An excuse for sin? (Romans 6:1-14)

You can also watch this back (with discussion exercises) here

When I started work after University, my workplace had a clocking in system. Each week we would collect a time card and then put it into a machine to be time stamped when we arrived in the morning, started and finished our lunchbreak and went home in the evening.  A few years later, the directors decided that this was all a bit old-fashioned, and the timecards and machines were removed.  In the lead up to the change this caused great concern among the middle management. Without the time-card system, how on earth could we make sure that people would work their agreed hours?

There is a similar fear in place concerning holiness.  If we are saved by grace, then doesn’t that mean that The Law no longer matters and if we are no longer under the law then. 

How does Paul deal with this issue?

V1 introduces a false hypothesis, a faulty conclusion to Paul’s argument so far  …. The Gospel means that God’s grace abounds where sin abounds -therefore we should continue in sin to enable more of God’s grace. Paul’s response is an emphatic  “surely not” or “by no means” (v2) this would conflict with the fundamental narrative of the Gospel that we have died to sin and so have left it behind.

V3 To demonstrate this point, Paul introduces us to the concept of “faith union with Christ symbolised by the act of baptism. I can’t mention this verse without making the side point that the mode and timing of baptism which best reflects the imagery here is believer’s baptism by immersion. This is for two reasons: first, the baptism is reflecting the specific state of the recipient as one who has died with Christ and entered the new life of the Gospel. The imagery of death, burial and resurrection are vividly brought home as the believer is lowered into and under the water and raised back up out of it.  So, first of all, we were baptized into Jesus’ death.  Note that pushes us even further than the concept of substitute. Yes, Christ died on my behalf and in my place but there is a sense in which I share in his death.  Furthermore, this picks up on the contrast we saw in chapter 5, if in a sense I died in and with Adam to God and to paradise, I now die with and in Christ to the life of rebellion in Satan’s kingdom of sin and death.

V4-5 The implication of sharing in Christ’s death is that we are also united in his resurrection. This is both about sharing physical resurrection so that there is a future dimension here as we look forward but it is also about the walk or life that we live now.  Verse 4 also includes the fascinating phrase about Christ that he “was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”. I think this points to God’s effortless majesty at work and also suggests that resurrection was fitting to the praise and glory of the Father so that he was triumphant and glorified meaning that Christ’ resurrection was inevitable.

So, who was it that died with Christ on the cross? V6 says that it was our “old self” or “old man.” This emphasises the discontinuity that exists between our pre and post conversion identities. I have a new status and identity in Christ. This emphasises how far away my guilt and sin has been removed. The power and affect of sin in our lives pre conversion is emphasised by the reference to our “sinful body” but in effect that no longer exists. This means that we are free. Sin enslaved us. One image we have seen throughout these chapters is of two kingdoms. It is though we lived in the kingdom of Satan and just as the Israelites were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, so we too were slaves in that kingdom. Sin takes a hold of our lives, it masters and controls us, it uses us. Even as we believe thatwe are controlling our habits and desires, they are controlling and enslaving us.

V7 is crucial because it talks about death meaning that we are justified or set free from sin.  Justification makes sense here because it means that the penalty has been fully paid for wrongdoing. However, most translations pick up on the freedom that this brings.  The point is that I no longer have any obligation towards sin.  You might argue that the response to “can we go on sinning” is “why would you want to”?  Giving up sin is not about letting go of the good and fun stuff in life, it is not about losing our freedom, it is about gaining freedom from something toxic and destructive.

Freedom from sin is freedom for something (v8). It is freedom to enter a new life. In previous passages we have seen this theme of two kingdoms. If we are dead in the kingdom of sin then this means we are alive in Christ’s kingdom.  We are now with Christ and so our appetite should be for Christlikeness, we will do the things that our new king wants us to do.

V9-11 And now we move to the crucial point. If v 1 sets out a false conclusion to be disproved then what follows is the true conclusion to Paul’s argument. This is where grace is taking us.  We know that Christ’s death was a death to sin and that we died with him. This was a “once for all” death. This is important both because it reminds us of the completeness and finality of Christ’s work and because it warns us that there is not going to be a repeat of this. The writer to the Hebrews warns about hose drifting back into the kingdom of sin again acting as though they are re-crucifying Christ but the crucifixion is a once and for all not to be repeated event. There is no going back for Christ and neither is there for us.  To go back is to make a mockery of his sacrifice. So, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, it’s in the past and we are not going back.

And so, verse 12 offers us the right conclusion. If Jesus has set us free from sin’s condemnation and sin’s hold by grace, through his atoning death so that we are now justified, right with God, the conclusion cannot be that we should continue in sin. Rather, the correct conclusion is that if we have by God’s grace been set free from sin and death then, therefore we should no longer live under their rule.  Sin is not to rule in our bodies, in other words, we are not to give in to lusts, desires, cravings and addictions.

This means that our whole being including the individual parts of our bodies have a new purpose.  If a king calls for obedience and praise then we no longer belong to Satan/sin so we should not offer ourselves in worship to sinful desires. Rather, we are to offer our lives in worship to God. This will lead us to think about what we look at, listen to, speak about, imagine and do. It will cause to think about where we go (v13).

This is reinforced in v14 “Sin will have no dominion over you.”  This links to something that will come up in chapter 8, that The Law, although good, is used by sin in the context of our weakened flesh to dominate and control us by placing us under a burden of guilt and shame. It is this shame that holds us back from fellowship with God and allowing him to work in our lives.  Now that Christ has taken the penalty, The Law can no longer be used to shame and subjugate us.  We are therefore free to enjoy God’s presence in our lives and grow in our love for him.

What are the implications for us?

I want to pick up on three implications or applications here. The first is that these words remind us that the Gospel should motivate us towards godly living not exclude us from it.  This means that I should be challenged not just in terms of the specific things I do and say but in terms of what is setting the agenda in my life. Do I place myself under the influence of things, people and agendas that are more to do with my old life than the new life I have in Christ.

Secondly, this reinforces the point I’ve made on so many occasions for those of us as church leaders that despite all the frustrations we may experience, we should not drift into becoming Guilt Driven Churches. It is grace that will encourage people to grow in godliness not legalism. Indeed recent, shocking stories of bullying and abuse where people have been subjected to physical beatings as discipline and deterrent for sin is a wake up call that the legalism behind such actions belongs to the old life not the new, such measures are associated with the way in which the kingdom off sin uses the law to enslave not with life in Christ.

Thirdly, we are also reminded that the opposite danger of “licence” is to be avoided too. The Gospel should motivate godly living and therefore our responsibility is to teach people what that looks like and to challenge them to growth in Christ. It means that church discipline should be used where there is public, persistent and serious sin.

Sanctification and godliness are not at odds with grace but rather the expected response to and fruit of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.