We Who Died to Sin
If you were to ask the average person on the street how it is a Christian should behave, you will get a great variety of responses. In religious settings, too, there are real disagreements amongst theologians and denominations about this matter which at times become severe, and lead to harsh criticisms and comments all around.
Indeed, many denominations, individual churches, and even individuals within the same church tend to answer that question in many different ways. For example, some have looked at the question, and conclude that being a Christian means that we need to shower those around us with love and acceptance, or to take up the cause of correcting the moral ills of our society, or even to focus upon improving the lives of the poor, the downtrodden, and the destitute.
Still others have decided that following the Law is our end and purpose, often saying “yes, God has done away with the ceremonial law, but He demands and requires that we now keep the moral elements of the Law.”
There have been those who have declared that it is a sin to smoke, or drink alcohol, or to eat various foods. There are those who say a man must be clean-shaven with his hair never touching his collar, or for a woman to wear pants, or to work on Sunday.
There are those who decry that group as legalistic, and reject all such notions as man-made rules that pervert the concept of grace.
And in all of these, there are some who will say that this part, that part, or the other part is an essential element of either salvation in the first place, or in order to maintain your salvation once you are saved, or both.
So what is the real answer for us?
This is the subject we have been studying lately, is has been all about answering the question, “How is it that we who are saved ought to behave?” If you recall, we came to this portion of our overall series of Useful Knowledge for Living Life in Christ after discussing what the gospel actually is, and what the basic responses are to that gospel message, both responses of acceptance, but also responses of rejection. And then we started to look at Godly living in early June, talking about the immediate, dramatic effect of salvation upon Saul the one-time Pharisee, and then the graphic illustration in King Saul’s failure with Amalek which cost him the kingdom, and Samuel’s subsequent obedience.
But then we took this really long time to go through Romans 5, starting all the way back in June, and ending just last week on the last Sunday in September. Why? What would cause us to do that as part of a look at Godly living?
Salvation is Full and Final in Jesus Christ
Salvation is Full and Final in Jesus Christ
The basic answer is that we cannot properly understand the interruption in Paul’s teaching in chapters 6 and 7, if we don’t comprehend his main argument itself. Recall, if you will, that when we started this discussion, I told you then that Romans 5 – 8 is a single argument, the theme of which is the fullness and finality of salvation in Christ Jesus.
For if we but look at the text, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” in Romans 6:1, we realize this is not fundamentally a new section, but that Paul is addressing issues and concerns which may arise out of what he had just been saying in Ch 5, namely to address the concern that after such sweeping and unilateral statements about grace then encourage people to sin? And he repeats this same process down in 6:15, as he deepens our understanding to his answer to that same question through the end if the chapter, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” And both times of course, the immediate answer is, “May it never be! μὴ γένοιτο!”
And then chapter 7 is similarly a second interruption through which Paul more fully deals with questions related to the Law, whereby some have already taken the position even today that the Law is in effect useless, without value. And of course it is not, but the summary statements he has made in chapter 5 are utterly and completely inadequate to convey the truth and meaning and purpose of the Law which has so governed the mind of both Jew and Gentile in light of the place of prominence it had from Romans 1:18 until well into chapter 3, and indeed also into ch 4. Not stopping there, but there were indeed question which would reasonably arise in the mind already out of his exposition on Adam and Christ in 5:12-21, and even more what we will discover he says here in Romans 6.
So it is only after these parentheses are concluded that he resumes his main argument on the fullness and finality of salvation in Christ Jesus in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”
I remind you that Paul has a most logical mind, he was well-trained in Greek thought while in Tarsus, which was home to the greatest of the 3 great schools of his age, the lesser schools being those at Athens and Alexandria. And he was similarly highly trained in Jewish thought, having been instructed at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of the law, as he reminded the crowd outside the Roman barracks in Acts 22.
We would be sorely mistaken to isolate a verse or even paragraph from this argument, for Paul builds it step by step, piece by piece in a very particular order with patient precision, one to which we ought to pay close attention, and we must always realize that it is a continuous whole, written to give us great assurance in the fullness and finality of salvation which is found only through faith in Jesus Christ.
And so now, with us having this framework in our minds, let us turn to the text at hand. And in doing so, I believe that Paul provides these great parentheses due to difficulties which so often arise in men’s minds out of the whole of Romans 5, and his last statements in particular,
Romans 5:18–19 (LSB)
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be appointed righteous.
Romans 5:20–21 (LSB)
Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Justification by Faith is Dangerous
Justification by Faith is Dangerous
We have been justified by faith! Now we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ! We have, through Jesus, obtained an introduction by faith into grace! This grace of Jesus abounds over and over, exceeding the extent and power and depravity of the reign of sin!
You and I not only didn’t do anything for our salvation other than to receive it, but we couldn’t do anything to obtain it. Just as we ourselves did nothing but received the result of the sin of Adam, so also we ourselves did nothing, but simply received the result of the righteous act of Jesus Christ through faith, just as Abraham received his promise by faith.
