by Roger McCay
4 April 2021
Sermon Passage: Romans 6:1-14
Link to Audio Version
Understanding grace rightly can become an excuse to act wrongly. It can become an excuse for self-indulgent attitudes: such as, “I am free in Christ, so even if I sin that is okay because God’s grace is tolerant;” or, “Well, it’s not like on the Day of Judgment this one little sin is going to be any big deal. I’m forgiven.” Thus, an understanding of God’s grace can give the impression that sinners who believe (as John Stott so aptly observes) “get the best of both worlds” and that sinners who believe “can indulge themselves freely in this world, without any fear of forfeiting the next.”
Have you ever caught yourself making light of your sin on the grounds that God will excuse and forgive your sin? The fact is that sometimes Christians do take advantage of God’s grace. We willfully sin, while rationalizing that it is okay because God will forgive us. Perhaps it is speeding down the road excessively over the speed limit and thinking, “Well, it’s not hurting anybody, and besides God will forgive me.” Or, perhaps, it’s simply the way we speak, “Well, everybody I work with cusses too, and besides God will understand and forgive me.” Or, perhaps, it’s another kind of speech, “Oh, gossip is harmless. We’re just having some fun, and if it’s wrong God will forgive us.” Fill in the blank. There are all sorts of ways to rationalize sin with grace.
But what does the Scriptures have to say about such a cavalier attitude? Look at vv. 1-2.
6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Clearly this type of attitude is grossly wrong. Paul is emphatic about it: “By no means!” Confronted with those who would accuse him of preaching that grace gives people a license to sin, Paul forcefully denies that is the case.
Paul then goes on to explain the absurdity of the idea, as Christians are united with Christ. To understand the absurdity, we need to ask, “What does it mean to be ‘united with Christ?’” Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. He tells us it is something that takes place in conjunction with our baptism. Look at vv. 3-4.
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
Baptism is an outward sign and seal of inward reality. In our conversion experience (particularly in our regeneration, i.e. being born-again), we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). In this baptism, we are indwelled by the Spirit of God and are thus quite literally united with Christ. Eph. 1:13 explains the baptism of the Holy Spirit like this:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
Water baptism signifies and seals this reality—our inclusion in Christ, our union with him. We are identified with Christ Jesus in a very real way, signifying our being cojoined with him in his death, burial, resurrection, and new life.
Now, you might be scratching your head, thinking, “What?!” So, let’s look a little deeper. First, let’s consider what it means to be united with Jesus in his death and burial. Verses 5-7:
5 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. 6 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Our union with Christ is a metaphysical union. The significance of the event (i.e. his death and burial) becomes applicable to us in our union with Christ through the Spirit of God. When Christ died to sin, we (even though born almost two-thousand years later) … When Christ died to sin, we, who believe in Jesus, died to sin. Now we are dead to sin, in our union with Christ. Having died in Christ, we are free from sin.
To put it another way, Jesus’ payment for our sin, paid on the cross, is now applied to the debt we possessed due to our sin. United with him, our sinful selves were crucified with him. The penalty we deserved, we received at his crucifixion. He took the actual punishment; we received the actual benefits. Now there is no more penalty that needs to be paid. We are no longer under condemnation due to our sin, because Christ died for us. This leaves us both free from sin and free from the guilt we would rightly possess, if we were still in our sins and not in Christ. Our debt is gone; thus we are free.
With that said, what are the implications of being free from sin? Well, as we are no longer “slaves to sin,” sin is no longer our master (v. 6). We now have the prospect of living our life to God, and to resisting sin’s reign. As vv. 11-12 tells us:
11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Dead to sin (in our union with Christ) and with sin no longer ruling over us, we are now called to live for Christ in our freedom from sin. Like v. 13 says, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.” We are Christ’s people—children of God. It’s shameful and unworthy for the household of God to lower ourselves in submission to the reign of sin. We are not to be working for our old master, sin. Adopted into the family of God, we are to be living for Christ, our Lord and elder brother (Heb. 2:11, Rom. 8:29), following after him on the path of righteousness.
