With every correct doctrine of the Bible there is the potential for heresy and distortion. We have undoubtedly all met people who proclaim that they have had a spiritual conversion yet seem to have no subsequent change in the way they live. They call themselves “Christians” but they continue to live immoral lives, cheat people, and basically look no different than the rest of the world.
These are the people Paul addresses in Romans 6. Throughout the first part of Romans Paul has argued that salvation and new life is a gift of God, given through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, that is received by faith. We are “saved” when we trust what God has done on our behalf.
The problem comes in when people start thinking, “Since God will forgive me, it doesn’t matter how I live my life.” Paul goes after that way of thinking in the first 14 verses of Romans 6.
THE TWOFOLD NATURE OF OUR SALVATION (1-10)
Paul declares that any notion that we should continue in sin to allow God’s grace to shine is absurd. Paul declares that we (believers) “died to sin”. Since we died to sin, it only figures that we should leave that life behind. We know that we are not sinless. We are aware that we continue to be tempted. But there is a sense in which we are dead to sin. We have died to sin’s power.
To illustrate his point Paul uses the image of baptism. He says the act of baptism illustrates our new relationship with Christ. When a person is baptized (by immersion) they are taken under the water to symbolize the fact that we died with Christ and are brought back up out of the water symbolizing our rising with Christ to new life. Our union with Christ is so strong that when He died on the cross we can say that we died to our life of sin with Him. When He rose from the grave it can be said that we rose to new life also.
Unfortunately, many people miss the point of this verse by going off into a discussion of the nature and purpose of baptism. Some conclude that this passage shows that baptism should always be by immersion. It is obvious that the mode of baptism Paul is thinking about is immersion, but that doesn’t mean it is the only mode of baptism practiced or required.
Others say that this passage teaches us that baptism is necessary for salvation. Paul spent the first five chapters arguing that salvation is by faith ALONE. His comments on baptism are meant to illustrate the true nature of our conversion. When we trust Christ we are not just forgiven of our sin, we also die to the old way of living and rise to a new life.
Again, please understand, Paul is not trying to teach us about baptism. He is using baptism to help us understand the two dimensions of salvation. We died to sin and we are raised to a new life. Salvation involves transformation!
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul said, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come.” In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Perhaps I can draw you a picture. Suppose you have served in the military. You have faced the abuse of your Drill Sergeant in basic training and had to endure his transfer into your unit where he continued to intimidate. One day you get your discharge papers in the mail. On the day you become a civilian again you see you former Drill Sergeant. He barks an order in your direction and you start to obey. Suddenly you remember that this man no longer has any authority over you. So you smile, wave, and keep on walking.
When we place our faith and trust in Jesus we are discharged to a different service. Sin (our Drill Sergeant) no longer has any legal right over us. Our debt to sin was paid by Jesus. Sin’s collection agency has no power over us.
The idea that a believer will continue to indulge in sin is just as absurd as a prisoner who serves his prison time, is handed his release papers, has the cell door opened for him, but chooses to stay in his cell!
When we put our trust in Christ, what is true of Him becomes true of us. The power of sin is broken. It no longer has any hold on us. The debt has been paid and we are free to live in the new life that Christ makes possible.
THE MINDSET THAT LEADS TO GODLY LIVING (V. 11)
Paul tells us that we must “consider” or “reckon” ourselves dead to sin. In other words, we are to take this truth to heart and apply it to our own lives. Paul is not merely advocating what we call “positive thinking”. He is urging us to take the Bible at its word. We are told to trust God’s truth rather than our experience.
Suppose you have an ache in your belly. You enter the hospital and are told that your gall bladder is bad. On the designated morning you are taken to surgery. When the pain medication wears off in a day or so you still have an ache in your belly. The evidence seems to say the problem is still there. However, you don’t worry because you “consider yourself” healed. You take the Doctor at his word that he took out the part of your body that was causing you the problem. You now view the pain differently. You view the pain as temporary rather than as something that threatens your life.
Let’s try another illustration. Suppose someone (who was credible) said to you that they made a deposit of $100,000 in your account. Even though it was a fact, it wouldn’t do you any good until you reckoned or considered the fact to be true and began to use the money to pay your bills.
If we do what Paul tells us to do we will tell ourselves, “I don’t have to live this way anymore! Sin has no power over me. God has set me free and I have the power of Christ to move in a different direction. If I sin, it’s because I have chosen to do so.”
We no longer have to sin.
- The power of your addiction is overcome
- You can stop stealing
- You can leave the immoral lifestyle
- You don’t have to keep eating, spending, or abusing
- You don’t have to give in to lust, anger, or envy
- You don’t have to gossip
God’s Spirit has set us free. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Our job is to continually tell ourselves the truth. We must confront the lies that say, “It’s just the way I am” or “this is the way I was raised.” We must stop hiding behind the idea that we are helpless to the whims of our appetites and the influence of society. We have died to the power of sin! It has no control over us unless we give it that control. We must remind ourselves of this truth at every opportunity.
