Are We to Continue in Sin That Grace Might Increase?
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. 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. 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.
One of the Greatest Issues in Life
As we enter Romans 6, we are taking up one of the greatest issues in the Christian life. And that means one of the greatest issues in life, period. Because the only life that will lead to eternal life is the Christian life. So what we are about to see is relevant and crucial for everybody, whether they call themselves Christian or not. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, spiritualists, atheists – every person who is descended from Adam needs to know what Romans 6 teaches. What Paul describes here is not provincial or parochial or sectarian or regional or ethnic. It relates to everybody because it describes the only kind of life that leads to eternal life. All of us are sinners and guilty because we are united to the first Adam. We will be saved, or not, because we are united by faith to Jesus Christ, the second Adam. And there is a kind of life that comes from being united to Christ. That life leads to heaven. And that life only. That is what is at stake in Romans 6.
One way to see this is to jump to the end of the chapter and look at verse 22: "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification [or holiness], and the outcome, eternal life." Notice carefully: What is eternal life the outcome of? It is the outcome of "sanctification" or "holiness" or "freedom from sin and slavery to God." In other words, Romans 6 deals with the kind of life that leads to eternal life: What it is and how to live it.
But now let's go back to the beginning of the chapter and find out how this subject was raised and how it relates to the teaching on justification by grace through faith that dominated Romans 1-5.
Shall We Sin So That Grace May Increase?
Paul came to the end of Romans 1-5 with the most radical emphasis possible on justification by grace through faith, apart from works of the law. He taught (in Romans 5:18) that "as through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [of Christ] there resulted justification of life to all men." In other words, our union with Adam brought us condemnation because of his disobedience; and our union with Christ brings us justification because of his obedience. This is extreme grace: Christ's obedience, not ours, is the ground of our justification. God reckons us righteous, and accepts us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness (Titus 3:5), but because of deeds done by Christ in righteousness (Romans 5:18). The whole point of bringing Adam into the picture here at the end of Romans 1-5 is to make this radically gracious way of justification dangerously clear. We are condemned in Adam as his sin is credited to us; we are justified in Christ as his righteousness is credited to us.
Now what? Why do I say that this teaching about Adam and Christ makes justification by grace "dangerously" clear? Because of what people may do with it – the way they may distort it, the way they draw implications from it that seem right, but are dead wrong. Paul knows the way his radical teaching on justification by grace through faith apart from works (Romans 3:28) is most often distorted. So he brings it up.
He plays his own worst adversary in Romans 6:1. He has just said in Romans 5:20, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Now he asks, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" Here is the great objection to justification by grace through faith apart from works of the law. It seems to open the door to rampant sinning. In fact, it seems to invite more sinning because if grace is God's act to forgive and accept sinners on the basis of Christ's righteousness, not ours, then would not that grace shine all the brighter if we kept on sinning? The more sin there is, the more forgiveness there is. And the more sinning there is, the greater must be the righteousness of Christ to compensate for it. So doesn't Paul's radical teaching on justification open the door to careless living and indifference to holiness?
That is the question Romans 6 (indeed 6-8) is meant to answer. Here is his answer: Verse 2: "May it never be!"
First his answer is, "No!" "May it never be!" We are not to continue in sin so that grace might increase. That is a wrong conclusion to draw from his radical teaching on justification by grace through faith alone. But now why? That's the content of Romans 6 – why do people who are justified by grace through faith alone not continue in sin? You can see how tremendously practical this becomes. Justified people do not continue in sin that grace may abound. Why not? How not? That's the issue now.
Today I just want to give a very brief overview of his answer. Then we will step back and look at some specifics. So what is Paul's answer to why those who are justified on the basis of Christ's righteousness, by grace, through faith alone do not continue in sin that grace might increase?
Before we give Paul's answer, be sure you see what his answer is not. This is crucial. His answer is not that the objection has misunderstood the radical character of justifying grace. Paul did not say, Oh, you misunderstood – I didn't really mean that justification is all of grace and all based on the righteousness of Christ and only obtained by faith without works. He didn't say, What I really meant was that justification is really based on your behavior after all. He did not say that justification won't lead to lawlessness because law-keeping is part of what you have to do to get justified. He might have corrected his opponents this way, if he thought that was their mistake, but he didn't. That wasn't their mistake. They saw something correctly: justification is really by grace through faith alone on the basis of Christ's righteousness alone. That is how we get right with God. That is the foundation of the Christian life. It's this radical view of grace that seems to cause the problem.
