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Romans 6

By David A. DePra

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. (Rom. 6:1)

Chapter 6 of Romans begins with a rhetorical question – the answer to which Paul assumes that everyone who is reading already knows. But he must ask the question for a reason: There were those then, and there are those now, who do not understand the Truth of grace. And because of that, they are going to misinterpret Paul’s teaching about grace to mean exactly what Paul is trying, by this question, to show that he does NOT mean. Many people have always taken the Truth of grace to mean LICENSE TO SIN. And in doing so, they end up rejecting the Truth of grace AS the Truth – because they know we cannot have a license to sin.

This is why Paul asks the question, "Are we to continue in sin BECAUSE grace abounds?" And that is why he answers, "God forbid!" He wants to try to prevent much of this misunderstanding from happening.

It is almost always a fact that when you teach what the Truth IS, that you must also teach what the Truth is NOT. This is because people are going to hear your words and interpret them from the frame of reference that binds them. If I know little of the grace of God, then I cannot possibly grasp what Paul is talking about in Romans. In fact, I have personally known people who use the book of Romans as a justifying handbook for the legalism that blinds them. So if you also preach what the Truth is not, you do some damage control on possible misinterpretations. Furthermore, because there is so much error being preached nowadays, you must preach a bit about what the Truth is NOT, or some people will just assume you are saying the same thing as a false teacher says – and you definitely do not want to affirm false teachers!

If you examine false teaching, and even cults, you will find that they use the same Bible vocabulary as Jesus Christ. Words like, "salvation, redemption, Savior, sin, repentance, and faith," are used, but they are MADE TO MEAN something other than what the Bible means by these terms. Not only that, but even some of the worst false teachers today have SOME Truth in their teaching – they have to, or there would be no subtlety in their error. But the direction they lead people, and the Christ they present, is contrary to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

So we see that right off the bat, Paul wants to assure his readers as to what he does NOT mean. Paul is saying, "I am not teaching that because grace abounds when Christians sin, that we are free to sin BECAUSE grace abounds." Indeed, Paul says, "God forbid," to such a suggestion.

Note that Romans 6:1 begins with a, "THEREFORE." This is pointing back to what Paul stated at the end of chapter 5. There he writes:

For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 5:19-21)

In this and other verses we see that Paul taught that God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus -- God's grace -- applies to every sin that a Christian would ever commit -- past, present, future.  In other words, if you are a Christian, you are not merely a person whose sins are forgiven.  You are that -- but more so, you are a FORGIVEN PERSON.  That is your identity.  In fact, the very definition of a Christian is a forgiven person.  If you are a Christian, you cannot be UNFORGIVEN, any more than if you a Christian, you can be unsaved.  In effect, a Christian IS a Christian because he is forever forgiven, and always, "under grace."  Indeed, a Christian has forever RECEIVED grace in the form of a Person, Jesus Christ.

This doesn't mean we cannot ruin our open fellowship with Christ by sinning, nor does it mean that God won't take action and chastise us if we sin.  Christians can and do sin every day.  But if you are IN CHRIST, you are as forgiven as you are ever going to be.  God's forgiveness for you is as complete and finished as the Redemption that paid for it.  

Now, as wonderful as this Truth is, it provides exactly the possibility of misunderstanding.  If you read the above passage from the end of Romans 5, you can see how someone might get the impression – if they do not understand salvation – they might get the impression that if grace abounds even when we sin, that this will mean we could sin because grace does abound – in other words, this would be a license to sin all we want because we know that God’s forgiveness covers all of our sins. Well, Paul says, "God forbid," and then launches into the next three chapters explaining WHY grace does NOT lead to license to sin, even though grace DOES abound when we sin. He is going to explain how that is so, and much, much more.

This rhetorical question that Paul asks, "Are we to continue in sin because we know grace will abound?," really carries with it a revelation of his entire teaching on grace. Think about it. Why would Paul think there is a danger that people would think that he is teaching that we can sin because grace abounds? Well, the only way Paul could think there was a danger of that is if GRACE DOES ABOUND WHEN WE SIN – all the time every time! Can you see that? If Paul was actually teaching that there was a time when grace did not abound for a Christian, then the rhetorical question would be nonsense. There would be no danger that people would think that Paul is saying we can sin all we want because grace abounds. But no. It is precisely BECAUSE GRACE ABOUNDS WHEN WE SIN – unconditionally from God because of Christ – that the danger is there that someone might say, "Great! Now I can sin all I want because the grace of God will cover it!" Thus, Paul’s question and answer is both a warning against such a misunderstanding, and a revelation of what he is really teaching.

