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?
4 thoughts on “Romans 6:1-4 – Shall We Sin?”
There is no doubt the issue with the correlation between works and grace has definitely aroused some eyebrows. It is fairly simple to accept the notion that “once saved always saved.” This perception, however, fails to capture the essence of the context of grace. Yes, we do achieve salvation once we believe the words that Paul professes in Romans 10:9-10 that once you have proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord” and trust that God resurrected Jesus from the dead, then our hearts are justified by our faith. Nevertheless, the context in which Paul indicates grace as boundless is in fact the death of Christ on the cross; “He (Paul) saw the believer as participating in the death of Christ (Polhill, 290).” As long as we continue to live in this word, we will be continuously swung back into the grasps of sin, therefore, it is a tall order to follow the system of a legalistic culture that tries desperately to avoid sinning at any cost. On the other side of spectrum, contrarily, filling a rap sheet full of sin because grace will just abound is awfully an immature rationale. It is only adscititious to the justification of sin. If we truly accept Jesus as the ultimate source of our salvation, then we are transformed and sanctified, dying to our old nature and becoming like him in his death, thus sin is not part of the nature of Jesus Christ.
To avoid abusing either extreme I think you need to be very conscious of what you are doing and always be looking for God’s guidance in things. When abusing the extreme of sinning that grace may abound, I think you would first need to evaluate your walk with God and your faith in the first place. If you find yourself trying to sin without having God notice or have the mindset that you will just ask for forgiveness later, I think you have a major problem. I think to avoid doing this, you need to study what God’s word says and also seek the accountability and mentorship of another strong Christian. If you find yourself thinking that you can sin because God will forgive you later, run the opposite direction – get away from the temptation! On the other hand, trying to avoid legalism can sometimes be more difficult to avoid than the latter. I think some ways to avoid legalism is so look at the example of Christ’s life and in certain ways apply it to your life. In Jesus’ time, he lived in such a way that was almost the opposite of legalism. The Pharisees became outraged at him many times because he went against their rules, yet Jesus did not do anything wrong. I think once you feel like you’re drowning in rules or that other people are becoming torn down by the way you live, it’s time to change and tone it down a little bit. If you are yelling at other people because they went against some rule – like thou shalt not listen to screamo – you are legalistic and need to change something. Either of these extremes can be difficult to avoid, sometimes more than other, however it is possible to stay away from them.
People definitely have to find a balance between living life legalistically and living a life filled with sin because they know they have already been forgiven. Today in our churches there are both kinds of people. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” When we put our trust in Jesus and what he did on the cross, then our old life is gone and we are a new creation. This means that we need to live our lives striving to be more like Christ. This can be done not through legalistic matters, but through our daily thoughts and actions. If we think about salvation, and find our identity in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, then we will be more successful in living our lives for Christ.
The Holy Spirit was given to us for this reason. It is easy to stray too far towards legalism or too far towards an apathetic sinful life. these two extremes have captured mankind since the fall and continue to snare us. When we accept Christ, we get the gift of Grace and the Holy Spirit. It takes reliance and dependence on the Spirits guidance to show us where we need to work on our issues and where we are straying too far towards legalism or constant sin. I think spirit filled living is also not just a singular effort, but an effort for a body of believers to support each other. It takes wise friends and good council to show us when we are drifting sometimes. It isn’t always pleasant to hear, but its important to have fellow believers and friends who can back us up help us back on the right path. Its a two way street where we must be able to hear others concerns and advice and lovingly restore our fellow brothers and sisters without the sting of harsh words or strong judgement. It takes trust and close relationships to have this work, and it is not easy to get there, but I believe it is so important to have close friends to walk together and grow spiritually with.