The Christian and Sin

BIBLE STUDIES ON ROMANS 6-8

At the end of Romans 5, Paul completed his explanation of the heart of the gospel— justification by faith. But the Christian life does not climax with a mere change of legal status in our relationship with God. Justification is the beginning of a great pilgrimage. Chapter 6 begins the next section of Romans—the exposition of the way of holiness.

In typical Pauline style, the section on justification is made to flow logically into the section on sanctification. There is an inseparable connection between justification and sanctification. Paul begins by addressing those who object because they think there is no such connection in the gospel he proclaims.

Christians Cannot Go on Sinning (6:1-2)

Verse 1 presents the objection: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” This is still one of the most important questions addressed in evangelism. The fact that we receive salvation from Christ because of what he has done and not because of any merits of our own is a revolutionary idea to most people.

When people hear this for the first time, their initial reaction is often a negative one. They think it is impossible for one to die for another; and if salvation is obtained in this way, then it is cheap and results in irresponsible behavior. They believe people will take morality lightly because they know that God’s grace will forgive them anyhow.

Non-Christians often ask the same type of question that Paul is responding to. It is asked by secular people from Western backgrounds as well as by those following other religions. This, incidentally, was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s strongest objections to the Christian doctrine of atonement.

We must preach Christ crucified. That is the heart of the Christian gospel. But we must be aware of the fact that most non-Christians may misunderstand it at first.

As the preachers of Acts did, we must reason with the non-Christians. We must seek to persuade them that the work of Christ can indeed save them, that grace is not cheap, and that it is the only legitimate way to salvation. This should be a key element of our preaching of the Cross to non-Christians.

Paul’s first response to this question is his famous emphatic negation, “By no means!” (6:2). The Greek expression me genoito is the most emphatic means Paul uses to repudiate an idea.

This is an age when the church seems to be focusing little on the seriousness of sin in the believer. When it is discussed, it is often excused as inevitable, given the weaknesses of Christians.

It is important to note how strongly Paul reacts to the idea that sin in the believer can be excused. This certainly will be necessary if we hope to make any impact on the non- Christian religions. They are now seeking to send missionaries to so-called Christian lands because the Christians are so lacking in moral self-control.

Union With Christ’s Death and Resurrection (6:2-10)

Paul goes on to explain why it is unthinkable that Christians can go on sinning. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). “We died” is in the aorist tense. It points to a definite act that took place in the past. This act was our conversion. When we first came to Christ for salvation, we made a decisive break with sin. We said sin would no longer be acceptable to us. We turned from our past ways to trust in Christ alone for salvation.

Trusting in Christ for salvation means that we no longer trust in sin to give us satisfaction or to be the answer to any given situation we face. We say with Paul, “How can we live in it [sin] any longer?”

Before we accepted Christ as Savior, when someone hurt us, we saw fulfillment in anger and revenge. Or when a document was being delayed in a government office, our solution was to pay a bribe so we could get on with our work. As Christians, we do not trust in such solutions to our problems. Our trust is in the way of Christ which is opposed to such actions.

Being born again includes repentance, which is a decision on our part to be done with sin. That decision is made from within the perspective of grace. We acknowledge that we cannot overcome sin of our own strength; we trust in Christ to give us the strength to do it. We say we are done with sin. A gospel without repentance is no gospel. It is like giving a sick person food to eat without treating the stomach infection that has caused the illness.

Paul emphasizes his point by reminding his readers about what happened at their baptism. He asks, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (6:3). Note that he makes his point in the form of a question. This is something they are supposed to know. The baptism was a sign of something that had happened in their lives.

Leon Morris reminds us that today the word baptism brings to mind a comforting ritual, to the first-century Christians there was an element of violence associated with this word. It was used of a deluge—a flood. Josephus used it when he talked about how the crowds flooded into Jerusalem and “wrecked the city.” Christ used it to describe his death. Baptism meant death, a violent spiritual revolution that resulted in death to a whole way of life.

Verse 4 says, “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.”

After death, we are raised into a new life. Paul is speaking from the perspective of one of his favorite themes—the believer’s solidarity with Christ. What happened to Christ happens to the believer also. Just as he died, was buried, and was raised; we also die, are buried, and will be raised to live a new life.

Paul describes the solidarity with Christ in terms of union with Christ: “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). To Paul, the figure of union with Christ is a key to understanding the nature of the Christian life. We enter the kingdom through faith, but faith is not merely an act of giving mental assent to some facts about Christ and his work; it is that and more. Salvation is not only a legal transaction resulting in a change of status; it is that and more.

