The Letter to the Romans
COLLEEN MOORE TINKER
19. Dead to Sin
In chapter six Paul moves from his discussion of our legacy of sin and death from Adam into an explanation of how we can now become free from the tyranny of inherited sin. He begins by addressing the revolutionary statement at the end of chapter 5: "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more."
Many people have responded to this good news with a misunderstanding of how a Christ-follower deals with sin in his life when he is no longer accountable to the law as his standard of behavior. Some have argued that the spirit is all that matters in a person; behavior can be as self-indulgent as desired. Others have accused believers of being antinomian, or lawless, looking for an excuse to sin without consequences.
Paul emphatically disagrees with these assertions. "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
The fact is, however, that every Christ-follower still struggles with sin and temptation in his life. What, then, does Paul mean when he says we have died to sin? Why do we still struggle with it if we're dead to it?
As Paul looks in detail at the question of sin, one thing becomes clear: there is a difference between "sin" and "sins". Gary Inrig, senior pastor of Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, California, describes it this way. Sin, our legacy from Adam, is both a power and a place. It is a power outside ourselves under whose control we are born as humans. It is also a "place" apart from God. We are born into Adam. By nature we are separated from God, and no amount of trying on our parts can put us into his presence. We are natural; God is Spirit. Sin keeps us in a place separate from God.
In verse 6 of Romans 6, Paul says, "[O]ur old self is crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with." The "old self" that is crucified is not the natural tendency to sin which we have in our natures; that part of us is part of our human legacy until the resurrection. The "old self" that was crucified in Christ is our natural position in Adam, irreparably separated from God. Because Christ died once for all our sins (v. 10), when we accept him sin's power over us is broken, and we move into a new place: in Christ. Instead of being apart from God, we become one with him. We have new identities, new capabilities, new histories when we move from dead in sin to alive in Christ. We become alive by the power of the Holy Spirit in us instead of dead in our inherited curse of sin.
This dying to sin by accepting Christ's death for us means that our sinful natures are no longer our masters. Jesus is. By dying to sin by accepting Christ's death, we are set free from the power of sin and become, instead, slaves to righteousness (v. 18). Now we have new ability to say "no" to sin, because we now have the Spirit of God in us. We can't please God if we're controlled by our sinful natures, but if we allow the Spirit to control us, we will have new life in our mortal bodies. We are no longer owned by sin. (Romans 8:8-14) By the Spirit's power we can resist sin. We have died in Christ, and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. By the Spirit's power we can "put to death" whatever in us belongs to the sinful nature. (Colossians 3:3-5)
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord laid our iniquities on Jesus, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-6) Peter put it this way, "He bore our sins in his body so we might die to sins and live for righteousness." (1 Peter 2:24) He also explained to the Jews that Jesus was killed and brought to life, and God exalted him so Jesus could give repentance and forgiveness to Israel. (Acts 5:30-32) Jesus' death encompassed all our sins; when we accept him, we die to our old selves and accept the atonement of his death that makes possible our new birth.
Baptized Into Christ
Paul continues to expound on his point that in Christ we die to sin; all of us who were baptized in Christ, he says, were baptized into his death. (v. 3) Baptism is a frequently misunderstood new covenant teaching. Some say baptism is necessary for salvation; without it, they assert, one is not officially in Christ and is not a member of his body. Others say baptism is necessary in order to receive the Holy Spirit fully. A "second blessing" awaits those who submit to baptism, they say.
Neither or these views, however, is scriptural. First, baptism is not a requirement for salvation. If it were, the thief who accepted Jesus while he hung on the cross would have no hope of eternal life, yet Jesus promised him he would be with him in Paradise. Second, the Bible never teaches that the Holy Spirit's indwelling or filling of us is dependent upon the act of baptism. While baptism is immediately linked to belief as a sign of one's surrender to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the seal promised to all who believe in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13-14) with no baptisimal requirement.
