by Mike Ratliff
And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:8 ESV)
The debate in the visible Church in our time concerning the need for Christians to walk in Repentance is actually quite perplexing to those of us whose hearts and consciences are bound to the Word of God. It clearly exhorts us all to repent and walk in righteousness. I had a conversation with a Pastor a several years ago at lunch following his sermon that Sunday morning. We discussed the dreadful condition in the visible Church in which most professing Christians appeared to be very immature and in bondage to their flesh. I asked for his opinion of why that was so. His response was that it was the result of the Church not being the Church as God designed. There was little or no Church discipline. There was little preaching of the Law and the Gospel together. There was hardly ever a mention of walking in repentance before our Holy God. I agreed completely with his analysis. He also shared that he did not believe that a very large percentage of the professing Christians were genuine.
In Romans 6:1-23 Paul lays out the fact that the Law does not and cannot conquer sin, but the grace given to Christians triumphs over sin and death. However, as we shall see, this does not give license to believers that they continue in sin.
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)
The Pharisees of Paul’s day accused those who preached the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is salvation by grace through faith alone, of actually giving believers an excuse to sin. This concern appears to be valid if we look at how some in every age have misinterpreted Paul’s ‘gospel of grace’ to rationalize sin. This is especially true in our day my brethren. The fact that many do preach that repentance is not necessary for salvation leads to fleshly believers who have no spiritual depth or unregenerate professing Christians.
Paul answers this indictment with, “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.” In other words, the genuine Christian has died to sin through the regenerative work of God in the heart. They are not perfect nor will they ever be in this life, however, they are new creations in Christ. This is sanctification. Justification at salvation is a declaration of righteousness while sanctification is the work of God in which He changes the believer over time so that they will be drawn from sin into holiness. They are saved and changed by God forever and now they are able to walk in newness of life.
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)
Our salvation unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection. Our regeneration unto new creations in Christ broke the chains of sin, which had held us in its death grip. However, all in Christ are no longer enslaved to sin. They have been set free from it. They have the power to not be enslaved to their flesh, but sadly, many are still bound to self. The only way to break this for the believer is to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is not something an immature believer can do consistently. Even the more mature believers struggle with this at times. However, I have found when tempted that if I prayerfully cast aside in my mind what is being pursued by my flesh onto a mental dung heap or graveyard or a lake of fire I can flee it and it has no power over me. Sometimes I prayerfully envision whatever it is as bursting into flames and becoming nothing but ash. I always follow this very quickly with praise, worship, and prayer knowing full well that my deliverance from that temptation was God’s good work in me.
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)
What I described above is part of what I do to mortify the sin that flesh craves. I do not allow it to reign in my mortal body thereby making me obey its passions. The Greek word used here by Paul for reign is βασιλεύω or basileuo. It literally means, “to be king or to rule.” Christians who are enslaved to their flesh are ruled by sin. Their flesh and what it craves are bound to idolatry of the heart and these ‘Christians’ are spiritually blind. That is why it imperative that we learn to systematically, intentionally deny our flesh, and pursue our Lord in all we do and think. Before sin can have power over a believer it must first pass through his or her will.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
When a believer allows sin to work in his or her body then they have given permission for it to operate. The problem is that this strengthens the flesh’s authority. This creates a situation in the believer’s heart in which sin has now taken authority and spiritual blindness to this spreads. This causes spiritual dullness. Fulfillment is sought through the sin soaked members of our bodies rather than in fellowship with Christ as we soak up His word. Prayer and worship becomes perfunctoril. This Christian has stepped away from working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Instead he or she has become enslaved to their flesh and sin is now reigning over them.
However, if we do fight the good fight to mortify our sin then we will not present our members to whatever sin our flesh desires. Instead, we actively pursue its death. We do this prayerfully, immersed in God’s Word often on our knees before the throne of grace. If we learn this and do it then sin will have no dominion over us and grace will work through us to give us freedom in Christ. We will not self-righteously attempt to please God through moralism or pietism. Instead, we will work with Him in killing our sin by His grace.
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)
Paul very succinctly states here that the Christian who is on the narrow path of self-denial in obedience to Christ in enslaved to Him, to Righteousness. The Greek word used here for slaves is δοῦλος or doulos. This is often translated as bondservant; however, it means ‘slave.’ This is our calling my brethren. We will deny ourselves and mortify sin if we are slaves of righteousness. However, if we are enslaved to our flesh then we are actually enslaved to sin. Paul commands us here to present our members to righteousness leading to sanctification. This is not a license to sin, but a command to put sin to death through enslaving ourselves to righteousness and obedience to our Lord.
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)
This is why it is so tragic to see professing Christians enslaved to their flesh. They are actually partaking of the deeds of the flesh as they did before their ‘salvation.’ This is wrong. Genuine salvation frees the believer from sin, but enslaves them unto God. The fruit of walking in that slavery leads to sanctification (a removal from sin unto holiness). Let us rejoice in the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord by submitting to the sanctifying work of God in us to mortify the sin our flesh loves. Why should we be partakers of the very thing that leads to eternal death in those who do not know Him?
Soli Deo Gloria!