. This refers to our tendency to sin. Obviously, this tendency has not been eradicated. The Greek word translated “done away with” is katargeo, which is a broad word that means anything from “abolish” to “render powerless” and everything in between. Kata means “according to” argeo means “to be idle,” the cessation of work or activity. But since that tendency was not eradicated, what happened to it? We know that we still have the tendency to sin, and even Paul did, because in verse 13 he encouraged the Roman Christians not to sin! The tendency to sin has not been eradicated, but it has been rendered powerless as we walk in God’s power.

  • We are no longer slaves to sin. This is how our “body of sin” as been rendered powerless. While old habits are hard to break, it is possible to NOT sin because believers are no longer bound to sin. We have total freedom to turn around and walk away from the temptation to sin.

What does it mean to be “freed from sin?” This is the tie which binds the first five chapters of Romans together. The Greek word is dikaio, one of Paul’s favorite words, which means “to justify”or “to pronounce righteous.” We have been “freed” or “justified” from our sins. We have been declared righteous in spite of our sins. Believers have been set free because the price for our sins has been paid for any Another. We have been provided with an off ramp on the highway to death because One went on ahead of us, making a way off the road that leads to death.

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1 Response to “HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN”


  1. 1 John December 5, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Mike,
    This is a very good post. Freedom from sin through the death of Jesus Christ was paramount in Paul’s teaching. Indeed the real essence of the New Covenant is all about freedom and release from bondage to sin and the law. Not so we can continue to sin but so we can learn to walk as Christ walked. This is a very good post. Thank you.


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