If we look more closely at what Paul is saying, we might lay it out like this:

Paul taught: Grace abounds EVEN when we sin, but God forbid we sin BECAUSE it does.

Those in license taught: Grace abounds EVEN when we sin, so let’s sin BECAUSE it does.

The Judizers taught: Grace abounds EXCEPT when we sin.

So here we have this dilemma – and really, it is the dilemma that has always been at the root of arguments about law and grace. On the one hand, Paul has been teaching, and is going to affirm, that GRACE ALWAYS ABOUNDS – even when we sin. But on the other hand, he is going to take pains to show us that this will never result in a born again believer deliberately sinning as a license – it will never result in them sinning because they know grace abounds.

Dead to Sin

How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:2)

The apostle wastes no time in telling us exactly WHY those in Christ will not sin using grace as a license. Before we read Paul’s answer, you and I ought to ask ourselves as to why we think a Christian will not sin. Some of us might answer, "Because God’s law tells us not to sin." Others might say, "Because God will punish us if we sin." Again, others might answer, "Because if we sin, we will lose our reward." And yet none of these are the answer Paul gives. His answer? Paul says, "A born again believer will not live in sin because he is DEAD TO SIN."

That is an incredible answer. It is an answer that carries with it a revelation of what a real Christian IS, what real conversion IS, and carries with it a revelation of the power to live the Christian life. Someone who is in Christ will not sin – using grace as a license – because they are DEAD TO SIN.

Now, what does it mean to be DEAD TO SIN. Well, Paul is going to spend most of the rest of chapter 6 telling us. But in a nutshell, to be DEAD TO SIN means that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are delivered from the POWER OF SIN – and are alive to God.

Note this carefully: Christians are freed from the POWER of sin. Paul never says anywhere that we are delivered from the presence or possibility of sin. But he does say that we are delivered from the POWER of sin. We are going to see that this is what he means by being DEAD TO SIN.

Paul agrees completely with the apostle John, when John says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us." (I John 1:8) Read Romans 7 and you will see that. So when Paul talks about, "sinning because grace abounds," he is talking – not about sinning when we don’t want to, and not even about giving into the flesh through weakness – but Paul is talking about using the grace of God as a free ticket or license to sin. Paul is saying that a Christian will not do that – despite the fact that it is possible to sin for other reasons.

Someone who is DEAD TO SIN is someone who does not need to respond to sin. In short, to be dead to sin means that we do not HAVE TO SIN. Sin has no power or dominion over us – despite the fact that sin is still present and possible. Through Jesus Christ, we are going to see, the power of sin in the life of the believer is broken. It is broken to the point where Paul can says, "We are DEAD TO SIN."

So Paul says that we will not sin – because we think grace abounds over it – because of one reason: We are dead to sin. This is why we won’t use grace as a license, and this is why we will live no longer IN SIN.

Baptized Into Christ

Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:3-7)

Paul will now go on, having proclaimed that we are DEAD TO SIN to explain WHY we are dead to sin. He is going to explain why we are dead to sin, and therefore, why we won’t continue in sin using grace as a license.

The first reason Paul gives as to why we are dead to sin is, "If you were baptized into Christ, you were baptized INTO HIS DEATH." Note that carefully. We are baptized, or, in other words, fully IMMERSED into the death of Christ. This is, of course, referring to what water baptism symbolizes, and not water baptism itself accomplishes – when we receive Christ, we are completely BURIED WITH HIM IN HIS DEATH.

Now, that ought to get our attention. So many of us have heard ONLY that Christ died FOR US. Well, He did. And nothing else is possible unless Jesus Christ died for us a death we will never have to die -- Christ died for sin as our substitute. But Paul is here pointing out what Christ’s death as our substitute made possible – it made it possible for us to DIE IN HIM.

