"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1, KJV).
This is the question that we must certainly answer after my previous discussion of justification. If justification means we can sin as much as we want with no fear of God going back on His word and disowning us, should we just continue to sin? Let's examine the Scripture: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1&2, KJV).
The answer is "No! we shouldn't just continue in sin". OK, we all knew that; but why? Why not continue in sin? Because justification is not the whole story. It is absolutely true that the believing sinner is acquitted of all sin, past, present and future; it is absolutely true that no matter what she does, the believing sinner will never be condemned by God. But it is also true that the believing sinner is not only justified.
Justification is the start of the Christian life. But it is not all of the Christian life.
So what does Romans 6 teach us? It tells us that we (the justified) are dead to sin. Catch that: if a sinner believes God and is justified, that doesn't imply that the sinner has actually changed. Justification doesn't imply a change in the one justified. But, that same believing sinner also becomes a work of God, where God begins changing that sinner. And God's work in changing the sinner certainly implies change!
But Romans 6 tells us of the change in somewhat brutal language: God doesn't change sinners by cleaning them up. God changes sinners by crucifying them. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" (Romans 6:3). God's plan is this: Christ, the Son of God, came here and died for us. So now, God's wisdom dictates that we have died with Him.
Now, that word "baptism" might cause some consternation for some people. I won't be adamant on this point, but I believe that our death with Christ is true of every believer. I tend to believe that the term "baptism" does indeed refer to water baptism, but I don't think this passage teaches baptism makes us dead to sin. Why not? Because in at least one other place, Scripture teaches our death with Christ with no mention of baptism (2 Cor. 5:14). Further, our identification with Christ, in broader terms, is not linked with baptism in every Epistle (in Colossians, we are dead with Christ, "buried with Him in baptism" (vv. 2:12, 20, 3:1); in Ephesians, we aren't dead with Christ at all, but are "risen wth Him", and baptism isn't mentioned (v. 2:1); Galatians says we are "crucified with Christ", and baptism isn't mentioned (v. 2:19--20)). I have some ideas about the role of baptism, but I am not ready to share those here. I'm sure the Baptist Church where I used to be a member wouldn't approve; and I doubt "open brethren" would be willing to listen to me, if they knew my views on baptism...
So let's go on with the assumption that every believer is dead with Christ.
Now, Romans 6 doesn't stop there, so we shouldn't either. But we do need to pause and let this one sink in. Why shouldn't we continue in sin? If we have a free pass, as it were, why should we refrain? Because we are dead to sin. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
This is a terribly difficult idea to get our arms around. God has declared us righteous: that is justification. But God has also crucified us with Christ: this is sanctification.
Justification frees us from the penalty of our sins, but it does nothing to save us from the power of sin over us. It is our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection that saves us from sin's power.
A major paradigm shift has occurred between Romans 4 and Romans 6. It actually occurs somewhere in the middle of Romans 5. We have gone from examining the objective to examining the subjective. What do I mean by that? I mean we've gone from looking strictly at what God says about us, to looking at what God is doing in us.
Now we're in the realm that causes a lot of people a lot of grief. If you make the mistake of believing from experience, you'll end up with no end of pain and suffering here. Romans 1--4 are purely objective. God has offered justification to sinners who believe Him. But now we look at what God is doing to change us. When believers look inside and see a lack of progress, they tend to despair. That's because they try to judge the objective from the subjective. We ought to go the other way: we ought to believe that God is working, because He has declared it to be so. We ought to be saying "my peace with God is based solely on His declaration that I am righteous; not my progress of being changed into Christ's image." Or, as J. N. Darby famously said "It is Christ's work for us, not His work in us, that gives us peace."
But back to the text: God's way of keeping us from continuing in sin is, He has crucified us with Christ. We are dead to sin.
Please don't try to verify this. Romans doesn't contain a single command until Romans 6:11... we haven't gotten to the point of actually doing anything yet. We're still in the learning mode, not the doing mode. If you have believed what God has promised, you have been justified. If you have been justified, you have been crucified with Christ. It doesn't matter what your personal experience is. It doesn't matter if you are dead-positive (heh) that you are not dead to sin. It doesn't matter if you are convinced that you are very much alive to sin and you have a mountain of evidence to prove it. The Scripture declares that you are dead to sin, and you need to accept it.
What is the result of being dead to sin? Let's look at Romans 6 again: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin." (Romans 6:6&7, KJV). There are four actors in this little two-verse drama. There is the victim ('we'), the villain ('sin'), and the henchmen ('our old man', 'the body of sin'). And we see that the sinner is actually a slave to sin, and the enforcer of this slavery, the slave-driver, is the 'body of sin'. But we who are crucified with Christ are dead to sin. Note, we're not dead to the 'body of sin': the body of sin hasn't gone anywhere. But our old man---the person I was---has died, and now I am no longer under sin's rule. That body is still there: I still have what Romans 7 calls 'the body of death' and 'the flesh'; but it has been "destroyed", or a better translation would be "annulled". I am no longer under sin's power, and the tool that once ruled me, the 'body of sin' is now powerless because of my new state as one 'dead to sin'.
The most depressing chapter in the Bible, Romans 7, is still to come. The believer's struggle is not over yet. But what Romans 6 does, is show us precisely what our relationship to sin is. We started with the question, why not just keep sinning, if we have been given a free pass out of condemnation? The answer is simply this: We are dead to sin. Sin is no longer our master.
But it's not all negative. Consider the next bit: "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God." (Romans 6:8--10, KJV). Christ didn't only die, He was buried, and raised again on the third day. In the same way, we who have been crucified with Him aren't just left to rot in the grave: God raised us up into a new life.
I bring that up, because it seems to me that a lot of Christians get to the start of Romans 6 and start fascinating about crucifixion with Christ. That's not wrong, at least not in the sense that it's not extra-Biblical. But the Scripture doesn't end there. It goes on to discuss our resurrection with Christ too. We're not just cut off from our "old man"; we're also raised into "newnes of life".
And for the first time in Romans, we get a command "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:11, KJV).
What a command to be the first! There's no pressure in the fourth chapter: no "closing the sale" in the Gospel. Evangelicals do that a lot: they like to give altar calls or have someone repeat a "sinner's prayer". Romans doesn't. But when we come to reckoning ourselves dead, to seeing our place "with Christ" in death, burial, and resurrection; then the Scripture begins to command.
So we are commanded to "reckon". What's reckoning? It's giving an account. It's considering something as true.
And what is the outcome? That we are to be free from sin: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:12--14, KJV).
This post is already too long. I've only scratched the surface here, and it's still too much for a blog post. There's much more to be said, but I need to stop for now.
But the point is, justification means I cannot possibly endanger my status as one acquitted by God. But instead of leaving us here as forgiven sinners, God has begun to work in us, to save us out of the sin that enslaved us. Romans 3 & 4 tells us how God frees from the penalty of sin: Romans 6 tells us how God delivers from the power of sin.