The Epistle to the Romans – 12 (“You are . . . so now become what you are”)
Part 1 – “Justification by Faith Alone” (Chapters 1-8)
Just to recap on what we’ve learned thus far from Romans 1-5. The first is that we are not saved by keeping the law of God, or, indeed, by anything that we do. The second is that the grace of God is at its best where sin is at its worst.
If we understand these two truths, a question may have crossed your mind: ‘If I am not saved by righteous living, why should I bother with righteous living now? It cannot make me any more saved than I am. The grace of God is at its best where sin is at its worst, so the more I sin, the more I will experience of the grace and kindness of God.’ Perhaps such a question has never occurred to you. But Paul had often heard people ask this question. He now raises it in the letter, so that he can answer it. In fact, he not only answers the question, he reacts rather impatiently and sharply when he says ~ “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Rom.6:2).
Paul then goes on to show that the truly justified (saved) sinner will take no such attitude. He will not sin that grace may abound (Rom.6:1), nor will he sin because he is under grace and not under law (Rom.6:14). On the contrary, the Gospel method of salvation by grace leads to obedience – it inevitably results in good works.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rom.6:1-14 (ESV) ~ “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
We see that this chapter starts with two questions:
∞ “What shall we say then?”
∞ “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
In order to understand what lies behind these two questions, we must first realise that there is no literary break between Romans 5 and Romans 6. Paul is still dealing with the subject of sin, rather than sins, but now he is going to show that Christ’s victory at Calvary liberates us not only from sin’s penalty but also from its power. Our security gives us no excuse to “continue in sin” (6:1). On the contrary, we who were once “dead IN sin” are now “dead TO sin.”
Second, we need to go back to Rom.5:20-21 ~ “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In vs.20, Paul clearly says that grace abounds all the more where sin increases. He is not starting here with a new and or unrelated subject, but because of what he said in the previous section, certain things must follow and be discussed.
3. PRACTICE CORRESPONDS TO POSITION (vss.1-2):
The question that Paul is answering, is whether the teaching of the Gospel (i.e. salvation by grace through faith) permit or even encourage sinful living?
The answer, an emphatic denial, extends over chapters 6-8. Here in chapter 6 the answer centres around three key words: “know” (vss.3, 6), “reckon” or “consider” (vs.11) and “present” (vs.13). It will help us to follow Paul’s argument in this chapter if we understand the difference between the believer’s position and his practice. His position is his standing in Christ. His practice is what he is or should be in everyday life.
Grace puts us into the position, then teaches us to walk worthy of it. Our position is absolutely perfect because we are in Christ. Our practice should increasingly correspond to our position. It never will correspond perfectly until we see the Saviour in heaven, but we should become more and more conformed to His image in the meantime.
Paul’s first answer in vs.2, namely that we cannot continue in sin because we have died to sin, is a positional truth. When Jesus died to sin, He died as our Representative. He died not only as our Substitute – that is, for us or in our place – but He also died as our Representative – that is, as us. Therefore, when He died, we died. He died to the whole question of sin, settling it once and for all. All those who are in Christ are seen by God as having died to sin.
This does not mean that believers are sinless. It means that, believers, through their identification with Christ, are dead to the guilt of sin. They are viewed by God as if they themselves died in the death of Christ who suffered the full penalty of sin’s guilt. Sin can no longer make any legal claim on them; thus, they are dead to it – free from its condemnation.
That believers are not dead to the influence or power of sin in their lives however, is proved both by the Bible and Christian experience (e.g. – see Rom.7:14-25).
4. BAPTISM AND CHIRST’S CRUCIFICTION (vss.3-4):
The fact of the believer’s death to sin is established first by a reference to the significance of baptism and secondly, by showing why Christ was crucified.
The first keyword in Paul’s presentation is “know” (vs.3). ~ “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?” Here he introduces the subject of baptism to show that it is morally incongruous (Afr. = “onversoenbaar”) for believers to go on in sin. But the question immediately arises, to which baptism is he referring?
When a person is saved, he is baptised into Christ Jesus in the sense that he is identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. This is not the same as the baptism in (or of) the Spirit, though both occur simultaneously (there is no “second blessing” as the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups believe). The latter baptism places the believer in the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:13); it is not a baptism into death. The baptism into Christ means that in the reckoning of God, the believer has died with Christ and has risen with Him.
