(From a message given at the Berean Bible Fellowship 2019 winter conference in Inverness, Florida.)
“Day one: I went for a walk down a street. I fell into a hole. I didn’t see it. It took me a long time to get out. It’s not my fault.
“Day two: I went for a walk down the same street. I fell in the same hole. It took me a long time to get out. Why did I do that?
“Day three: I went for a walk down the same street. I fell in the same hole. I got out quickly. It is my fault.
“Day four: I went for a walk down the same street. I saw the hole. I walked around it.
“Day five: I went for a walk down a different street.” [James MacDonald, Lord Change Me (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2012), eBook.]
We all fall and have fallen into the hole of sin and find it hard to get out of sin’s consequences. However, we don’t need to continue in sin and keep falling in that same hole habitually day after day. That is Paul’s teaching in Romans 6. Here Paul addresses sanctification: change in the daily life of the believer, and walking “down a different street” for the glory of God.
By Grace We Are Dead to Sin
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
Romans 6 explains the power in the believer to live apart from the sins of the unbelieving world listed in Romans 1:18-3:32. In those verses, we learn about the sins of ingratitude, wickedness, perversion, covetousness, envy, deceit, backbiting, pride, disobedience to parents, cursing, bitterness, and so on. Because we still have an old nature after we believe, believers are still capable of committing these sins, any and all of them. The believer can continue to live unrighteous and ungodly after getting saved. However, Paul teaches in Romans 6 that the Cross of Christ broke the power of sin, and the believer can live righteously and godly by grace.
There is a sharp turn going from Romans 5 to Romans 6. Paul’s subject turns from justification to sanctification, that is, practical sanctification. Let’s look at some differences between justification and our practical sanctification.
- Justification is the act whereby God declares a person righteous.
- Justification happens at the moment one trusts Christ as Savior.
- Justification is an event.
- Justification happens once and only once.
- Justification delivers from the guilt and penalty of sin.
- Justification cannot be repeated.
- Justification is the work and miracle of a moment.
- Justification gives you the merit of Christ.
- Sanctification is the act whereby God works out Christ’s righteousness in a believer’s life.
- Sanctification happens moment-by-moment as the believer surrenders one’s life to the Lord.
- Sanctification is a process.
- Sanctification is gradual and continuous.
- Sanctification delivers from the control and the power of sin.
- Sanctification must be repeated as an ongoing process.
- Sanctification is the work and miracle of a lifetime.
- Sanctification gives you the character of Christ.
Now, Paul had just written in Romans 5:20, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” In light of this, he next asked, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (6:1). God, in His super-abounding grace through Christ, redeems from sin, justifies, and gives the gift of righteousness to those who believe.
Therefore, Paul asks, “What shall we say then?” about this super-abounding grace. Perhaps believers should not worry about sin in their lives, and we could continue in sin because this would only result in the manifestation of God’s abounding grace over sin and His greater glory. Would not God’s abounding grace shine all the brighter if we kept on sinning? Since we’re righteous forever in God’s sight, can’t we just sin and live however we want? This is the question Romans 6-8 is meant to answer.
Paul’s emotional answer to this kind of thinking is clear: “God forbid,” or “By no means!” “May it never be!” “Perish the thought!” Justified believers in Christ should never continue in sin that grace may abound. Paul’s teaching is how God’s superabounding grace not only justifies us, it sanctifies us, or sets us apart from sin. His grace doesn’t free us to sin, it frees us from sin and gives us power over it.
The basis of Paul’s answer is in the form of a rhetorical question: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” By posing the rhetorical question, Paul expected the reader to see the answer in the question. Rhetorical questions are not asked in expectation of answers; rather, they make statements.
For example, if I went into my son’s or daughter’s room and asked, as I could, “How are you going to keep your room neat if you throw your clothes on the floor and never hang them up or put them in your dresser?” I’m not looking for an answer or for information. I’m making a statement: You will not keep your room neat if you just throw your clothes on the floor and never hang them up or put them away.