Baptism is an outward sign of a person's inner surrender to Jesus. It is the external commitment to becoming a member of the body of Christ. Whereas circumcision was the outward sign of belonging to God's covenant people in the old covenant, baptism became the external sing of membership in God's family in the new covenant. While it is not a requirement for salvation, it is a command of Jesus. As his followers, we are to declare our commitment to Him by the rite of baptism, much like a person publicly declares one's commitment to one's spouse through the marriage ceremony.
Jesus' last command to his disciples was to make disciples in Judea, Samaria, and in the world, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) The apostles took this command seriously, and beginning on the Day of Pentecost, Peter led them in preaching repentance and baptism into Jesus. (Acts 2:38) After 3,000 international Jews received the Holy Spirit and were born again on that day, Peter next received a call from Phillip to come to Samaria where Samaritans were accepting Jesus and being baptized. (Acts 8:12) Peter's prayer for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit was the apostolic blessing on this new body of believers that confirmed their conversion was equal with the conversion of the Jews at Pentecost. If Peter had not been involved with Samaria's repentance and rebirth as he had been at Pentecost in Jerusalem, the two groups would undoubtedly have kept themselves separate because of their history of antipathy toward each other. The church would have split in its earliest stages of development.
Finally, Peter receives God's command to go with the Gentile Cornelius and not to call unclean what God has declared to be clean. Consequently, he visited Cornelius's house and ate with him and his Gentile guests, preached the gospel, and baptized Cornelius and his household when he saw that they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues exactly as had the converted Jews at Pentecost.
Peter's "officiating" at Pentecost, at the Samaritan's new birth, and at the new birth of the first Gentile converts fulfilled Jesus' promise to Peter that he would receive the keys to the kingdom. Peter unlocked the barrier that kept people from God for each group of people among whom Jesus had commanded the apostles to make disciples. In each case, Peter, as the representative of the apostles whose commission was to establish the church, gave the apostolic confirmation that these new converts, who historically were enemies, were all accepted by God and adopted into his family equally. Baptism was the universal symbol that publicly identified believers as being part of the same body. It became the symbol of accepting Jesus' death and resurrection as one's own, and this symbol transcended ethnic boundaries the previously would have kept people separated. It became the symbolic "wedding ring" that all parties of this new marriage to Christ would wear.
Baptized Into Christ's Death
One of the mysteries of salvation is that we participate in Christ's death. When we accept him, his sacrifice becomes ours, and from God's perspective, Jesus' death is also our death. In 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 Paul says that we carry Christ's death in our body. Because we are one with him, the spiritual reality of his death and its payment for our sin becomes ours. This spiritual mystery has practical implications; in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul explains how he asked God to remove the "thorn" in his flesh, but God replied, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." By being baptized into Christ's death, we receive not only forgiveness for our sins because of his sacrifice, but we also receive his strength to be able to live with the flaws and afflictions we experience. As Christ's representatives, we can expect to suffer. His suffering exempts us from eternal death; it does not exempt us from suffering and hardship. By being baptized into his death, we have new capacity to endure without bitterness. We learn that his strength holds us together, and at the points where we are powerless and vulnerable, there God glorifies himself.
Being baptized into Christ's death means that our natural, dead-in-sin and separated-from-God selves no longer exist; rather, Christ lives in us. Our lives are no longer our own; we live by faith in God. (Galatians 2:20) Our heritage of sin and death that make us powerless to resist our sinful passions is crucified with Christ; we now live by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25) When we accept Jesus as our atonement for our sins, we embrace his cross as the place where we surrender our attraction to the world's seduction and also where we lose our natural, sinful, rebellious nature and become related to God. (Galatians 6:14)
Paul summarized the desire of our hearts as Christ-followers in Philippians 3:10-11; he wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. He wants to experience the fellowship of sharing Christ's suffering, and he wants to become like him in death.
