October 29, 2017
OUR DEATH TO SIN AND FREEDOM FROM ITS ENSLAVEMENT
(18 of 44 in a series through Romans)
Leo Tolstoy once cleverly noted that “war can happen only because of our capacity to believe someone else will get killed in the battle.” That is, no one campaigns for war because he thinks he will die. He’s willing to go to war because he believes someone else will die. Now, perhaps that’s overstated a little bit, but what is unmistakably true is that we’re apt to view ourselves differently than we view everyone else.
Just as a man may think everyone else may die in war but he most certainly will not, so we may think of ourselves as exceptions to the glorious truths of the gospel. For example, I’ve spoken to people over the years who would believe and proclaim to you the glory of forgiveness that can be yours in Christ who really struggle to believe their own sins can be forgiven or individuals who would wrestle day and night with you in conversation to make sure that you feel the Lord’s assurance that you belong to him while they themselves doubt that the Lord will hold them fast. Or, on the other end of the scale, I’ve conversed with individuals who would be quick to note the wrongdoing of others who seem to be blind to their own sin. And, sadly, I’ve probably been all of these individuals at some point in my life. Simply put, it’s hard to view ourselves accurately.
Taking the truths of Scripture and understanding them are only a part of what it means to believe God’s Word. The other part is being able to apply those truths to yourself and live in light of them. Thus far in the letter Paul wants us to see and apply to ourselves and live in light of the fact that we are justified (declared righteous) before God on the basis faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ alone. He’s wanted us to understand that there aren’t works for us to do in order to “get right” with God but merely look to him in faith and receive his declaration of righteousness.
But Paul hasn’t stopped there. He always wants us to know, experience, and walk in all the glorious blessings that come with being justified. He wants us to know the peace we have with God, live in the reality that we are objects of his grace, and feel assurance that because we belong to him we can look to the end of our lives or the return of Christ and actually rejoice in the certainty of our hope of glory. And where the enemy brings up our sin, Paul has sought to remind us that where our sin abounded, grace and mercy has abounded all the more in Christ’s gift of righteousness to us.
Paul wants us to know these truths. He wants us to feel, walk in, and live in these truths. But Paul doesn’t want us to stop there. He also wants you and me to see that this glorious truth of justification by faith alone has implications for how we relate to sin. In other words, Paul wants us to see that being declared righteous before God is more than just an external truth that has no real impact on how we live our lives each day, especially in relation to sin. Being justified actually has huge implications concerning your present struggle with that sin that you don’t feel like you can escape.
Now, think about that for a second. If you were a pastor, and you were teaching a congregation full of people who were struggling with envy and greed, eating disorders, anxiety that is so strong it’s paralyzing, same-sex attraction, strong desires to pursue pornography, and on and on so that the people whom you’ve been called to shepherd almost feel hopeless in their struggle with sin, where would you start?
Interestingly, it seems that Paul says, “Start with letting them see what all it means to be justified by faith alone. Show them all the implications of what it means to place their faith in Jesus Christ and be credited with his gift of righteousness.” Because in the end, one of the key components to waling in holiness (according to our text this morning) is understanding rightly what is true of you if you’re trusting in Christ for your salvation this morning. That is, Paul’s answer to address those things we do is to begin by showing us who we are.
The way Paul gets to this point is quite interesting, though. He begins by taking up a challenge someone might give in light of all that he’s taught in the letter to this point. He begins by asking in verse 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
Now, why does he ask that? Probably for a few reasons. For one, Paul has just argued that though we’re born into the world with a sinful nature, sin, and fall under God’s judgment because of our union with Adam, where all that sin abounded, grace has abounded all the more. Think back to the illustration of the flooded warehouse I used a couple of weeks ago. If someone coming in and fixing a burst water pipe, cleaning up the room, and making everything in it as nice as it was before shows the greatness of that person, then maybe you should just come back in the next week, bust the pipe again, and let them display their glory again. Now, we all know that’s a foolish argument to make, sure there is a certain logic to it that may deceive someone into asking it, and so Paul brings it up and asks it himself in order to reveal its foolishness.
Also, we know that Paul has actually been slanderously accused of arguing this. He notes back in 3:8, “And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying.” So he’s asking the question in order, once more, to address this slanderous charge.
But one of the key reasons I think he’s asking this question is because he wants to teach the Roman Christians about how our justification drastically affects how we live in relation to sin, and raising this question gives him the opportunity to teach them this important truth that I want to try to show us this morning.