The act of faith is an entrusting of ourselves to Christ. Salvation is entering into a union with Christ. And because Christ was raised, when we are united with Christ, we also enter into an experience of his resurrection. If this is so, we must live as resurrected people would live.

This process is described again in verse 6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him.” Paul said previously that we have died to sin. Now he says it again, it is our “old self” which has died; that is, our fallen human nature.

The word translated “old” often has the connotation of being antiquated and worn- out. When we come to Christ, we don’t give up some valuable treasure so we are to be pitied because of the great sacrifice we have made. Everything we give up is like dung, as Paul said in Philippians 3:8 (KJV).

When someone told David Livingstone that he must have sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel, we are told that Livingstone got angry. “Sacrifice,” he said, “the only sacrifice is to live outside the will of God!”

God is the creator of life. To come to him is to come to the source of life. We die to things that could never truly satisfy us. They will only destroy us in the end. But Satan, who blinds the eyes of unbelievers so that they do not see the truth, will try to deceive people into thinking that the cost of discipleship is too much to pay.

There is a price to pay, and it is a high price because we are so accustomed to the life of sin. Yet, what we give up is useless, and what we gain is a treasure of immeasurable worth.

Paul says, “Our old self was crucified with him.” Paul is using the language of identification with Christ. The phrase crucified with is a single word in the Greek. This is the same word which appears in Galatians 2:20. It can be translated “co-crucified.”

He is with us in the process of crucifying the flesh. He has gone before us and suffered a more serious crucifixion than we have. When we crucify our old self, he is beside us. That gives us courage.

Yet we must bear in mind as С. E. B. Cranfield said, “The reference to crucifixion i s a stark reminder—the harsh word cross had not yet been rendered mellow by centuries of Christian piety.” Just as baptism is a violent word, so is crucifixion. However painful it is to extricate ourselves from the sin which clings to us so closely, we must do it when we come to Christ.

This is the paradox of conversion. It is hard, and it is easy. It is hard because we say we are done with sin, which has been our close companion. It is done away with decisively, violently. But it is easy because Christ has gone before us and done all that is necessary for our salvation. All God needs is our willingness to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, which includes saying no to sin. That is what faith is.

Salvation, and its accompanying sanctification, is no great achievement on our part. It is a great achievement on Christ’s part. No one is too weak to come to him. Anyone may come and be saved and sanctified.

Paul goes on to explain that freedom from sin takes place by the person dying to sin (6:6-7). But the process does not end with death to sin. Verse 8 says, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” One of the great implications of the fact that we have been raised with Christ is that we live with him. Now life means living with Christ.

In verse 4, Paul said that we are resurrected with Christ so that “we … might walk in newness of life” (RSV). The key feature of walking in newness of life is living with him. All responsible people and all religions agree there is an element in us which has to be put to death. The uniqueness of Christianity is that it presents a new life lived with a living Savior.

When a Muslim who came to Christ was asked why he became a Christian, he said:

It is like this; say yon are walking along a road and you suddenly come to a fork, and you don’t know which way to turn, At that fork there are two men—one dead and one alive. Which one do you think I would ask for directions as to where to go?

Christianity is a life lived with a living Savior. If we were asked to summarize the Christian life, we would not say it is the following of a set of principles. We would not say it is crucifying the old life. We would not say it is living a righteous life. It is all of this. But these do not come to the heart of describing the Christian experience. For that we need to say with Paul, “To me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). “Christianity is Christ,” as the old saying goes.

Verses 9 and 10 show the logical impossibility of a Christian living in sin. “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.” The great theme of this section is that sanctification is not an option for a Christian. It is a normal experience. One of our problems has been that we have tried to separate the various stages of salvation in a way that Paul never did.

Perhaps the linear logical thinking which has provided a framework for theology for centuries has had an influence in the separation that is common when we think about salvation. Therefore, we have justification as a distinct experience, followed by sanctification, and culminating in glorification.

This made it possible for us to think of one stage independently of the other. Some who think this way are not scandalized as Paul would be if a person continues in sin after receiving salvation. They would say, “Well, at least this person has entered the eternal kingdom. And that’s what is most important.” Paul would react to such thinking with his outraged, “By no means!” We need the integrated view of salvation that is found in the Bible.

We cannot excuse sin in the life of the Christian. Christians may sin, blit sin is never to be excused. Sin in a Christian is always a denial to the world of the reality of the atonement of Christ.