Get that. Christ died for us, so that we might die in Him – be buried with Him by being fully immersed into HIS death for us. What this made possible is exactly what Paul said it made possible – because we die in Christ, we are able to be raised up in Him unto newness of life.

Here we begin to see exactly what Christianity IS. And we begin to see exactly how we are saved. According to the apostle Paul, and really, according to the entire Bible, new life in Christ is not merely the result of Christ dying and being raised FOR us – although that is the foundation and without it nothing else could follow. But new life in Christ is the result of us dying IN HIM and being raised IN HIM. We are ONE with Christ in His death and resurrection.

Paul explains. He says, "We have been planted together WITH HIM into His death, and therefore, we are also planted together WITH HIM in His resurrection." In other words, we were supernaturally made ONE with Jesus Christ on the Cross. We were, as the Greek words indicate, "engrafted," into Christ. Thus, when He died for us, bearing us, His death isn’t just FOR us, but it is also IN US. In other words, once we are engrafted into Christ His death on the Cross for our sin, brings death to our sin nature itself.

Most of us have been taught that salvation is fully embodied in the doctrine of justification by faith. That doctrine states that on the Cross, God imputed to Christ all of our sin, and when we put our faith in what Christ did on the Cross, God imputes to us all of Christ’s righteousness. Thus, if we put our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, forgiven, and are legally saved. Now, all of that is the Biblical TRUTH, for a legal standpoint. But is that all there is to eternal life – a legal classification from unsaved over to saved?

Everything God does is legal and just and moral. And the doctrine of justification by faith explains that quite well. But there is something beyond the legal necessity that Paul is talking about in Romans 6, and remember: Paul was big on legalities. But what Paul is getting at in Romans 6 is more than legal, it is LIVING. Paul is saying, "You are legally saved by the death of Christ. But more than that, you are MADE ALIVE by a divine union with Christ Himself."

Perhaps Paul stated this Truth even better to the Galatians:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Note again that despite the fact that Paul taught that Christ was crucified FOR us, that he also went on to teach that this made it possible for us to be, "crucified WITH Christ." This is exactly what he is teaching in Romans 6 – that Christ died for us, but this is why it was possible for us to die in Christ, and be set free from the old creation. By grace through faith, the believer is not simply HANDED what Christ has done. No, we are made ONE WITH CHRIST in what He has done for us – something that could never be unless He had done it FOR us!

In Romans 6, Paul continues to explain, "Our old man of sin – the nature of sin we inherit from Adam – this was planted into Christ on the Cross. And it DIED IN HIM when Christ died – "the body of sin was destroyed." But when Christ was raised to newness of life, He left behind in His death our sin nature. Thus, if we are planted into His death, then we are also raised up in Him unto newness of life – freed from the power of that old sin nature.

According to the apostle Paul, everything that Christ did through His death and resurrection, God intends TO DO IN US. And what makes that possible is that we have already been engrafted into Christ, and died and been raised in Him. The present result for the saved is that CHRIST LIVES IN THEM. Read again Galatians 2:20. Paul was crucified WITH Christ, and the result is that Christ lives IN HIM. We are ONE with Christ. That is not only salvation, but it is Christianity.

Christianity is CHRIST IN US. (see Col. 1:27) From this understanding, we are also able to grasp a few other verses that really state the same Truth:

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:29-31)

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor. 4:7)

But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Cor. 6:17)

What we see in these verses is that God does not give us a THING called, "eternal life." No. Christ in us IS eternal life – He is THE LIFE. Christ in us is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In other words, God does simply give us these THINGS. No. They are CHRIST – and will only be seen in us if HE is seen in us.

Now, all of this really leads us back to the doctrine of justification by faith. That wonderful doctrine states that God IMPUTES to believers the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But now we see something, not contrary to that, but more than that: God IMPARTS to believers Christ HIMSELF. Sure. We see this above in I Cor. 1:30 – Christ doesn’t merely give us His righteousness. No. Christ in us IS our righteousness!

Through faith, believers are MADE ONE with God through Jesus Christ. That is salvation – we are made one with LIFE HIMSELF. That is justification – we are made one with righteousness Himself. Christianity is CHRIST IN US, or as Paul often puts it, a matter of us being IN CHRIST.

