MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 6, 1998 FROM ROMANS 6:1-11
This week, we continue our study of the sixth chapter of Romans. Last week, we said Romans six is best understood when it is read in the context of what has preceded it. In Romans five, we have seen the triumph of grace in Christ over the sin of Adam. In chapter six, Paul brings this triumph of grace which we have seen in justification and applies it to the issue of sanctification. In other words, the same grace which has made us legally righteous and forgiven is also intended to cause us to live godly lives. Romans three through five tells us who we are legally by the grace of God--righteous through the grace of Christ. Romans six tells us how we can LIVE in the grace of God.
The immediate context of chapter six is found in chapter five, verses 17-21. In verse 17 we see that because of Adam’s sin, “death reigned.” In verse 21, Paul says it this way, “sin reigned in death.” Here is this oppressive reign of sin and death which dominates every unredeemed person. Sin rules people--it controls them. It is their lord. These people, according to Jesus have Satan as their father and sin is the weapon he uses to steal, kill and destroy his children and it does so ruthlessly. As a cruel master, sin says to its bondservants, “Lust,” and its slaves lust and “Covet” and its servants covet and “lie” and sin’s servants to lie. They have no freedom under this reign. In addition to causing them to commit, at some level, the external action sins like lying, cheating and stealing, sin will also enslave and bind people through internal attitudes like pride and smugness and self righteousness. But whether the sin is in action or in attitude, it completely dominates them. They cannot escape its enslaving power.
But in chapter five, Paul also says there is another dominion--not the dominion of sin which brings death, but a dominion of grace which brings life. This dominion was inaugurated by Jesus Christ. He defeated sin by becoming a man who was vulnerable to sin. He became a man and humanity is vulnerable to sin. Adam proved that. He was created sinless in the garden, but he fell. This doesn’t mean that Adam HAD to sin, but he was vulnerable to sin. Christ came in the flesh--this vulnerable-to-sin flesh. In this sense, he became subject to sin. He willingly placed himself in a world which was under the reign of sin. But sin failed to accomplish its agenda in HIS life. Its agenda is the same as its Satanic author--to steal, kill and destroy.
In his life, sin was never able to trap him or place him in bondage. Sin tempted him in every way we have been tempted. Sin would say, “Lust, Jesus.” And Jesus would say, “NO, I don’t want to lust. All my desires and appetites can be met through my relationship with my Father.” Sin would say to Jesus, “Covet, Jesus.” And Jesus would say, “I don’t need to covet--I own everything.” He would meet each temptation with the truth. We see this explicitly in His wilderness temptation with Satan. He fought against the power of sin every moment, every day. And every moment, every day he triumphed over sin.
He successfully resisted its control and he was therefore free from the final expression of sin’s ultimate control, death. Christ never succumbed to the temptation to sin, so it never had a chance to destroy him. On the cross, Christ became the target of sin and took upon himself the full power of sin when he became a curse for us on the cross. He felt the total weight of its crushing power. Not only did he take on the power of sin, but he took on the penalty for sin and voluntarily gave up his life as a payment for sin’s penalty. But even though he took on himself the power of sin, we know he defeated the power of sin.
When Christ was on the cross, He finished his work without rebelling against the Father, without succumbing to the tremendous pull of sin. Underneath the torrential flood of sin, he stood firm. Think of sin as a huge wrecking ball. Sin had, in some sense toppled every other human being. But in the case of Christ, the wrecking ball of sin, which kept crashing away with its full fury, always bounced off him. It was unable to do what it wanted to do and so it was defeated. Jesus on the cross died to sin. What does that mean? It means that he once and for all separated himself from its power. One scholar says it this way, He has been released from the realm of sin. He is no longer subject to sin. He will never again submit himself to its power. He did that already, once and for all and it was unable to control Him. The grace of God in Christ completely overwhelmed the sin of Satan.
The reason we know the power of sin was defeated by Christ on the cross is because, as we have said before, whenever the power of sin overcomes its victim, death wraps that person up in its unbreakable cords and will not let them go. Death is the confirming sign of the triumph of the power of sin. Jesus took on himself the full power of sin, but HE DIDN’T STAY DEAD!!! He took the worst sin could dish out and it could not force Him to stay dead. Death could not hold him down. He rose from the dead and showed that the full power of sin--with this satanic agenda to steal, kill and destroy was no match for the power of God.