That is the way Paul uses the rhetorical question in Romans 6:2. “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” In other words, you should not live in sin any longer when you are dead to sin. Then he goes on to explain what he means by this, that by the process of sanctification, believers are to become in practice what we are in Christ: dead to sin and alive to God.
By Grace We Are Baptized into Christ
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).
Christian living depends on Christian learning. Duty is founded on doctrine. If Satan can keep believers ignorant, he can keep them weak. Our sanctification is based on what we “know.” Paul asked, “Know ye not?”
This is something crucial for every believer to know: When we believed the gospel, that Christ died for our sins and rose again, at that moment we were baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). This does not refer to water baptism. When you read the word “baptized” in your Bible, it does not always refer to water. And there is no water in these verses. These are dry verses. To put water baptism in these verses is to rob us of the truth and power that God is intending to convey.
Romans 5:8 teaches, “Christ died for us,” whereas Romans 6:3 teaches that we died with Christ. John Gregory Mantle once wrote, “There is a great difference between realizing, ‘On that Cross He was crucified for me,’ and ‘On that Cross I am crucified with Him.’ The one aspect brings us deliverance from sin’s condemnation, the other from sin’s power.” [John Gregory Mantle, quoted by R. W. DeHaan, “Galatians 2:20 – Outstanding Servants,” Bible.org, published February 2, 2009, https://bible.org/illustration/galatians-220.]
Baptism means being placed into, united to, joined to, or identified with. The moment we trusted Christ for our salvation, we were placed into Christ, united with Him, and joined to Him eternally by the Holy Spirit. This is a most beautiful reality, that an unrighteous sinner is made righteous and joined to God’s righteous Son by faith alone. This is only possible by super-abounding grace.
This leads Paul into the second step in his logic. If believers were baptized into Christ and joined to Him completely, then we were also united with His death. And because we are united with His death, then we are united with His burial. And because we are united with His death and burial, we are joined to and united with His resurrection, and therefore we can and “should walk in newness of life.” That’s the logical sequence of thought.
The believer is united with Christ, so God counts what happened to Christ as having happened to us. God established this union. We are in Christ. His death is our death. His burial is our burial. His resurrection is our resurrection. His newness of life is our newness of life.
Thus, when Paul asked, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” it refers to our death with Christ when He died. Christ’s death is applied to us now, but because Christ died once for all in the past, and we were united to that, our death to sin happened, to God’s way of seeing things, on the day Christ died. Thus, the instruction is not a present progressive, ongoing tense: “We are dying to sin.” It is not a future tense: “We will die to sin.” It is not an imperative: “Die to sin!” Nor is it an exhortation: “You should die to sin.” It is a final, past tense: “You died to sin.”
The simple truth is that if you are a believer, you have already died to sin. It’s a past event and an accomplished fact. It means that, now and forevermore, you have been set free from the ruling power of sin in your life by the Cross of Christ. Now, having been crucified with Christ, we are to move forward with knowledge of this unchangeable truth so that we might not live in sin any longer. Through our union and identification with Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection, we are now dead to sin and alive to God.
What Paul wanted believers to “know” is that, when we believed the gospel, even though we didn’t see it, hear it, or feel it, before God, we were made one with Christ by the Spirit’s baptizing us into Him, and at the same time we were also united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Now His death is my death. His resurrection is my resurrection. His victory over sin is my victory over sin. His triumph over death is my triumph over death. His life is my life. His resurrection power is my power, which He wants me to use to live a life that glorifies Him. This is practical sanctification. It is made possible entirely by grace.
We have been forever freed from sin’s penalty and sin’s power. Because we are united with Christ in His resurrection life, “even so we also should walk in newness of life” (v. 4). We have newness of life in Christ. By God’s grace, now we “should” live a new life because we can live a new life. By virtue of our union with Christ’s resurrection, we can even appropriate the power of His resurrection, a power that enables us to live in
By Grace We Are Freed from Sin
“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:5-7).
