For all articles in this Gospel Scope series (Romans 6-8), click here.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.” (Romans 6:1–4).
Our culture is fascinated with new. We want the best, the most up to date, the latest in innovation. In some area of life, we long for newness. We crave it. We crave the freshness of new.
So it goes with our souls. We want to be new. There is much in the clutter of our hearts we would love to see transformed, and if there isn’t, well, we’ve likely settled. The pain of defeat has caused us to wave the white flag of surrender. We cannot take it any longer. So, this is just the way I am. I cannot be new. I cannot be different. I am what I am.
To be sure, there is something good in self-contentment, but when it crosses into acceptance of that which God wants to transform, we are in danger. No, we ought to long for newness and change in these areas of life. God is real. Jesus has risen. And resurrection life can be mine. Today. Now. New.
In Romans 1-5 Paul lays out the incredible grace of God. There isn’t much in these chapters that I’m told to do. Not that I’m absent in those chapters. I am present. Rebellion? Check. Judgmentalism? Check. Religiosity? Check. I’ve done it all. I am in the group described as “under sin.” That was me. I am there.
But what does God do for me in that steady state of brokenness? He provides the good news of the gospel. He provides His approval and wholeness apart from the law. He makes newness a result of His work, not my work. Code keeping could not get me out of my jam. Only the cross could accomplish that work.
And get me out of that jam He did. Did He ever. Paul described it. Peace with God is now mine. The righteousness of God is given to me by faith. I've been transferred from Adam to Christ. The righteousness of Jesus has been deposited into my account. I am His. He is mine. This gospel is radical grace, such good news.
But Paul started Romans with a theme statement: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). This salvation is positional, but not only positional. In other words, I am saved from past sins and will be saved eternally, but there is more. This gospel is God’s power to save me right now. Today. The gospel can work in my life in the present; it can deliver me today.
Deliver me from what? What victory is mine? What rescue is needed? Well, from myself. I am in need of victory over this body of sin I am still working with. My inner man has tasted and seen the Lord is good, and my body of sin has tasted and seen that sin is enjoyable, if for just a season.
So this gospel of grace extends beyond past and future, but into my present. Jesus wants to continue to save me. He wants to grow me. Here are some other words we would use for this process: sanctification, transformation, consecration. He wants to do all this, through us, but with us.
The 'today' work of Christ continues the good newsiness of the gospel of grace. Jesus isn’t content to do the past tense work with a promise of future deliverance. He is unwilling to leave us alone today. He doesn’t say, “Look at what I did. I justified you. Now YOU sanctify you.” No. He does invite us into the process of sanctification, but He volunteers to go with us. He will join us on this journey.
The grace continues to flow. The fountain has begun to bubble forth. It cannot be stopped. The river of life is raging.
So, here we are. Moved by grace. What do we do? Here, Paul begins, we begin. Just three things for now. A lie to say no to, a truth to know, and a new life to walk in.
Proper Response: A Question (Romans 6:1)
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1)
He asks, "What shall we say then?" I know what we should say! We should sing! God’s indescribable gift of His Son and the imputed righteousness found in Him should make us sing. And we do. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs have gushed forth from our lips since the day Jesus rose. We sing.
But Paul's question means something more. Past the celebration, what is our cerebral response to this grace? How do we compute? What is our calculated move after such elaborate love from God?
In other words, Paul does not ask a question of praise, but of progress. How do we move forward as a result of this great gospel? But why would he ask this question here?
He elaborates. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” he asks. Ah! Now we see. How do we continue now that we are under grace?
Paul had built a strong case that Jesus has transferred us from the law to grace. The law came, at least in part, to help us see our sin. Without the law, we might not have known the rebellion embedded in our hearts. We may have thought ourselves clean. But the law shows us a standard we have fallen short of. That said, the law does even more. The law stirs something in us, a sort of “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” guttural response. The law helped us see the deep embed of sin on our hearts (Romans 5:20).
But the good news is this: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). The law increased my sin, my trespass, my rebellious spirit, but grace abounded more than my sin. Amazing. The gospel of grace ran with, outpaced even, my sin.
So now I am not under that condemnatory law. The code has no power over me. I have been transferred. This is the question Paul will ask later in Romans 6: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15). See, we’ve been transferred over to grace from the law. How are we to behave under this grace?
