After arguing from scripture that the one who is in Christ has been declared righteous by faith apart from works of Law, Paul must responding to a potential objection. Someone might ask, “If we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by our works, why live a moral life?” If you already have all the righteousness of Jesus and there is no question that you are “right with God,” why not live our lives as sinfully as possible so that God’s grace is even greater?
Paul’s response is to state that this is not a possibility. Paul used the phrase μὴ γένοιτο, “may it never be,” in Romans to deny as strongly as possible a rhetorical question. Paul’s logical answer to a possible object to his view of justification is to demonstrate that the one who is “in Christ” has been identified in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way as to be considered dead to sin. Three statements follow to make this point.
First, the believer is identified with Christ in his death through baptism. In his excellent commentary on Romans, C. E. B. Cranfield (Romans 2:299) lists four possible interpretations of this idea of being “baptized in Christ’s death.”
- A Juridical Sense. Believer’s dies to sin in God’s sight. By this it is meant that God makes a decision not to consider sins against a believer in the light of Christ’s sacrifice.
- A Baptismal Sense. The believer dies and is raised at the believer’s baptism into Christ. Murray is one of the few modern commentaries to take this view, although he denies that there is any “mode of baptism” in view” (Murray, Romans, 215).
- A Moral Sense. The believer is given his freedom to die to sin daily, and be raised to new life daily as he struggles with the sin in his life. Cranfield 300 says “The man who has learned through the gospel message the truth of God’s gracious decision on his behalf is now to strive with all his heart to approximate more and more in his actual concrete daily living to that which in God’s decision of justification he already is.”
- An Eschatological Sense. The death to sin occurs when the believer finally dies and is raised again to life.
Paul may move between these four senses in chapter 6, but based on the courtroom metaphor of justification from Romans 5, he primarily has the first option in mind. The believer was not literally nailed to the cross, but on a metaphoric level that is exactly what happened. Jesus Christ was a substitute for every man, and after than substitutionary death took place, God is now able to justly declare all men righteous who believe, those that accept the free gift of salvation.
Second, since the connection to Christ’s death has been very clearly made, it is quite logical for Paul to extend the argument to include Christ’s resurrection in verses 5-8. To be “united” is to be assimilated into something. Paul’s point is simple: our association with Christ in his death (the means of our justification) implies our association with him in his resurrection to new life. If you are in Christ, you are dead to the old life and naturally live a new life.
Third, in verses 9-14 Paul makes an additional logical inference from the idea that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. If it is true that our justification and sanctification are implied in the death and resurrection of Christ, then our glorification is implied by his own glorification. This observation points to the eschatological aspect of salvation when the one who is “in Christ” is resurrected to eternal life.
In summary, Paul considers it impossible that anyone that is truly “in Christ” to “sin that grace may abound.” The fact of our justification implies that we are being sanctified, and will eventually be glorified. To live in sin is not consistent with new life in Christ.
But is it really “impossible” for the believer to use their freedom in Christ as a license to sin? Paul must constantly deal with people who take freedom too far, but also people who enforce legalistic codes of conduct. This is easily illustrated at virtually every point in Church history, and both extremes are obvious in the Church today.
How does the “in Christ” person live out their new life without abusing either extreme?