Being baptized into Christ's death means that we surrender our natural selves with our dead spirits separated from God. We no longer live vainly for ourselves; we identify ourselves with Jesus, and he gives new life with new purpose, power, capabilities, and histories. We are no longer slaves to the power of sin; we are dead to our natural curse. We share Christ's death, and we become hidden with him in God.
Because we have been baptized into Christ's death, Paul explains, we now can live a new life just as Christ was raised from death "through the glory of the Father." (v.4) The glory of the Father is the power behind Christ's resurrection and also behind our new lives in Jesus. Glory, however, generally connotes to us an appearance of majesty or brightness, but a visual phenomenon has no power to change our lives.
Psalm 145:11 gives some insight into the nature of God's glory. "The [saints] tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might," the psalmist says. His parallel structure compares the glory of God's kingdom with his might, or strength. In other words, God's strength is revealed in the awesome majesty of his kingdom. His might is the cause of, or the power behind, his glory. Paul prayed for the Colossians that God would strengthen them "with all power according to his glorious might" so they would have endurance and patience. (Colossians 1:10-11) Peter also admonished the believers that they should serve God with the strength He provides, so God will be praised in everything. (1 Peter 4:11)
God's glory is a direct reflection of his omnipotence. The two cannot be separated. God's strength is seminal, sovereign, regenerative, just, life-giving-it sustains all creation. Wherever God's power works, his glory is seen. Whenever we function in God's strength, he is glorified. Our new life in Christ (the result of our dying to sin and being born again by the Spirit) is an act of God. It is the result of his glory residing in us. When we respond to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow him to change us and to live for Christ, God glorifies himself through us. He is responsible for our new lives, and he receives all the praise.
Revelation is full of praise for God's power and glory. The book begins (chapter 1:5-6) with praise for the God who loves us and with the author's acknowledgment that all glory and power are His for ever and ever. Chapters 5:12-13, 7:12, and 19:1 portray all the heavenly beings as well as the great multitude who gather before Jesus at the end of time shouting praise to him, honoring him for being the only one worthy to receive it. They acknowledge that because of his sacrifice, he receives all power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, praise, and thanks forever. "Salvation and glory and power belong to our God," shouts the great multitude, "for true and just are his judgments."(19:10)
God's greatness, which cannot be subdivided into elements but is a glorious whole, is the power that makes us new and transforms us. By his power we become obedient children of God through whom His glory becomes increasingly visible to the universe.
The "Old Self"
The question remains: if the "old self' is crucified with Christ yet we still have these still-unredeemed bodies, what exactly is that "old self' that is done away with? Verse 16 of Romans 6 identifies that old self as slavery to sin. Galatians 5:24-25 represents it as the part of us that houses our passions and desires and is opposed to our new life in the Spirit. Ephesians 4:22-24 clarifies that putting off the old self involves being "made new" in the attitudes of our minds. It also says our "new self" is created to be like God.
In Colossians 3:5, 9-10 Paul admonishes believers to "put off" anything that belongs to the "earthly nature" including all manner of sins. The "new self" we are to put on in place of the old self is renewed "in knowledge" and also "in the image of its Creator."
Romans 7:21-24 describes the sinful nature that is at work in us. The sinful nature in our mortal bodies remains until our bodies are glorified at the resurrection. Paul says that our sinful natures are at war with our minds that know God's law is right and just. Our natural selves want to sin, and our minds want to obey God. This dilemma is the condition of all who have awakened to the reality of sin. Before a person knows he is in sin, he doesn't have an internal struggle with it. After he knows the demands of the law, however, he is in constant turmoil. Chapter 8 of Romans explains the solution to this turmoil. Those who live by and respond to this human nature and its drive to sin find they want to sin. On the other hand, those who realize that Jesus came to set them free and to cover them with His righteousness will live by the Spirit instead of by the sinful nature.
