DYING TO SIN YET LIVING IN GRACE (Part 1 of 2)
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 30
Romans 6:1-4 ❧ October 15, 2023
On the 22nd of September 1862, President Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation which began: On the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.
It would not be until many painful months later that the slaves in the South could actually claim their precious freedom. One of those freed slaves was the famous Booker T. Washington. He was nine years old when the Emancipation finally reached his plantation in southwest Virginia. In his 1901 autobiography, “Up From Slavery”, he recalled that life-altering day: The most distinct thing that I now recall in connection with that scene was that some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper – the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying but fearing that she would never live to see.
Booker goes on to describe the rippling effect this great news had on many of the slaves: …within a few hours the wild rejoicing ceased, and a feeling of deep gloom seemed to pervade the slave quarters. The actual possession of this new-found freedom was a more serious thing than they expected to find it. What happened next is both sad and bewildering. After a brief celebration, many former slaves returned to the fields and continued their servitude as sharecroppers. Though they had been officially declared free, little had changed for them in the practical sense. Legal emancipation declared their freedom, but turning their legal status into actual experience would require another kind of change, a change from within. Those who found it too fearful or too daunting to step into a life of unknown freedom found it easier to remain enslaved in a painful life of the predictable.
From the perspective of those of us who’ve never known slavery, their response doesn’t make sense. Yet, it makes a great deal of sense when we realize that many of us as believers choose slavery over freedom every day. The Bible tells us we’ve been set free in Christ, emancipated from the slavery of sin. We know we’re “officially” free, but we struggle as to how to make our freedom a reality in our everyday lives.
For those who are determined to break free from tyranny of their past slavery and step into a life of freedom in Christ, they soon realize several sobering truths. One, the process of living free in Christ does not come easily or naturally. Two, it takes time. Three, it is impossible for our freedom to become a reality in our own strength. Like salvation, it requires God’s power from start to finish. The Bible calls this process sanctification – a gradual internal transformation from a life of bondage to a life of maturity and freedom (Swindoll, Romans, Pp. 136-7).
Turn with me to Romans 6. This morning we’re going to begin looking at a passage of Scripture that is greatly needed for those of us who feel we’re still stuck in slavery and don’t know who to get out.
Up to this point Paul has made it clear we’re justified by faith in Christ. We’re standing in the assurance of grace and rejoicing in the hope of glory. We formerly belonged to Adam, the author of sin (Rom. 5:12), but now we belong to the Author of salvation. Paul leaves us in chapter 5 in the triumph and security of God’s grace. Because of our faith in Christ, we’ve been justified, declared right with God. We’ve been emancipated from sin and declared by the highest Authority we are now officially free. But there is something missing. Paul has said nothing about the practical outworking of our new freedom in Christ. He seems to have jumped straight from justification to glorification and bypassed sanctification altogether.
Like the freed slaves of the Civil War, we know we’re free legally, but we don’t know how to be free practically. (Read: Romans 6:1-4, NAS). Paul is showing how we’re to die to sin (slavery) and live in grace (freedom). There are three terms in this passage that serve as keys that unlock the shackles of slavery: There is something we need to GUARD (Vv. 1-2), there is something we need to KNOW (Vv. 3-10), something we need to CONSIDER (Vv. 11-12), and something we need to PRESENT (Vv.13-14). GUARD, KNOW, CONSIDER, PRESENT. We’re going to look at just the first two keys this morning.
- Something we need to guard. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that
grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2). Paul is saying preaching a gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ is risky business. If you’re not careful, people will think you’re preaching a gospel that gives people a license to sin. Paul was accused of it on numerous occasions. But it did not stop him. He knew without grace there would be no Gospel. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: If you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity is dead. If you remove grace out of the gospel, the gospel is gone. If the people do not like the doctrine of grace, give them all the more of it.
So, when he says: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?He responds, May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?In other words, the person who thinks since my sin increases God’s grace, then I should sin all the more! That person, Paul says, does not understand God’s grace. He asks a rhetorical question: how shall we who died to sin still live in it? When you trusted Christ, the old you, the old life died. You’re now free from the bondage of sin. If this is true, then what power does sin have over you? None! It is impossible to be alive in Christ and also be alive to sin. None of us are totally without sin. What is true is that the moment we are born again, we are separated from the controlling power of sin; we’re dead to sin.
Paul is not talking about believers who occasionally fall into sin. He’s talking about the person who intentionally makes sin a habitual pattern of their life. Paul’s answer to this kind of thinking is in the strongest repudiation possible in the Greek language: May it never be! His sharp answer carries a sense of outrage that anyone would seriously buy into such an idea. The absurd foolishness of such a thought is self-evident. God did not give us His grace to sin, but to save us from sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called grace that justifies sin “cheap grace.” True grace justifies the sinner, not the sin.
