DYING TO LIVE
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2
Obviously in Paul’s day there were a lot of people around who made light of their sin and of God’s law. Paul has already dealt with this problem several times in Romans, and the fact that he would bring it up again indicates that it was a sticky and persistent problem indeed. Some folks apparently thought that since grace abounded every time they sinned, they needed to sin a lot more so grace could really increase. The New Testament writer Jude mentions some of these false teachers who had slipped into the church and turned the grace of God into license (Jude 1:4ff).
There have been some notable examples of this kind of thinking in recent centuries. For instance, there was the Russian monk, Grigori Rasputin, who was the evil genius influencing the Romanov family. Apparently Rasputin publicly demonstrated such a doctrine in his life through his repeated experiences of sin and repentance. 1 Of course, the present-day church is not without this type of lawless thinking either. The famous German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once referred to all this as “Cheap Grace.” In several different places, the Scripture comes against this idea in no uncertain terms. Paul says in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:16).
Paul’s reply to this whole idea is the same as always: “May it not be!” or “God forbid!” We could bring his reply up-to-date with the popular expression, “No way!” We cannot go on habitually sinning because now in Christ we have died to sin. It is clear that Paul is not just speaking of the possibility of our committing a single sin, but the practice of continuing in sin and allowing it to dominate.2 Wuest sees it as allowing sin to take up residence once more and even sustaining a relationship with sin. 3 He goes on to suggests that the words “sinful nature” might better be substituted for “sin” in these verses in order that we might better understand Paul’s thinking.
A PICTURE OF OUR DEATH TO SIN
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3
Now Paul turns to one of the great pictures of our death to sin, and that is the picture of Christian baptism. We see all through the New Testament that whatever happens to Christ has happened to us. When he died on the cross we died with him in a real sense. When he was buried we were buried with him. When he was resurrected we were resurrected with him. Baptism is the biblical picture of this death, burial
and resurrection. 4
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” ( 6:4). It is obvious that baptism is an extremely important rite and we don’t want to miss any of its significance. We see that in the Old Testament those ancient believers passed through the waters of the sea with Moses. In 1 Corinthians 10:2 we learn that “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” To this day the Jewish people still pass through the waters of the miqvah at conversion and at other special times. It is likely that this custom had a lot of influence on early Christians as we see scores of miqvaot (immersion pools) at the southern entrance to the Temple Mount. It is very possible that these pools were used for the thousands of baptisms mentioned in the Book of Acts on the day of Pentecost.
What can we say about early Christian baptism? It appears that it was by total immersion 5 since that is what the Greek word baptizō means. Early Christian baptism was done immediately upon conversion and it was an act that could only be done by adults or those young people mature enough to grasp its deep meaning. It is clear in scripture that baptism does not save us but that it is an extremely important first act of obedience for the new believer. Since it pictures our death to the old man it is important to get on with the act as soon as possible. To illustrate this, even today in Israel when a person dies he is immediately buried. A few years ago it was not uncommon for soldiers to die in battle on the Lebanon front in the morning and be buried in Jerusalem that very same afternoon.
When I came to the Lord at the tender age of nine I was baptized with numerous other people in the nearby river. Unfortunately, all I ever remembered about my baptism was that while I waited in the long line I played with the little fish swimming around me. As my life went on, there were several acts of deeper recommitment to Christ along the way. However, I was always troubled by my baptism, or lack of it. Actually I got all the way to the seminary before I finally dealt with this problem. I noticed how other young ministers in the seminary were being called to pastor churches, but there was no church for me. Finally, in desperation, I was baptized as a believer in a very meaningful and emotional service. Immediately after my baptism I noticed that some chains of bad habits simply fell off me and I was free, without any effort at all on my part. Interestingly, the next weekend some church leaders approached me, inviting me to come and speak in view of being their pastor. Of course, I gladly accepted this invitation and later assumed the position.
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (6:5). We have seen that baptism is extremely important. Bruce, in speaking of Paul’s idea of baptism, states: “It is certain that he did not regard baptism as an ‘optional extra;’ in the Christian life, and that he would not have contemplated the phenomenon of an ‘un-baptized believer.’”6 When we arise from the baptismal waters it is a picture not only of our new life at present but a picture of our eventual resurrection with Christ on the last day.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (6:6-7). We see here that this crucifixion with Christ is a past event, being expressed in the Greek aorist tense.7 When he died on the cross we died with him, or rather our “old man” or “old Adam” died on that cross. So we see that the old man is finished. Actually, several things happened that day. The Bible says that all the statutes against us were also nailed to that cross, so God dealt a death blow to the law’s condemnation of us (Col. 2:14). Sometimes it is difficult for us moderns to grasp this kind of talk, but we need to remember that if we died in Adam long ago, it is also certainly possible for us to have died to sin with Christ as he hung on that cross.