So then, what is Paul's answer to why people who are justified by grace through faith do not continue in sin? His answer is in verse 2. After he says, "No, may it never be!" he gives the basis of his answer in the form of a question: "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" That's his answer in the briefest form. The rest of the chapter explains.
Let's make sure we see this little sentence clearly. It's a rhetorical question. That means Paul doesn't expect an answer. He expects us to see the answer already in the question, when he says, "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" The answer is, We can't. In other words, rhetorical questions don't expect answers; they make statements.
For example, kids, if your dad says, "How are you going to keep your room neat if you throw your clothes on the floor and never hang them up or put them in the drawers?," he's not looking for an answer. He's making a statement: You won't keep your room neat if you throw your clothes on the floor and don't hang them up. Or if your mom says, "How can you expect people to be your friend if you're not friendly?," she's not looking for an answer. She's making a statement. Perhaps a plea. You won't have friends if you are not friendly.
Well, that is the way Paul is using the rhetorical question in Romans 6:2. He is not expecting an answer; he is making a statement: "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" There is no answer to this "how" question. We can't live in sin if we died to it. That is his statement. That is his answer to the objection.
So, in summary form:
- Objection: If justification is on the basis of Christ's righteousness, not ours, by grace through faith alone, then shouldn't we continue in sin that grace might increase?
- Answer: No!
- Reason: Because if you died to sin, you can't go on living in it. Or to put it bluntly: Dead people don't sin.
The rest of Romans 6 is explanation. So let's just look at the structure of the explanation today, and then in two weeks dig into the practical teaching of how this really works in our daily lives.
Why Don't Dead People Sin?
Is it important that you know this? Look at verse 3 for Paul's answer. After giving his summary explanation—Dead men don't sin—he asks, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" "Do you not know?" Have you not been taught? Surely you know these things. Surely someone explained to you what your baptism means. In other words, Paul believes that this is important to know and that it is surprising when Christians don't know it. So if we have failed you and not taught you this, let's grow now in the knowledge and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
The explanation Paul gives for dead people not sinning can be summed up in three steps.
- When Christ died, believers in some crucial sense died in him and with him.
- When Christ rose, believers in some crucial sense were made alive in him.
- Therefore, believers are commanded to become in practice what we are in Christ: dead to sin and alive to God.
Look at a text or two for these three steps.
1. When Christ died, believers in some crucial sense died in him and with him.
- Romans 6:5, "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death . . ."
- Romans 6:6, "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with."
- Romans 6:8, "Now if we have died with Christ . . ."
So there is a union with Christ that makes what happened to him valid for us in him. When he died, we died. That is the key to why the justified do not go on sinning. Dead people don't sin. Of course that raises the question of perfectionism and how free we actually are from sin. That we will deal with in the coming weeks.
2. When Christ rose, believers in some crucial sense were made alive in him.
- Romans 6:4b: ". . . 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 6:5, "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be [united with him] in the likeness of His resurrection."
The believer's union with Christ not only means that we died when he died, but that in his resurrection our new life to God was secured. In some sense we died with him and came alive to God with him. Paul is cautious here, and doesn't say that we rose [past tense] with him. We will examine why in the weeks to come (see 2 Timothy 2:18).
3. Therefore, believers are commanded to become in practice what we are in Christ: dead to sin and alive to God.
- Romans 6:11, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
- Romans 6:13, "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."
Notice carefully, Paul does not draw the conclusion of a mechanical or automatic obedience from our death and resurrection with Christ. He does not say, "Since you all died to sin in Christ and are alive to God in him, there is no need for me to command you to do anything, and there is no act of obedience involved. There is only an automatic, mechanical outcome of sinlessness. You died to sin; so you automatically don't sin. You are alive to God; so you automatically serve God. No need for commands." No, that is not what he says. Instead he says, you died, so consider yourselves dead. You are alive, so consider yourselves alive to God. You are . . . so now become what you are.
We are justified by grace through faith alone because of our union with Christ whose righteousness is counted as ours. And now we see that this same union with Christ explains why we will not continue in sin. I hope you can see how crucial this is and will stay with me and learn with me how to live as justified people. O how free and peaceful and joyful and radical we would be if we learned this together. I will do my best to open it for us. Pray with me that we see it and live it – to the glory of Christ: our righteousness.