Paul’s quick answer is “By no means!” (v. 2), but, as I mentioned, he then launches into a lengthy argument about the believer’s relation to sin. What then does he want his readers to understand? Well, the first premise of his argument is a truth that connects the text we looked at two weeks ago (5:12-21) and our text this morning, namely, that:
As believers, we are united with Christ so that what’s true of him is true of us
Paul’s argument is impossible for us to understand apart from this basic truth. He’s not going to use the exact terminology of being “united with” Jesus until verse 5, but note that he mentions being baptized into Christ in verse 3, buried with him in verse 4, crucified with him in verse 6, and died with him in verse 8. And this isn’t exceptional for Paul. The phrases “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 216 times in Paul’s letters.
This is how the Bible teaches us what it means to be saved. Salvation should be understood by us as the benefits that come to us by being united with Christ by faith so that what is true of him is true of us. This is why Jesus’ perfect life, sin-bearing death, and justifying resurrection 2,000 years ago matter for us today. It’s because when we believe, we’re united with him so that what he did and what he receives counts for us. He lived a perfect life, and by union with him, we have perfect righteousness credited to us, and so on. That’s what Paul’s been preaching.
And, as a side note (which I know I’ve mentioned multiple times before), this is why the question, “Can someone be saved by another means other than trusting in Jesus” is such a misguided question. Salvation is what we get through being united with Jesus. Jesus isn’t a hoop we jump through to get the benefit of salvation; salvation is the benefit we get as we are united with Jesus by faith.
Now, that’s key to understanding why we shouldn’t live in sin or see sin as some kind of enslaving master over us that we can’t get away from. Everything flows from this truth in Paul’s argument. So, what then are the implications of us being united with Christ by faith so that what is true of him is true of us as well? Well, we can say:
Because we’ve died with Christ, we are free from sin’s enslaving power
So, putting this together, if we’re united with Christ by faith so that what is true of him is true of us, then his death counts for us as well. This is what Paul starts with in verse 2. After saying “by no means” should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound, Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2).
Our first response here is probably to say, “Wait a second, Paul. What do you mean when you say that we died to sin?” And Paul anticipates this is our response. It’s almost as if between verses 2-3, you can insert our puzzled and confused look. So, Paul answers, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (v. 3).
Now, when Paul references our baptism, he’s referencing it to refer to the moment in which we believed, when we first were converted. Why then does Paul refer to our baptism instead of saying, “When you first believed”? Well, it’s because though Paul does say things like “When we first believed” (e.g. Rom. 13:11), he also will refer to the moment we were converted by saying things like “Consider your calling” (1 Cor. 1:26) or by referring to our baptism. And it makes sense that he would refer to our “calling” when referring to our salvation because he knows that God calls us to salvation, but why refer to baptism? Well, it’s because in the Bible baptism was the regular means whereby individuals publicly professed their faith in Christ. Whereas we often pray a prayer or walk an aisle, in the NT they seemed to walk into a body of water and be baptized to publicly announce that they were trusting in Jesus. Consequently, just as we might hear someone say, “Remember when you first prayed to receive Christ” (or whatever other euphemism we might use) to mean, “Remember when you first believed,” the Bible will regularly refer to our baptism to point us back to that time when we first believed and were justified.
So, when Paul ways “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus” he’s saying, “All of us who have believed in Christ.” But the reason baptism is such a fitting euphemism for referencing when we first believed in this specific text is because it so perfectly pictures the point Paul is arguing in this text. As one is baptized, he is put under water and brought up again to show that he has been united with the one who died, was buried, and was raised. That’s Paul’s point here. If you’ve believed, then by faith you’ve been united with Jesus who died and was raised. Look at what Paul says in verse 6. He notes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
When Jesus died, he died to sin. Paul notes that in v. 10. What that means is that Jesus took the weight and penalty of sin upon himself when he was crucified. But when he rose from the dead, sin had no power. Death had no dominion over him (v. 9). And Paul is saying that who you were as a sinful, guilty, condemned man or woman in Adam (that’s what Paul means by “our old self” and “body of sin”) was crucified with Christ “so that [you] would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). Why? Paul answers, “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (v. 7). But how does that work?
Well, picture for a second yourself as a slave to a master that you’re indebted to until death. He’s always forcing you to do burdensome tasks and threatening you and beating you when you mess up until one day he kills you. That’s a terrible image, isn’t it? But the one thing those around you could say about you in that moment you die is, “Well, at least now he’s no longer a slave to this terrible master. His debt is over. He’s served him till his death. He’s free now.”
