Sanctification – Dead to Sin Alive to God

by Mike Ratliff

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25 ESV)

The Lord gave the Church a wonderful gift when He knocked Saul of Tarsus off his horse and effectually called Him to be His Apostle. His Epistle to the Romans is a huge piece of the doctrinal foundation of the Church. In Romans 3:20-5:21 he covered the doctrine of justification. This is God’s declaring the believing sinner righteous. In Romans 6:1-8:39 he covers the practical ramifications of this justification. This is the doctrine of sanctification, which is God’s producing actual righteousness in the believer. Many take missteps in their theology by confusing these two aspects of our salvation. Justification is a legal term referring to a judge declaring a person charged with a crime to be not guilty. When a sinner believes the Gospel by God’s grace through faith, He justifies them. This is His monergistic work, His alone. On the other hand, sanctification is the synergistic work of God and the believer in “working out the believer’s salvation with fear and trembling.” This is the work of transforming the believer into one who bears Christ’s very character.

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)

All whom God has justified will experience personal holiness (1 Corinthians 6:9-11a; 1 Timothy 1:12,13). This is true regardless of the believer’s life before justification. I had a “discussion” with a person not long ago who was convinced that she had committed the unpardonable sin. When did she do this? It was long before her “salvation” as she called it. Justification is beyond the understanding of the unregenerate mind. Many will read what we teach about God declaring sinners to be righteous by His grace through faith and say that our  “religion” actually encourages us to sin since the level of our sinlessness is no factor in it. Paul addresses this objection in these first four verses of Romans 6.

The fact is, it is just the opposite of what the naysayers claim. Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He is saying that the one declared righteous by God also died and was reborn in Christ. This is our regeneration. All in Christ are New Creations. This one-time event immediately precedes the one being effectually called by God to Christ believing and repenting. Every one of them are “in Christ” (6:11; 8:1), and He died in their place (5:6-8), therefore, they are counted dead with Him.

What does it mean that all who are “in Christ” have been baptized into Him? All genuine believers have been spiritually immersed into the person of Christ. This means that they are united and indentified with Him. This is the result of their placing saving faith in Him (1 Corinthians 6:17; 10:2; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 John 1:3). This baptism or immersion into Christ is actually into His death. What does that mean? All in Christ are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.

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. (Romans 6:5-7 ESV)

Now we see that this baptism into his death and resurrection unites us with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Back in v4 we read that one of the purposes of the way God saves His people is that they might walk in newness of life. Our state of being united in Christ’s death and resurrection means that they become ours. Since we actually died and were resurrected at our salvation, there is a new quality and character to our lives, a new principle of life. All things are new for the believer. This is why our past sins do not matter in this. This new life in Christ is all about victory over the power of sin in our lives. As Paul says, “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” We are no longer enslaved to sin (Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24).

However, if we are honest with each other and ourselves we must admit that we do indeed struggle with the flesh. This is the battle for personal holiness on a daily basis that we all must fight, but in an spiritual, eternal perspective, we are free from the power of sin if we are in Christ. Sin describes the old life before regeneration and justification; however, righteousness describes the new life in Christ. This is the reason we seek to regain purity in the Church, to reestablish proper discipleship of all believers that they may know that a life of repentance is the standard for all believers. In v6 above, Paul refers to our “old self.” Some Bible translations render this as “our old man.” This is the believer’s unregenerate self. The Greek word used here that is translated as “old” is παλαιός or palaios. It does not refer to something old in years, but something that is an antique or not recent or worn out. It describes something that is useless. I cannot think of a better analogous description of my life before God saved me. However, at our salvation, our “old man” died with Christ, and the life we now have in Christ is a gift from God.

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 6:8-11 ESV)

This is very straightforward. Paul speaks of what the focus of our walk in Christ should be. In light of our death and resurrection in Christ, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This new walk in Christ must be fully consistent with His holiness. Now we come to the crux of the issue of our practical daily walk in Christ. If this what we just saw is true then why do we struggle so with the flesh?

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)

Our mortal bodies are the only remaining repositories where sin finds believers vulnerable. This includes our brains and our “thinkology.” These are subject to sin’s onslaught and are the means through which they tempt our immortal souls with their sinful lusts (Romans 8:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 15:53; 1 Peter 2:9-11). Paul tells us, therefore, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…” This refers to an actual decision of the will. Sin can gain no power over us without first passing through the will (Philippians 2:12,13). The members are the parts of our physical bodies, which is the center from which sin operates in us (Romans 7:18, 22-25 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:27). When we yield our members to sin they become instruments of unrighteousness. In other words, they become sin’s tools for doing things that violates God’s holy will and law.