I think the bumper sticker that says, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven” is repulsive. It tries to excuse sin in the believer, and does so before a watching world. This is a blatant affront to the honor of Christ who commanded us to be without sin. It is a symptom of the fact that the church has begun to pander so much to the self that no all- out war is being waged on sin and selfishness.

I don ’ t think Jesus meant an absolute perfection when he asked us to be perfect. But he certainly meant that a Christian has the power to be totally given to God, to love the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength. Paul told the governor Felix, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16). May we also strive to do the same.

What We Must Do (6:11-14)

Yet, because we die to sin at our conversion, it does not mean that we are immune to sin. Vestiges of the old nature still remain, so there is an active part that we play in sanctification.

The Way of Faith (6:11)

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11). What does this mean? Does it mean that we are to try to convince ourselves of something that is not real? That would be acase of self-deception—like telling a person who is dying, “You’re going to be fine.”

In chapter 4, the same word count or reckon was used of the way God regards us after we exercise saving faith. It was used to say that if God regards us as righteous, then we are indeed righteous. In the same way, we are asked to do this type of reckoning regarding our relationship with sin. God accepted our action of dying to sin when we were converted as being valid. If so, we too must accept it as valid. С. E. B. Cranfield translates this verse as, “Recognize the truth that you yourselves are dead to sin…. ” We are simply accepting a fact about ourselves.

How can we accept such a fact? By faith. By faith we accept the fact that we have died to sin and have been made alive to God. If God regards us thus, then we should too. We believe that what God said he will do in us, he has indeed done. Faith is an important key both to justification and to sanctification.

The Way of Resistance (6:12)

Verse 12 gives the next requirement for being holy. Paul says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” We don’t simply rest passively on the fact that we have died to sin. We get actively involved in this process by not letting sin reign in our mortal body.

Note that Paul begins this verse with therefore. The act of resisting sin arises directly out of our reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Because we know that we are dead to sin, we have the confidence that the sin can be overcome, and so we act to overcome it.

Satan will try to make us think that we cannot overcome sin. Our sin nature, which has not been totally eradicated, will try to convince us that we are incurably sinful. If we believe these lies of Satan and of our sin nature, we will yield to the temptation. But they are lies.

The truth is that we are dead to sin. It is not necessary forus to commit any sin. Christ has won the victory over sin and made us participants in that victory. If we believe this, that is, if we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, we will have the confidence to resist our sinful nature and to resist the devil. And as James 4:7 says, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Faith helps us overcome sin. It tells us that we are victors and gives us the courage to battle temptation without passively yielding to it. This is not a case of self-deception. It is a case of facing up to the truth of who we are, and through that, having the confidence to battle sin. It is believing that what God promised to do in us, he has indeed done.

Paul says, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Siegfried Wibbing has said, “In Paul, Lthe word translated “body”] soma has a specialized meaning in the sense of person.” Bodies here could be translated as “selves.”

Paul describes these bodies as “mortal.” The wages of sin have touched our whole being, so we cannot be overconfident. We must be aware that none of us are immune to sin. This is why, just before 1 Corinthians 10:13 which talks about there being no temptation that we cannot overcome, Paul says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Victory is available to all, but we must never forget that we are mortal and, therefore, not immune to sin.

The Way of Dedication (6:13-14)

In verse 13, Paul presents the way of dedication. He first says, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness.” The word translated “offer” is sometimes used of sacrifices. It has the idea of presenting something. Sin is personified and portrayed as the recipient of the part of the body that yields to temptation. Paul urges us not to let this happen.

Living in a land torn by racial strife, I have come to believe that racism is one of the last things that the process of sanctification touches in the life of a Christian. We often encounter people who are speaking in ways that do not promote harmony. People of both races can find much to say against the other race. When there is a racist conversation going on, Christians are often tempted to join in and add to the ill will generated through such conversations. After all, they also have feelings towards their race. But if a Christian joins in, he is offering his mouth to sin as an instrument of wickedness. Though he may wish to add some points which would increase the ill will, he must say no to the temptation. Paul is talking about an act of total commitment. He goes back to the parts again and says, “Offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (6:13).

There is an interesting change offense here. When Paul said, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin,” he used the present tense. This is why some translations render this as, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body” (NASB). Paul is talking about the habit of sinning.

In the rest of the verse, he gives the solution to the problem of habitual sin in the believer. He uses the same word offer, but he shifts from the present tense to the aorist tense. The aorist tense is usually used to describe a definite act that took place in the past.