THE ACTIONS OF A TRUE BELIEVER (12-14)
Paul concludes the discussion by saying,
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Paul has told us the truth about the transforming power of Christ. He has told us to embrace that truth and now he tells us that we should make choices on the basis of this truth.
If we really belong to God, then we should live like it. If we really do trust Him, then we should follow Him in our daily living. We must stop pandering to our sinful nature. The notion of an unchanged believer is a contradiction in terms. Transformation is the result of true faith.
Of course, the process of sanctification (being made holy) is a lifelong process. We aren’t going to be perfect. We will still sin on occasion. However, the true believer should be making progress.
Think about it this way. Suppose you were right-handed. You wrote with your right hand, threw the ball with your right hand, and did most of your work with your right hand. Suppose your right hand was severely injured. Now you have to learn with your left hand. You are willing to learn but development takes time. At first you can barely feed yourself. Everything seems awkward and forced. Your handwriting is illegible and you throw the ball like a preschooler. But you keep working. Eventually you learn to manage with your left hand.
We have been sin-oriented all our lives. Now we begin the difficult task of learning to turn from sin and follow the Lord. At first, our new life may seem doomed to failure. The image of Christ may be barely recognizable in us. But if we keep working and continue to work at following the Lord, we will begin to see the life of Christ built in us.
We have seen this same principle in history. The people of Iraq are now free but learning to live as free people takes time and hard work.
Paul is telling us to orient our lives toward God. We should stop putting ourselves in positions where we are likely to fall into sin. We must evaluate our friendships, our amusements, our purchases, our leisure time activities, and the priorities of our lives. We must deliberately stop pursuing the Devil’s agenda and start pursuing the things of God.
Thomas Costain’s history, THE THREE EDWARDS, described the life of Raynald Ill, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.” After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.
This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter.
When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year. . . a prisoner of his own appetite.
This is a picture of the way too many Christians live their lives. Freedom is available but they choose to continue to live in the prison of sin. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we want the life of God or do we prefer to continue to live in the prison of sin?” We know what the correct answer is. The question is, which do we truly want? Do we trust Christ enough to follow Him or do we merely want Him to take away our feelings of guilt?
The true believer is the one who trusts Christ for salvation and is willing to follow Him into new life. Next week we are going to look at this life of faith more closely.
One of the questions people ask is, “Is real change possible?” We know we can learn new skills, we can get an extreme makeover to change our appearance, but is it possible for a human heart and personality to change? Is it really possible to be free from the things that enslave us? Paul answers “Yes!”
The key to our freedom is Jesus Christ. It may sound trite and simplistic but it’s true. History is filled with the stories of those who were set free from their past mistakes, their powerful addictions, their smoldering hatred, and their godless living. These people were transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. That same power is available to you.
God offers you a new beginning. He offers to forgive the guilt of your past and to give you a new start. He promises to set you free from the demons of your life and to lead you to a new life of meaning and purpose.
It all starts when in honesty and humility we come to Christ with our open hands and say, “I ask you to save me and make me new.” We must believe that when Jesus died on the cross, He died in our place, for our sin. And we must believe that His resurrection proves that His sacrifice was sufficient and that new life is now available to those who will believe.
There is nothing you can do to earn this salvation. It is a staggering and undeserved gift. If you will receive this gift you will be granted a place in Heaven and you will begin to discover a taste of Heaven on earth.
If you have never considered God’s offer of salvation, please do so today. Don’t be hasty. It’s a life-changing decision. Consider it fully. Do you really want to change? If so, the invitation is extended. It’s up to you to respond.
If you have responded to Christ but you want to see God’s transformation in your life, then it is time to consider or reckon sin to be dead over you.
- When you wake up each morning remind yourself that you have been set free in Christ.
- Every time you face a temptation say to yourself, “I don’t have to give in! I am no longer helpless. God’s strength is sufficient for me to resist this temptation . . . if I give in, I am choosing to walk away from the Lord.”
- Every time you stumble . . .get back up! Claim the victory and ask God to help you to tap into His power so you can experience His victory in your daily living.
- As you plan your calendar, spending, and leisure activities ask: “am I giving myself to serve sin or to serve righteousness? Am I going God’s way or am I turning away from God’s way?” Make deliberate choices for your life.
- To keep you from getting discouraged use your non-dominant hand and write on a card, “I am dead to sin, but alive to Christ”. It won’t be pretty but it will remind you that the process of growing in Christ will take time but with practice, growth will happen.
There will always be those who use the message of grace as an excuse to indulge their sinful desires. However, those who understand the true nature of God’s grace will find more than an excuse for sin. They will find the power for real change and a life that is better and richer than they ever imagined.