In vs.4, Paul refers to baptism into death ~ “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
When Paul speaks of baptism here, he is thinking both of our spiritual identification with Christ and of its portrayal in water baptism. But as the argument advances, he seems to shift this emphasis in a special way to water baptism as he reminds his readers how they were “buried” and “planted together” in the “likeness” of Christ’s death.
In short, someone once said: “Baptism symbolises the believer’s death with Christ to sin and the believer’s resurrection with Christ to a new life. When a believer is buried in the watery grave of baptism, he identifies himself with Christ’s death (thus confessing that he is dead to sin); when he is raised up out of the water, he identifies himself with Christ’s resurrection (thus confessing that He is alive and will walk in newness of life)”.
5. CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION AND MAN’S SIN (vss.5-10):
As we know, Christ was crucified for the purpose of destroying sin. Because of His death on the cross, Christ’s people are justified (freed from the condemnation of sin) in this life and shall be glorified (freed from the presence and influence of sin) in the life to come.
The problem, however, is that all Christians are in constant conflict with indwelling sin even as the apostle John was – he says in 1 John 1:8 ~ “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But yet again, this does not give us the mandate to keep on sinning.
Our Adamic nature (which is subject to sin) is in constant conflict with our renewed nature (which is subject to God’s law). We find in ourselves a deep yearning to do God’s will – this is our innermost desire. But, we also find within ourselves a compelling force that makes us captive to the law of sin and causes us to do the very things that we hate. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves, ‘what assurance of salvation can we find – what hope is there of final victory?’ The Good News is that we find present comfort in the saving work of Christ, through whom we have already been justified (declared righteous) and is thus assured of salvation. Our hope for final deliverance from the struggle rests in God’s promise that He will raise us from the dead in the last day with an incorruptible body completely free from sin. Until that time, however, we must walk in faith and live in hope – ever struggling to put to death the deeds of the body while constantly longing for and striving after the things of the Spirit.
I’ve already said that, because of Christ’s death on the cross, His people are justified in this life and shall be glorified in the life to come.
Verses 8-10 are essentially a summary of what Paul has been teaching about the believer’s death to sin and his new life in Christ. He also stresses the permanence of that awesome and glorious truth.
In vs.8, when Paul says ~ “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him,” he again refers to the fact that believers shall also live with Christ and that obviously applies to the believer’s ultimate eternal presence with Christ in heaven.
Building on this truth, Paul goes on to say in vs.9 ~ “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” The point here is that, because we have died and been raised with Christ (vss.3-5), we, too, shall never die again. The sin that made us subject to death is no longer master over us, just as it no longer is master over Him. It also can never be our executioner!
We must also emphasise two extremely important truths in vs.10:
∞ Christ died to sin (vs.10): It seems that Paul means two things in declaring that Christ died to sin.
o First, He died to the penalty of sin by taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world. He met sin’s legal demand for all mankind who would trust in Him. By their faith in Him, empowered by his divine and limitless grace, believers have forensically died to sin.
o Second, Christ died to the power of sin, forever breaking its power over those who belong to God through their faith in His Son. Paul assured even the immature and sin-prone believers in Corinth that God… ~ “…made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5:21).
∞ Christ died to sin, once for all (vs.10): Second crucial emphasis in vs.10 is that Christ died to sin, once for all. He achieved a victory that will never need repeating, a profound truth that the author of Hebrews stresses again and again ~ “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebr.10:10 – also see: 7:26-27; 9:12, 28; 10:10).
6. CONSIDER YOURSELF DEAD TO SIN (vs.11-12):
Paul has described what is true of us positionally. Now he turns to the practical outworking of this truth in our lives. We are to “reckon” ourselves… ~ “…to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The ESV uses the word “consider” instead of “reckon” and this is the second keyword in Paul’s presentation. “Consider” (or “reckon”) here means to accept what God says about us as true and to live in the light of it.
If Christ’s death was a death to sin (which it was), and if His resurrection was a resurrection to God (which it was), and if by faith-baptism we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection (which we have been), then we ourselves have died to sin and risen to God. We must therefore reckon (consider) ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, or by reason of our union with, Christ Jesus.
We reckon ourselves dead to sin when we respond to temptation as a dead man would. “One day Augustine was accosted by a woman who had been his mistress before his conversion. When he turned, and walked away quickly, she called after him, ‘Augustine, it’s me! It’s me!’ Quickening his pace, he called back over his shoulder, ‘Yes, I know, but it’s no longer me!'” What he meant was that he was dead to sin and alive to God. A dead man has nothing to do with immorality, lying, cheating, gossiping, or any other sin. Now we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. This means that we are called to holiness, worship, prayer, service, and fruit bearing.