The shift is significant. He is not talking of a habitual offering, but of a definite act of commitment. Leon Morris shows the differences in the tenses with this rendering: “Do not keep on presenting your members to sin . . . but once and for all present yourselves to God.”

Paul is speaking of that conscious act of total commitment when we say, “God will have all of me.” He seems to be referring to an act that usually takes place after conversion.

This act of commitment often takes the form of a crisis. It could be after God has spoken to the Christian through a sermon, or it could be alone at home, or with a friend after God has spoken to the person quite clearly.

We may not even remember exactly when we made this commitment, but we know that at some crucial tune in our spiritual pilgrimage we came to the point when we said to God, “I give you my all.” We became totally dedicated to him. George Mueller expresses this crisis in a famous statement:

There was a day when I died: Died to George Mueller; to his tastes, his opinions, his preferences and his will. Died to the world—its approval or censure—died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends. Since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.

Sometimes in a person’s spiritual pilgrimage there may be more than one such crisis experience, when the Spirit of God convicts the person of the lack of total commitment and leads them to a fresh act of rededication. Many of us can testify to many such crises when we gave ourselves totally to God.

Both the crisis act of total commitment and the daily acts of dedication are important for the Christian. Our act of total commitment is put to the test in the daily challenges we face after making it.

It has been said that a crisis that is not followed by a process becomes an abscess. At each step, our total commitment is confirmed as we act in accord with that commitment in our day-to-day activities. We are all called upon daily to reaffirm the commitment of our whole lives to God which we made at some time in our spiritual pilgrimage.

Paul goes on to say, “For sin shall not be your master” (6:14). When we give our whole selves to God, sin is no longer going to be lord of our lives. A new Lord has taken over.

And why is this? “Because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14). Paul is talking about our state in Christ—the positional blessings that are ours by virtue of our salvation. The knowledge of our position in Christ gives us the courage to be obedient to God.

Note that Paul is responding to the accusation that the emphasis on grace leads to more sinfulness in practice. He is stating the exact opposite: the fact that we are under grace causes us to overcome sin. When we are under law, we are under condemnation. The guilt only serves to bring us into slavery. Because we are unable to meet the demands of the law, in frustration we may end up deeper in despair and defeat.

When we are under grace, we are not under condemnation. Instead, we are freed to live the resurrection life in union with Christ. We believe victory is possible and, therefore, we strive towards it. The result is victory over sin and its accompanying condemnation.

The Slave Market Analogy (6:15-23)

In verses 15-20, Paul goes back to his original question about whether grace causes people to sin and he answers it using the slave market analogy. Once we were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness. Therefore, we do not continue in sin.

Note that verse 20 says, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” Some people today might claim that freedom from the control of righteousness is a happy position to be in. But we know better, for we know what sin produces.

Paul continues, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (6:21), Sinners may claim to be alive or “living it up.” But this leads to death; there is nothing to envy. The people who make use of the numerous temptations in life are not to be envied.

Satan may at times cause us to regret that we cannot participate in such things because of our commitment to Christ, but these things are a diabolical trap. Satan tries to make us think that they are enjoyable, but all they do is to give some fleeting pleasure for a moment. After that, it makes the sinner a slave to the misery of sin.

Вut that is not all. The righteous have some positive benefits too. Paul says in verse 22, “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.”

Paul mentions two great rewards of obedience. The first is holiness. Holiness describes in one word what is meant by the image of God; that is, the image according to which man was originally created. Without it, our souls are restless. We may strive to satisfy ourselves through other means. We may neglect the pursuit of holiness in our eagerness to succeed in our careers. We may be so busy wri ting a book or administering the expanding ministry which we are leading that we neglect our quiet time with God. The ministry may grow, but the sense of fulfillment that we seek through the success will elude us. Fulfillment comes only when we become like what we were created to be. We were created to be like God, and becoming like God is the only achievement that truly satisfies.

Why is it so satisfying? Because we are creatures of eternity. Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains, “He [God ] has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” We will never be fully satisfied with the temporal. We long for the eternal.

This is the second thing we reap when we live according to God’s way: eternal life. It is eternal in quality in that it fulfills the restless longing for more than the temporal that is implanted in us. And it is eternal in duration in that it goes on forever.

In verse 23 Paul summarizes this matter of rewards, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

An Analogy With Marriage

Paul again answers the question of whether freedom from the law increases sinfulness in Romans 7:1-6, this time using an analogy from marriage. He describes those who are under the law as bound to it like a wife is bound to her husband.