“Christian author and teacher Dr. Bill Gillham likes to illustrate how our behavior is linked to our position and identity in Christ through a humorous analogy. He describes a scene in which a man is suddenly accosted by a ferocious bear while on a walk through the woods. The man runs into a shack. Though the structure is securely buttressed by thick timbers, he is unaware of that fact, and he thinks the grizzly will burst through at any moment. This man was safe the moment he fled into the shack. However, since he was ignorant of that fact, he trembled in terror. As Dr. Gillham points out, the poor man could have died of a fear-induced heart attack even though he was secure. Dr. Gillham’s premise is: If we do not understand who we are in Christ and our security in Him, we will act accordingly.” [“Romans 1-6 Devotionals & Sermon Illustrations,” subheading “Romans 6 – Freedom,” Precept Austin, updated November 10, 2016, https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_illustrations_-_part_2]
That is what Paul wants the believer to know in this passage, that we are secure in Christ. By the connecting word “For,” verse 5 is given as the basis for our walking in newness of life (v. 4), that we do so in the security of our future resurrection (v. 5).
We are united with Christ in His resurrection, and this guarantees our future resurrection. God’s grace and the security we have in Christ is to motivate the believer to live unto God. We don’t need to live by fear, but instead, by grace. Having been justified by faith and baptized into Christ, we live with certainty, knowing that being in Christ, “we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.”
The reason we know this is that we have been joined to Christ’s all-sufficient payment for sin at the Cross. This secures our freedom from sin. Thus, death cannot hold us, just as it could not and did not hold Christ, and He rose again. Being in Christ, sin has no power over us. The certainty of our future resurrection shows that we are, in fact, dead to sin and free from its power over us. Every believer retains the “old man” (v. 6) at salvation, but Paul teaches us that the power of that old nature was “destroyed,” broken, and defeated at the cross. Being joined with Christ’s death, Paul tells us that we are “freed from sin” and have liberty and power in Christ not to serve sin any longer.
The old man is like a chicken with its head cut off: it’s dead, but it still flops around and gives us trouble. But we have power over it. While the old man is still active within us experientially, positionally, before God, it’s crucified, dead, and buried. Thus, by faith God wants us to live according to the fact that it’s dead and buried and to live unto God in newness of life.
The issue of this chapter is living in sin. Paul is not teaching sinless perfection, that the believer can never and does never commit a sin. The issue Paul is talking about is that we have been enabled not to “live any longer therein” (v. 2). In other words, we have been empowered for sin not to be the master of us, that we not sin habitually, that sin does not reign in our lives as a lifestyle. Paul wrote about continuing in sin in verse 1, living in sin in verse 2, not serving sin in verse 6, and not letting sin have dominion or authority over us in verse 14.
We all fall into sinful attitudes, thoughts, and actions—the “hole in the street.” Paul’s teaching here is that when we place our faith in Christ as our Savior, we were joined to His death and thus joined to His mastery over sin. Now believers, through Christ, can have mastery over sin, and we don’t need to be a slave to sin, or be held down or held back by sin any longer. God doesn’t want us to accept bondage to sin, which pulls us down; He wants us to stand in our liberty from sin, and live unto God.
Our bodies are no longer helpless to sin. The power of sin is not to be the defining direction of our lives. Christ is to be the defining direction of our lives! We are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). The power of the old man, our body of sin, was destroyed in Christ. In Him, we are freed from sin, and the body can now become the instrument of righteousness to the glory of God (Rom. 6:13).
In our sanctification, God would have us live our lives manifesting Christ’s resurrection life and power, living a life of freedom from sin’s control. The believer has died to the old life of sin and has been raised to enjoy and live a new life of righteousness in Christ.
By Grace We Will Live with Christ
“Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God” (Rom. 6:8-10).
Paul wrote that “we believe that we shall also live with Him” (v. 8). Verses 9 and 10 support this belief in 5 steps.
- Verse 9a: We know that Christ rose from the dead. The work was done. Sin was dealt with completely at the Cross. Death could not hold Him in the grave.
- Verse 9b: We know that He “dieth no more.” Jesus Christ is life and He will never die again. He arose and lives forever. As the Lord said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).