What Paul is saying to each of us is, “That’s you. You died to sin. Your old condemned self was crucified and destroyed. You’re no longer enslaved to sin.” You’ve been justified and set free from its enslaving power. And here’s the great thing, we didn’t actually have to physically face crucifixion and death to get that freedom. Jesus did it for us as our representative and substitute. He died to sin and bore the penalty of death so that now we are free from the enslaving power of sin and its penalty. We were united with him in his sin-bearing death so that we are free from sin’s enslaving power and penalty.
But that’s not all. After all, Jesus didn’t stay dead. Thus, Paul adds:
Because we’ve been raised with Christ, we can live to God and will live forever
Paul not only tells us that we’ve died with Christ but also that Jesus’ resurrection counts for us as well. He writes in verses 4-5, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Also, we can see in verses 8-10, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”
Now, we know that his death counts for us in the sense that dying to sin, we’re free from slavery to sin and free from the penalty of sin. We no longer have to sin as if we’re a slave to it. We’re free from being enslaved to it like we once were. Nor do we have to fear the penalty of death for our sin. That penalty has been paid as Christ died for us. But in what sense does his resurrection count for us?
Well, it counts for us in multiple ways, but here Paul names two. First, he notes that it means that one day we will be raised from the dead, receive glorified resurrection bodies, and live forever with Christ. Paul says “We shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (v. 5), and, “We believe that we will also live with him” (v. 8). For those united with Jesus by faith, death is not the last word. We will be raised.
But it’s not just in the future that our benefit lies. Paul also notes in verse 11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And notice that here he speaks in the present: “consider yourselves [right now] . . . alive to God.” Or earlier in verse 4, he noted, that we get to walk now in “newness of life.”
Being united with Christ by faith means we’re united with Jesus in his resurrection which has a future benefit (we’ll one day be raised) and a present benefit (we get to live life right now unto God). What does that mean?
Well, let’s return to our illustration. Being a slave to an evil master, you’ve been beaten and killed, and those around you say, “Well, at least now he’s no longer a slave to this terrible master. His debt is over. He’s served him till his death. He’s free now.” And let’s say they leave your dead body there to rot, and the evil master decides to pick up, take all of his belongings and his other slaves, and leaves. And there’s your dead body.
But now, imagine, another man sees this abandoned land, and he instantly moves in, and he is good and gracious and loving and caring, and he simply seeks someone to lavish his grace and kindness and care upon. And he sees your dead body and walks up to you and causes life to come back into your body. You are raised from the dead. And the man says, “This is glorious! I have raised you from your grave so that, having been freed from your evil taskmaster, you might live unto me, knowing that I will care for you, love you, provide for you, and lavish the riches of my kindness upon you.”
Would you say, “No, Sir. Actually I need to go find my old master and serve him”? Of course not. You’ve died to that enslavement. You’re free from its dominion over you. This is your chance to say, “What a blessing. I have died and been set free from terrible enslavement, and yet I get to live. So I will now live and devote myself to one who is good and cares for me and will provide for me and shower me with his kindness.
This is what Paul is saying, “Jesus died to sin, but he rose and lives to God, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 10b-11). You’ve died to sin because Jesus is your representative and he died to sin. So, consider yourselves dead to sin. But he rose, and so you get to live. You’re like that dead slave who has been raised to life, so you don’t have to live your life to the evil taskmaster of sin anymore. You can live unto God who is infinitely good and wise and loving and treasures you as his child.
Therefore, a quick word of application:
We need to live each day in light of these realities, living in righteousness
If we’ve died to the penalty and enslaving power of sin and get to live our lives unto the Lord, Paul not only says to consider this reality in your life (which is crucial) but, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (vv. 12-13).
You have a new master (i.e. have been transferred from law to grace), and sin has no more dominion over you. Therefore, turn from it (repent) and turn to Christ (faith) and obey. That’s the call to us today. Think of all those sins that feel so enslaving that I mentioned earlier. Now, I know that the enemy will right now scream at you, “You can’t walk away from that. You can’t put away that sin. This is just who you are. This is how you must be. You’re powerless and will fail.”
But our response this morning must be, “No. I was powerless. I was enslaved, but I have died with Christ “so that [I] would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). And I’ve been given resurrection life now so that I can live in obedience to my Lord. Therefore, I will repent and look to Christ in faith to strengthen me to obey.
Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesu Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9-11). Therefore, let us turn from what we once were and walk by faith in obedience to Christ this morning. And let us publicly and visibly demonstrate that repentance as we come to the table this morning. Amen.