I have found that the best way to kill a temptation that is attempting to entice me to sin is to present myself totally to God in my helplessness. I fall before the throne of grace presenting my body, my members, to Him as instruments for righteousness. I pray. I study my Bible, specifically things in the area under attack. Sin can exercise control once it passes through the will, but it does not have to reign there. We accomplish this by turning to God in worship, praise, and prayer. What does it mean that sin will have no dominion over us since we are not under law, but under grace? The Law is good, but it cannot assist us in keeping God’s moral standard. It only shows us that we cannot keep it then curses us for it. However, all in Christ are no longer under the law as a condition of justification. Remember, we are justified by faith alone. We are under grace, which enables us to truly fulfill God’s moral Law.

This is the introduction to this series on Sanctification. The next study will be on Romans 6:15-23, which describes our sanctification from the perspective of our being slaves to righteousness. I pray that God will use this series to draw His people to commit themselves to a walk of repentance unto Christlikeness in His power and by His grace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

25 thoughts on “Sanctification – Dead to Sin Alive to God

  1. Good post Mike, you mentioned righteoussness, one of my favorite words and so often misused by all of us either passively or actively in our pride.

    Slaves to righteoussness you said. Scripture describes it as an imputed righteousness given to us in Christ via the Gospel and the Cross. (Romans 1;17).

    (paraphrasing from memory, Romans 1:17) For in the Gospel a righteoussness and it is a righteoussness that is by faith in Christ from FIRST to LAST…. my favorite verse of the New Testament!!! In the verse right before this, as I recall, it says the Gospel is also the power of God. Here Paul is describing the power of God for our sanctification to the Church in Rome !!!!!

    This is also re-echoed by Paul when he approaches Peter in his pride when he says Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel, a deep understanding of Christs’ purpose on the cross is the foundation for all humility.

    Galatians 2:
    “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

    The very end of verse 20 in Galatians.
    for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

    Does it mean Christ supports sin. Absolutely not– verse 17.

    I am going to point to this post for a better explanation:

    Good Post Mike!


  2. Mike,
    One of the fruits that indicate that someone is regenerate is long-suffering. We will often look at things such as men’s attitude towards sin or whether they are still caught up in fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, and so forth. Long-suffering is a mark that leads to spiritual maturity and it is very necessary for spiritual growth.

    A person who shows long-suffering in their life is someone who has come to the point of actually acceptinng struggle and hardship as part of their walk with God. They strive to stay on the narrow path even as the unpleasant circumstances come upon them trial after trial (sometimes wave after wave). A long-suffering Christian does not always look for a material blessing or ‘worldly’ favor as an affirmation that they do actually belong to God. Yes, genuine Christians do experience periods of doubt, despair, and anguish, but that is the result of obedience in a world that so blatantly rejects God. Painful trials occur when God puts his own children in positions or circumstances that we do not like. If our trial demands obedience and a firm stand, we will share in the cup of suffering while the world laughs and jeers. It is at this moment that a child of God says, “What have I done wrong?”


  3. Someone said a previous post thread!

    A man is not under grace until he/she is crucified with Christ. Legalism makes a provision for the flesh.

    The sin of Peter in what I just posted was Peters legalism…. and not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. We find Peter several times alive to Gods grace but not quite fully crucified in Christ and living in his flesh.

    The old adam still lived in Peter.


  4. Centrality of the gospel,
    I read the article. I have to question the use of the two terms… ‘passive righteousness’ and ‘active righteousness’… The righteousness of Christ is ‘active’ and not ‘passive.’ You are saying the opposite in the article. A person who is passive in regard to sin usually follows his/her own flesh and appeases the world. A person who has ‘active’ righteousness will be obedient to truth and contend with ungodliness. A passive person will want nothing to do with contending for the truth.

    Jesus was not/is not a pushover who always avoided the conflict. Passive people can be some of the biggest pushovers and compromisers of the day. The word of God is living and active. I think that the differentiation that you are trying to make is between imputed righteousness and self righteousness. One is carnal and one is spiritual. One is of the flesh (legalism) and one is of the Lord (regeneration).


  5. Centrality of gospel,
    I strongly recommend that you edit that article or remove it. Paul did not use the two terms that you came up with. In fact, the two terms that you came up with don’t make sense. They contradict scripture.

    There are two kinds of righteousness.. imputed and self. Imputed is active and does not compromise. Self righteousness is man’s own effort by way of the flesh. Self righteousness is not of the Spirit.


  6. Hey Josh, thanks for responding but you are missing the meaning the article was trying to make. Also, the document is not mine… its from Martin Luther but put in modern words. I can look up a link to the same document if you want. I am sure I can find it again.

    No the point is righteoussness is imputed to us (romans 1:17). passive means we do nothing to deserve it. It will spur us on to good works (James) — faith without works is dead. It also means in the future we can do nothing to deserve it. Gods imputed rigtheoussnes is active from God but we do nothing for it (passive). Thats why its called Mercy and Grace.