This question is a natural one. Romans has concentrated on this secure status from God. Up to this point, Paul has gone to great lengths to tell us of our radical position in Christ. “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” Paul wrote (Romans 4:5). Faith got me entrance into God’s righteousness.
So, now that I am under grace, should I continue in sin? And should I sin so grace might abound? If grace has outpaced my sin, won’t grace spread as a result of more sin?
To answer 'yes' to this question is called antinomianism, to be against any moral law governing you. This exists. Jude found people like this. He had wanted to write about our common salvation but had to change the focus of his letter (Jude 3). As he scanned the church, he saw people “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” so he had to write something quite different (Jude 4).
This antinomian spirit has always been around, and will always be around. I’m sure you see it today or have even felt it today. Which one of us has not thought, “grace will cover it! I’m fine. It’s fine. God will forgive me.” We ought to be reminded of God’s forgiveness, absolutely, but not as an excuse for our sin. We ought not to excuse it.
But this was and is the question. Should I respond to this gospel with sin?
Proper Response: No! You Died To Sin! (Romans 6:2)
“By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2)
Paul, as we suspected, has none the antinomian argument. It is folly to him. He is emphatic. “By no means!” May it never be! Far from it! God forbid!
That response was expected. We saw it coming. It is at this next point Paul shocks us. He asks an additional question, a shocking one. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
In this question, Paul announces crisply that the believer has died to sin. This announcement leaves us breathless. What? Dead to sin? How do you mean, Paul?
Certainly, Paul, you cannot mean that I will no longer experience sinful desires. I get the analogy. Put my favorite pizza under the nose of a corpse, and they won’t take a bit. There is no struggle. No waddling out of the pizza parlor regretting their bad decisions. They are dead. No temptation. No eating. They are dead to that pizza.
This cannot be what Paul means, for obvious reasons. For one, the next chapter of his argument focuses on the very real inner battle with temptation. Secondly, if we are dead to sin in that way, he would not have written vast portions of his letters. Specifically, the parts telling us what not and what to do. If we are no longer tempted, much of the New Testament would be a moot point. And lastly, there’s my experience and the experience of millions of born-again Christians. We are alive to the Spirit, but we are also tempted to sin.
But Paul must be stating something powerful here. What does he mean?
We should note that in Romans 5:12 Paul shifted from sins plural to sin singularly. The power or pull of sin. Temptations exist, but the power of sin in my life has been broken by the cross of Christ. The gospel is God’s power for salvation. He has set me free.
Yes, I am dead to the eternal judgment connected to sin, but this is more. So much more. I am dead to the mastery of sin in my life right now. In other words, I can win. I can live in victory.
It is not that we cannot sin, for we can. It is that we don’t have to sin. We are dead to sin. This is the position we own in Jesus.
We will return to this concept again, but perhaps we could think of it like this. We often think of death as extinction, but it also means separation. Separation from life as you know it. We have been separated from sin as we know it. It is not our master, nor does it have to be. As Peter said, “live as people who are free" (1 Peter 2:16).
Perhaps another way to gain comprehension here is to consider Adam. Paul spoke of him in Romans 5. God told him he would die on the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When he ate, did he drop down dead? No. But he died. Physical death began to slowly take him as he aged, spiritual death entered his soul, and he died. But he was still walking around.
The believer stands in contrast. The day we eat of the cross, the tree of life, we live. We are spiritually alive, and our physical life is secured for us eternally. But the grave is still ours. Adam might have been thought of as alive when he was actually dead. We might think of ourselves as dead when we are actually alive in Christ.
In light of this truth, we react with Paul. How can I abusively continue in sin, thinking this is the way grace abounds? His grace has abounded and has made me dead to sin. This deadness is his grace. So I say no. No. I died to sin.
In the garden, Adam might have responded to God’s goodness with sin, and that nature used to be mine, but I am different now. I have died to sin. I say no to the spirit that would take advantage of God’s grace, using it as a license to sin. Not because I’m moral, but because of who I now am. More on that later.
Paul has teased his subject. You don’t just tell people they’re dead to sin and move on. Paul knew it was profound, in need of more in-depth explanation. Explain he would.
He explored further by asking another question:
Proper Response: I Know! I’ve Been United With Jesus’ Death (6:3-4)
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)
Now we learn a little more about his declaration that we are dead to sin. If we have been baptized into Christ Jesus we have been baptized into his death. So we died with him.
