All people sustain a 3-fold relationship to sin. We are, first of all, under the penalty of sin. We are guilty of having transgressed the law of God and are thus liable to the punishment it imposes. But sin also exercises a power over every individual. We are born spiritually dead and morally corrupt, under the influence and mastery of sin, and thus subject to its power. Finally, there is the presence of sin within us. The principle of sin resides within our hearts and minds.
That sin is a power can be seen from the way Paul describes it in Romans 5-6. In 5:12-19 he portrayed sin as entering the world through Adam and exercising its sway over all people. Sin “reigns” in death (5:21). Non-believers are “slaves” to sin (6:6). Believers must not let sin “reign” (6:12) over them. They are not to pressent their bodies “to sin” (6:13). And sin no longer “rules” or “exercises lordship” over their lives (6:14).
Salvation from sin, therefore, consists in deliverance from this 3-fold bondage. Jesus saves us from sin's penalty by suffering the wrath of God which our transgressions provoked. Jesus saves us from the power of sin by providing the Holy Spirit through whom we experience victory over sin's influence in our lives. And Jesus saves us from the presence of sin when at the end of the age he returns to transform and glorify us in body, soul, and spirit.
Thus a Christian has been saved from the penalty of sin, is being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin. Each of these tenses of salvation has a theological name: salvation in the past from the penalty of sin is Justification, salvation in the present from the power of sin is Sanctification, and salvation in the future from the presence of sin is Glorification. Justification is past and positional. Sanctification is present and progressive. Glorification is prospective and permanent. Justification is how God sees us in Christ. Sanctification is what we are in daily experience. Glorification is what we shall be in heaven. Justification is something done for us. Sanctification is something done in us. Glorification is something done to us.
These basic truths are important because many Christians think of salvation exclusively in terms of justification. But Titus 2:11-14 (and numerous other texts) indicates that salvation from sin's penalty is only the beginning. Justification is the foundation of a life-time struggle with sin's power and presence. Said Calvin, "We are not cleansed by Christ so that we can immerse ourselves continually in fresh dirt, but in order that our purity may serve the glory of God" (Comm. on Hebrews, 122).
It is with chp. 6 that Paul leaves the doctrine of justification and takes up the doctrine of sanctification.
I. Epistolary Introduction - 1:1-17
II. The Way of Salvation - 1:18-5:21
III. The Way of Sanctification - 6:1-8:39
A. Freedom from Bondage to Sin - 6:1-23
1. Free from sin - 6:1-14
a. introduction - vv. 1-2
1) an improper deduction - v. 1
The basis for this objection is found in 5:20-21. It goes like this:
"I have been justified freely by the grace of God. If I sin again, I shall be forgiven again, by grace. And the more I sin the more opportunity grace will have to express and exhibit itself in my forgiveness. So shall I continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Stott, 32-33).
Or again, "If God delights in justifying the ungodly, why be godly? If our acceptance with God depends wholly upon what He does, then it doesn't matter what we do. So let's sin all the more!" This objection is based on a misunderstanding of what Paul said in 3:20,24,28; 4:5; 5:9-10,20-21. In fact, had Paul not made those statements, no such objection would be forthcoming. It is only when one preaches salvation by grace through faith that the accusation of Antinomianism is heard. Indeed, as Stott has said, “if we are proclaiming Paul’s gospel, with its emphasis on the freeness of grace and the impossibility of self-salvation, we are sure to provoke the charge of antinomianism. If we do not arouse this criticism, the likelihood is that we are not preaching Paul’s gospel” (167).
2) an indignant denial - v. 2
Paul is outraged by such a charge. He is appalled. "GOD FORBID! MAY IT NEVER BE! FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, NO!' Note well: Paul does not retract his emphasis on grace. He does not deny what he has been teaching. He does not correct, modify, or soften what he said in Romans 1-5. He simply proceeds to demonstrate the absurdity of the objection.
His response is simple: Christians are people who have died to sin. He doesn't mean they are insensitive to sin, far less that they are unable to sin. The translation of the RSV and NEB ("how can we continue in sin") is misleading, for it suggests the impossibility of sinning. Literally it reads, "how shall we continue in sin." In other words, it is not the literal impossibility of sinning but the moral incongruity of sinning that Paul has in mind. If Christians died to sin in the sense that they can no longer commit sin, why would Paul speak as he does in vv. 12-13 and again in 13:14, etc.? Paul's The meaning of having died to sin is unpacked in vv. 3-11.
b. what God has done for us (doctrine) - vv. 3-11
1) the principle of our solidarity with the Savior - vv. 3-4a,5a,6a,8a,9-10,11a
By virtue of our covenant solidarity or representative union with Christ, when he died, we died. When he was buried, we were buried. When he rose from the dead to a new and glorious life, we were reckoned to have risen as well.