Lenski remarks: “The crucifixion of the old man is something that God did in us. None of us nailed the old man to the cross. Jesus did it, and we are told to account it as being done. ‘In us there was nothing even to sicken and to weaken our old man, much less to murder him by crucifixion; God had to do this.’”8
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (6:8-10). Jesus died, was buried and arose from the grave on the third day. This is the simple gospel message. We remember the New Testament rule, that whatever happens to Christ must happen to us in some sense or in some measure. Just as he arose we must also arise. This passage is primarily speaking of the resurrection of the Last Day but there is a real sense in which Christ “quickens” us as we live our pilgrim lives here and now (Rom. 8:11). He does this by the power of the resurrection that works within us. We want to make perfectly clear that we cannot in any way die for sin as Christ did. Instead we are called to die to sin. In the above passage we see that Christ died for sin in a once and only act, as Hebrews 9:26 points out: “…Now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Because of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection we are to arise from the death of sin and live in newness of life by his resurrection power. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Once more we come back to that important word “count” or “reckon,” as we see above. We are reminded from Romans chapter 4 that the term for “reckon” is hashab in the Hebrew and logizomai in the Greek. This important word is used forty-one times in the New Testament, with nineteen of those times in Romans alone. Today in parts of the US the word “reckon” has the meaning of “to suppose” or even “to guess.” However, in the Bible, it means “to calculate,” “to take into account,” or “to impute.”9
In early times travelers and explorers often used a system of navigation known as “dead reckoning.” With this system, the traveler reckoned from a known position in order to arrive at a new location. The system utilized mathematical calculations, taking into consideration the traveler’s heading, speed and time.
It is in much the same way that the Christian counts or reckons his present spiritual position, based upon the known event of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is an established “fix” or position in history. From this position we can now know by faith that our old self is “dead” based upon our biblically certified position and identification with Christ. We can actually know two things about our present position. We are dead to sin and we are alive to Christ.
Now all this brings up an important question or objection. If our “old man” or “old Adam” is indeed dead, why is he still wiggling around and why won’t he lie down in the casket? We see that our body is still oft times affected by sin and its desires.
With this I am reminded of days long ago when my grandmother would prepare meals for her large family and frequent guests on the farm. She would go out and select a couple of her finest chickens and then proceed to wring off their necks simultaneously, one in each hand. I remember how in the commotion that followed the headless chickens would do a terrible lot of flopping around. Indeed, they looked very much alive, and were alarming to us small children. But in fact they were not alive at all. Soon, all the flopping would cease and they would be headed for the frying pan.
I also remember how we used to deal with frequent snake visitors in the swampy area where I grew up. We would grab a hoe and promptly chop off their heads. Once again there would be a frenzy of activity with the headless snake flopping around and even striking at us for several minutes. To me these pictures illustrate what Jesus did for us all at Calvary. Jesus put an end to the “old man” and “old Adam” by his cross. He also removed the head of Satan’s kingdom. What we now see is the frantic activity of a dying regime that must depend upon lies and deception for its continued existence.
In this whole area of reckoning ourselves dead to sin and the old man, we need to make a lot of changes. We cannot go on halting between two opinions. It seems that many Christians today never move into the glorious reality of being dead to sin and alive
The famous evangelist D. L. Moody used to give the illustration of an old black woman in the South after the Civil War had ended. As a former slave she continued to be quite confused about her real status. She would ask: “Now is I free, or been I not? When I go to my old master he says I ain’t free, and when I go to my own people they say I is, and I don’t know whether I’m free or not. Some people told me that Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, but master says he didn’t; he didn’t have any right to.”10 Yes, it is high time we stopped faltering between the two opinions, and it is time we moved on with our Christian lives into the freedom that Christ gained for us at Calvary.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (6:12). Robertson notes how the word “reign” (basileuetō) used here is in the Greek present active imperative, and should read “‘let not sin continue to reign’ as it did once.” 11 This is an injunction that can only be given to a Christian. “Only the person set free from sin can be told, ‘do not let sin reign.’”12
Here we note again the importance of the subject of reigning. In the beginning God established Adam as sort of vice-regent on earth. His job was to reign on God’s behalf and to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). His reign was promptly ended by Satan’s temptation and it appears that his authority was also usurped by Satan, who then became the “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:11). But as we have noted, Satan’s authority was ended on the cross. It was there that Jesus regained Adam’s lost authority and made it possible for redeemed man to once more exercise that authority. Once again it would become possible for man to actually “reign in life” through Christ, as Romans 5:17
How dreadful it is when we allow defeated Satan and sin to reign again in our lives! What a great insult this is to the redeeming work of Christ on the cross! Paul charges us: “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” (6:13) Wuest remarks here: “The word ‘instruments’ is hoopla… In classical Greek the word referred to the weapons of the Greek soldier. …The word ‘yield’ is paristēmi… but in the aorist imperative, which commands a once for all action to be done at once. Paul says, ‘Put yourselves at once, and once for all, at the disposal of God….’”13 We do not seem to realize that when we yield the members of our body to sin those members become actual weapons in Satan’s hand. He once again is able to build a military infrastructure within our physical bodies and within our minds (cf. 1 Cor. 6:15).