Now, WHY is it important to know this Truth? Well, Paul the apostle in Romans 6 is going to show why it is important. Knowing that we have died in Christ and have been made alive in Christ is the key to knowing that we are, right now, freed from the power of sin! We are really talking here about the finality of the Cross in the life of the believer, and that which is the key to all victory and life.

This is exactly the conclusion that Paul comes to in Romans 6:7. He says, "Knowing this…." Get that. In other words, "IF we know this Truth that we are engrafted into the death and resurrection of Christ – if we grasp this great Truth – then HERE is the Truth we will realize." And what does Paul say we will realize? "That our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin." In short, if you and I grasp this Truth of our oneness with Christ in His death and resurrection, we will begin to see that our old man of sin died in Christ, and that this means nothing less than the fact that WE ARE DEAD TO SIN – WE ARE FREED FROM THE POWER OF SIN.

In the book of Romans, Paul is telling us that we are legally forgiven through the death of Christ – that we are legally set free from the penalty for sin. But in Romans 6, he begins to tell us that we are also set free from SIN ITSELF. This is vital to see. Think about it. If all God did through Christ was set us free from the legal penalty FOR sin, but did not set us free from SIN ITSELF, what you would have are people who are legally forgiven FOR SIN, but who are in bondage to the power of sin just as much as before. In fact, what you would have is the very thing that Paul is trying to show is NOT the case, and what Paul is trying to show he does NOT teach: You would have Christians who could sin because they are already legally forgiven, and could sin all they want because grace abounds. If legal forgiveness was all there was in Christ, then you would indeed have Christians who were NOT, "dead to sin." Thus, all they COULD do would be, "continue in sin because they know grace abounds" – for sin would still have dominion over them.

But no. Paul begins the entire passage by saying, "Are we to continue in sin because grace abounds? God forbid." And yet the reason why we will not continue in sin because grace abounds? Not because we are legally forgiven. Rather, because we are DEAD TO SIN.

True Conversion

All of what Paul is teaching leads us to an understanding of what true conversion is, and of what true salvation is. We are seeing that true salvation is a matter of being engrafted into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I die in Him because He died for me. And if I do die, I am raised in Him. I have passed from death to life in Christ. His death and resurrection become mine, and impact me, because I am engrafted into Christ forever – He is the Vine and I am a branch. Everything eternal that I possess, I possess only IN CHRIST. My oneness with Christ can never, and will never be broken.

We have already seen that this is why eternal life is not merely a legal classification that is imputed to me. No. Eternal life is Christ Himself IMPARTED to me. I am one with Christ forever. But we do need to see HOW we come to be IN CHRIST – for it does directly relate to the fact that if we are in Christ, we are DEAD TO SIN.

According to the Bible, you cannot be saved unless you REPENT and BELIEVE. You have to repent – have a change of moral intent towards God Himself. And then you have to surrender yourself to Jesus Christ. But none of this will make much sense unless we get a bit more specific. We must repent of THE SIN – of unbelief. Unbelief is our affirmation of the sin nature – it is us running our own life. It is our refusal or neglect to surrender ourselves to Christ. So, in short, we repent of unbelief by believing. And we believe by repenting of unbelief. This is all ONE TURNING TO CHRIST – we repent by forsaking the old, and we believe by embracing the new through Jesus.

The point I want to make is this: If you forsake your self-rule, and surrender to Christ, then you must come to the Cross. You take your place as one engrafted into the death of Christ. And you are also raised in Him. You have passed from death to life. You are born again, a new creation in Christ Jesus – the old is passed away, all things are made new. If you are saved in this way, you GOT THAT WAY only because you settled foundational issues with God about sin. You are no longer your own – you repented of wanting to be. You repented because you wanted to be free from sin, and you believed because you wanted Christ. How is it possible, then, if my conversion is real, to then turn around and deliberately sin because I want to use grace as a license? It really isn’t possible – because it is exactly that sin that I repented of in order to be saved – I repented of wanting to sin; of running my own life. In other words, as Paul said, "How can we who have died to sin live any longer therein?" We cannot.

