Under Law, Under Grace
Romans 6:1–14 (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?
Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died has been justified from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
I bring before you, perhaps for the last time in this series, these last verses of the apostle Paul’s first interruption in teaching us about the fullness and finality of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
And I trust that you will remember that great crescendo in Paul’s writing at the end of chapter 5, that as we were in Adam, so now we are in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Adam, through no act of our own but rather due to the one transgression of Adam, we were condemned, we were set down and appointed to the realm and rule of sin. And yet, for as many as have received the abundance of grace, we have been constitutionally changed; through the one act of righteousness by Christ Jesus, we who are in Him have now been removed from the realm and rule of sin, and appointed to the realm and rule of grace and righteousness.
And immediately, the apostle sees the charge - that we could then merrily go on sinning without a care in the world, putting it this way: “Are we to continue in sin, so that grace may increase?” No, no - such a thing is monstrous, it is monstrous to even speak of such a thing, to even put it forward is abhorrent! Rom 6:2, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
And this death that we died to sin, we have discovered in the intervening verses, is not because of something that we have done, but because of what God did in Jesus Christ. It is not that we have chosen to be united with Jesus, it is not because we have preferred to no longer sin, it is not on account of some experience we have had, but because God has declared that who who are saved have all been united with Jesus at His crucifixion, I myself, my self and soul, the me that was. We died to sin.
And so, being united with Him in crucifixion, we were also united with him in His death, and in His burial, and (praise be to God!) also in His resurrection! It’s all right that I don’t remember it, for I must take this on faith, for in these verses God has said it is true, this has happened. It is over, it is done with. We have been taken out from under the reign and rule of sin, we are no longer under its authority, we who died have been justified, freed from the ongoing rule of sin.
So, it is on account of these things, that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin. And not only that, but we are also alive to God in Christ Jesus. We are now holy, we are partakers of eternal life!
Now all of this we have just now gone over is the backdrop and basis for Paul’s command starting in verse 12, where he finally at long last tells us what we should be doing. And he only says what we should for two verses - verses 12 and 13. Verse 14 isn’t a command, rather it is an explanation, and indeed in a sense it serves to summarize Paul’s entire response to the charge in verse 1 that his doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, faith in the work of Christ alone, may then lead to rampant, unchecked sin.
It is important that we understand that verse 14 is not a result of us doing what verses 12 and 13 command, but the cause for our obeying them in the first place! This idea of sin not being master over us as a result of us not letting sin reign, or on account of us not presenting our members to sins as instruments of unrighteousness has no power, no ability, it is of no help to us whatsoever, and can only leave us confused and depressed and dejected! No, to make this an if/then, if you don’t let sin reign, then it won’t be your master, is to preach salvation by works, it makes us the saviour of our selves – a thing Paul has already labored for several chapters to disabuse, telling us most plainly that we cannot save ourselves, Rom 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”! It is something like saying “I am wet because I got wet”, it is nonsense and doesn’t really say anything useful at all.
But what Paul does say in Romans 6:14 is a most glorious and amazing truth, far beyond something that any mere man might come up with on his own:
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
What promise! What glory! What hope!
Why is it that we are commanded to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies, to not go on presenting our members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness? Why are we instead to present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness to God?
Because “sin shall not be master over us”. This is a certainty, not a possibility. We are back to an indicative, a statement of fact. Sin shall not be master over you, because it will not be allowed to be master over you, it has no right to be master over you.
Remember, we died with Christ (Rom 6:8), and Rom 6:7 declared to us already that “... he who has died has been justified from sin.”
Paul had revealed in Romans 5:21 “...that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This “Lord” idea is incredibly important – far more than many people realize. God, as Lord, declared in Isaiah 49, “My glory I will not give to another.” When we “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” from Romans 10:9, we are giving ourselves over wholly and completely to Jesus as Lord. He is our master, now, He is, says Jude 4, “...our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” There is an exclusivity to His lordship, and He does not share, nor does He accept mere remnants.
Not only that, but God chose us for Himself, before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4 declares, He chose us, He predestined us, He called us, He justified us, He glorified us (Rom 8:30).
Sin is unable to wrest control away from Jesus, it is unable to supplant Him as Lord. It shall not be master over you, says Paul, it can only fail as a would-be usurper to the throne.
Because God is sovereign, because although sin through the Law increased, “grace abounded all the more”! Sin is fully incapable of reigning over us ever again! Whereas sin may only increase, grace super-abounds, to the point that it cannot be contained!
And do take note, Paul is very specific in his language here – he is talking about you yourself, not your body here. Unlike the unthinking animals who were not made in the image of God, without the breath of life directly from God, you yourself may control your body, rather than being controlled by it.
And you yourself are firmly and with finality placed into the reign of grace, you have been appointed righteous. Colossians 1:13 corroborates this fact, saying it this way, that it was God, not us, “Who rescued us from the authority of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son of His love”.
The reign of sin over our lives is over, it is done with, it has been ended with finality. We who died to sin need fear its reign over our selves no longer.
