Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 9, 1990
Purpose: To help us understand why we believers can enjoy victory over sin, and to encourage us to do it.
Do you have a problem with things in your life that don't please the Lord? You may not like that term, and you may prefer that I didn't use it, but lets be honest about it and call it what is: sin. I'm talking about sinful habits you cannot seem to break, sinful actions you cannot seem to stop, sinful attitudes you cannot seem to change. I have a problem with them. And I think most all of us, in our more honest moments, will admit to struggling with nagging sins.
What's the solution to the problem of sin in believer's life? We preachers seem to be preoccupied with that question: "How can we get Christians to stop sinning?" Different preachers use different tactics. Some instill fear: "You better shape up or God's going to get you. He may even take your salvation away from you." Some distort God's grace. They add conditions to salvation, make it a matter of doing certain things rather than trusting God's grace: "You have to go to church, be baptized, give your money, stop doing bad things if you really want to be saved." Some impose the law, and they hold it over their people as a heavy club. "You need to keep the ten commandments or you'll never get into heaven."
That's what some of the Jews in Rome were doing in Paul's day. And that's why he's so strong in his emphasis that salvation is not by the works of the law, but by salvation through faith, and the works of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul's solution to the problem is "none of the above." It is simply to help Christians understand who they are in Christ and what happened to them when they believed in the Lord Jesus. And that's what he wants to talk about next. Let me show you how he gets into it.
He's been talking about justification by grace through faith alone. And he has explained that when we begin to grasp the immensity of all we have in Christ as a result of our justification, we become all the more convinced that faith alone will see us through to heaven's glory. That's been the theme of chapter 5. Faith alone will see us through. We'll know it when we realize what we have.
What do we have? Well, he's listed the things we have. We have peace, we have hope, we have love, we have assurance, we have life, and we have a super-abundant supply of God's matchless grace.
Paul knew that the last one that would bother some of his readers. Somehow, it bothers us that God has that much grace. He had made the point in Romans 5:20. "Moreover, the law entered," he said--the law came in alongside of--"that sin might abound, but where sin abounded grace abounded much more."
The law was brought in alongside to show how gross and vile sin really is. It acts like a magnifying glass that illuminates the hideousness of our sin. But no matter how awful our sin is, there is more than enough of God's grace available to forgive it and cleanse it. More than enough. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." And that, for many of Paul's readers, is the problem.
Paul is addressing the very thing he knows is in their minds when they read this letter. Romans 6:1. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"
That sounds logical, doesn't it? If more sin results in more of God's grace, then why shouldn't we sin more so God will have an opportunity to display more of His grace? It's a very natural question to ask. If salvation depends totally on God's free grace and our good works have nothing to do with it, then we can just go right on sinning after we're saved with no fear of ever exhausting God's grace, right? That is what a lot of people think. I mean, that seems to be the way they're living.
That's is exactly why so many preachers dilute God's grace; they're afraid that if they preach it as the Bible states it, their people will interpret that as a license to sin. And we can understand why some do.
I have great admiration for a preacher in Palo Alto [California] named Ray Stedman, who has written a number of fine and helpful books. And in his commentary on Romans, he goes so far as to say, "If my teaching or preaching of the gospel does not arouse this question in someone's mind, there is probably something wrong with my teaching" (Romans: From Guilt to Glory Volume I, 140).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great British preacher concurs: "There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that...because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace" (A New Man: An Exposition of Romans Chapter 6, pp. 8-9. Quoted in Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, p. 39).
If we clearly communicate the message of God's pure grace, somebody is going to misrepresent it in this way. Let's face it, sin is fun, and we often look for ways to keep on sinning without suffering any unpleasant consequences for it. And if we can blame it on God, so much the better. So, shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?
Look at Paul's answer. "Certainly not!" Literally, he says, "May it never be!" It's the strongest negative of which the Greek language is capable. "May it never be. Absolutely, positively not!" And I have to tell you, when Paul goes on to explain his answer to this accusation, he doesn't dilute the purity of God's grace one drop; he doesn't diminish or modify the absolute freeness of God's salvation one speck. He keeps right on maintaining that God's grace is vast enough to cover all our sin.
In fact, his point is that God's grace rather than the law is the very thing that makes it possible for us to overcome sin. It's another result of our justification. It's part of the benefit package that comes with our eternal salvation. Chapter 6 actually continues the theme of chapter 5: The results of our justification, the benefits we received when we were declared to be right with God through faith in His Son. And knowing who we are and what we have in Christ helps to answer the question, "Why shouldn't we go on sinning?" We understand the problem; now let's see God's provision, which is the answer to the problem.
