He Who Has Died Has Been Freed From Sin

Sermon preached on Romans 6:1-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/02/2012 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Romans 6:1-14

“He Who Has Died Has Been Freed From Sin”

So we’ve covered five chapters in Romans dealing with the doctrine of justification. We’ve seen that man is put into a right standing with God by faith in Christ. Not by works, but by faith. That’s what we’ve studied in great detail. Paul will continue to talk about it yet some more before we are through. And yet in this chapter he moves away from focusing on justification to consider a different doctrine. The doctrine of our sanctification. Justification is that one time act that happens right when you become a Christian. But our sanctification is a process. Justification declares you to be in a state of righteousness – since Christ satisfied the law on your behalf. Sanctification, however, produces gradual change in you. It’s that process of God making your more and more righteous in your actual living. That our thoughts, words, and deeds reflect our new holy position. It’s this call to holiness that we’ll consider today.

And Paul begins that subject with a fitting transition question in verse 1. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” You see, this is the age old question when God’s amazing grace is presented. When the glory of the gospel is proclaimed that we are saved by grace, not works, this is the question. We emphasize that salvation is all about grace through and through. We declare that Christ’s works earned our justification, not our works. Paul put it this way in last chapter, verse 20. Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. And so when presented with God’s way of peace, it seems this is always the next question that’s asked. If grace abounds when we sin, why not keep sinning? So that grace would abound all the more? In other words, this is the question about license to sin. Does the gospel give people license to sin? Since the gospel is that God forgives all the sins of those who turn in faith to Christ, does that mean people are just going to go out and “sin it up,” so to speak? Then they can just ask for forgiveness, anyways, right? Well, Paul says no. He says no in the most pointed way! Certainly not! In the Greek this is such a strong way to so no.

Paul’s reasoning for this is what follows. Our passage is explaining how inconsistent it would be for the Christian to live in such a way. He’s declaring that it would be contrary to who we are in Christ. That’s what verse 2 then asks in rhetorical fashion: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” That’s question in response. If asked does the gospel give license to sin, we ask, “How could we?” How could we live like that, in light of who we are? Of course, we know that more needs to be said. This very passage implies that the Christian in this life will battle over this inconsistency. Who we are in Christ, means we ought not sin any longer. And yet, this side of heaven, we still do commit sins. And yet we ought no longer to be people characterized with the love of sin, nor people seeking out sin. We should in fact be making progress in our battle against sin, and look to live in holiness. But the reason we seek this, is because of who we are in Christ and the signifigance of that. That’s Paul’s focus today. He brings out how our new life in Christ calls us to holiness.

And so we’ll see this in three points. First, I want us to consider our union with Christ. That’s the foundational premise of this passage. Second, we’ll consider the change that has taken place with us, now that we are united to Christ. Third, we’ll consider the call to holiness that flows out of all this. And so this is all flushing out our sanctification. It’s rooted in our new life in Christ and what it looks like as its lived out.

Let’s begin then with considering our union with Christ. That’s a label you might hear bandied about a lot. Passages like this talk about it. We see that language at several points here. Verse 5 talks about it most explicitily. It affirms that we have been united with him in his death, therefore we will be united with him in his resurrection. When we see language about with Christ, or in Christ, or through Christ, in the Bible, it usually has this same sense as well. There’s a close connection and unity we experience when we put our faith in Christ. The Bible describes that connection in this terminology of union. We are united to Christ. This is obviously not a physical union. It’s a spiritual union. And it’s a mystical union, mystical in the sense that we believe it because we are told it, but we can’t fully grasp it or comprehend exactly the full nature of it.

We see this similar union language again applied in verse 8, there again with regards to Christ’s death and life. If we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Christ. Verse 4 says that we were buried with him. Verse 6 says that our old man was crucified with him. So then realize how this union concept works. We ourselves didn’t physically hang on the cross and die. I mean, in the flesh, that didn’t happen. Jesus did that. He experienced all the beatings and whippings first. He wore the crown of thorns. He felt the nails pierce into his hands. His body got the spear in the side. His body was laid in the tomb until the resurrection. He suffered the wrath of God for sin. He went through those things. Physically we did not. But because of our union with Christ, Paul repeatedly says that we did. We died with him. Our old self was crucified with him. We were buried with him. Those are horrible things that we have not personally experienced. Christ personally experienced them for us. But in our union with Christ, we are connected with them.