Just as death breaks the marriage bond, when the believer dies with Christ he is freed from the law to be united with Christ. Before this freedom from the law, Christians found the law stimulated the very sins it prohibited. Now we live in the freedom of the Spirit.

The Relationship Between Law and Sin (7:7-13)

From what has been said, someone could infer that Paul viewed the law as being sinful. In verse 7, Paul responds to this emphatically saying, “Certainly not!” In verses 7-13, he substantiates this. He moves to the autobiographical first-person in this section, but he does so because what he has gone through is what all people experience.

There has been a lot of discussion and disagreement in the church on the question of what events Paul is talking about. Some even say that this is not autobiographical. This is not the forum for us to go into detailed discussions about these issues, but there are some general principles we can all agree on.

First, this passage affirms that the law is not sinful (v. 7). In fact, it says that the law is “holy,.,. righteous and good” (v, 12), But when this righteous law interacts with our sinful nature, the result could be disastrous. Sin, which, lies dormant in our being, can be aroused, simply by hearing a prohibition which is given in the law. For example, simply hearing the command, “Do not covet” may give opportunity for sin to produce in us “every kind of covetous desire” (v. 8).

Verse 10 says, “The very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” Paul goes on to say this is because “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death..

.. Through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (7:11-13).

The Struggle Between Unspiritual Man and the Spiritual Law

Next comes Paul’s famous passage which describes his inner struggle with sin. Two themes are clearly presented. In his inner self, Paul wants to do what is right, but the sin nature residing in him drives him in a different direction. This is said many times in different ways in these verses:

  • “For what 1 want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15).
  • “I do what I do not want to do” (v, 16).
  • “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18).
  • “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19).
  • “I do what I do not want to do” (v. 20).
  • “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (v. 21).

This inability to do what he should do is a source of deep disappointment to Paul, He says in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

No one really enjoys sin. The great American preacher, Henry Clay Morrison, said: “God never fixed me up so that I could not enjoy sin; but he fixed me up so that I couldn’t sin and enjoy it.” The Christian particularly finds sin unenjoyable because he lias tasted of the joy of righteousness.

Paul talks about this in verse 22, when he says that the life of holiness brings deep satisfaction to him. He says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” This is because his true nature is holiness. As one sanctified by Christ, all “un-Christlike” activity is out of character for him.

On the other hand, in his inner being he delights in God’s law (v. 22). That word delight is a beautiful word. It is used many times of our attitude toward the law, especially in the Psalms. The law is not something we usually associate with joy.

We delight in God’s law because it helps us to fulfill our total humanity; and also because we know that it is the will of the one we love so deeply. If the things that are supposed to be gloomy about Christianity are sources of joy, then is it any wonder that C. S. Lewis and others have claimed that joy is the hallmark of the Christian life?

As long as there is a thirst for holiness, there is hope for us—for holiness is a possibility. Christ has made ample provision for it in his scheme of salvation. Paul is speaking of the battle that commonly takes place in the lives of many Christians, as the sin nature wars against the nature of Christ implanted in them. For one who carries out the battle with sin in the way described in Romans 6, there is hope of victory. So Paul can conclude this chapter by saying, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25).

Was Paul speaking of his present state? The context of this passage, especially chapters 6 and 8, suggests this was not his present state. But it could be the state of many Christians.

Perhaps some of us at this Congress are going through a similar experience in our , lives. We wish we would have more time to spend with God, but the urgent demands of ministry have so tyrannized us that we can’t find the time. We wish we could take away the lustful thoughts from our minds, but they seem to be ever present when we are alone. We wish we would not be so impatient with our spouses, but when we are home we seem to act in ways that are out of character to our real selves.

To all such strugglers there is a word of hope: What you are going through is not unique. Even the great apostle Paul went through such experiences. There is hope of recovery. Christ has made provision for such situations. As Paul experienced victory, so can we. We can live as people who have been sanctified.

We must first reckon ourselves as people who are dead to sin and alive to God in. Christ Jesus. That is our true nature. Sin is the exception, and not the norm. Such faith, will give us the courage and confidence to yield ourselves completely to God.

When temptation comes, this faith tells us we are victors in Christ, and so we have the courage and confidence to yield to God the part of the body facing temptation. This is not done alone through, some herculean effort on our part; we are in union with Christ. He has gone before us in crucifying himself. Now we are asked to be co-crucified with him. He is with us in the struggle.

Therefore, when we think of life we don’t think of it as a great struggle. Rather, we say, “For to me, to live is Christ.” May God grant such an experience to each of us!

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Ajith R. Fernando is the National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka and a citizen of that country.