If Christianity was merely a religion, or a legal classification, or rules to follow, then we would be talking about something entirely different. But we are here talking about new life in Jesus Christ – Christ Himself IN US. We are talking about an old creation becoming a new creation. Christian people are quite capable of sinning, and quite capable of being deceived on any number of things. But if we are dead to sin – AND WE ARE IF WE ARE TRULY BORN AGAIN – then we won’t WANT to continue in sin. We already settled, "the wanting to sin," issue when we came to Christ.

This does nothing to contradict Romans 7 – as we will eventually see. In Romans 7, Paul talks about not being able to do what he wants to do, and doing much that he wants to stop doing. But he says, "This is why it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells in me." In other words, if you are born again, you got that way by surrendering your will to God. Now, once born again, your will IS surrendered to God. Thus, even if you sin, you wish you would not. You want to obey God. There is something IN YOU – Christ through the Holy Spirit – that is a new nature. And because it is, you are dead to sin, and alive to God – this, despite all of the incredible failures that remain possible.

When we repent of the sin of unbelief, and believe, we are COMING TO CHRIST. And unbelief is the only sin we have to repent of in order to come to Christ. Why? Because unbelief is the failure to come to Him! But once we do repent of unbelief, and we do believe and come to Christ – and then God begins to deal with all of our other sins, as our life goes along. If you are a Christian, you have sin – and yet this does not mean you are not a Christian. It means you have Christ in you, and through the power of His Cross you are progressively seeing you are dead to sin, and alive to God – and you are learning how to walk in that Truth.

No More Dominion

Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 6:8-11)

Paul says, "He that is dead is freed from sin." (Rom. 6:7) Who is he talking about? He is talking about US – those who have died in Christ. WE are freed from the power of sin. This is affirmed by the next verse, "Now if WE be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him." Paul is about to show us that if we are in Christ, we are actually set free from the power of sin.

Paul states that because Christ was raised from the dead, He can die no more. Death has no dominion over Him – Christ has full victory over death. This is because Christ died the ultimate death for us all – and conquered it completely through the resurrection. Christ bore the sin of the human race and still, death could not hold Him. Thus, Paul says that Christ died unto sin once, and now lives unto God. But note: Then he says, "Likewise reckon you also……"

Reckon yourself also WHAT? He tells us, "Likewise reckon yourselves also to be DEAD UNTO SIN, but ALIVE UNTO GOD through Jesus Christ." In other words, because we are engrafted into His death and resurrection, and made one with Him, what is true for Him becomes true for us. WE are dead to sin but alive to God.

But ask: What should this mean to us – as far as living? What does it mean for the believer? Paul says in the next verse:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:12-15)

In other words, because you are dead to sin and alive to God, sin and death no longer have power over you. Therefore, LET NOT SIN REIGN. You don’t have to sin.

Paul is stating that on the basis of the finality of the Cross of Jesus Christ that Christians are free from the power of sin. We are dead to sin, and alive to God. Does that seem possible? Well, Romans 6 says it is the absolute Truth.

But why doesn’t it seem true? Two reasons: First, we don’t believe it – at least not enough to be able to live it out. And secondly, some Christians don’t obey it. They do let sin reign. Perhaps not because we want to sin. But because we have given up to sin.

Most of our Christian life is going to be spent learning the Truth. This Truth of Romans 6 is basic to Christian living – and yet it takes such a process wherein God must reveal it to us in a way that sets us free. Many Christians don’t believe they are set free from the power of sin for one reason – they still sin. But this is proof of nothing. The finality of the Cross is eternally in place. We must stand by faith in it, and open ourselves to God that He might make this reality a living reality for us.

In the latter verses of chapter 6, Paul begins to allude to what he will get into heavily in chapter 7 – that we are all in a growth process. The finality of the Cross IS final. But we must all come to see it and live it.

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:15-23)

The purpose of the Holy Spirit in this age is to take all that is Jesus, and all that He has done, and make it real to us, in us, and through us. Central to this is the basic foundational Truth that is found in Romans 6. God has set us free from the power of sin. But now, He wants to not only show us that, but He wants to show us that we are actually servants of His righteousness.

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