During the early 1900’s a Russian monk by the name Rasputin became a religious advisor to the Romanov family, the last imperial dynasty to rule Russia. Rasputin taught that salvation came through repeated experiences of sin and repentance. He argued that because those who sin more require more forgiveness, those who sin with abandon will as they repent experience greater joy. Therefore, according to Rasputin, it is the believer’s duty to sin.
That’s the risk of grace. Some may twist it and pervert it. But they misunderstand the purpose of God’s grace and how it works. Some have reduced it to easy believism that excuses lifestyles that have nothing to do with following Christ or His Word. Grace is never a license to sin, an excuse for wrong behavior. The evidence of genuine grace in our lives is a changed life, a new nature and new mind. This is where justification and sanctification work together. A justified life is one that God declares righteous because of their faith in Christ. We spoke about this last week. The righteousness we have is forensic or a legal declaration. But Paul is going to show us a life that God declares righteous will be a life that becomes righteous as well. This is sanctification – God’s grace working in us to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). It is a process that we daily grow in and one in which none of us has yet arrived (Phil. 1:6). That said, we should never be afraid a gospel of grace. Without it, we would not have a gospel at all.
First, Paul says there is something we need to guard. Guard against a gospel that misrepresents genuine grace.
- Something we need to know. Paul says there is something you need to know. Three times
in the following verses Paul is going to say there is something we need to know (V.3, V.6, V.9). Paul never taught for the sake of information alone but transformation. He wants us to understand why it is we’re now dead to sin.
- We are identified with Christ in baptism. Or do you not know that all of us who have
Been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (Romans 6:3). Baptism has two basic meanings:1) To dip or immerse, 2) To be identified with. Paul seems to have both a literal and figurative baptism in mind. When you trusted Christ, you were buried with Him His death and raised in new life in Him. This is a spiritual reality that took place the moment you trusted Christ. Through your faith in Christ you are identified with His death, burial, and resurrection. You were permanently separated from being controlled by your old life. This happened for me in 1973; I died to sin. I was separated from the power of my sin nature and given a whole new nature from God.
But the second idea of baptism is at work here as well. The Bible tells us once we’ve placed our trust in Christ, we’re to be baptized. We’re demonstrating our faith to the world that we’ve been buried with Christ and raised in new life. Baptism then is an outward symbol of an inward truth.
Paul is not saying water baptism saves us. He’s made it abundantly clear in Romans 3-5 that we’re saved by grace not by works. So, when Paul says do you not know that all of us have been baptized into Christ, he’s asking have you forgotten what baptism means? You’re now identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Because we’ve been buried with Christ, it means we’ve been permanently released from the bondage of sin. Paul wants us to know this with absolute certainty.
- We have new life in Christ. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism
into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:4). Somehow, and we can’t understand, but by our faith in Christ through God’s grace we were made to participate with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection that took place more than 2,000 years ago. Paul wants us to know that just as it is a historical fact that Jesus died, so it is a fact that we died. Just as it is a historical fact that Jesus rose from the grave, so we too rose to newness of life in Him. This newness of life refers to a newness of quality and character. Just as sin characterized our old life, so righteousness now characterizes our new life.
The Bible is filled with descriptions of our new life in Christ. In Ezekiel it says we receive a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), and a new spirit (Ezekiel 18:31). Psalm 40:3 says we receive a new song. Revelation 2:17 says we receive a new name. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 we’re a new creation. Paul’s point is simply that where there is new life, there is a new way of living.
Let me close with this. There is a Kodak moment, a defining point, in my mind of my early walk with Christ. It was a clear spring night while I was making my way across the Navy base where I was stationed. There were a number of other believers around me who had, in my mind, spiritually arrived. They made it look easy. They were free. They seemed to glide with grace in their relationship with Christ. On the other hand, I was feeling fatigued and somewhat hopeless about this whole idea of being a Christian. I remember distinctly feeling exhausted and discouraged.
As I grew in my Christian walk, the moments of discouragement did not diminish, but increased. I had a sincere heart-felt desire to please God, but frustration and the feeling of being trapped in my old life consumed me. Even though I prayed for God to change me, I could never shake the feeling that I was destined to remain in this spiritual concentration camp. Somehow, I knew I could not give up. I kept trusting and seeking God’s Word. Then, God began showing me what the real problem was. It was not a heart problem; it was a head problem. I knew I was “officially” free, but did not know how to practically live out the freedom Christ had purchased for me. I did not understand God’s grace. I did know I was a new creation in Christ and did not need to listen to the old voices holding me in bondage. I began to realize that I really did not understand what God had done in my life when surrendered my life to Him. I did not understand God’s justification – that I’d been declared righteous in Christ. Nor did I understand His process of sanctification – the very righteousness God in declaration, He would work out in application (Phil. 1:6; 2:13).