Theology of Romans, Part 4

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Romans 6

Romans 6 is a chapter about life.  And it is a chapter a death.  It is also a chapter about sin; in fact, sin is mentioned many times in this chapter.  We had previously talked about the believer’s justification.  Justification is an act of God on the believer’s behalf whereby God, as the Great Judge of the universe, declares the sinner to be “not guilty.”  Now, in this chapter, Paul is done with justification and moves on to sanctification.  Sanctification is not an act; rather, it is work.   Justification took place immediately upon your conversion.  Sanctification, though, is a lifelong process.  Some scholars put it this way:  justification is the means; sanctification is the end.

Another good way to distinguish between justification and sanctification is to say that justification declares the sinner righteous; sanctification makes the sinner righteous.  One could argue that both are acts of God, but while the sinner does not participate in his justification—it is done for him—he does have a role to play in his sanctification.  It’s a co-operative role; he co-operates with the Holy Spirit.  God justifies a person in order that He may sanctify that person, but that person must work with God in achieving holiness.  The great, overarching truth of Romans 6 is that no Christian can “live as he pleases.”  No true believer can do whatever he wants, presuming on God’s grace.

John Wesley often wrote about the connection between justification and sanctification.  Here, Wesley discusses the relationship between these two towering doctrines of Romans:

Justification is not 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 for us through His Son; the other, what He works in us by His Spirit.

Here then is Paul’s theology of life and death, at lease as far as it relates to the twin doctrines of justification and sanctification.

1.  It all starts with the believer’s relationship to Christ

Verse 1 starts the ball rolling, and it connects chapter 6 (sanctification) to chapter 5 (justification):

Well then, shall we keep on sinning so that God can keep on showing us more and more kindness and forgiveness?  (Romans 6:1  TLB)

The notion Paul wants to deal with is this:  in light of our new standing before God, how should we then live?  Put another way, shouldn’t we, as born again, justified believers, try to live up to our new lives in Christ?  Paul’s answer is a resounding YES!  Freedom from sin is not an excuse to sin.  That would be ridiculous; a presumption on God’s grace.

Christian doctrines are always abused, and in Paul’s day this was most certainly the case.  There were those who sought to distort the doctrine of grace by teaching the more we sin, the more we may enjoy God’s grace.  That’s ridiculous!  But still that wacky notion persists.  We can think about Rasputin, an influential Russian monk who held sway with Emperor Nicholas II for a while.  His teaching was simple:  Go ahead a sin like a mad man!  The more you sin, the more God will bless you with His grace.

Paul’s mind rebelled at such doctrinal distortions, leading him to pen Romans 6.

Death with Christ

The foundation for Paul’s case here had been laid back in 5:12—21, which say, among other things:

Adam caused many to be sinners because he disobeyed God, and Christ caused many to be made acceptable to God because he obeyed.  (Romans 5:19  TLB)

Adam was the head of the “old man,” full of sin and guilt, but Christ is the Head of the “new man,” in which there ae no sin and no guilt whatsoever.  This was a common teaching of Paul’s, which elsewhere in his letters.

Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, being members of his sinful race, and wherever there is sin, death results. But all who are related to Christ will rise again.  (1 Corinthians 15:22  TLB)

Those who are born again have switched heads; they have moved from being under Adam’s headship to Christ’s.  Instead of being part of Adam’s sinful human race, the true Christian is now part of Christ’s righteous human race.

Or, to put it another way, as Christians, we are no longer “natural people” but “spiritual people.”  Such is the result of Christ’s Incarnation.  As a Man, Jesus existed in two capacities:  as a real, flesh and blood Man—the Son of Man and the Son of God in One—but also as the Representative and Head of the new, righteous and redeemed human race.  Every righteous act Jesus performed He did so representing this “new human race.”  Now, this is a very profound thought that the “rugged individualist” has difficulty grasping.  For help understanding the magnitude of this teaching, we turn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

It is impossible to become a “new man” as a solitary individual.  The “new man” means more than the individual believer after he has been justified and sanctified.  It means “the Church,” the Body of Christ.  In fact, it means Christ Himself.

So, then, our sanctification is in Christ:  in His Person and in His Body.  In symbolically dying and rising with Christ, we are freed from sin because of our union with Him.

Living for God implies dying to self because you can’t do both.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20  TLB)

In Romans 6, Paul puts it like this:

Your old sin-loving nature was buried with him by baptism when he died…  (verse 4a  TLB)

…you died with him, so to speak, when he died… (verse 5b  TLB)

So look upon your old sin nature as dead…  (verse 11a  TLB)

The Christian is so identified with Christ, it is as though he went through all that Christ did.