Ephesians 4:30 talks about this reality this way: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed." The old self which dies with Christ is not the sinful body with its natural bent toward sin. What dies is our inherited curse, our innate spiritual death which keeps us separated from God. When we die with Christ, we surrender the control of our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to bring our spirits alive in Jesus. We move from the realm of sin and our identity in Adam into the realm of eternal life and our identity in Christ. Our sinful urges are still in us; our core identity, however, changes. Instead of being sinners shut out of communion with God, we are considered righteous and adopted as God's children brought to life by His Spirit. We die to "Sin". Sin no longer has any claim on us. We still have to surrender our "sins" to Jesus as he convicts us of them, but because we have new identities in Jesus, new capabilities because of the Holy Spirit, and new histories in God's eyes because of no longer being spiritually dead and enslaved to "Sin", it is now possible to have God's victory over those sins.
Three Steps To Victory
After explaining how we die to sin and live to God, Paul delineates three things a believer can practice that will help him to live in victory instead of bound to sinful habits. The first step is to "count [oneself] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." The second step is: "do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." The third is: "Do not offer the parts of your body to sinbut rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life" and "as instruments of righteousness."
The first step, counting ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ, means claiming our new identities in Jesus. John wrote that all who receive Jesus are given the right to become children of God born of God. (John 1:12-13) We are no longer "in Adam" and spiritually dead; we are completely new creations. We are in Christ, and God no longer sees us as living under a curse and condemned to death. We have new identities. Moses emphasized to the Israelites that as God's chosen people, they were "a holy people to the Lord."(Deuteronomy 14;1) God's choice of us, not our flawed behavior, determines our identities. When we belong to Jesus, God declares us to be his holy people.
Romans 8:13-14, 16-17 are more specific about what it means to claim our identities in Jesus. If we continue to live by our sinful natures, we will die. If, however, we live by the Spirit, obediently following where He leads us and walking into the truth he reveals, we will find that our sinful actions will die. Those who follow the Holy Spirit are God's children, and his Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are sons of God. Being God's child, however, means that we will be misunderstood and persecuted just as Jesus was. The world does not know us, John writes, because it doesn't know Him. (1 John 3:1-2) Notwithstanding the world's lack of respect for us, though, we are to live a life of love because such a life is the hallmark of God's children. (Ephesians 5:1)
The command to count ourselves "alive to God in Christ Jesus" is a command to claim our identities as children of God and to allow Him to transform us into his image. We cannot have two identities at one time; we cannot be both a child of God and also an alcoholic, a rage-aholic, a victim, a passive-aggressive person, a gambler, and adulterer, a slanderer. If we have accepted Jesus, our only identity must be "his child". Paul admonishes us to live in that identity and to release to Jesus all other identities which have defined us. We must be willing to let Jesus be enough. We must be willing to allow Him to take from us all identities we understood in our pasts and to give us himself in their places. We must be willing to live by the Holy Spirit. Only when we have surrendered the things we thought defined us and have allowed Jesus to be our everything can steps two and three become possible.
The second command is not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies so we indulge its "evil desires". This command only makes sense in the context of claiming our true identities in Christ. As children of God born of the Spirit, we no longer depend upon our will power to do what we must do. Our will power is weak and flawed just as the rest of our nature is flawed, and it is unreliable. With the Holy Spirit in us, it is God who makes us stand firm. He put his Spirit as a mark of ownership in us (2 Corinthians 1:21-22), and the Spirit is the one who makes it possible for sin not to reign in us. Resisting sin by the power of the Spirit is a reality which unregenerate people cannot understand because spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Successfully resisting sin and gaining victory over it is not a human accomplishment; it is a spiritual reality possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Unless we accept our identities as born again, Spirit-filled children of God, we have no hope of freedom from the reign of sin.