And yet not only have we been united in the negative. We are united in the positive too. In his resurrection and new life. Again, this is wonderful because this union means we benefit from these negatives without experiencing them physically like Christ did. And yet we benefit from the resurrection and new life very experientially. That is something in our union with Christ will do and will experience. Praise God!

Of course, this union with Christ is something that happens by faith. By faith in him we are united to Christ. That is surely why Paul mentions the baptism here. Verse 3 uses baptism language in connection with union language. We have been baptized into Christ, and therefore baptized into death. Baptism outwardly expresses the hope that we have in Christ. It signifies and seals that union we have with Christ, according to verse 3. Similar to how a marriage ceremony outwardly but solemnly seals the union of two people, so too with baptism. The ordinance of baptism seals that union we have with Christ. Being baptized into Christ means we are baptized into his death; and therefore surely into his life as well. And so when someone becomes a Christian and gets baptized, it’s an expression of that faith that unites us to Christ.

And so this is not some light concept of union. If it was some minor thing of importance, then why have baptism? Why have some ceremony that expresses our union, if it is not important? You could ask the same thing about the Lord’s Supper. The reason why we also call it Communion is because in 1 Corinthians 10:16 it says that the bread and wine are communion with the body and blood of Christ. We express our union as well in the ordinance of Communion. We do this in remembrance of Christ to express in this solemn ceremony the dignity of the union we have with Jesus.

I bring this all up, because Paul says we need to know this. When responding to the question about the license to sin, this is his answer. Remember our union with Christ. This concept of our union with Christ tells us how foolish such a question is. That’s the push back of verse 3. Do you not know? Do you not know that we’ve been baptized into Christ, into his death, and into his life? We need to know this. For our sanctification, we need to know this. A fundamental change has taken place when we became Christian. We’ve become united to Christ. And that changes everything.

Well, that leads us then to our second point. Our union with Christ is so signifigant to this, because of the change that has taken place. Our union brings about this change. We see multiples images here that express the change that has taken place. The most used one is about life and death. In our union, we have both died and risen. We have exprienced death and new life. Verse 2, we have died to sin. Verse 3, baptized into his death. Verse 4, buried. Verse 5, united in a death like his. Verse 6, crucified. Verse 7, we have died. But not just death. life too! Verse 4, in Christ’ resurrection we now have newness of life. Verse 5, we will be united in the likeness of his resurrection – that one looks to the future. Verse 11, we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. Verse 13 we are alive from the dead. So, yes, lots of references to death and life here. A related imagery here is of the old man. This is verse 6. The implication is that we now are a new man. The old man is what died. The new man now lives.

This death and life imagery expresses so much! Our sins deserved death and divine wrath. Christ experienced that for us. But because of our union, it has become our reality. We died in terms of the punihsment of sin through Christ. He did it, and it’s reckoned to us. The guilt of sin no longer has any power over us because we died. We died in Christ! And so too then with the resurrection. He raised from the dead. He secured newness of life. But we have that now ourselves already in Christ. And we will experience that for ourselves when we die, we will rise. Because Christ is the resurrection and the life. And we are in him and he in us. His power in us will overcome death and bring us into the resurrection.

And so this is all the more exciting when we read in verse 9 that he dies no more. And verse 10 that he died once for all. And now he lives. The emphasis on his one death, shows that he satisfied the punishment for sin. Death was the punishment. That’s why he only died once. You see, there is no double jeopardy. He didn’t have to die over and over again to keep suffering for our sins. And so that means the guilt has been done away with. That means we now live in Christ.