- Verse 9c: We know that “death hath no more dominion over Him.” Christ arose triumphant over death. Death is a defeated foe. Christ is master over death. Death has no dominion or authority over Him. He is the Destroyer of death.
- Verse 10a: We know, “in that He died, He died unto sin once.” He died unto sin once for all. He dealt with and paid for sin completely, powerfully, and perfectly, and the Father was satisfied.
- Verse 10b: We know, “in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.” He died and was raised from the dead. He lives, and He lives unto God.
“Knowing” and trusting all this is how we experience the present power of Christ’s resurrection in our life. God means for us to feel the firmness and truth of those five steps in our soul by faith. We have been baptized into and united with Christ’s death and resurrection. These things that are true of Christ are true of us in our union with Him.
- Christ was “raised from the dead” and, in Him, we were and will be raised from the dead. Death could not hold Christ because sin was paid for in full. Because we died with Christ, death will not hold us in the grave, and we will be raised. And we “shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (v. 5).
- Christ, being raised, “dieth no more.” Likewise, when we are raised, we will die no more. We have eternal life in Christ and we will live with Christ forever.
- Death has “no more dominion over” Christ. In Christ, death has no more dominion over us. We can live confidently for Christ without the spirit of fear. Christ won the victory over death and has authority over it. In Him, we have authority and victory over death.
- Christ “died unto sin once.” Having been crucified with Christ, we died unto sin once. The penalty and the power of sin have been dealt with once and completely in Christ. Now we go forward in life with this knowledge of already having died unto sin in Christ, and we live in our freedom from sin.
- Being raised, Christ “liveth unto God.” In Christ, like Christ, we live unto God.
Paul wanted the Body of Christ to believe and experience the confidence, power, victory, hope, security, and grace of these truths. Living by faith in them is what makes our union with Christ a powerful experience. Sin cannot enslave people who put their focus on their life, power, and future in Christ. Doing so, we will walk in newness of life.
By Grace We Should Yield Ourselves unto God
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:11-13).
These spiritual realities are to affect our lives by faith. Pastor C. R. Stam used to say, “What God has done for us by grace, we should appropriate by faith.”
In light of all these wonderful truths that are true of us by grace, Paul teaches us to “reckon…yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.” “Reckon” means making a decision based on rock-solid reality. We are “dead to sin” in Christ. We should constantly view ourselves this way by faith. We should reckon ourselves to be what God has made us in Christ by grace.
If we fail to believe that sin no longer has power over us, we will be much more vulnerable to temptation, to live in sin, and allow it to rule and direct our lives. But knowing the truth that we are dead to sin in Christ, and then, by faith, reckoning it to be true and applying it to our hearts, we can live “dead indeed” to sin, and we can, by grace, live in victory over sin. This is practical sanctification.
We do not have to live habitually in sin or let it “reign” in our mortal bodies (v. 12). Instead, because the power of sin has been broken, we can, by faith, choose not to obey the lusts of the old man. The believer can instead obey God’s Word and let Christ reign in life.
Negatively, Paul wrote in verse 13 that we should not yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness to commit sin. Positively, Paul wrote we should instead yield ourselves unto God as people who are alive from the dead. Speaking of our “members,” with our eyes and what we look at, our ears and what we listen to, our mouths and what we say, our hands and what we do, our feet and where we go, our hearts and what we love, our minds and what we think about and the decisions we make, God wants these all to be “instruments of righteousness.” God wants us to be people who allow His righteousness to touch every area of our lives and who live alive unto God.
When asked the secret of his service for Christ, George Muller (1805-1898), known for his great faith and ministry to orphans, answered: “‘There was a day when I died,’ and, as he spoke, he bent lower, until he almost touched the floor. Continuing he added, ‘Died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren or friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.’” [“The Secret of George Muller’s Service,” Webtruth, September 7, 2015, http://www.webtruth.org/great-quotes/the-secret-of-georgemullers-service.]
That is the testimony of one who lived “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 11). That’s what sanctification by grace is all about. May that be our testimony for the glory of God!