“For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (6:14). Guzik remarks concerning this verse: “In light of these remarkable changes, it is utterly incompatible for a new creation in Jesus to be comfortable in habitual sin… As Spurgeon is credited with saying: ‘The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.’”14
Paul concludes: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (6:15). The word used here for “sin” (hamartanō) refers to occasional acts of sin as opposed to a life of sin. 15 Because we are under grace can we even dabble occasionally in sin, or commit just a little sin? Paul answers again with his “God forbid!” Sin always has a captivating and holding power that will pull us in deeper and take us back into bondage.
BECOMING SLAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16
Now Paul presents us with a sound biblical principle that works at all times, with all people and in all places. We are slaves to the one whom we obey and serve. Jesus once pointed this out in John 8:34 saying: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” One of the greatest illusions of our time is people thinking that they can be totally free in their own right. The truth is that all human beings are servants or slaves either of good or of evil, either of God or of the devil. There is no middle ground. When the Prodigal Son left his father’s house he thought he had found freedom. Yet his fancied freedom eventually made him lower than a slave and consigned him to the hog pen. When he came to himself he returned to his father, begging to become but a servant in the household. It was at last in the father’s house that he finally found true freedom
Slavery was very prevalent in ancient times. It is estimated that roughly a quarter of the work force was made up of slaves. 16 There were, in fact, many slaves and former slaves who were members of the churches. We are told that in ancient times some folks offered themselves as slaves in order to escape their burdens of debt. This was called voluntary servitude. In ancient times servitude, whether voluntary or involuntary, was extremely rigid, giving the master the absolute right and control over the slave so that the slave had no right and no time that was his own. 17 In a similar sense we offer ourselves to Jesus as his servants in order to escape the debt of sin. Thus, we are not our own but we are bought with a price (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (6:17-18). The Greek word for slave is doulos, and it really describes “one whose will is swallowed up in the will of another.”18
It is interesting that this word became the popular one describing Christians in the New Testament. We see that as slaves we are to wholeheartedly obey the “form” of teaching given by the Master. The word “form” used here describes a mold that was used to shape molten metal. God melts us, pours us and molds us using that form of doctrine he has devised until we are useful vessels and instruments in his kingdom. 19
Paul says: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). In comparison with the awful yoke of Satan’s slavery, the yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light (Mt. 11:30). And when the Son of God sets us free we are “free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). Although we may be serving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we are still free.
Paul develops his argument further: “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (6:19). We now have a new Master and we must serve him with all our hearts. We must never seek to serve two masters for this is not possible (Mt. 6:24). We will end up loving one of them and hating the other. Since we were enthusiastic about our old lives in sin and we need to be even more enthusiastic about our new lives in Christ.
We see that the end result of this servitude is holiness or sanctification (hagiasmos). The Greek scholar Barclay points out that all Greek nouns that end in “asmos” describe a process and not a completed state. 20 We are in the process of being made saints. However, we should clarify that sanctification has two sides. There is first a “positional sanctification” which we have instantly when we accept Jesus and then there is the process of sanctification by which holiness is worked out in our lives through the Holy Spirit and the word of God.
This process of sanctification is not an easy one. Stedman tells the story of an old Indian who became a Christian. When he gave his testimony he said: “‘You know, since me become Christian, me find have two dogs inside: One big black dog, all time bad, all time fight; and one big white dog, all time good. And these dogs fight all the time.’ And someone said, ‘Which one wins?’ And he said, ‘Whichever one I say sic-em to!’”21
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (6:20-21). When we lived in sin we were absolutely free from righteousness. The thought of righteousness scarcely entered our minds. We plunged into the thoughts and activities that led to dissipation and death. But what did we receive from all this activity? Lord Byron is regarded as one of the greatest of all British poets. Unfortunately, Byron carried on a rather decadent lifestyle, for which he was later remorseful. At age 36, on the very year of his death, he wrote these haunting words:
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm—the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone! 22
Paul says: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:22-23). The servant of God is now paid in holiness and life eternal but the servant of the devil is paid daily in miserable fare. The word for “wages” (opsonia) is the daily fare of food, bread, fish and vegetables paid to the Roman soldier. 23 We must not forget that just as the righteous are paid, the wicked also receive their pay, and they receive some of it while still living in this world.