Another imagery used here to express the change that has happened through union with Christ is that of dominion. Before sin, death, and the law, had dominion over us. We were slaves to them. Not any more. Now, grace has dominion over us! We see this expressed in verse 6 when it says that now we are no longer slaves to sin. The idea is that before we served sin because we were under its dominion. Verse 9 specifically mentions that death has no more dominion over us. Verse 14 then brings in the connection with sin and the law. They won’t have dominion over us anymore it says. Instead, we are under grace. In other words, that’s whose domininon we are under now. (I’m okay with that – being under the dominion of grace!)

In other words, God didn’t want us to be defeated under the heavy hand of sin and death and the condemnation of the law. That’s what Adam earned for us. That’s what we’ve earned in our own sins. But the good news is that all this has been reversed. And it’s reversed in this new union. So verse 7 says we’ve been freed from sin. Literally, we’ve been justified from sin. Because Christ paid the price and overcame, if we are in him, we are set free. His propitiation means our sin has been atoned. In terms of sin, there’s no charge that can now be brought against us. We’ve been freed from that bondage. Now we gladly serve grace which made it all happen as God’s redeemed people.

The purpose in all this is given in verse 6. ”Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Again, you see Paul emphasizing that we need to know this. And knowing this, tells us part of God’s purpose in this union with Christ. That sin would be destroyed. That we would no longer serve sin. See, that is the purpose statement. That’s the intention here. You see, we just spent 5 chapters talking about justification. About how we are saved apart from works, even though we have sinned. We can tend to make the mistake of thinking that this is all that our salvation involves. But it is only part of our salvation. Another part of our salvation is to make us people that stop sinning. In other words, another part of our salvation is our sanctification. Both justification and sanctification is part of our salvation. Grace reigns over us for both purposes. Grace reigns over us, not just to set us in a right standing before God. But grace also domineers us now to make us people who live godly. This destruction of actual sin in our life is part of the goal in our union with Christ and the cross. Again, Paul says we need to know this. When answering the question about license to sin, Paul says we need to know this purpose of our salvation.

So do you see Paul’s point here then? Our union with Christ is the reason why we are called to live holy now. Our union with Christ has connected us with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And so the life we now live, we live by faith in Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. This is our reality. This is our state. It would be inconsistent with our new life to live in our former ways of sin. It would be a contradiction to our union with Christ. This doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with sin before we get to heaven. No, the exhoration of this passage would tell us that we will have struggles. Paul would not need to inform our thinking here and call us to holiness if it was just automatic. Romans will go on to show that there is a struggle this side of heaven. But it’s our identity in Christ that tells us how we ought to live.

Just like if a slave somehow became a prince – say by adoption. Their new identity would mean they ought to live like a king not a slave. It would surely be a struggle to make the transition. But that wouldn’t change their identity. They were still a prince, even if at times they slipped back into thinking or acting like a slave. But how silly to say the least for them to still act like a slave. Or take a different analogy. Let’s say you were soldier in a war. Let’s say that your country and the enemy country reached a peace deal, but, for whatever reason, communication didn’t make it to your unit in time, and you get killed in a skirmish with the other army. This all after peace had officially been reached. That would be a shame, because in reality peace had been reached. But any battles after that would be a contradiction to that peace. They would be in opposition to the official reality. That can be like us too. We can act contrary to reality of who we are in Christ. But this passage says that ought not to be the case. Our old life was one characterized by sinning. His very purpose of salvation is to deal with the problem of sin. Saved from the guilt of sin in our justification. And being saved from the power of sin in our sanctification.

And so thus, we have here a call to holiness. It’s both implied and directly commanded here in this passage. Let’s look at a few specifics of this call to holiness here. Look at verse 4 to start. Verse 4 uses the language of walking. We are to walk in our newness of life. Walking is something ongoing that you do. Lots of actions are pretty singular. You turn on a light switch. You do a jump. But when you walk, it’s not something just for a moment. You go walking. And so this is language that describes a pattern of living. You are someone who walks now in good deeds because you have this new life. You don’t walk in your former manner anymore. You walk according to your new reality. Again, this draws from the point that we have passed from death to life.

