After making the case that where sin increased, grace abounded even more, Paul now clarifies that abundant grace doesn’t give the believer license to sin. We don’t sin so that grace may abound. The believer has died to sin through Christ and now lives with Christ in freedom from sin, how then can he live as if sin still enslaves him? Or said another way, how can grace purchased by the death of Christ that defeated sin somehow allow for the very sin that it defeated? It’s a logical argument. Believers can’t live as if they’re still bound to the very thing their death in Christ freed them from. So while it’s tempting to see Paul’s teaching on grace as an invitation to sin so that abundant grace may flow, it ultimately makes no sense. The believer can’t live as if he’s something he’s not.
It’s impossible to understand this text without first understanding how Paul ended Chapter 5. In verses 20-21, Paul said that the Law caused sin to increase (by making people aware of what actions were sinful), but that as sin increased, grace abounded all the more. The grace of the gospel covers the sin the Law made apparent. It’s the ultimate good news. The Law showed the hopelessness of earning a place before God. Grace, though, comes and does what the Law couldn’t – covers the sin that separates man from God and abounds where sin increases. The believer can’t out-sin grace. [Can you think of a better short-sentence to meditate on and thank God for than that one?!]
Paul’s good news at the end of Chapter 5 does, however, bring up a question (that he anticipates): if grace abounds where sin increases, then is it okay to sin? If we’re under grace, if we can’t earn our way into God’s presence, and if grace actually increases as sin increases, then is sinning all that bad? More sin, more grace? Isn’t that a good thing?
Paul answers his own question emphatically in verse 2 and establishes the thesis for this text. May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? We are changed people. As changed people we can no longer live as if we aren’t changed. We can’t live in what we died to escape. The following verses explain.
The first truth we have to understand in our approach to sin is that we are dead to it through Christ. When we’re baptized (and Paul seems to refer to the symbolic implications of physical baptism) we are baptized into Christ’s death. We essentially die with Him. Remember that Christ died in our place. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sin that we could never be because we were born in sin and committed sin. Christ’s death paid the penalty we couldn’t pay for our own sin. And since His death was imputed to us (it was legally credited to our account and justified us), it means we essentially died with Him. It was our penalty paid by death; so when we accept the gift of justification we associate ourselves with that death. We die with Christ.
And notice that we were buried with Him too. Our death was complete. We didn’t just die, we died and were buried. Burial denotes true death. This wasn’t some kind of cosmic slight-of-hand. Jesus died and was buried – He truly died. So our baptism into Christ’s death is complete. We truly died with Him. And if we died, then the penalty for our sin was satisfied.
Death is only half the equation, however. If we died with Christ and were buried with Him, then we also rose with Him. Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose after three days. So our death and burial results in the same resurrection. We now walk in newness of life. If we’re united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
We’re new creatures. Our old self that was enslaved to sin was crucified with Christ. It died on the cross. And when we rose with Him we rose to a new life with Him – a life free of bondage to sin. If we died, we’re free from sin because a dead slave no longer minds his master. And if death paid the penalty for our sin, then we’re no longer bound by it. We’re free.
Do you see the case Paul is building? We died to sin, sin’s penalty has been paid, thus we’re no longer enslaved to it. And as new creatures raised with Christ, we walk with Him in newness of a life free from the power of sin and the hopelessness of the Law.
He reiterates the logic in these verses. If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will live with Him – both in this life and in the next (there’s an implication in verse 8 of both the ongoing present and the eternal future). Why do we believe this? Because Christ – having been raised from the dead – is never to die again (Christ’s resurrection was different than anyone else ever raised from the dead. All others eventually died again – Lazarus is no longer with us – but Christ rose never to die again. That’s why He’s the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18). It’s why the resurrection is important. Christ didn’t just die to pay the penalty of sin, He rose to defeat death and provide life to all who follow Him to the cross. We don’t just die with Him, we LIVE with Him.). He died to sin once for all. Nothing else needs to occur to pay the penalty of sin. It’s been paid – no more death is required. That means the life He lives is everlasting. He lives for all time to God. And if we share in His death and in His life, then the life we live with Him is also everlasting. Our death was once and complete. Our life with Christ is for all time.
The outcome of this truth? We must consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is how God sees us. We’re in Christ Jesus and we share in His death and life. And if we share in His death and life, then we’re ultimately free from sin’s tyranny. We’re dead to sin. We’re alive to God. The stakes are ultimate. We’re not just separated from sin – we’re dead to it. And we’re no longer dead in our sins, we’re alive to God. Death and life – the change in our status and in our lives and thinking can’t be more complete.
[Don’t blow by this truth too quickly. The life that we have with Christ is both now and in the future. We’ll someday be in glory with Him for all eternity, but we also get to live with Him NOW. As we’re faced with the rewards and temptations of the world we have to see them in light of our ongoing lives with our Redeemer. This is why Christianity is ultimately a relationship, not a religion.]
The news at this point is pretty good, isn’t it? Sin’s penalty paid, sin’s power defeated, death defeated, life with Christ the new normal. We’re dead to sin and alive to God. Sin no longer has power over us because we died to it. And we live with Christ as new creatures in complete freedom.