That means that it is not only possible to not let sin reign in your mortal body for a time, but that should you withhold that restraint, if you do present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, that state does not need to continue!! You yourself are no longer under its rule, so although you may for a time allow it to reign in your mortal body, you can, once more, on account of your union with Christ which was never broken, prevent sin from reigning, and re-take control of your mortal body! You have assurance that the tyranny of sin over you yourself is broken! It is a dethroned despot, it no longer has any right at all over you! It is a pretender to the throne, and easily removed, at that!
Why do we have such a great hope? Why is it that sin shall not be master over us? Paul gives us the grounds for that claim right here, in the next phrase – “for you are not under law but under grace”! This is the power which energizes his assertion!
And it is vital that we understand precisely what it is the apostle says here. There is a great desire on the part of many to use this statement to say “look, we aren’t Old Testament” now, the law is dead and done away with, we live in the age of grace and love”. And they use that very freely to give us the idea that God no longer condemns anyone, but gives grace freely to all, teaching a universal salvation. But that is not what Paul is saying here! He doesn’t say the law no longer exists, for that would contradict Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” It’s not until Jesus died on the cross, but the “all” which must be accomplished will be completed when heaven and earth pass away.
In other words, the law is still in effect. Now. Today. This very morning. It condemns today, just as surely and as certainly and as severely as it condemned when Israel left Mount Sinai. Not a Jew, you say? The Law of Moses doesn’t apply to you? In Romans 2:14-15 Paul already declared to us, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law naturally do the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they demonstrate the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them”.
No, both Jew and not-Jew, are all under sin and under law, it defines our relationship with God.
Except for the “you” in Romans 6:14! You are not under law. He’s referring to the same you as he has been referring to all through this chapter, you is plural, and refers to we who died to sin.
v3, “or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”
v4, “we were buried with Him”
v5, “for if we have become united with Him”
…and so on. This you, like all the others in this chapter, is plural and refers exclusively to “we who died to sin” found in v2!
This is not an unqualified “you”, but instead it is an exclusive “you”!
Now, something else to notice that this translation brings out very well, which the Authorized translation altogether misses and ignores, in this verse it happens to be a very bad translation. That translation reads it like this: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” It is a bad translation on account of the word, “the” - “the law”. It is not there in the Greek, Paul is not referring to the law of Moses, but rather it is talking about law in a more general and principled sense. I already referred to Romans 2:14-15, and again here it helps us to understand Paul’s context. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law naturally do the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they demonstrate the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,”.
All of mankind has been under law not from the time of Moses, but from the time of Adam. And, being that it comes from the very beginning, it encompasses every person, the Jew in a sense merely has a more explicit Law given to them in the oracles of God!
Even we ourselves were under such law before we came to be in Christ Jesus. For under law, the awfulness of our sin is revealed to us, as we try of our own selves to please a holy God, only to come short, to miss the mark completely and fail utterly. For law does not help us to succeed, even the laws we live under here in Barry County, Michigan, those of the Federal, state, and local governments, cannot tell us how to succeed, they can only show us the many ways in which we may fail. Law has no power, except the power to condemn. You may do everything right and legally and break no law of man, and yet still fail in your employment or your marriage or your personal life. That is a demonstration of the limitation of law’s usefulness. Through law, comes the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20), indeed in Romans 7:13 Paul will reveal that on account of law, the exceeding sinfulness of sin is revealed! Hebrews 7 even goes so far as to the say that “law made nothing perfect”!
No, we who died to sin are under grace, we died to law. We are in an entirely different situation, and entirely different kind of relationship with God! This is the new covenant! It’s not like the old, it’s not an external law, a list of do’s and don’ts we must always remember to go back to and keep.
No! On account of our union with Jesus Christ, we didn’t just die and be buried with Him, but we are also raised from the dead with Him “through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4) We are a new creation, not the same old creation given a new list of do’s and don’ts! Our relationship with God has changed altogether!
Now, the apostle will further expound this idea out for us in Chapter 7, so I have purposefully attempted to not venture into that chapter before its time, but let me call your attention to Jeremiah 32:40 to help us finally understand:
“And I will cut an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
Why can we say with certainty that sin shall not be master over you - you who died to sin? Because God will not allow it. He Himself will not allow it, just as Christ said in John 6:39, “Now this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”
Sin is completely and utterly unable to control you yourself. Why? Because God will not allow that to happen!
So, how then shall we answer this basic question?
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?
To ask such a question in a real sense, rather than a rhetorical sense, betrays a misunderstanding first and foremost of who and what we are. It shows a misunderstanding of what has happened to us in salvation, for salvation comes through our baptism, our immersion into Christ Jesus; in His death, in His burial, in His resurrection! Not by water, but by the Spirit we are baptized into Jesus Christ.
It is no wonder that the question to early believers was not “are you saved”, but rather, “are you baptized.”
For it is this baptism, this union with Christ, that we died to sin, and it can no longer have dominion over us!
We all start our life under law, but for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, who call Him Lord in truth, not as some mere ceremonial title, but have confessed Him as Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, are saved, for we have been baptized into Christ Jesus.
Thanks be to God for His undeserved grace so lavished upon us!