I f we live by the Spirit, we "put to death the misdeeds of the body," and we will live. If we do not live by the Spirit but rather indulge our sinful natures, we will die. (see Romans 8:4-6, 9, 13-14) God's call to us to live by the Spirit is all encompassing. Not only are we to surrender our hearts and habits to him, we are to keep our relationships and business dealings free from compromise with evil. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul warns believers not to be "yoked together with unbelievers." What can followers of God have in common with those who do not follow him? When a person is born of the Spirit, all of life looks different. An unbeliever has no understanding of spiritual reality, and he cannot share common goals, ambitions, or motives with believers. Not only are we not to let sin reign in our own mortal bodies, we are not to entangle ourselves in intimate partnerships with unbelievers who function in sin. Unbelieving business associates and friends will not have the same goals or motives as believers; partnering with them will compromise the integrity of our own decisions and commitments.
The command not to let sin reign in our bodies cannot be fulfilled by our own hard work or by trying to keep the law. Our only hope for freedom from the tyranny of sin is living by the Spirit. If we live by the Spirit, we are not under law, and the curse of death no longer applies to us. If, however, we live by the Spirit and allow him to guide us and convict us and empower us to surrender the sins on our lives, we will not gratify the desires of our sinful natures. (Galatians 5:16-26) In Christ it is possible not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, but we must surrender ourselves to Jesus and allow His Spirit access to our secrets and habits. When we trust Jesus with our temptations, His power keeps us safe from their allure.
The third command for living victoriously is to offer ourselves-bodies and minds-to God as "instruments of righteousness." In chapter 12 of Romans Paul says to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as acts of worship. He also wrote to the Corinthians with the reminder that God bought them "with a price," and they were to honor God with their bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:20) Later he broached the same subject with them a second time. "Christ died for all," he said, that those who live should not live for themselves but for Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
As Christ-followers we are to surrender our "right" to indulge ourselves and our temptations. God asks us not only to surrender our hearts to him but our minds and bodies as well. We are not internally split into physical and spiritual parts; each of us in a complete whole including physical, spiritual, and mental faculties. God asks us to surrender all of ourselves. We cannot honor God is we treat the body as unimportant and use it for sinful pleasure, nor can we honor him if we punish our bodies and attempt to live as if they did not exist.
The miracle of the new birth is that in Christ it is possible for us to be free from our slavery to sin. When we accept our identities as children of God, then we have the power to resist sin and to surrender the parts of ourselves completely for God's service.
Sin is no longer our master when we are in Christ; we are under grace. Grace is a far better behavior modifier than the law ever was. When we were lost in our sins, we were under the curse of the law. Its righteous demands were clear to us, but we could never conform to them; the sin that ruled us was far too powerful for us to overrule it and keep the law. When we were born again, however, the Holy Spirit came into us, and the law is no longer our authority. The grace of God removed our condemnation and also the controlling power of sin in our lives. The grace of God administered to us through the Holy Spirit "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives." (Titus 2:11-14)
Further, when we belong to Jesus, he disciplines us. He doesn't leave us in the condition in which he found us; rather, he works through the circumstances of our lives to teach us to trust him and to surrender to him. Grace wastes nothing; with the Holy Spirit as our guide and teacher, we learn to let God reveal our deep flaws and hurts and to release them to him. Through our hardships and temptations we experience God's discipline and his correction. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Jesus is calling you to be alive in him. If you have not acknowledged your hopeless sin, he is calling you to humble yourself before him. Only you know how hopeless your struggles are, how enslaving the sins that own you. Let Jesus' love and his shed blood cover you and wash you clean; let his Spirit bring you alive in him.
If you have experienced the transformation of being born again, God is calling you to accept your identity in him and to bring to him the sins that still reign in you. Further, he is calling you to offer your body to him for his service.
Ask Jesus to reveal to you the areas of your life that need healing and restoration. Ask him to do whatever it takes to bring all of yourself under his control. Surrender to him, and ask him to fill you with the power of his Spirit.
Praise God that he has brought you from death to life and has broken the power of sin over you. Praise him that he has given you a new identity in him and the power of his Spirit to say "no" to sin. Praise him that accepts you as a living sacrifice and that he gives you his work to do.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
Copyright (c) 2004 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted April 17, 2004.