Since that’s the case Paul just built, then logically doesn’t it sound like we don’t need to worry about sin at all? If it’s defeated and no longer enslaves us, don’t we now just have to live in newness of life and leave it all behind?
That’s not what Paul seems to say in these verses. He uses some interesting language to describe what we should do in light of the truths he’s just expressed. Verse 12 – Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body. Verse 13 – do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin…but present yourselves to God. This sounds like responsibility that’s on us, doesn’t it? We’re dead to sin and no longer enslaved to it, but apparently that doesn’t mean it’s gone and has no power. We don’t just sit back and enjoy our newfound status as new creatures living in newness of life and freedom. Paul says we have work to do.
Why is that? Because while sin’s been defeated and doesn’t have power over us, it’s still alive. It’s still in the world. It’s still powerful. Sin’s ultimate end is sure – it will be destroyed along with death – but it’s still active and will be for as long as the current earth exists. So while we’re in this life we have to guard ourselves and persevere. We have to live in light of our new status.
And that’s both discouraging and encouraging. It’s a little discouraging because it would be nice if Paul just said that sin has no power over us and so we don’t need to worry about it. But if he did, we’d know this text was either false or delusional because it wouldn’t square with our experience, right? Sin’s hale and hearty in our lives, isn’t it? So what’s encouraging is that Paul acknowledges our current state. We’re ultimately free of sin’s power but sin is still very much around, and that means we have a responsibility to guard ourselves against it.
How do we do that? We live as if we are what we are. And we stop living as if we’re still what we aren’t. We died to sin, we’re no longer slaves to it, we’re no longer bound by it. So we stop serving it as if we never died and were never freed.
For Paul to admonish us in this way means that it’s possible to live as if we still serve sin. And that’s just about the most foolish thing we can do. How insane does it sound for a freed slave – a slave that had to die to win his freedom – to go back to his master and serve him as if he were never freed at all? Would any rationally thinking person do that? And note that Paul references our mortal bodies (vs 12). He wants us to understand that when we present our bodies for sin that we’re sacrificing the eternal for the temporal. We’re actually making what’s bound for destruction supreme over what’s bound for glory. It’s completely senseless. We can’t live as if our death and life with Christ never occurred.
We instead must present ourselves to God as those who have died to sin. We must embrace our status as freed creatures and embrace our lives in Christ to God. Note that we don’t just stop presenting our bodies to sin, we instead present our bodies to God. We put off and put on. We stop serving sin and instead serve God.
What undergirds how we must live? Verse 14. Sin SHALL NOT be master over us. Why? Because we’re not under law – which brings us back to hopelessness – but under grace. Paul brings us full circle. He brings us back to his closing argument of Chapter 5. We’re under grace, we aren’t working our way to God, grace covers our sin, and we’re no longer slaves to sin. If all these things are true, then we don’t have to sin. And if we don’t have to sin, then it’s the height of foolishness to choose to continue in it.
Paul started this text with an exasperated question – How shall we who died to sin still live in it? This is the thesis that has to affect everything in life. We said this in the notes, but we have to live as if we are what we are and stop living as if we’re still what we aren’t. When we’re faced with sin we have to remember that it ultimately has no power over us. That may be hard to remember when temptation seems so strong, but there’s a reason that truth sets us free. The truth is that sin has no power over us because we died to it. That means that every day – perhaps every waking moment of every day – we have to embrace our calling. WE ARE FREE. We are dead to sin and we live IN CHRIST.
This goes right along with Paul’s description of the Christian life in Gal 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. We are new creatures living in newness of life, living free of the power of sin because we died with Christ and now live IN HIM. In light of this, HOW CAN WE CHOOSE SIN?
We choose sin when we forget these truths. We choose sin when the Enemy convinces us that we and this world are all that matter. We choose sin when our minds are drenched in the gospel of worldliness and we walk by sight alone. That Paul warns us what not to do in this passage means we’re capable of doing these very things. It’s why a complacent life is the Enemy’s greatest wish.
There are sins, however, that seem to belie the truth that sin’s power over us has been destroyed, aren’t there? The person caught in addictive sin may have a hard time believing that sin’s power has been defeated. But even addictions are subject to Romans 6. Even addictions were defeated at the cross. So while any road back will likely be excruciating and long (and while verses 12 and 13 don’t state it explicitly, any believer knows the hard work and vigilance inherent in Paul’s commands), that road has to begin with an understanding of who and what we are in Christ. Ultimately, the truths of Romans 6 are a lifeline to the believer lost in addiction. YOU ARE FREE. THE CROSS IS BIGGER THAN YOUR SIN AND YOU BOTH DIED AND ROSE AGAIN IN CHRIST. YOU NO LONGER LIVE TO YOURSELF IN SIN. YOU NOW LIVE IN CHRIST TO GOD.
We must embrace who we are every day.
We are dead to sin in Christ.
We are alive to God in Christ.
We are under grace in Christ.
We are free in Christ.