Our baptism serves to symbolize and illustrate this identity between Christ and the Christian. He cannot mean that our baptism is the cause or reason for this identity, having just spent 5 chapters arguing that we enter into a saving relationship with Christ by grace alone through faith alone. Baptism, therefore, is the outward sign and seal of what God does for us inwardly through faith.
Paul’s emphasis on unity, corporate solidarity, and identity with Christ, is seen in his repeated use in this paragraph of words that begin with the Greek term syn = “with” – We were “buried together with” Christ (v. 4), we were “united together with” him (v. 5), we were “crucified together with” him (v. 6), we “died with Christ” (v. 8), and we shall “live together with” him (v. 8).
Two verses in particular call for comment:
(1) v. 6a - Many believe that before conversion Christians have an old man and after conversion they add to this a new man. The Christian is thus both an old man and a new man, a religious Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so to speak. At times the old man or old self is in control and we sin. At other times the new man or new self is in control and we obey.
NO! The old man is simply what you were before you became a Christian. It is the unregenerate self. John Stott explains:
"Our biography is written in two volumes. Volume one is the story of the old man, the old self, of me before my conversion. Volume two is the story of the new man, the new self, of me after I was made a new creation in Christ. Volume one of my biography ended with the judicial death of the old self. I was a sinner. I deserved to die. I did die. I received my deserts in my Substitute with whom I have become one. Volume two of my biography opened with my resurrection. My old life having finished, a new life to God has begun" (49).
Thus, Stott concludes that “our old self denotes not our lower self but our former self, ‘the man we once were’ (NEB), ‘our old humanity’ (REB), the person we used to be in Adam. So what was crucified with Christ was not a part of us called our old nature, but the whole of us as we were in our pre-conversion state” (176).
Prior to his conversion, Augustine lived with a mistress. After his conversion, she met him on the street:
"Aurelio, Aurelio," she calls out to him. He continues walking, ignoring her calls. She runs to him, grabs him: "Aurelio, what is the matter? It is I." To which he responds: "The matter, dear lady, is that it is not I."
Was it Augustine? In one sense, yes. In another sense, no. He was a new man. The old man, the old unregenerate-in-Adam Augustine, had died to sin. The new man, the regenerate-in-Christ Augustine, was alive to God. Although it would not have been impossible for him to have gone back to his mistress, it would have been unthinkable.
The point is this: YOU MUST NOT GO ON LIVING THE LIFE YOU USED TO LIVE, BECAUSE YOU ARE NO LONGER THE PERSON YOU USED TO BE.
(2) v. 10a - Christ didn't die to sin in the sense of ceasing to commit it (for he never began sinning in the first place). He died to sin in the sense that he bore its penalty. "We have died to sin in the sense that in Christ we have borne its penalty. Consequently our old life has finished; a new life has begun" (Stott, 43).
2) the purpose of our solidarity with the Savior - vv. 4b,5b,6b-7,8b,11b
Again, several verses are worthy of note.
(1) v. 6b – The phrase “body of sin” should not be rendered “sinful body,” for that suggests the human physical frame is inherently contaminated or evil. Most likely it means “our sin-dominated body” in the sense that the body is conditioned and controlled by sin, “because sin uses our body for its own evil purposes, perverting our natural instincts, degrading sleepiness into sloth, hunger into greed, and sexual desire into lust” (Stott, 175). The phrase "done away with" means to render impotent or powerless. It does not mean become extinct or to annihilate but to be deprived of power. The power of sin has been broken, not in the sense that sin is impossible for us, but in the sense that it is no longer necessary. We now have a power by which to experience victory (cf. Eph. 1:18-20). The Christian is not sinless, but the Christian should sin less.
(2) v. 7 - Literally, "justified" from sin. "The decisive breach with the reigning power of sin is viewed after the analogy of the kind of dismissal which a judge gives when an arraigned person is justified. Sin has no further claim upon the person who is thus vindicated" (Murray, 222).