You see, the idea of this certain assurance that we have in our salvation on account of our salvation being due to the work of Jesus Christ, and Him alone, is very frightening to some people; this talk of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone is very dangerous to purveyors of dead religiosity, those organized and formalized religions you see steeped in their sacramental traditions of forms and symbols, religions that prosper by saying “if you only do this or that thing, you are good, God is certain to accept you!”
You know these types! They were those that had gone into Galatia after Paul had left that region, who had come to the believing gentiles there and proclaimed what Paul pronounced a different gospel, not really a gospel at all but something else, namely telling those Gentile believers that they must follow the Law of Judaism if they were really wanting to be good Christians, if they really wanted to be saved. No, Paul says in Galatians 5! Such a thing is monstrous! “If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you”, he testifies! If you do this thing, it was never truly Christ and Christ alone that you had put your trust in, you had added to that which the gospel declares, and that is no longer gospel!
The true fear of formal, dead religion is that the Protestant rallying cry of sola fide, faith alone, is way to avoid living a holy life which was defined by the sacramental systems developed in the various catholic traditions such as those of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican varieties, who piously declare that abandoning their Catholic system of rules only encourages people to follow their own lusts continuously.
And certainly, there are many who have abused this truth, who have proven that charge right, who say “as long as I’ve said the prayer, I know I’m okay, so I don’t have to worry about that sin stuff anymore, you can sin all you want and still be okay!” A little more than a century ago, Grigori Rasputin was one of those, teaching that a sinner who intentionally sins with abandon enjoys much more grace than any old ordinary sinner. In fact, the church at Corinth had this same “libertine” philosophy, being sucked into sexual immorality, paganism, greed, unforgiving attitudes – the list goes on and on, Paul having to address them not just once but multiple times, 2 of those letters being authoritatively inspired by God!
No, Paul gives in to neither of these groups, giving no credence to the legalist who tries to gain acceptance through what he does, nor does he give ground to the antinomian who revels in the tremendous liberty found in Christ so much, that he believes that how he lives doesn’t matter, even going so far at times to say
Romans 6:1 (LSB)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
Arguing that "if more sin generates even more grace, then we should just continue on so that God can be more gracious”!
In other words, the doctrine of justification by faith is dangerous, in that it can easily be misunderstood by those not paying attention! The first group, the legalists, look at such a doctrine and immediately come up with statements and doctrines and qualifiers so as to refute what the apostle has said in chapter 5. They say things like he was just reverting to his old pharisaical way of thinking, or contend that this portion was never inspired, or many other such contrivances so as to refute him.
Salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone
Salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone
But what Paul has said in chapter 5 is exceedingly clear, that as we were in Adam, under condemnation for a judgement wrought in our federal head, made sinners on account of his act of unrighteousness, even so we who savingly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are now justified for the act of righteousness in our new federal head, made and appointed righteous on account of our Lord’s act of righteousness, and His act alone.
And it is only once that is understood that this question, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase”, makes any sense. It is a most reasonable question to ask, for any true accounting of the gospel and salvation by faith will bring you to the precipice of being misunderstood as supporting antinomianism, in that we are saved by grace alone, through faith (alone) in Jesus Christ alone.
This question has never been asked of the theological doctors of Rome, nor even of the Arminian, whose rallying cry is that out of their own Pelagianistic spark of untainted self, they are able to decide of their own free will to choose to follow God. Both of these systems depend upon man to pull himself up by his bootstraps and make himself a Christian by cooperating with God by filling in the gaps left for us to do.
But no, says Paul! Both of these groups are unable to see or accept the truth of justification by faith for what it is! Instead, it was that one-time monk Martin Luther, who was branding a heretical antinomian due to this very thing, his realization of justification by faith!
Make certain you catch this! It is only through truly understanding this doctrine of our full and final justification by faith which Paul teaches through the end of Romans 5, that the natural question it leads to is this very one – “are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
In other words, if we don’t ask ourselves that question, we show that we really haven’t changed our thinking on salvation from something that I do, to something that God does entirely, as Paul explains it. And so it is likewise incumbent upon we who are Christians to proclaim the gospel correctly, lest we ourselves pervert the gospel into something other than gospel by making man the one who acts to accept God.
For this particular abomination happens with regularity in our churches! They get people into an emotional high, and try to persuade them with lights, and music, and gentle calling by the pastor on the stage at the end of a service to decide for God - that God has cast His vote, and Satan cast his vote, and now it is time for you to cast the deciding vote.
Worse yet are those who proclaim that the church is just like the world, that a person can respond to an alter call, repeat the prayer and be saved from the consequences of sin, and just go on living exactly like they did before, maybe perhaps coming in to church on Christmas and Easter to get their Jesus Fix.
“That’s Preposterous!”, Paul cries out!