    The pivotal mountain top experience for Martin Luther was Romans 1:17. It took his life long search of Gods word and transformed it so it had deep meaning for him. It allowed him to transform theology into his thinkology and transform him into the great reformer of the Church just by making Christ the center.


  7. Mike,
    Thank you for defining the difference between justification and sanctification. It was very helpful to me.
    Isn’t it a great comfort to know that He knows how it is to live in this human body and in this world of sin? I take great comfort in that, not to excuse or justify my actions but it deepens my love for Him and does not allow condemnation to occur when I fail Him.
    What a caring God we serve!
    If we, I, might pray to God and ask that my love for Him might be as a fire within me that could not be put out, for a heart consumed by Him, to wake up every day with such gratitude for all He gives that I really do desire to become sanctified and take up my cross, joyfully.
    It seems to be very important to God, from what I read in scriptures, to do good to others, especially the body of believers. Am I being mindful to to good for others? Do I wake up thinking about how I can help a brother or sister with a call, a letter, money, a visit, a gift, some encouraging words?
    For me, the more I read the Word, the more I find out about God and the more I love him.
    Anyway, God wants me to do this…have a mind set on doing specific things for others as often as I can without expectation of anything. Hope some of this made sense!

    Thanks, and have a good day, praying for your parents.


  8. Josh,

    I believe that Jon is trying to highlight the work of Christ for us (in that we are passive since Christ is doing the work).

    If I give you a haircut, you are a participant in the haircut since it is your hair, but you are a passive receiver of the work that is done.

    I think it is an important distinction since many in the church are running around trying TO DO and their focus naturally turns to their work and waway from Christ’s work.

    The focus can easily shift (away from Christ and the cross – onto our fruits) and we might not even realize it is happening.

    Thanks, Josh.


  9. Steve has a great wordpress BLOG of his own. We just frequent each others as BLOG-friends…. :-).


  10. Centrality of the gospel,

    You gave me a link that doesn’t work. Can you paste a link with the original document used in your article or perhaps give me the title of Martin Luther’s article so that I can read it?


  11. I just don’t agree with the terms passive and active. I agree with imputed righteousness and self righteousness to explain one that is spiritual and one that is of the flesh.
    I just don’t agree with Martin Luther’s wording. To me, imputed righteousness is God’s work which is active, alive, and it contends with the world. I just don’t agree with Martin Luther’s wording.


  12. Good point Josh! James reminds us of Faith and Works. Righteoussness that is good and bad is reflected in scripture in several other places as well. Phil 3:7-12, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

    The point the article was also trying to make is the world not only has issues with worldly sin but in a more general sense they have issues with the wrong kind of righteoussness. Martin Luther believed this problem with righteousness as the default mode of the human heart and many learned, knowledgable people of the faith were engaging in it. As a matter fact, I believe this problem goes back to mans original sin when Satan tempted man with being “like God” knowing good and evil. Mans attempt to have his own righteoussness is futile in the economy of Jesus Christ and the cross.

    As Steve said “I think it is an important distinction since many in the church are running around trying TO DO and their focus naturally turns to their work and away from Christ’s work.

    The focus can easily shift (away from Christ and the cross – onto our fruits) and we might not even realize it is happening.”


  13. If Martin Luther is saying that imputed righteousness gives those who are regenerate the ability to ‘put off’ the old Adam, then I agree. But to say that imputed righteousness is passive is like saying that Easy Believism is the gospel. Imputed righteousness is active and very much alive. It is not of the flesh. Sanctification is synergistic, meaning that the believer and the Lord himself are going through whatever it is that is going on. God’s Spirit joins with man’s Spirit. We still have to labor in the field to win souls and teach the Word. This laboring that I am referring to is not labor according to the flesh in a desperate attempt to experience the Justification process. The laboring that I am referring to is our active participation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will. This happens after Justification. Sanctification happens after Justification.

    Justification is monergistic (all God). Man cannot enter the kingdom by his own effort. Trying to enter by our own effort is of the flesh. Our own righteousness is filthy rags Jon.


  14. “Our own righteousness is filthy rags Jon.”

    That is absolutely true Josh!

    “We will never hunger for Christs’ beauty until we have seen the filth of our own vain efforts to make ourselves beautiful. ”

    This is a quote from a Pastor I heard on mp3. (Scott Sauls) when he was not on staff here —> I was listening to him because my Church was hoping to interview him and Call him at that time. Keep in mind that in Romans and in Galatians Paul is talking to the Church and the regenerate to more fully understand and to embrace this righteoussness.

    The quote from Scott was from a mp3 sermon on Galatians and the idea of righteoussness.


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