Before explaining this, there are a couple interesting notes at this point. Many modern believers, if confronted with the controversy Paul was dealing with, would respond much differently than Paul. In other words, there is this question of response to the gospel of grace. A fictitious person responds by saying they should continue in sin so grace can abound. Paul responds one way. Many of us would respond in another.
Many of us would backpedal. We would explain that the gospel isn’t a license for sin, perhaps softening or modifying the message slightly to make sure the listener knew they had a duty to perform.
But Paul does none of that. No backpedaling. He does not withdraw or modify an ounce of the gospel of grace. For him, it is the grace of God without works. If he had meant otherwise, he would have corrected the assumption right here, at this point in his letter. He could have easily said, “I mean, you have to clean up your act. Obviously, you have to show you are serious about this. It doesn’t count if you don’t.”
Paul didn't do that, however. He knew that an accurate proclamation of the gospel would raise these antinomian accusations, and he was fine with that. Paul's response was to run further into the more unexplored caverns of the gospel. This is the answer. Don’t run from it. Run into it.
This is what Paul was doing when he expanded the concept that we’ve died to sin by explaining we were baptized into Jesus’ death when we were baptized into Christ Jesus. When, then, did this occur? When was I baptized into Christ Jesus?
There are some who believe Paul speaks of water baptism here, and that is likely your first reaction. The word “baptize” reminds us of water, and the Bible points us in that direction. John water baptized, Jesus was baptized, new Christians were baptized. Baptism happens in water.
Others, however, believe Paul is using the word “baptism” as a reference to the literal meaning of the word “immersion.” The statement then, is that we were at some point immersed into Christ. At that point, we were identified with Jesus’ death.
Bits of both meanings seem alive in Paul's words. Partly water, because when you are born again your first move ought to be water baptism, a public declaration that you are under the ownership of Christ. But mostly inward and dry, because when you were born again you were spiritually tied to Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection. He became your life. He identified with you, and you are now identified in Him. Your identity is now wrapped up in Him. You are in Christ.
So Paul makes this declaration. You have been baptized with Him into His death, and you have been buried therefore with him.” These phrases give color to the first statement: that we are dead to sin.
Paul said it this way to the Galatian church: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul understood it this way: he had died with Jesus on the cross and went into the tomb with Jesus as well. His old man, old nature, died to that degree.
So our response to this question, the how do I respond to grace question, is to know that we died with Jesus. To Paul, this is vital information. If you don’t understand this, you cannot move forward. You must know that you died with Jesus once you believed.
I died to sin’s power. When Jesus was about to raise Lazarus, his sister Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). This is too often our attitude. Sin’s power? I know someday I will be free. But not now. Not at this time. That is all future. All the while, Jesus stands by ready to perform a miracle.
I died to sin’s guilt. Where are my sins? The Bible uses various phrases. All of them bless me. I’m forgiven (John 2:12). I’m cleansed (Jeremiah 33:8). They are atoned for (Romans 3:25). They are covered (Psalm 32:1). They’ve been cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). They’ve been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). They’ve been blotted out as a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22). They’ve been cast behind God’s back (Isaiah 38:17). They are remembered against me no more (Jeremiah 31:34). God’s dealing with my sin has been thorough and good.
I died to sin’s future. It has no claim on me. When the waters of Jesus’ baptism rushed over my head, I became free. I have died with him. What claim can sin have on a man who is dead? None.
Why is all this so? This is where the apostle takes us next. It is one thing to understand the death that is ours, that we have died to sin through the death of Jesus. But there is more. What is the point of all this?
Proper Response: I’m New! I’ve Been United With Jesus’ Life (Romans 6:4)
“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.” (Romans 6:4)
That’s the point. Newness of life. This is why you are reading. This is what we are going to unpack in these posts. There is a newness of life available to every believer. We can have it. We died with Jesus. He rose from the dead. Newness of life is ours in Him.
This is the life we will study in the next posts. But ask yourself, do I want this newness of life? To be new is amazing. God makes all things new. Heaven will be new, eternally. There is a freshness to this Christian life. Only Jesus gives it. You only get it when you understand the terms and positions written in Romans 6-8. It is a great life. Do you want it?