Romans six is about how those who have placed their faith in Christ share with Jesus in his triumph of grace over sin. Romans six is merely a continuation of the treatment of the triumph of grace over sin. Paul simply shifts to applying this to our daily lives. We have been freed from the penalty of sin which Jesus bought us on the cross through justification. How are we made free from the power of sin which Jesus also bought on the cross through sanctification? This is what Romans six answers for us.
Paul transitions from his treatment of God’s grace in justification to God’s grace in sanctification by means of a question in verse one. Paul asks the question, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” Last week, we looked at three reasons beyond what Paul gives here to this question. This week, we will examine the answer Paul gives as to why we should never allow the abundance of God’s grace to serve as a license to sin. Paul’s reason why we shouldn’t do that is perfectly consistent with what he has been saying in chapter five about the triumph of grace over sin. Let’s read Paul’s answer to this question as we continue with verse two.
In answer to this question he says, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” That is Paul’s answer to this question. Everything else in the next several verses is simply an explanation of what that means. He continues in verse three, “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For 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-- 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
This is a difficult text for a number of reasons. It’s difficult because Paul’s argument is lengthy and it is not as easy to follow as we would like. Good scholars disagree about the logical flow of his discussion here. It’s difficult because of the mention of Christian baptism. There is an old saying that goes, “If you want to start a fight between two Christians just mention two words, “water baptism.” This is a primary text on the meaning and significance of baptism, even though (as we’ll see) it is clearly not Paul’s intention to give a teaching on baptism here. Its also a tough text in one sense because the subject matter is controversial. He is speaking about the Christian’s relationship to sin.
This is controversial because Christians have differing opinions on this issue. There are some who believe that, for all intents and purposes, Christians can reach a point of sinlessness in this life. If that is your theology and you bring that theology to this text, then that will influence the way you understand it. On the other end of the spectrum, if you believe on the basis of your life experience that sin’s penalty is broken in your life, (that is, you are forgiven of sin) but sin’s power in your life will remain fairly constant till the day you die,--if you bring that theology to this text, then you will obviously read this text in a certain way. Ideally, we don’t bring ANY theology to any text. Rather, we should allow the biblical text to shape our theology, but that is a challenge, especially on issues as important to us as this one is, or should be.
As we said last week, much of the confusion about this text can be eliminated when we read it in its context. When understood in its context, the basic message of this first section of the chapter is: Because of Christ’s triumph of grace over sin, those who are in Christ can be free from the controlling power of sin in their daily lives. Again, if we are clear on Christ’s relationship to sin, then we will more easily understand our own relationship to sin because Paul’s whole point, broadly speaking is, our relationship to the control of sin is governed by Christ’s relationship to the control of sin.
Having said all that, I want to deal with this text by asking several questions of it, all of which flow from this understanding of the text. This will enable us to break it down into bite size pieces. The first question we want to ask of this text is: How is this victory over sin’s controlling power accomplished? The answer is: we have this victory over sin’s controlling power because we are united with Christ. If you look at this text, you will notice nine times in eleven verses, Paul points to the believer’s union with Christ. Phrases like, “Baptized into him,” “buried with him,” “united with him,” “died with Christ” all point to the fact that the believer and Christ are united together. This truth that we are united or “one with” Christ is at the very heart of Paul’s theology. Believers have been brought into union with Christ-- “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We are in Christ and Christ is in us. That is central to Paul and central to his discussion here.
We are united with Christ and therefore have been united with his death. If we are united with Christ and Christ died to sin, then we, by virtue of our union with Christ, have died to sin as well. This is Paul’s point in verse two when he says, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” You’ll remember, we said that when Christ died to sin, he separated himself from its power and control--he was released from the realm of sin--where sin reigned. If Christ has died to the power and control of sin and we are untied with Christ, then what must be true of believers?...That we, in Christ are dead, that is freed from sins’ power and control over us. He goes on to explain this in verse three saying, “...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death...” What does all this talk of baptism have to do with being united with Christ? When a person in the early church (when Paul was writing) was converted, a number of things happened to them, many of which happen immediately to us. There is the presence of faith, the Holy Spirit, and repentance of sin. All that happens to us and it happened to the early church too. But two other things always happened so close to conversion that they came to be identified as inseparable from conversion, a public confession of faith in Christ and...baptism. Baptism was so closely associated with conversion that if a person wanted to know when you were converted, they might very well ask you, “When were you baptized?” Because the two events occurred more or less simultaneously, it was a fair question. Today, it would be like asking a married woman, “how long have you worn that wedding ring?” Because the ring goes on when the person is married.