Burial with Christ

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:3, 4  NKJV)

Here, Paul was assuming that those who would read this letter were like him:  they heard the preaching of the Gospel, responded to it, experienced conversion and had subsequently demonstrated their faith by being baptized in water.  But he goes a step further.  To be baptized “into Christ Jesus” means to be brought into a personal relationship with Him.  Being baptized “into Christ Jesus” simply means becoming fully aware of the ultimate meaning of Christ’s death—understanding that it is by His death and your faith in His death that the guilt of your sins has been expunged and that from henceforth you have the ability through the power of the Holy Spirit to fight and stand victorious over sin and sin’s pollution.  And this new life is to be lived out in His Body—in the Church.

In addition to all that, being “baptized with Christ” suggests this:  when Christ died, He died to sin.   What use does sin have with a corpse?  Similarly, our baptism shows that we died to sin, at least on the spiritual level.  And as Christ was buried, so we are also buried with Him.  After all, a living person doesn’t get buried, physically or spiritually!  Our spiritual death to sin is just as real as Christ’s physical death was, and—here is the exciting part—just as He rose from the dead to a new life, so we also rise spiritually to a new life Him.

Resurrection with Christ

Your old sin-loving nature was buried with him by baptism when he died; and when God the Father, with glorious power, brought him back to life again, you were given his wonderful new life to enjoy.  (Romans 6:4  TLB)

Of course, any kind of resurrection can only happen after death.  We died with Christ, but His death wasn’t the end.  He rose again.  Spiritually, we died with Christ, but that wasn’t the end for us.  We also rose, spiritually, just like He did physically.  Therefore, the power of the “old life” is completely gone.  Our “old life” ceased to exist.

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!  (2 Corinthians 5:17  TLB)

The Christian has surely died and been buried in Christ, and has also risen in Him.

I say emphatically that anyone who listens to my message and believes in God who sent me has eternal life, and will never be damned for his sins, but has already passed out of death into life.  (John 5:24  TLB)

That’s how Jesus explained it, and Paul explained it this way:

For you have become a part of him, and so you died with him, so to speak, when he died;  and now you share his new life and shall rise as he did.  Romans 6:5  TLB)

2.  It continues with a new relationship to sin

So then, we have been gloriously saved from sin.  God has justified us.  God has given us the ability to live holy lives by giving us a new life that is effectively dead to sin.

So look upon your old sin nature as dead and unresponsive to sin, and instead be alive to God, alert to him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:11  TLB)

Understand what Paul is getting at here.  Christians are to “look upon” or “count on the fact” that we are dead to sin.  We are to hold on to this thing that was done for us by power of God.  So far, God is seen having done all this for us.  He justified us.  And, to a certain extant, He sanctified us.  BUT, verse 12 puts the ball squarely in our court:

Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires.  (Romans 6:12  TLB)

We are to know what God did for us, and we are to something about it.

Sin is not dead

Sin is not dead even though you are dead to sin.  This means that sin is still trying to gain a foothold in your life.  As a Christian dead to sin, you need to understand this.  Don’t be surprised when sin comes knocking at your door.  Sin is not dead, but you, Christian, are supposed to be dead to it.  Count on this fact, and start living like it!

You are victorious

When it comes to our struggle with sin, we are victorious.

Sin need never again be your master, for now you are no longer tied to the law where sin enslaves you, but you are free under God’s favor and mercy.  Romans 6:14  TLB)

Now mark this:  Christians are dead to sin.  Christians are to live as though they are dead to sin.  Can this be done?  Of course it can be done!  God would never tell us to do something that we cannot do.  He has given us the power to live in victory over sin.

Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin…  (Romans 6:6  TLB)

What this means is staggering.  All these Christians who backslide and come back and backslide again and keep on falling into sin don’t have to live this way.  This is what Paul is teaching here.  Sin never needs to master you.  It never has to happen again.

3.  It’s possible through service

Anybody who has ever tried to fight sin knows how hard it is.  But is it supposed to be that way?  We make overcoming sin much harder than it really is because we don’t do it right.  The key is in service.

Do not let any part of your bodies become tools of wickedness, to be used for sinning; but give yourselves completely to God—every part of you—for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes.  (Romans 6:13  TLB)

Stop sinning, yes!  But do more than that:  do something for God.  Or, more accurately, let God use you for His service, for His glory.  The key to victory is replacing the desire to sin with the desire to serve.

Thank God that though you once chose to be slaves of sin, now you have obeyed with all your heart the teaching to which God has committed you.  (Romans 6:17  TLB)

If we as believers could just grasp this teaching, the mystery of holy living wouldn’t be so mysterious.  Romans 6 indicates that it is both a necessity to live a life of holiness but also a distinct possibility!  Any believer can do it.  Every believer has been given the ability to live a life pleasing to God.

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