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not.
"How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2b). That is the essence of Paul's argument in the rest of this passage: "We died to sin."
That's it! While it is certainly possible for us to go on sinning after we have been saved, as most of us have proven in our own experience, it is inconceivable that we would want to, because WE DIED TO SIN! But what does that mean? If we died to it, how can we respond to it at all? Dead people don't have a problem with sin. You can line up all the liquor bottles in the world next to a dead drunk, and he isn't going to have one bit of trouble resisting the temptation to drink. So what does this mean? Let's allow Paul to explain it.
Romans 6:3. "For do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?"
At the moment we trusted Christ as Savior from sin, according to 1 Corinthians 12:13, the Holy Spirit of God baptized us into the body of Christ. He united us with Christ, identified us with Christ, made us one with Christ. The Spirit of God did that.
The Bible uses marriage to illustrate that relationship. When I marched down the aisle and came to the altar at Calvary Church of Bristol in 1954, we said some things, and my dad, who was the pastor, said some things, and he united us together. And we went off on our honeymoon, we joined ourselves together and were united into one. We identified ourselves with one another, and from that day forward, we began to blend our lives together.
That's what happens to us when we trust Christ for salvation. The Holy Spirit acts as the preacher at the ceremony and unites us to Christ. We're joined to Him. Marriage is probably the best illustration of that. And that's called a baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
Baptism here is not water baptism, but rather Spirit baptism which is pictured by water baptism. Water baptism is like the ring at the wedding ceremony. When I stood at the front of the church and put a ring on Mary's finger and she in turn put one on my finger, those rings didn't unite us in marriage. But they are a fitting symbol of our union. They announce to the world that we belong to each other. In like manner, water baptism doesn't save us, but it does picture what happened to us when we were joined to Jesus Christ, and announces it to the world.
And it doesn't picture some vague and general union, but relates specifically to two important events in Christ's experience which became part of our experience at the moment of our salvation--His death and His resurrection. When we are lowered down into the water it pictures our death and burial with Christ, and when we are lifted out of the water it pictures our resurrection with Christ.
Romans 6:4-5. "Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death. That just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection."
There it is: death and resurrection. Let's talk about the first one: our death with Christ. How can one person be identified with another in death? No human illustration can perfectly explain it, but there is one that may help. During the Civil War a man named George Wyatt was drawn by lot to go to the front. He had a wife and six children, and so a friend named Richard Pratt offered to go in his place. Pratt was accepted and joined the ranks bearing the name and number of George Wyatt. And sadly enough, he was killed in action. Later the authorities tried again to draft George Wyatt into service, but he protested, claiming that he had died in the person of Pratt, his substitute. They examined the records and as a result legally exempted him from any further military service. He had died in the person of his representative. And we died in the person of our representative, Jesus Christ--died to any further claim that sin might have on us. We died to sin.
But it didn't stop there. Christ didn't leave us in the tomb. We were united with Christ not only in His death, but also in His resurrection. Now because we are alive in Him, we can live an entirely new kind of life, a life that pleases Him and honors Him. Now this is heavy. It's one of the most difficult doctrinal truths in the entire New Testament. And Paul knows it. But he wants to make it as clear as he can. So he goes on to amplify it, to explain the results of this death, burial and resurrection with Christ.
Romans 6:6. "Knowing this"--this is an explanation and an amplification of what we've already seen--"knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with…" Not "destroyed;" our King James translation does us a disservice here. "...done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin."
When we trusted Christ and were placed in union with Him, three things happened to us.
First, we died. Our old man was crucified with Him. Oftentimes this passage is preached and the "old man" is referred to as the sin nature. It isn't the sin nature. Our old man isn't our old sin nature, but the person we were before we were saved, our life before conversion, our former self. What I was before my salvation is now dead.
John R. W. Stott wrote a helpful book on Romans 5 through 8 (Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5-8). He likens it to a biography written in two volumes. Volume one is the story of my old self before salvation. Volume two is the story of my new self, my life now as a new creation in Christ. Volume one is finished. That chapter of my life is closed, terminated, dead--crucified with Christ. Now I want to forget about it and go on. I'm in volume two of my life now. Volume one is over. Our old self was crucified with Christ.