Look now at verse 12. Verse 12 brings this exhoration very directly as well. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts. Here this command flows from the reality as well. We said we passed from the dominion of sin to the dominion of grace. So Paul can command us to not let sin be our master then anymore. If we don’t answer to sin anymore, then stop answering to sin! Stop acting like it’s in charge. It’s not! It’s not our master anymore. This goes into what we talked about last week. We can experience victory over our present struggles. God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. Again, we see the struggle that we will have. Verse 12 assumes that we will still have sinful lusts come up. Will we obey them? Will we submit to them? That’s the question. We are commanded not to submit. The irony is that these lusts are something that should be distateful to us. Again, think of the slave turned prince. Think of what they might have had to eat before they became a prince. The pig slop from the prodigal son parable comes to mind. If his father the king saw him eating pig slop, surely the father would reprimand. Stop eating that junk. Imagine if he replied, ”But I like it!” That would be foolishness. The King would have the best foods for his adopted son. Well, we too will find those sinful cravings still come up sometimes. We’ve been told instead to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Let us be aware of those former lusts. Let us see the foolishness of going after them. They are but like pig slop. Leave them alone. Don’t obey sin’s lies. Taste and see that The Lord is good. And that righteousness truly fills our cravings.

Look now at verse 13. Another direct exhoration. ”Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” It’s talking about the parts of our body. We ought to use them for good, and not for sin. We ought to use them to glorify God in godliness and not to serve sin as our master. The word instruments here can mean either tool or weapon. Either way we see how it can be a device that is used to either advance the cause of unrighteousness or advance the cause of righteousness. Again, we can either serve God with our bodies, or we can serve sin. We either live out that grace we’ve been given, or we go back to acting like we haven’t been saved from sin. Paul of course, tells us we must serve God in righteousness. That is how we must use our bodies. This gets at even the physical self control we are repeatedly called to in the Bible.

And so this call to holiness is call to walk in a new way. According to our new life. We do not serve sin by going after our old lusts but we reign over our bodies by using them for good. For God. To live in a way consistent with that union we have with Christ. This is why the Scriptures tell us that God is conforming us to the image of Christ. That’s what he’s doing. That’s why he call us to act in line with what he’s forming in us. He’s forming Christ in us. His likeness is being fashioned in us. Because his life is now our life. We are being made like him.

And so brothers and sisters in Christ, let us bring this all back full circle. This is why Paul can say ”certainly not” when asked if we now should sin so that grace can abound. No, that would be contrary to grace. Yes, grace has abounded in light of our former sins. But grace will truly continue to abound as grace has dominion over us now. As grace works new life in us. As grace works the fruit of righteousness in our hearts and minds. As grace conforms us to the image of Christ, the image we’ve already been baptized into. That’s how God intends grace to continue to abound in the Christian’s life. Yes, grace will certainly be there when we still stumble in sin. But it will especially abound in our sanctification. And so the call to the non-Christian is to come to Christ and be forgiven of your sins. Grace will abound in that. But for the Christian, we are called to war against sin and in doing so, grace will abound in that as well. That’s our call, and even our encouragement. God will give us more grace as we look to serve him.

And so then I leave us today with the command of verse 11. ”Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is also a command. A call not for how to act. But for how to think. It’s been the teaching we’ve been considering today. This teaching of our union with Christ and how that means we’ve died in Christ and have been made alive in Christ. Paul commands us to see things this way. Paul’s commanding us to have this perspective about ourselves. He’s telling us how to think about ourselves. Interstingly, the word reckon here is the same word in the Greek that is translated as imputation. We’ve talked a lot of imputation. Adam’s sin had been imputed to us. In Christ, by faith, we have righteousness imputed to us. God imputes righteousness to the believer. That means he reckons us righteous. God thinks of us in that way. Surely, God then reckons us as having died in Christ and being made alive in Christ. That’s how God thinks of us. And Paul says that’s how we must think of ourselves. Think of yourselves this way. This’s the closing exhoration for us. And if we do, we too will know to answer the same way Paul did when asked about a license to sin. Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! Let us think this way. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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