Sanctification: The Triumph of Grace Over the Power of Sin

by Mike Ratliff

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:15-16 ESV)

As I stated in yesterday’s post, if the Gospel is preached correctly, that is, with justification by faith alone being central with absolutely no merit or work by the believer having any bearing on it, then the two rhetorical questions Paul raised in the two passages above should be on the forefront of the minds of all hearing it. Justification by faith as a gift from God, not by our doing in any part (Ephesians 2:8,9) leaves us open bare before God. We have no religiosity to hide behind. We have no steps to perform. We have no decisional thing we can perform that we can point back to that is our lynchpin that is our point of “our decision for Christ.” No, Justification as Paul preached it is foreign to all of that. So where does all that come from? It comes in from people confusing their justification with their sanctification in many cases. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4 ESV)

Some of you may be saying right now, “Wait a minute Ratliff! Here you have been saying all through this study that our salvation is by faith alone and we earn nothing by doing works.” That’s right! Our justification is exactly that, but not our sanctification. Our justification is God’s work alone. On the other hand, our sanctification is one in which we cooperate with Him in His plan of refining work of making us holy and Christlike. No matter what our past has been prior to our justification, all in Christ will experience personal holiness (1 Corinthians 6:9-11a; 1 Timothy 1:12,13). In v1 we see that the proper preaching of the Gospel, justification by faith based solely on the free grace of God, will garner criticism from some who see that as in invitation for people to be converted and then live as they please, sinning as much as they wanted. I have actually “communicated” with some Roman Catholics on this very thing who have told me flat out that the doctrine of Justification by Faith lets people sin freely. What is Paul’s answer? Μὴ γένοιτο or “Not may it become!” The ESV translated that as, “By no means!” The doctrine of Justification by Faith based solely on the free grace of God does not lead to more sin. Why? Paul gives us the answer in v2. All truly in Christ have died to sin. This is explained more fully in v3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Who did the baptizing? It was God. God buries each believer with Christ by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. What is this newness of life?

Here is v4 from the Greek New Testament, “συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη Χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν διὰ τῆς δόξης τοῦ πατρός, οὕτω καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν.” Here is my translation, “We were buried together then to him through the baptism into the death, that as indeed was raised Christ from dead through the glory of the Father, thusly also we in newness of life might walk.” The word καινότητι the dative, singular form of καινότης or kainotēs, means “renewal,” but not simply an experience similar to the past, but a qualitatively different one. “Newness” is a good translation here for, in the context of those who have died to to sin and are alive to God, life or “ζωή” is very much going to be marked with a καινότητι. Of course, what is our sanctification, but our working with God in cooperation to become more holy as we walk in this newness of life for the rest of our lives until we go home to be with our Lord for eternity.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:5-11 ESV)

The key to this passage in context to vv1-4 is, of course, v11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Those who are dead to sin no longer have the pervasive love for it nor are they controlled by the ruling power of it. Yes, I know that we all struggle with sin at times. I know that there are times when we must go through some tough battles of sin mortification in order to “get the victory.” Yes, I am fully aware of that. I am convinced that God allows us to go through these battles in order to humble and mold us further in our sanctification for we must realize that the mastery of sin has been broken in our lives, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14 ESV)

Here we have the “tension” between what God has already accomplished for His people and what is still their responsibility to obey. We are all tempted by the fleshly desires to sin, but we have the ability, since we are in Christ, to not let those desires gain control, hence the battle to mortify sin each day by giving ourselves afresh to God. We cannot battle the flesh through will power alone nor can we simply “let go and let God.” No, both will lead to disaster. Paul wisely says in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:15-19 ESV)

The word “sanctification” in v19 is the Greek word αγιασμον the accusative, singular form of ἁγιασμός or hagiasmos, which is a separation unto God through the process of sanctification or making one holy. So, think through this passage carefully. Before we were justified by faith we were ruled by our flesh and were slaves to sin. However, when God had mercy on us and, by His grace, justified us by faith as a free gift, we were also changed. We were baptized with Christ unto His death and resurrection to walk in this newness of life. We are changed forever. This is talking about our regeneration here my brethren. We now have the ability to not present our members to sin, but to God for sanctification. Of course, we can only do this by His grace that is why we give ourselves to Him daily in the process of mortifying the sin that clings so close, et cetera. We are now capable, by God’s grace, to present our member as slaves to righteousness leading to this αγιασμον. Well, I can’t speak for you or anyone else, but I certainly want this. I deeply desire to walk blameless before my Lord. I deeply desire to be with Him. I am still here in this life though so I must continue to fight these battles with the flesh just as you do. This is how our sanctification works.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23 ESV)

I am sure that if any of you were ever trained in Evangelism Explosion or some other Christian witnessing “program” you memorized that passage or at least part of it. Doesn’t it read differently when taken in context with the rest of what we have been studying though?

We will pick up in the very controversial Romans chapter 7 in our next post, God willing.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Sanctification: The Triumph of Grace Over the Power of Sin

  1. Dear Mike,

    Thank you for addressing sanctification. Thought I had made some real progress until faced squarely with a wonderful study on Proverbs 31. God is gently showing me tons of sin inwhich I have had an incredible blind spot (regrettably for 20yrs or more). Praise God for His mercy in revealing these things to me. One thing for sure if you genuinely ask God to reveal your sin He will. It is most surprising what surfaces. May God continue to bless you with wisom and discernment and your God given ability to communicate God’s truth! And I especially pray for all of us to have a teachable spirit, this is very important…………. Kept only by His precious grace, charisse

  2. Amen, Mike.
    You think you may finally be on the way to having a specific area in your life mastered… somewhat… and then a yet undiscovered layer becomes discovered and this ignites a bad response. I think–where did that come from? Or, will I ever, ever get over this? I am thankful He reveals these things to me little by little. Blessings to you!

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