In this chapter of his great letter to the believers in Rome, Paul switches from the doctrine of justification to talking about sanctification. Of course, he is not only a great theologian; he’s also a sharp apologist and he anticipates the arguments that some will throw at him (or maybe already had).
From Rom. 3:20-5:21, Paul has been talking about the way sinners can be justified before God through faith in Christ alone. In that section, he described the amazing realities of having peace with God through Christ (Rom. 5:1) and knowing His grace that abounds more than sin had abounded because of the giving of the Mosaic law (Rom. 5:20-21). It was the Law that made men more aware of their sin before God’s holiness (Gal. 3:24), but could not, by itself, offer any permanent means to escape the consequences of sin (Heb. 10:4).
The sacrifices of the Old Testament period symbolised the necessity for the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and they were certainly not enough to satisfy God’s judgment on sin. And what’s more, the Law could not, by itself, change the fallen, sinful nature of men – in other words, though it could show them their sin in an acute and precise manner, it could not deal with the root of the problem, their sinful nature. No, something more was needed, just as Jesus Himself pointed out:
Then [Jesus] spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. –Luke 5:36-38
But in His immense grace and love for us, God offered His own perfect, sinless, holy Son as a once-and-for-all sacrifice that would satisfy God’s wrath (Heb. 7:27).
Let’s understand this before we continue: Jesus didn’t die because the Romans and Jews killed Him. It was God who slaughtered His own and only precious Son to satisfy the penalty that our sin incurred due to just nature. The Father killed His Son to satisfy His own justice (Eph. 1:5-6) but we and our sin are the cause of that sacrifice. Fully man and fully God, Jesus bore our penalty, paid our enormous debt, so that men can now have a perfect means of escaping God’s wrath if they repent of their sin and trust in Christ for their salvation. And that is the Gospel.
And we come back to Romans chapter 6. Paul finishes chapter 5 by catching the argument before it’s even formed: “If we are justified by grace, and sin causes even more of God’s grace to abound (cf. Rom. 5:21), doesn’t that encourage us to sin more?” And Paul cuts it off with one of the strongest, abrupt, non-negotiable repudiations of the ancient Greek: “Μή γένοιτο!” – literarily: “May it never be!” (Rom. 6:2a). It even contains a sense of outrage that anyone should even think of something like that. Why? Because, “how shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:2b).
Paul states here a reality that often eludes us: When a person repents and trusts in Christ for his or her salvation, they become dead to sin. What does that mean? It means that, in Christ, we are free not only from the consequences of sin (Rom. 5:19), but also from the dominion of sin (Rom.6:6). Think about it: What can a dead man do? Answer: absolutely nothing. He can’t speak, respond, feel, or will anything. And because this is true in God’s eyes, that is how, as Christians, we are to see ourselves in relation to sin: Dead – unable to speak its language, respond to its calling, feel its jabs or subject our will to its own. Look at the many ways Paul describes it, in this chapter alone:
… buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4a)
… our old man was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be done away with (Rom. 6:6a)
… we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6b)
… we are freed from sin (Rom. 6:7)
If you are like me, then you might have a hard time digesting this and it might all sound very theoretical. So, please, take a moment to think about it and how it applies to your life – like Paul says: “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin” (Rom. 6:11a), and that reckon (λογίζεσθε) means “to have an absolute, unreserved confidence in what one’s mind knows to be true – the kind of heartfelt confidence that affects his actions and decisions” (John MacArthur). But that kind of confidence doesn’t come overnight – it is built by study and re-study and meditation and application of this truth; this is how God’s Word takes effect in our life.
So we are dead to sin – but that is not all. Our God “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), has provided even more: we are also alive to God (Rom. 6:11b)!
Look at how Paul puts it:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. – Rom. 6:3-4
It goes back to that original, antinomianist argument that Paul was dealing with: if we are fully saved by grace and faith in Christ, then we can go ahead and sin without problem. And what Paul is saying is that that is impossible because a Christian is a new creation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). It’s a whole new world! Sin has no power over us (Rom. 6:14), but God does. We’re not only to actively disengage from sin, but we are called to actively submit to God, who is our new master. And so, the apostle reaches his exhortation:
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. – Rom. 6:11-13
Dead to sin; alive to God. I don’t have the words to express the depth and width and height of this truth. But I ask you to meditate on it, and bring it in your prayer. It means that we have no reason to sin, no obligation to sin, and no excuse to sin. It means that we have every reason to seek God, every reason to strive after godliness and excellence, every reason to live and die for holiness, righteousness and God’s glory.
If only the Church today would focus on such godly doctrine instead of wasting its time with human schemes, fads, emotional manipulation and cheap gimmicks – then we would see a tremendous impact on the world; then we would bear much fruit of the Gospel; then we would see that revival that we so long for and desperately need. Because then we will echo the psalmist’s cry:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. – Ps. 51:10
A resolution for the New Year? Try this:
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. – Col. 3:5-7