Second, the power which our old sin nature had over us was broken. That's the idea in the next clause: "that the body of sin might be done away with." The body of sin doesn't refer to the physical body as such. The body is not sinful in itself. But we do have a sinful nature that operates through the body, seeks to control the body and use the body to express its sinful desires. And when the old chapter of my life closed, the power of that sin nature was broken. It wasn't destroyed. That's a fallacy that gets us into trouble. The words translated "done away with" do not mean destroyed, but rather defeated, made ineffective, dealt a crushing blow. Our sinful nature is still there, very much alive and active. It still attacks us and it can still win victories over us. But it's power has been broken.
We might illustrate that again from the Civil War. It was early July, 1863, about two years into the war, when Lee's Southern troops attacked the larger and better supplied Union army at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, not too many miles from where I grew up. After three days of furious fighting and 28,000 casualties, out of ammunition and supplies, the commander of the Southern army had no alternative but to lead his exhausted army in retreat to Virginia. The power of the South had been broken. They continued to wage war for two more years and thousands more lives were lost, but there is little question that had General Meade followed up his Union victory by pursuing the Southern troops with a counterattack, the war would have come to a quicker and more merciful end. Because the power of the South was broken.
That's basically what happened to us as a result of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The power of our sin nature was broken. It continues to wage war and do untold damage, but we are no longer under its authority and control. It has been stripped of its power.
Third, when we received Christ and were placed in union with Him, we were freed from our slavery to that sinful nature. No longer must we serve our sinful disposition and sinful inclinations. Before our salvation we had no alternative but to obey it because it was the only nature we have. But now we are free from that bondage.
Romans 6:7. "For he who has died has been freed from sin."
It says literally, "For he who has died has been justified from sin." It's the word "justified" that we've been studying in this book.
In old Scotland, after a prisoner had been hanged, a notice was posted on the prison door. It would say something like, "John McDuff was justified at six o'clock this morning." Justified. It meant that he had paid for his sin. Consequently, the law had no more claim on him. So far as his crime was concerned, the prisoner had paid for it with his life. Therefore he was justified. Since we have been identified with Christ in His death for our sin, sin has no further claim on our lives.
Romans 6:8-10. "Now if we died with Christ, we believe we shall live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over him, for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God."
Christ died to sin in the sense that He bore its penalty. And we, because of our union with Him, have already born the penalty of our sin. Did you know that? You've already paid for your sin, if you're in Christ. Because you're identified with Him and that's what He did at Calvary. He paid for sin and we were there with Him paying for our sin [Stott, Men Made New, p.43].
And with the penalty paid, sin has no more claim on us, no more authority over us. It's power has been broken. God in His marvelous grace has closed that old chapter of our lives, a chapter dominated by sin. He has turned the page for us and started a brand new chapter. How foolish to go back and live in chapter one, dominated by sin. It would be totally inconsistent.
Now do you understand verses 1 and 2 a little better? "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"
That's God's motivation and empowerment for victory over sin. How can we go on living in sin as believers, even though God's grace is vast enough to cover all our sins? It is utterly incongruous and absolutely absurd for somebody who has died to his past and begun a new chapter in his life to go back and open the first chapter and live it again.
Think back to the illustration of marriage. When I said "I do," I closed the chapter in my life called bachelorhood, and began a whole new chapter called married life, which has turned out to be a far better. I died to my bachelor days, and I have no desire to go back to them. I got married to live a married life, and that's what I want to do. And I became a Christian to live a Christian life, and that's what I want to do. The old life of sin may promise pleasure, but ultimately it brings only misery. Why should I want to go back to it? I want to live in the light of who I now am. Dead to sin, alive to God through our Lord Jesus.
But how can we keep from going back? We still have that option, as we have all learned through bitter experience. There are some things we must do in order to get all this great doctrinal truth operating in our daily experience. So after stating the problem, and discussing God's gracious provision for holy living, Paul wants to talk about our responsibility: our daily practice.
Romans 6:11. "Likewise you also now reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
First of all, start counting on God's provision. "To reckon" does not mean to pretend it's true when we know it isn't. I think some people think that. They read this and they don't understand it and they think, "Well, I'm supposed to be dead to sin but I'm sure not, so I guess I have to pretend like I am." No, that's not what the passage says at all. We are dead to sin in Christ. That chapter of our lives is closed. Now count on it! Reckon means to realize that it is true, to recognize that it's true, to regard it as true.
It's like when I got married. I died to my old flames. If I ever had a thought about looking one up and taking her out to dinner, I remembered that I died to them, and I was alive to Mary. And I regarded it as true. I lived like the man I was: a married man.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. When we're tempted to go back to our old life, we need to let our minds linger on these great truths, to meditate on them--we have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, and we have been released from our bondage to sin. And now we can live like the new person we are.
