Dead to Sin, Alive to God Part 1 – Romans 6:1-3
Pastor Mark Hardy July 22, 2012
A young woman who said she was saved applied for membership in her local church. To understand more about her salvation one of the church leadership asked her, “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” “Yes sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except that I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved, I’m a sinner running from sin! She was then received into the fellowship of her church, and proved by her consistent life that she was truly saved.
When a person is truly saved there is a radical change that takes place within him or her. We are going to begin looking at some of that change this morning.
Now thus far in our study of Romans, we have seen in 1:18-3:20 the sinfulness of all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, and how the entire human race stands condemned under the wrath of God. But because of God’s great love and grace, He took the initiative to remedy man’s sin problem in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. We then saw in 3:21-5:21 the doctrine of justification or salvation by faith alone, whereby all those who receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord are justified or declared righteous by God, whereby they are acquitted of all their sin and clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). But God’s plan of salvation doesn’t stop there.
In 6:1-8:39 Paul unfolds what is known as the doctrine of sanctification. Whereas in justification God declares us righteous once for all when we put their faith in Jesus Christ, in sanctification God makes us righteous through a lifelong process. Therefore, the whole of our Christian lives right now is becoming more and more in our daily practice what we already are in our divine position in Christ.
There is no more important passage on the Christian life than 6:1-14, and this is what we will begin to look at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 6.
In Romans 6:1-14 Paul gives four requirements on how we as believers can turn our vital union with Christ into victorious living for Christ. This morning we are going to be looking at only the first. The first requirement for victorious Christian living is this:
I. We are Responsible to not Abuse God’s Grace
A. Look at v. 1: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
1. Having asserted in 5:20 that “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” Paul knew that what he said here about God’s super-abounding grace would be misunderstood and distorted by certain people. So he raises this appalling question to all professing Christians—“Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
2. Most likely Paul is not addressing this question to any specific opponents, but presents it as a general question because throughout his ministry he had often encountered opposition against the gospel of grace that he preached and knew very well how people responded to it (3:8).
3. He knew the legalistic Jews accused him of teaching “antinomianism,” which means “without law.” They said that his gospel of grace advocated moral and spiritual license whereby people were free to sin as they please.
4. But Paul also knew how certain “professing Christians” perverted God’s grace and actual used it to justify their sinful libertine lifestyle. God’s plan of salvation by grace is different.
5. For it doesn’t involve the one extreme of the legalists who try to be righteous by keeping external rules and regulations or the other extreme of throwing all rules to the wind and living as the libertine who do whatever they want. Paul refused both!
6. Notice again Paul’s appalling question, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” The word “continue” (epimenomen) here means “to remain, to abide, and to stay.”
7. It is in the present tense in the Greek, indicating that this is talking about a habitual persistence in sin. In other words, Paul is saying, “Since God’s grace super-abounds over sin, are professing Christians suppose to habitually practice more sin, so that they can give God more opportunity to display His grace?” (Jude 4)
8. Now this appalling question brings up another important question: Can a person be truly saved and have absolutely no spiritual fruit in his or her life?
9. The real issue here is this: Can justification exist apart from sanctification? Although justification and sanctification are different, they are inseparably connected; they are opposite sides of God’s one coin of salvation.
10. In other words, God always sanctifies those whom He justifies. Righteousness is not only declared, it is also demonstrated.
11. Immediately after a person receives justification then the lifelong process of sanctification begins and is not complete until we either die or are raptured by Christ at which time we immediately experience “glorification,” whereby we are fully conformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Jn. 3:2).
12. We see this whole process in Philippians 1:6 where Paul states, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you [justification] will perfect it [sanctification] until the day of Christ Jesus” [glorification].
13. Therefore, C.E.B. Cranfield is right when he says, “…justification has inescapable moral implications, that our righteous status before God involves an absolute obligation to seek righteousness of life, that to imagine that we can ‘receive righteousness in Christ without at the same time laying hold on sanctification’ is a profane absurdity.” (pg. 295)
14. The two are inseparable! Donald Grey Barnhouse said it like this, “Holiness starts where justification finishes, and if holiness does not start, we have the right to suspect that justification never started either.” (Mac. pg. 318)
15. We live in a day of “easy believeism” that says, “You can be saved and yet have absolutely no spiritual fruit in your life.” But this is totally contrary to the Word of God.
B. Notice how Paul responded to this appalling question in v. 2: May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
1. The phrase “May it never be” (me genoito) is the strongest negative Greek expression that indicates shock, abhorrence, disgust, and outrage at such a bogus suggestion.
2. This phrase has been translated in various ways, such as: “Never!” “No way!” “Not at all!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “God forbid!” “Perish the thought!” “Not on your life!” and “Not in a thousand years.”
3. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and speaking for God, to Paul it is absolutely unthinkable that the super-abounding grace of God would ever be intended to encourage sin. Perish the thought!
4. Paul then goes on to explain the reason why professing the fundamental premise of Paul’s entire argument in this chapter, which is this: Believers have died to sin. Christians cannot “continue in sin” in a rhetorical question: How shall we who died to sin still live in it? The obvious answer is “We can’t!”
5. If you don’t get anything else this morning get this: If you are a Christian, you have died to sin.
6. The word “sin” (hamartia) here refers to sin as a power. Last time we saw in v. 21 that “sin reigns in death.” Sin entered the world through Adam and death followed it like a shadow.
7. Whereas death has its own dominion (v. 14); it is in this dominion that sin exercises its power and control and holds the entire human race in bondage.
8. But notice that for those who have received Jesus Christ Paul says that we have “died to sin.” As we have already seen, death means separation, whether spiritually, physically, or eternally.
9. Therefore, for us to have “died to sin” means that we are separated from the power of sin. It’s important to understand that the word “died” (apethanomen) here is an “indicative” in the Greek, meaning that our separation from the power, rule, or realm of sin is a historical fact; it’s a done deal that has already taken place. And the aorist tense of the word shows that this fact is a finished or completed action that is once for all.
10. Now how and when did this happen in the believer’s life? Leon Morris describes it this way, “There is, of course, a sense in which Christians die to sin every day; they constantly commit themselves to God and become dead to all evil. There is also an eschatological sense; after this life sin will be over; believers will be raised up to live without sin in God’s presence. But it is not such sense that Paul’s language evokes here. He is referring rather to the death to sin that marks the beginning of the characteristic Christian life. It is the end of the reign of sin and beginning of the reign of grace (5:21).” (pg. 245)
11. In other words, what Paul is talking about here is that our death to sin happened when Jesus Christ died on the cross because we died in solidarity or union with Him. And that reality became ours personally when we received Him as our Savior and Lord.
12. We see this in 2 Corinthians 5:14 where we read, “…that one died for all, therefore all died.” And 1 Peter 2:24 says, “…He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…” (Col. 2:20; 3:2-3)
13. This union with Christ in His death is why Paul proclaimed about himself in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus 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 gave Himself up for me.”
14. Beloved, never forget that in one sense your “death to sin” has already taken place. As believers, we are viewed by God as if we ourselves died on that dark day at Calvary.
15. John Murray correctly states, “Death and life cannot coexist; we cannot be dead and living with respect to the same thing at the same time.” (pg. 213)
16. Because we have already “died to sin,” the grace of God in our salvation has not only freed us from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin. We have been transferred from the realm of sin to the realm of righteousness, which brings about a radical change in the very essence of our being.
17. Colossians 1:13 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
18. We are no longer the same person that we were before we trusted Christ. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
19. Now as born-again believers, “new creatures in Christ,” we have “died to sin” and have a new life, a new nature or heart that has new godly desires that love God and righteousness and hate sin, and we have a new power of the indwelling Spirit of God to carry out our godly desires.
20. Listen how John Newton, the author of the famous hymn Amazing Grace, described the change Jesus Christ made in his life: “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle [Paul], ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”
21. This is why Paul tells us here in v. 2, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? A new life in Christ cannot continue on in the old way of living.
22. Charles Hodge states, “…such is the nature of the believer’s union with Christ, that his living in sin is not merely an inconsistency, but a contradiction in terms, as much so as to speak of a live dead man, and a good bad one. Union with Christ, being the only source of holiness, cannot be the source of sin.” (pg. 191)
23. I think Douglas Moo said it best, “‘Living in sin’ is best taken as describing a lifestyle of sin—a habitual practice of sin, such that one’s life could be said to be characterized by that sin rather than by the righteousness God requires. Such habitual sin….is not possible, as a constant situation, for the one who has truly experienced the transfer out from the domain, or tyranny, of sin. Sin’s power is broken for the believer, and this must be evident in practice.” (pg. 358)
24. He is simply saying the same thing that John said in 1 John 3:9-10, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
25. A child of God cannot persist in living as a child of Satan.
C. Now before we all panic, it is crucial that we don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying!
1. He is not saying that true believers never sin or that they can’t go off the deep end into sin for a significant amount of time. Paul is not teaching “sinless perfection” because notice again that he says “we…died to sin” not that “sin…died to us.”
2. It is also clear from all the imperatives or commands that we will see in vv. 11-14 to properly address sin in our daily lives that Paul considers sin as a continuing and ever-present threat to the Christian. And if you have any doubts, in chapter 7 he will sufficiently prove that point.
