FREED FROM SIN Romans 6
“Count yourselves 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 evil desires” (Rom. 6:11–12).The good news is we’re no longer captives of sin. We have a choice.
Romans 6–8 explores the impact of the Gospel on the individual. Paul portrayed this impact in respect to three vital issues, asking: What about sin? What about the Law? What about our mortality? In this chapter Paul announced the believer’s freedom from sin through union with Jesus. To understand Paul’s teaching we need to realize that the Bible makes a distinction between sin and sins. On the one hand, sin is a state or condition. It is the corruption of human nature; the warping of the human will, emotions, and understanding. On the other hand, sins are specific acts that intentionally or unintentionally fall short of God’s perfection because of our rebelliousness, our evil desires, or our failure to grasp what is right and good. The good news that Paul announced in this chapter is that through union with Jesus, we have within us the source of perfection! We no longer are limited to the choices, desires, or understanding of a corrupt nature! In Christ, we can at long last actually be, and do, good. Paul did not teach that the old corrupt nature that expressed itself in acts of sins is gone. Not at all. Sin is still with us. But so is Jesus. And because Jesus is with us, we need no longer commit sins.
Salvation by grace through faith is no license to sin (6:1–2). By our union with Christ we died to sin and were raised to new life (vv. 3–10). We are not to permit sin to reign in our lives (vv. 11–14), but instead to offer ourselves to God as His slaves, to live holy and righteous lives (vv. 15–23).
Understanding the Text
“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Rom. 6:1 The question was sarcastic. It was not the honest doubt of a person who wonders why, if a person knows he is going to heaven, he or she would want to live a good life. That person, with significant insight into human nature, asks, “If I didn’t fear damnation, what would keep me from doing wrong?” The questioner of verse 1 said, “If God gets so much glory out of freely forgiving sinners, then maybe you’d better keep on sinning, so God can get even more glory!” Paul’s response was a shocked me genito, a phrase we might render “God forbid!” or “Unthinkable!” or “Never!” Shock is an appropriate response. God has no affinity with sin at all. He forgives sinners. But with forgiveness He calls each believer to live a holy and righteous life. The ultimate evidence of God’s grace is not seen in forgiveness of sin. It is displayed in the moral transformation of the sinner. Christians are called “trophies of grace.” God has won us in Christ. Up there, on His figurative shelf, we do bring Him glory. But no trophy if tarnished and dulled brings much glory to its owner. To truly reflect the glory of God’s grace, we need to live lives that are polished and pure. “[We] who were baptized into Christ” Rom. 6:2–4. Paul wasn’t thinking of water baptism here. Instead he was using the word baptizo as a metaphor: we have been immersed in Jesus. Unlike a piece of cloth immersed in dye that it might take on its color, we have by faith plunged into Jesus and become so completely united to Him that the death He died was our death, and the resurrection life He possesses now is our life too. Perhaps the closest modern analogy is found in “community property” states. Say a poverty-stricken young woman marries a multimillionaire. At the moment of marriage, the law considers half of all he owns hers. It is as if, legally, she had been a participant when he earned his millions. And now that they have been united in marriage she has his vast resources to draw on. This is what Paul said about you and Jesus. When you believed in Jesus, you were united to Christ. It is as if, theologically, you hung there on the cross with Him. When Jesus died, you died. And when Jesus was raised from the dead, you too were raised! Now that you have been united by faith to Jesus, you have His vast spiritual resources to draw on. And the result? “We too may live a new life.” Next time you’re tempted to sin, picture yourself immersed in Jesus. Draw freely on His resurrection power. Choose that new life that is yours! “So that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” Rom. 6:6. Immersed in Jesus, our old self was crucified with Him. This is the basis of our ultimate freedom from sin’s very presence at our resurrection. But until then, sin is all too present with us. We feel its pull; we sense it in thoughts that chase one another through our minds. But, thank God, sin though present is “rendered powerless.” At last we can ignore sin’s pull (see DEVOTIONAL). As Martin Luther said, “We can’t keep the birds from flying around our head. But we needn’t let them build a nest in our hair!” “Offer yourselves to God” Rom. 6:11–14. Freedom from sin has a price tag. The tag reads, “Offer yourselves to God.” From the beginning individuals have assumed that “freedom” is being able to do what a person wants to do, when he wants to do it, with no reference to anyone or anything. That idea has absolutely no correspondence with reality. The fact is that we human beings are creatures, and as creatures we always serve some master. The master may be sin, expressing itself as a passion for wealth or power, or merely as a selfish passion for one’s own way. Or the master may be God. But it is impossible for us to live without a master. I can think of many reasons why God is a better master than sin. But one of them surely is the thing Paul mentioned in verse 23. “The wages of sin is death.” Personally, I’d much rather offer the parts of my body to God as “instruments of righteousness.” “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” Rom. 6:18. In a way, the Christian life is one of extreme simplicity. In every situation, ask yourself, What is the righteous thing to do? Folks sometimes try to complicate this, and argue that they often don’t know the righteous thing to do. That may be. But we nearly always know when something is the wrong thing to do! What it boils down to is: Don’t do what you know or suspect is wrong. You may not be positive a particular course of action is best. But you surely will recognize actions that are wrong. “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Rom. 6:19–23 This is a fair question. What does any person get out of sin? A momentary thrill? An instant of satisfaction? A mercurial sense of power? This is what sin offers at best—and with sin comes a sense of guilt and deep dissatisfaction. When you add endless death to the list, sin doesn’t seem to pay well at all. Righteousness pays off in holiness. That isn’t highly valued by the world, but it can buy inner peace, freedom from guilt, joy, a sense of being right with God and yourself, and eternal life.
Just Don’t Jump(Rom. 6:1–14)
Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say about this passage, “When the old captain shouts, just don’t jump!” Dr. Barnhouse was a master at finding illustrations to make the most complex concepts simple and clear. We surely need that gift to help us with Romans 6. What’s all this about “the body of sin” being “rendered powerless”? And “death no longer having mastery” over us? How do we explain “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God”? Barnhouse would say we’re like the crew of a ship at sea. We took orders from our captain, body of sin. But then one day while we were still at sea, that captain was replaced, and authority passed to a new captain, God. So body of sin was rendered powerless, with no right of mastery over us at all. God is the only One we have to obey. The trouble is, the old captain is still on board the ship, and even though he has no authority, he keeps on shouting orders. Because we’re so familiar with his voice, we all too often find ourselves jumping to obey him. What we have to do, Barnhouse said, is to “count yourselves dead” to the old captain’s orders, and just don’t jump to obey his commands. I always liked the illustration. Isn’t it great that we don’t have to jump when a sinful thought urges us on to sin? What fun to tell sin to go jump instead!
Resist the devil. And thumb your nose at sin.
“We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”—Peter Marshall