by Mike Ratliff
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25 NASB)
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.
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4 NASB)
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 (above).
The fact is, it is just the opposite of what the naysayers claim. Paul asks, “How shall 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.
5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7 NASB)
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, “[F]or he who has died is freed 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.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11 NASB)
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 what we just saw is true then why do we struggle so with the flesh?
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14 NASB)
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, confession, 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.
Soli Deo Gloria!