When Satan whispers in our ear and says, "Go ahead and do it; it doesn't make any difference; God will forgive you; His grace is big enough to handle it," we need to say, "Get lost, Satan; that phase of my life is closed; I died to that in Christ; and it would be ridiculous for me to go back to it." The more we remind ourselves that we are dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus, the more victory over sin we shall enjoy.
Second, we need to stop letting sin reign.. Romans 6:12-13a. "Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not go on presenting your members as instruments of unrighteousness and sin."
Stop letting sin reign. Stop acting as though sin were your king. Stop letting sin use you and the various parts of your body to further its unrighteous purposes. Stop going to places and putting yourself in situations where you will be tempted to sin. Stop filling your mind with things that make you more vulnerable to Satan's temptation. Stop that! Do not let sin reign. That's your decision, your choice. God's not going to do that for you. That's something you need to choose, and I need to choose.
Third, present yourself to God. Romans 6:13b. "But present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness to God."
Present yourself to God. Give Him each part of your body as an instrument to do His will. Consciously give Him your eyes, your mouth and tongue, your hands and feet, and your sexual organs. Give them to God. Have you ever thought about doing that? Let me tell you, friend, if you ever dedicated your sexual organs to God, you'd be very much more careful about how you used them.
That's what Paul is saying here. Stop presenting your members as instruments of unrighteousness and sin, but present your members as instruments of righteousness to God. When you give yourself to God and dedicate the members of your body to Him in a decisive act of yieldedness, you won't want to use them to sin any more. And His power will begin to operate in you enabling you to overcome sin. That's the promise of Romans 6:14: "And sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace."
That sums it up. Far from encouraging us to sin, God matchless grace is the means of victory over sin. His gracious provision is enough. Putting ourselves back under the law won't help. The law has no power to deliver us from sin's power. But by God's grace that old chapter in our lives is closed and a new chapter has begun. Now we can live like the new people we are in Christ. Let's do it, and enjoy God's very best.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe there are some here this morning that need to make some definite, decisive acts of consecration, and commitment, and dedication to Jesus Christ. They need to give the members of their bodies to the Lord Jesus--yield them to Him. Don't put that off. Your life will continue to be spiritually frustrating and a spiritual failure until you yield your body to Jesus Christ. It's possible that maybe you haven't even turned the page over yet. You're still in volume one, trying to earn your salvation by doing good deeds and experiencing one frustrating failure after another, never sure whether God will or has accepted you. Will you believe that Jesus died in your place? He paid for your sin in full. And He asks you to acknowledge your sin and your unworthiness before Him, and trust Him and His gift to you. Receive that gift in the person of the Lord Jesus, who died in your place and paid for your sin. Maybe there are some that need to begin a new volume today; they've never done it before. They need to close the book and let the Lord Jesus give them a new chapter, a clean slate--wash their sins away through His own shed blood at Calvary.
Let's bow our heads and our hearts before His presence. Let's talk about that second decision first. If you have never trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, would you, right now, make that decision. Maybe you've been religious, or maybe you've been non-religious; that's really not the issue. The issue is whether or not you've acknowledged your sin, and put your trust in the death of Jesus Christ at Calvary, and His resurrection from the grave as your only hope for eternal salvation. And if you've not done that, would you do it now? Don't put it off. Just in these quiet moments, settle it, will you? "Lord, I'm a sinner." Tell Him that in the quiet of your own heart right now.
Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died in my place, that He paid the debt I owed, bore the punishment I deserved. Lord Jesus, come into my heart and save me right now.
And He will. He promised that. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
You say, "Well, I've made that commitment, but I'm still defeated by sin." Well let's come back to this conclusion this morning. Are you ready to start considering yourself to be, indeed, dead to sin but alive to God? Are you willing to yield your members as instruments of righteousness to God, present your body to Him? Would you make that decision right now?
"Lord, here's my body: my eyes and ears, my mouth, my tongue, my hands, my feet, even my sexual organs, as well as every other part of my body. Lord, it's Yours. I give it to You to use as an instrument of righteousness for Your glory."
Don't resist that decision. Your life will be fruitless and frustrating as a professing believer in Jesus Christ, until you make this decision and yield your body to Him.
Father, You know our hearts. You see what others cannot see, but what we know. Help us to be honest with You today and deal with the sin in our lives. And I pray that those who have never yet trusted Christ as eternal Savior from sin will not let this opportunity slip by, but will respond to Your grace in faith and open their hearts to the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Continue to ROM 09: Whose Slave Are You?