I like being an American citizen. We enjoy many freedoms that the rest of the world either emulates or doesn’t have at all. But on the other side of that coin, we have many people who are fighting for more rights they think are important.
Extremists for every issue declare certain things rights that aren’t in our Constitution. They want to take our freedom to the next level. The next level for them means something completely different than it means for other Americans.
All of these culture wars pull every person one way or the other. Extremists don’t like when you want to land in the middle of an issue. If you don’t pick their side, they will hound you until you give in. They want to take liberties the Constitution doesn’t currently allow.
So also, we find this happening in the New Testament. Paul was on the liberal view of what it meant to have freedom in Christ. But he still didn’t take it as far as some other people did. He talked about Grace that is greater than sin.
But other people thought he meant that we could sin as much as we want because every sin increases that grace. So after explaining the justification of God that comes by greats in our lives in Romans 5:1-11 he moves to explain that liberty in Christ doesn’t mean the kind of liberty we wanted to be.
What’s all of this have to do with holiness? How we think about sin and deal with it in our lives has everything to do with pleasing Christ. If we rationalize sin under grace, we will greatly displease our Lord on a regular basis.
One of the most powerful pieces of Scripture is Romans 6-8. It goes through the implications of our salvation and justification (Romans 6). It talks about the struggle that we face in our sanctification (Romans 7).
And it talks about freedom in the Spirit and the power to resist sin (Romans 8) in the next few posts I will be going through these verses to explain the power of what Paul is unpacking. Let’s start with Romans 6 in this post.
First Holiness Image: Dead to Sin
Paul opens with the questions of others, “Can we continue sinning so grace may increase” (Romans 6:1)? And he responds with a firm absolutely not and contends that we are dead to sin. Then he uses the image of our water baptism to show that we died to sin when we symbolically died with Christ (Romans 6:3-4).
We now have a new life with Christ. This new life includes the power to resist sin because we are dead to it. It doesn’t even register on our radar. Sin is barking up the wrong tree. Paul talks about the “old self” and says it is what was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6).
A lot of people like to talk about the “sinful nature.” Every time I have seen that phrase in a translation, it is translating the “old self.” Christians do not have a sinful nature. It died in our old life and now we have a new life in Christ. This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 6:6.
But we also deal with desires that are tempted by various reminders of the old life. We must ignore these desires and continue to remind them that they are dead. It’s when we allow them to live again that we have entangling sin (Hebrews 12:1) or allow these temptations to threaten our walk with Christ. I will explain this better in the next section of Romans 6.
One of the most powerful versus in Romans 6 is verse seven. It says in black-and-white that anyone who has died has been freed from sin. We have died with Christ and we are free from sin (Romans 6:7-8). Just as Jesus lives a life to God and can’t die again, so also we have been freed from sin and live our life for God’s purposes and glory (Romans 6:9-11).
Paul now commands us to no longer listen to our passions and desires, the old person, or to temptation and sin (Romans 6:12-14). If Scripture, God’s Word to us, tells us to do something, we have the power to do it. People who say that we can’t control our passions or handle temptation need to read this chapter again.
If we could not control these things after Jesus has saved us, brought us from death to life, then the power of the cross is a sham. We are masters over our passions and sin (Romans 6:12). We are the ones who let the cat out of the bag and allow temptation to stroke our passions and bring sin forth again.
We have the choice to allow our bodies to sin against God or to present them to him as tools for his righteous purposes (Romans 6:13). We prove whether we have become alive in Christ through our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Paul talks a lot about grace versus the law. The law shows us our sin. Every law condemns us. But we live under grace, where Jesus has already fulfilled the law and as we follow him we also fulfill it. Being under grace doesn’t mean we get to sin. It means that Jesus has covered our sins and we are eternally grateful and work feverishly for his kingdom that will last forever.
Second Holiness Image: Slaves to Righteousness
So if we don’t sin for grace to increase, maybe we can get away with sin because we are under grace instead of the law (Romans 6:15). Again, Paul doesn’t leave that door open for Christians either. Another resounding, “Absolutely not!”
Paul goes on to explain that whatever master we serve we make our master (Romans 6:16). If we serve sin and temptation, folding at every opportunity they present, and we are slaves to sin. Christians are not slaves to sin. We serve a different Master.
The thing is, as much as we hate to hear it, we are slaves. The question is not our position as slaves. The question is our Master. We have two options. We can serve sin and be slaves to sin or we can serve righteousness and be slaves to righteousness. Whoever we obey is our master.
Hearing the gospel and committing our lives to Christ opened the door to the dungeon of slavery to sin (Romans 6:17). Our station has been changed from slaves to sin to slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). Paul speaks in terms of the human illustration of slavery. It’s what we can understand.
When I was in seminary, one of my professors had the best illustration to explain what has happened to us that I’ve ever heard. Dr. Oss told us that in the old life we had no choice. We were bound with her hands behind our back. We happily served sin all of our days and did whatever our hearts desired.
But the moment we met Christ and began to follow him, our chains were broken and we are free from sin. Now we have the choice to serve God or not. We have that power. The question is if we use it to serve Christ as we are dead to sin now or if we choose to give any power to our former life and desires.
It’s only when we continue to kill our flesh and passions and turned to a life of service to Christ in obedience to righteousness that we can be sanctified (Romans 6:19). If we choose to wield the power of our death to sin, we will see the life of Christ and walk with him.
A true slave of Christ has no option. We’ve seen what the old life, temptation, desires and passions, and sin have to offer. They fall way short on delivering on their promises (Romans 6:22a). But I have never seen a promise of God that has not been shown to be true (Romans 6:22b).
A true slave of Christ can only call Jesus “Lord” through the word, “Yes.” We submit to Christ every day and always. The same free will Adam and Eve used in the garden to turn against God’s command is the same free will use every day to turn to it.
So we choose eternal life in Christ with every action we commit for the Lord (Romans 6:23). We’ve seen the death and destruction that the old life leads to and we choose to turn to Christ. Every time that our flesh and desires of the old life rear their ugly heads, we must crush them.
So as I have always said, it comes down to the mind. This is the battlefield for righteousness and holiness. This is the place we make our daily decisions to listen to the flesh or listen to God. It is the place where we make every decision that glorifies God. It is the place the battle is won.
You may call me a crazy liberal Christian because I don’t believe that sin only wins if we let it. I would rather err on the side of the power of Christ’s sacrifice to completely eradicate sin in my life then give it a backdoor to get back in.
I am only following what I see in Scripture. Paul talks about the power of death to sin and what it means to no longer be enslaved to it, I cannot deny what I read. My experiences bow to the words of the words I read in my Bible. If he says I am free from sin and should do it no longer, that is the goal.
Many people may say, “But I struggle with sin even though I am a Christian.” That is the experience of many. So next week we’ll turn to Romans 7 where Paul speaks about that situation. Stay tuned for the next episode in the Holiness Matters blog series!
What do you think about how I interpret Romans 6? Leave a comment and tell me about your views on the matter sin in the life of a believer.