by Mike Ratliff
8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just. Romans 3:8 (NASB)
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 several years ago at lunch following his sermon that Sunday morning. We discussed the dreadful condition in the visible Church today 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.
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)
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 so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 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.” 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.
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.
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 6:5-11 (NASB)
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 not to 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 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 envision whatever it is as bursting into flames and becoming nothing but ash. I always follow this very quickly with praise, worship, and prayer.
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)
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 (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.
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB)
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. Instead, we will work with Him in killing our sin by His grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Romans 6:15-19 (NASB)
Paul very succinctly states here that the Christian who is on the narrow path of self-denial in obedience to Christ in enslavement to Him in Righteousness. The Greek word used here for slaves is δοῦλος (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.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 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 (NASB)
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!