(3) v. 11 - This is something of a summary statement. The verb "consider" has the sense of "to reckon." It does not mean that we are to pretend or make believe. "It is not screwing up our faith to believe something we do not believe" (Stott, 49). Rather we are to reckon with the fact that in Christ we died to sin and that in Christ we are alive to God. Let your mind meditate on this truth. The secret of holy living begins in the mind (cf. vv. 3,6,11). Our minds are so to grasp the fact of our death and resurrection with Christ that the very idea of sinning would be abhorrent to us. “We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable” (Stott, 180).
c. what we must do for God (duty) – vv. 12-14
1) the responsibility of the saints – vv. 12-13
a) our responsibility toward sin – v. 12
b) our responsibility toward God – v. 13
1 - negatively – v. 13a
2 - positively – v. 13b
This exhortation in vv. 12-13 seems burdensome. What hope do we have of success? The answer is found in v. 14.
2) the reason for success – v. 14
This is not an imperative. It is not a veiled exhortation. It is a statement of assured fact. It is a divine promise. Paul does not say, “Don’t let sin have dominion over you,” but rather, “Sin won’t have dominion over you!” Thus, v. 14a makes valid and relevant the commands of vv. 12-13 and provides the encouragement and incentive their fulfillment. In other words, obedience to vv. 12-13 is achieved by the assurance that God’s grace guarantees the realization of what is contemplated in the exhortations. Sin is here viewed as a power, and yet it will no more be our lord, for another has taken possession of us. We will never again be left helpless; we are now free and able (by God’s Spirit) to fight. Therefore,
“It is not a hopeless struggle in which the believer is engaged, but one in which victory is certain. It is a joyful confidence which the apostle here expresses, that the power of sin has been effectually broken, and the triumph of holiness effectually secured by the work of Christ” (Hodge, 205).
As for the phrase, “for you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14b), two views are possible. But first, be it noted that this does not mean we as Christians are law-less, as if to suggest that there are no divine mandates or commands or principles or laws for us to obey. Rather, one of two options is possible. First, Stott suggests that “law and grace are the opposing principles of the old and the new orders, of Adam and of Christ. To be under law is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse or condemnation. To be under grace is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free” (181). Second, and more likely, is the view of Schreiner. “Law” and “Grace”, he contends, “refer to different eras in God’s redemptive historical plan. The term ‘under law’ designates the Mosaic era as a whole, while ‘under grace’ describes the new age inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (326). The distinction between the two eras is not between evil and good but between mere command, on the one hand (= Mosaic era), and command plus power, on the other (= Christian era). See esp. Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27. To sum up:
“To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
But better news the gospel brings,
It bids me fly, and gives me wings!”
2. Free for the Savior - 6:15-23
a. an introduction - v. 15
1) an improper deduction - v. 15a
The motivation of a person whose relationship with God is governed by law is fear, primarily of the consequences if he does not obey. When the relationship is governed by grace, the motivation is love and gratitude. Thus the objection Paul must answer is this: "If we are under grace rather than law and know with certainty that God will not condemn us for our sin, then why don't we take advantage of the opportunity and sin all the more?"
2) an indignant denial - v. 15b
b. the principal truth - v. 16
Paul's point is simple: Everyone is a slave! Either you are the slave of sin or of righteousness (cf. John 8:34; Lk. 16:13). You, being purchased by the blood of Christ, are slaves of God and righteousness. You do not belong to sin. It has no rights over you. You must not serve a master from whom you have been set free.
c. our past transformation - vv. 17-18
Note several things:
First, ironically, unbelievers deny they are anybody's slave. But in point of fact "the man who imagines he is free, because he acknowledges no god but his own ego, is deluded; for the service of one's ego is the very essence of the slavery of sin" (Cranfield, 323).
Second, the phrase "that form of teaching" refers to a well-defined body of Christian truth consisting of both doctrinal concepts and ethical precepts.
Third, instead of saying that this form of teaching was delivered to us he says we were delivered over to it. Having been delivered out of one form of slavery we have been delivered into another.
d. our present task - vv. 19-22
1) the responsibility - v. 19
2) the reason - vv. 20-22
a) because sin leads to death - vv. 20-21
In your former state you had no concern from righteousness; you were carefree in regard to the demands of God; the only thing you reaped from that former way of life were things of which you are now utterly ashamed.
b) because sanctification leads to life - v. 22
e. a conclusion - v. 23
Sin pays a wage, whereas God bestows a gift. The wage sin pays is death. The gift God gives is eternal life.
3 Principles for the Christian Life
1) THOSE WHOM GOD CHOOSES, HE CHANGES. This is the remedy for passivity. Holiness is not optional, God commands it.
2) WHATEVER GOD REQUIRES, HE PROVIDES. This is the remedy for powerlessness. Holiness is not impossible, God creates it.
3) WHATEVER GOD STARTS, HE FINISHES. This is the remedy for pessimism. Holiness is not fleeting, God completes it.