And that’s just what Paul’s response to this most reasonable and logical question declared, starting with the general answer we’ll look at today, and then he’l go on fleshing out the details for us in vv3-11, and then in 12-14 he concludes what it is we ought to do on account of his teaching. But here, he is laying out the principle in general, telling us up-front what he will expound upon in the remainder of this section, which you will note is frequently his style.
And what is that general message?
Romans 6:1–2 (LSB)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
The basic, horrified answer is μὴ γένοιτο! The thing is unthinkable, it is abhorrent and monstrous to come to that conclusion! The strength of this objection is so strong that it led the translators of the Authorized version to write it down using words that weren’t there in the original due to the idioms of their own day, the strongest of which was God forbid! And in a sense they were warranted to do so, for this is the strongest, most outraged and indignant response possible to the very idea!
We Died to Sin
We Died to Sin
Paul’s reason for this indignant response is fairly simple, really!
This statement is something that has caused many people much trouble, which could be easily resolved if only they took the apostle Paul’s message here in its literal clarity! The Greek here helps us greatly, because the word here is not a noun or an adjective, but a verb. It is describing a past act, an event that occurred.
If we just look at the text for what it says, rather than trying to filter it through what we want to believe or may have been told, we’ll realize that Paul is clear and unambiguous in his meaning. We died to sin. This is an aorist-tense verb, meaning it is something that occurred in the past, and concluded in the past, once! This death we died, occurred at one definite time in the past.
It’s not something that was true of us once before, that we had died to sin, and so that dying might need to occur once again. Nor is it that we have died to sin, we completed the process in which we were alive to sin and then gradually become more and more dead to it. Nor is it an ongoing thing, as if we are dying more and more to sin and are progressively and continuously in the process of dying to sin in the hope that someday we might become fully dead to it as some sort of process. Nor is it a decision on my part to renounce sin, nor even that we have been made perfect and can no longer sin.
The apostle is stating that there was a single, particular event that happened to us as a fact of history.
It is a great help to us that Paul puts himself into this same category - “we who died to sin”, he declares! But more than that, this we has the place of prominence in the declaration! Why? Because he is talking not about what we should do, or even what we have done, but rather something that was done to us! We died to sin! It is an indicative declaration of our past history!
And it is important to understand that Paul is specific about this, it’s not that we died to law-breaking, that is, transgression. We did die to law-breaking, but even more so we died to the entire reign and realm of that much larger category of sin, mark-missing, that which is not righteous.
How did we die to sin? Paul wrote in Romans 5:17, “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”
We are dead completely to the rule and reign of sin, we have been taken out of that realm and appointed – set down in, and made to be – righteous.
Living in Righteousness
Living in Righteousness
“Very well, we understand that we died to sin,” you say, “but I know that I still sin! I know that I do wrong things! I still feel the power and temptation of sin pulling at me!”
And it is true. But I remind you even in this, that the only possibilities is that a person is either in Adam, united with him under the reign and rule of sin, or a person is in Jesus Christ, no longer in Adam but now united with Jesus Christ under the reign and rule of grace and righteousness. We cannot be in both, and there is one and only one way your position may be changed, and that is through Jesus Christ, who declared first to Thomas and also to us in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Therefore, not only am I dead to the reign and rule of sin, but I am now alive to the reign and rule of grace, which abounds over the reign of sin.
The man or woman who is in Christ cannot go on, in a continual and habitual manner, to abide in a life characterized by sin! It’s not due to being taught this teaching by Paul, but rather the natural result of being dead to sin must be that it no longer has hold over us, it no longer is our default behavior.
We have been removed from the territory and realm of sin, and have set down in the realm of righteousness, as if these were two fields separated by a barrier.
And yet, sin still shouts over the wall - we hear its voice, we hear its temptation, calling us to do the things we used to do, beckoning us to return to our old habits and our old ways.
Paul’s basic answer is to remind us not of our experience or our decisions, but to remind us of what we are.
We have been caused to live in the reign and rule of righteousness, it is that which will characterize the life of the true Christian. Just as we learned in our study of 1 John 3:8, “The Son of God was manifested for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” The purpose of grace is to destroy sin, and all of its evil deeds! Does that mean we are perfect will never occasionally sin? No, of course not – if that were the case, these 23 verses are entirely superfluous, and never needed to be written in the first place. It’s not true, there is no such man!
The emphasis here in Romans 6, however, is that we, being what we are, makes the question of continuing in sin unthinkable, for we have been appointed righteous in Christ Jesus; in us, grace reigns through righteousness! We died to the reign and rule of sin, and have been transferred into the reign and rule of grace through righteousness!
It is therefore a contradiction in terms for a person to claim to be a mature Christian, and yet to live a life characterized by sin, for in the very instant God saves a person they undergo this change of rule, they died to sin, and have been transferred to the realm of grace and righteousness.
And in the coming weeks, God willing, we will work through just how the apostle fully works this out for us.
Let us pray!