That means baptism became for the early church practically synonymous with a person’s union with Christ at conversion. Baptism involved immersing a person under water--(even non immersionists almost universally agree that immersion was the practice of the early church) and immersion under water lends itself to comparison with burial. And burial occurs when a person dies. Well, that is Paul’s main point here--death to sin. Therefore, he chooses to use baptism to signify a person’s union with Christ and his death to sin which they share by being joined to him.
So, when Paul says that we were baptized into Christ’s death, what he is communicating is the fact that, when we were converted and became united with Christ, we died to sin--we were set free from its power and control. For Christ, death to sin was his permanent separation from its power. He will never again be subject to it. That’s what it meant for Christ and because we are united with Christ, that’s what it means for us. We are dead to sin. We are no longer under its oppressive, controlling power because we share in Christ’s victory over it. The reason we should never use grace as a license to sin is, according to Paul, because we are no longer under the controlling power of sin.
Now that we have that as a basis of understanding, we should be able to understand verse six. Verse six says, “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.” What does Paul mean when he says, “our old self was crucified with him?” Who is the “old self?” This is a much debated question, but is made much easier when we see it in the larger context of the triumph of grace over the reign of sin. Our old self is not our “old nature” the way that term is often understood. “Old self” is a relational term. That is, it describes how we, when we were in Adam related to the controlling power of sin. We related to sin by buckling under its controlling power. We had no choice--it was our master. Our “old self” is the person who belonged under the control of sin. Our old self is who we were in Adam--we shared his relationship to sin--it dominated him...and us. John Stott explains it this way, “what was crucified with Christ was not part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.” I was in Adam in terms of how I related to the controlling power of sin--that’s the old self. Now I am in Christ in terms of how I am able to relate to the controlling power of sin. Colossians 3:9 supports this interpretation. Paul writes, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
That old self, that person who had to obey the controlling power of sin is dead. He was crucified with Christ. There is a new person now--a person united with Christ who does not have to buckle under the controlling power of sin. Paul says the reason our old self was crucified with Christ is “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.” What does Paul mean when he refers to the “body of sin?” As you might imagine there is disagreement over this. The big argument is over whether “body” is our literal, physical body or used figuratively for the whole person. Paul says the reason the body of sin is done away with is for the purpose of allowing us to be freed from the enslaving power of sin. In light of that, I take “the body of sin” to mean our human vulnerability to the controlling, enslaving power of sin. We don’t have time to look there, but you will see that Paul uses the word translated “body” this way in verse 13, where he parallels “body” with “yourselves.” Our old self--that part in Adam which was enslaved by sin was crucified with Christ so that we would no longer be vulnerable--that we would no longer be sitting ducks to the oppressive, controlling power of sin.
There is still so much more to say about Romans six--so many more questions to answer. For instance, “if we are free from the controlling power of sin, why do we still sin?” Paul makes it clear later on that sinless perfectionism is not an option for the Christian. People who believe that have not understood all of Romans six or seven. There is a great difference between being free from sin’s controlling power and being completely sinless. We need to talk about that. Another question is, “if the controlling power of sin in my life has been broken and I am dead to it, how do I access--how do I walk in this victory?” So many Christians are still enslaved to sin--they never seem to get free from its power on a daily basis. Another question is, “what do Paul’s references to newness of life mean? Is this just the freedom from the controlling power of sin or is there more to it than just the freedom from sin’s enslaving power?”
We will address all those issues in the weeks to come. But for now, rejoice over the fact that, even though you may not currently enjoying freedom from sin’s enslaving power, the Bible says you HAVE been set free from it if you are a believer. You don’t HAVE to be in bondage to sin’s controlling power all your life. Christ has broken sin’s controlling power in your life and you CAN be free to enjoy and live out the triumph of grace over sin. That triumph of the power of grace over the power of sin is for every child of God and if you want it and know and apply the truth, it can be ours.
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