3. As believers we struggle daily with sin. The apostle John said in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (Verse 10) “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
4. However, Paul is making clear that it is impossible for the true believer to continue on where his or her life is dominated and characterized by a pattern of sin. Sin in the life of the believer is not an unbroken habitual practice.
5. So what do we view a “professing believer” who seemed to start off good in the beginning but has rebelled against the Lord is living like an unbeliever and has not shown any spiritual fruit in his or her life for quite some time? We probably all have friends or loved ones who are in this situation, so this is a very difficult and heartbreaking issue!
6. Here are some truths from God’s Word to help us think this through:
• First of all, only God knows this person’s heart and whether he or she is truly saved.
• The Bible says that salvation comes by truly believing in Jesus Christ. Acts 16:31 declares, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Jn. 1:12; Rom. 10:13)
• However, the Bible also says that true saving faith is evidenced in one’s life with some spiritual fruit and is not characterized by unbroken habitual sin (Matt. 3:7-8; 7:17-23; Jam. 2:14-26).
• But it also says that a true believer who is in sin will lose the felt assurance of his or her salvation as the Holy Spirit is grieved (Rom. 8:16) and will be convicted by the Spirit in order to lead him or her to repentance. And if the believer stubbornly refuses to repent eventually the Lord will bring loving discipline (Heb. 12:5-11), which may even involve taking that person to heaven early.
• So whereas it can be a very confusing and heartbreaking time to watch someone you love in this place, ultimately all we can do to continue to love the person, leave him or her in the Lord’s hands, and keep on praying for him or her.
D. Paul then begins to explain more fully what it means for believers to have died to sin in v. 3: Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
1. The introductory words “Or do you not know” means “don’t be ignorant.” Paul didn’t want the believers in Rome to be unaware and ignorant about the meaning of their own baptism, but to remember what it symbolized.
2. Paul’s focus here is our union with Christ’s death. Referring to all born-again believers, notice again that he says, “…all of us [i.e. true believers] who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.”
3. The word “baptized” (ebaptisthemen) means “to dip, dunk, and immerse under water.”
4. Thomas Schreiner makes this interesting point, “The reference to baptism is introduced as a designation for those who are believers in Christ. Since unbaptized Christians were virtually nonexistent, to refer to those who were baptized is another way of describing those who are Christians, those who have put their faith in Christ. Thus Paul is saying here that all Christians have participated in the death and burial of Christ, for all Christians had received baptism.” (pg. 306)
5. Now many people see Romans 6:3-10 as referring to water baptism. But water baptism is merely the outward declaration of the inward reality of faith in Jesus Christ and identification with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.
6. Therefore, it is better here to see Paul as simply using the physical analogy of baptism to teach the reality of Spirit baptism. He uses the metaphor of baptism to signify spiritual immersion where at conversion the Holy Spirit immerses or places a believer “into Christ Jesus” and unites him to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
7. Now our union with Christ can also be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” And in Galatians 3:27, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:2)
8. But the significance of being baptized “into Christ Jesus” and “into His death” is our union with Christ in His death on the cross. And since both of the words “baptized” are also indicatives this shows that our union with Christ in His death is a historical fact, a done deal that is to be relied on and lived out!
9. Leon Morris says it very well, “Christ’s death alone is the ground of our justification, and when we make that our own by faith we are united with Christ—united with him in his death, united with him in his burial, united with him in his rising again, united with him in life. Paul is affirming strongly that the justified are those united by faith to all that Christ means, and therefore antinomianism is impossible for them. Being united in living out the life is not an option but a necessary part of being saved in Christ.” (pg. 247)
10. Therefore, our baptism or spiritual immersion by the Holy Spirit that brings us into intimate union with Christ and His death immediately gives us a new relationship to sin. When Jesus died for sin we also died with Him to sin.
11. And since our union with Christ in His death is a fact, God expects us to live in light of that fact and to be responsible to not abuse God’s grace. Not complacent about sin since, after all, God is gracious and will forgive us.
In closing, when a person is truly saved there is a radical change that takes place within him or her. John MacArthur describes this well, saying, “Justification and sanctification are not separate stages in salvation; rather, they are different aspects of the unbroken continuum of God’s divine work of redemption in a believer’s life by which He not only declares a person righteous but recreates him to become righteous. Holiness is as much a work of God in the believer as any other element of redemption. When a person is redeemed, God not only declares him righteous, but also begins to develop Christ’s righteousness in him. Thus salvation is not merely a legal transaction, but results inevitably in a miracle of transformation.” (pg. 318)
This miracle of transformation in all believers’ lives is only because of the fact that we have died to sin in Christ’s death on the cross and God has given us all of the spiritual resources we need to live victorious over sin. But first we must understand that we are responsible to not abuse the grace that God gives us and allow the indwelling Spirit of God to control our lives. For we are promised in Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”