Victory Over Sin for All in Christ
Paul has presented a forceful argument in the first 5 chapters of Romans. He has demonstrated that all (both Jews and Gentiles) have sinned (Romans 1:18-3:20) and that all may be justified by grace through faith (Romans 3:21-5:21). He demonstrated clearly and aggressively that salvation is a free gift from God. But that teaching raised serious questions in the minds of some.
The first question shows up in Romans 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (NASB). After all, if everything depends on what God has done, if our achievements don’t bring about our justification or even aid God in granting it, then what does it matter how we live?
Such questions always arise when God’s free grace is clearly taught. Some ask it in sincerity, desiring to know how to best live their lives. But other utilize it as a reason to live a sinful life. While yet others fear that “cheap grace” will lead to a life of lawlessness.
The logic of those who are against Paul’s teaching on grace or are confused on the topic runs something like this:
- Paul claimed in romans 5:20 that the law identifies sin and thereby increases it.
- More sin means more grace.
- Therefore, Let’s go on sinning so that grace may increase and God will be glorified all the more because of His ever more extensive graciousness (Romans 6:1; Romans 3:8).
Such reasoning, of course, would invalidate Paul’s theology among serious thinkers and provide a basis for profligate living among the irresponsible and insincere.
To both head off his detractors and to instruct true believers Paul raises the question in Romans 6:1 of whether a person should continue in sin that grace may increase.
His reaction to it borders on violence: “By no means!” (verse 2, RSV). “May it never be!” (NASB). “God forbid” (KJV). What a ghastly thought!” (Phillips). “Never!” (Moffatt).
No matter how we translate the Greek words, they depict the fact that Paul stand totally against the idea that a Christian should go on living in a state of sin. This represent the strongest idiom of repudiation in the Greek New Testament. The phrase projects a sense of outrage that anyone could ever consider such a foolish idea to be true.
The very thought that sin could in any conceivable way be pleasing to God or be to His honor absolutely appalled the apostle. He doesn’t even stop to reason with such stupidity. Rather than providing an argument against it, he asks a rhetorical question: “how can we who died to sin still live in it? (verse 2).
The answer is obvious. It is impossible for one who had died to sin to continue to live in sin as a way of life. Only the most perverted logic would conclude that a life of sin is the way for Christians to exist.
Paul illustrates his meaning in verse 3 through the baptism experience, since it provides the perfect image for what he wants to illustrate. Baptize is not a warm fuzzy word in history. It means (to dip in or under,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown.” Writers in the ancient world used it to describe sinking ships or drowning people. Jesus picked up on that rather violent aspect of the word when He referred to His death as a baptism (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50).
Paul follows that lead in romans 6, where he employs the term to signify death to a way of life (verse 4). Thus, becoming a Christian is a violent sort of thing. We enter it through baptism, a symbol of death to the old ways. Now Paul tells us in Romans 6:2, 3 that if a person had died to the old ways, it is then ridiculous to claim that he or she would still want to live in them. No genuine Christian would desire to continue a life of sin.
Yet, we know that death was not the end for Christ. Resurrection followed it. Continuing to use the baptism metaphor in verse 4, Paul goes on to say that just “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we to might walk in newness of life.”
Baptism is the perfect symbol of death to the old way and resurrection to a new way of life. After all baptism by immersion is a sort of burial; emergence from the water is a sort of resurrection.
Before leaving verse 4, we need to examine the idea of walking in newness of life. The word walk is important here, because it not only expresses a process of ongoing fellowship with God but signifies directionality, since every walker has a goal. Thus it is that Paul describes the beginning of the Christian life as the start of the new journey in which it is impossible to tread the path of sin as a way of life.
Before moving to verse 12-14 we should note that some people become confused with the thoughts in verses 7, 10, which , respectively, teach that Christians are “freed from sin” and dead to sin. Some have interpreted these concepts to mean that a true Christian will be totally insensitive to sin and its attractions.
Such an understanding overlooks the fact that it wasn’t so in the life of Jesus. In his life on earth he was genuinely tempted, in that He felt Himself drawn toward some aspects of the wilderness temptation and His mind and body found going to the cross repulsive. And universal human experience identifies with Christ’s reaction. To put it bluntly, born-again Christians still feel such things as the pull of appetite and unlawful sexual attraction.
Paul’s points if we look at the context of Romans 6:7, 10 is not that Christians are dead to and free from sinful impulses but that they will not be walking in the way of sin. The apostle highlights his major point in verse 12, in which he notes that Christians do not let sin “reign” in their lives. It is one thing to be tempted or even to commit an act of sin and repent of it (see I John 1:9) and quite another to be a slave of sin (romans 6:17). John Wesley caught Paul’s idea when he wrote that sin “remains, through it does not reign.”
The second half of Romans 6:13 shifts the presentation from what Christians are not to do to what they must do. They are to yield themselves “to God as instruments of righteousness.” Why? Because sin is no longer their master. They are now under the lordship of grace rather than that of the condemning law (verse 14). Here we find an interesting use of grace. Whereas we usually define the word as “God’s unmerited favor toward the undeserving,” Paul presents it as “a power” that enable Christians to conquer.
Grace won the victory over the lordship of sin at the cross, when Christ triumphed over Satan. Because of that victory, sin is not our lord or ruler (verse 14a). We are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (verse 11). A change in lordship has already transpired in believers’ lives, in the assurance of victory won they can go forth confidently to wage war against sin. Christians don’t walk in their own strength, but in that of their new Lord, Jesus Christ.