The explanation Paul gives for dead people not sinning can be summed up in three steps:
∞ When Christ died, believers in some crucial sense died in him and with him.
o Rom.6:5 ~ “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death…”
o Rom.6:6 ~ “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with.”
o Rom.6:8 ~ “Now if we have died with Christ.”
So, there is a union with Christ that makes what happened to Him valid for us in Him. When He died, we died. That is the key to why the justified do not go on sinning. Dead people don’t sin.
∞ When Christ rose, believers in some crucial sense were made alive in him.
o Rom.6:4b ~ “…so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
o Rom.6:5 ~ “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be [united with him] in the likeness of His resurrection.”
The believer’s union with Christ not only means that we died when He died, but that in His resurrection our new life to God was secured. In some sense, we died with Him and came alive to God with Him. Paul is cautious here, and doesn’t say that we rose (past tense) with Him.
∞ Therefore, believers are commanded to become in practice what we are in Christ: dead to sin and alive to God.
o Rom.6:11 ~ “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
o Rom.6:13 ~ “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead.”
Notice carefully, Paul does not draw the conclusion of a mechanical or automatic obedience from our death and resurrection with Christ. He does not say, “Since you all died to sin in Christ and are alive to God in Him, there is no need for me to command you to do anything, and there is no act of obedience involved. There is only an automatic, mechanical outcome of sinlessness. You died to sin; so you automatically don’t sin. You are alive to God; so you automatically serve God. No need for commands.” No, that is not what he says. Instead he says, “you died, so consider yourselves dead. You are alive, so consider yourselves alive to God. You are . . . so now become what you are.”
We are justified by grace through faith alone because of our union with Christ whose righteousness is counted as ours. And now we see that this same union with Christ explains why we will not continue in sin.
7. WE ARE UNDER GRACE (vss.13-14):
The third keyword in Paul’s presentation is “present” (vs.13). ~ “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” We must not just see ourselves as dead to sin. We must see ourselves as alive unto God. It is not enough to turn away from something – we must turn to something.
Paul refers to our “members” ~ “Do not present your members to sin…” What is a member? A member in this case is a body part. Where has the problem been all along? Has it been with our bodies or with our spirits? The problem has been with our bodies. It is the flesh which lust against the spirit. By offering up our bodies, our members as instruments of righteousness.
In vs.14 Paul says that… ~ “sin will have no dominion over (us), since (we) are not under law but under grace.” What Paul is saying here, is that we do not have to allow sin to have dominion over us. We must reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive unto God and yield our body members as servants of righteousness. Remember that victory over sin is available only to those who have been justified by faith. Are you trusting in Christ for your righteousness, or are you still going about seeking to establish your own?
The important thing to remember is that the doctrine of justification by faith does not give us permission to sin, it gives us power over sin. How do we gain that power? We gain it by reckoning ourselves as dead unto sin, and yielding our members as instruments of righteousness.
8. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
In conclusion, Paul reminds the Roman believers that the Gospel they are hearing is the Gospel of grace. For those under the law, sin is the master, simply because the law has no power to enable one to resist sin. Law does an excellent job of pointing out failure, but it cannot empower one to keep from failing. Only one thing can: grace.
Paul had already told his readers the grace will reign through righteousness to bring eternal life (Rom.5:21), and the time for that in the individual’s life is once the identification with Christ’s death and resurrection has been made. Once the identification with Christ is made, it is the constant flow of grace into the life of the believer that… “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright on godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
We must realise that conformity to Jesus Christ it’s a lifelong process, and the goal will never be attained completely in this life. That is why Paul refers to the continual change being wrought in us with his expression in 2 Cor.3:18 ~ And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Because sanctification is a process, there will always be conflict within us between the “flesh,” or our sinful nature, and the Holy Spirit (see – Gal.5:17), but because we are born of God, the Holy Spirit is continually shining His “spotlight of conviction” into the recess of our hearts, revealing sinful attitudes and actions of which we are not always aware of and in reaction to this, we must constantly and actively apply the words of Paul in Eph.4:29 – We must put off our old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, but we must be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and we must put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. We are to put off all these sinful thoughts and acts and replace it with those actions and thoughts that glorifies God.