While deployed to Iraq, I spent a bit of time drinking coffee and chatting with our Battalion Maintenance Tech, Chief Alexander, a wise and respected CW4. One day, in the course of conversation, Chief told me this:
“Lots of people say they want to do something, but find every reason in the world to not do it. Like quitting smoking. They say they are quitting smoking, but something stressful happens, like mortars landing, or they get yelled at or something and that provides them with a reason to take up smoking again. Or like working out – People say they want to get in the gym and get fit, but end up finding every reason in the world not to get in there (working late; it’s too early; I’m tired; too busy) but really it’s just being lazy.”
“It is a matter of deciding once and for all to do a certain thing, or live a certain way and doing it without letting any excuse get in the way.”
That is what it means to not let sin reign in our life. We have to decide to reject its control over us. We have to make a conscious decision to resist temptation and avoid sinning, to turn away from it and stop it, and to not accept various excuses as valid reasons for succumbing to sin’s delusional passions. When we start giving reasons (“It feels good.” “I want do it.” “It’s convenient.” “It’s what everyone else is doing.”), whatever our excuse, we are denying our responsibility to live according to the blessed new life that Christ, through his work, has gained for us. And we each are responsible.
Responsibility requires actually doing something. Thus, you have to shun sin in order to live in the joy of your freedom. The Lord died on the cross to set you free. When temptations assail you, think on the cross. When those sinful passions crop up, tempting you to slide back into the ways of slavery, deny them. Push them back. Resist. Pray for strength. The Lord has given you every advantage: union with Christ and freedom from sin. It makes no sense to voluntarily go back into that old slavery. United with Christ, you are free. Since Christians are united in Christ’s death and burial, we should live according to our freedom from sin.
Denying sin to live free in Christ can seem a tough order. But the Lord does not leave us hanging. He makes this entirely doable. So, we need to ask, “In what other ways are we united with Christ? And how does that help us live for Christ?” Take a look at vv. 4-5 & 8.
4 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. 5 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.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Paul is saying that we, Christ’s people, those who believe in him, are now identified with (in other words, cojoined with) Christ’s resurrection and life. We were dead in our sins; we are now resurrected to life in Christ. This is empowerment, my friends. As Christ now lives to God, so we are also alive with him.
Paul elaborates in Eph. 2:1-6:
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Rom. 6:14 explains the ramifications of our reality in Christ. We are no longer under law, but under grace. This hearkens back to Rom. 5:20, which does not teach that it was grace that was added so that sin might increase. Rather, it teaches that it was the law that was added so that sin might increase. Stott calls this “the ultimate secret of freedom from sin.”
To be under law is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse or condemnation. To be under grace is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free.
In our union with Christ, true believers have undergone a “realm transfer”—from under the realm of law and sin and death to under the realm of grace and righteousness and life. Thus, the law has no hold over us to condemn us. Sin does not reign over us at all. Sin cannot rule over us. We may voluntarily go slumming, debasing ourself when we slink back into our sin. But praise be to God, we cannot be cast out of the household of the Lord (John 10:29). When we sin, not living up to our status as God’s children, there is always grace, forgiveness, and no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). United in Christ, we are with him and he is with us, inseparable. We live in the forever-freedom of God’s Kingdom and his grace.
This makes me think of a story of a little child I read about. The child was brought up in a home where drug use was rampant. He was beaten and treated terribly. He essentially lived in terror and misery. Providentially, he was pulled out of that environment and put into the foster system to ultimately be adopted by a loving Christian family. No longer did the child reside in the realm of abuse and terror and misery. He had been transferred to a new realm of existence.
Yet, for him and the family there were serious adjustments to be made. I think of one particular story where he borrowed a hairbrush and didn’t return it. Well, when the mother was asking around for it, he ran and hid under the bed. His actions were consistent with the old realm that he had lived in. He had to hide because he would have been beaten terribly for such an offense in his old home. But such was not the case in the new realm of love that he lived in. When his new mother found him, she climbed under the bed with him and talked with him. She assured him of her love. She let him know, in every way she could, that he no longer had to live in fear. So, he had to learn how to live in his new realm of existence of a loving family.
In a similar way we have been moved from the realm of sin and death to the realm of righteousness and life. Our behavior of sin in the old realm was part-and-parcel with our living under the reign of sin. Sin ruled in our lives. But, in our union with Christ, we died to death.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In our union with Christ we were resurrected to a new life and now we live to God. Not even when we sin does this reality change, if you are truly one of his. If you are a true believer, it is morally inconsistent to think that sinning is in any way okay because you’ve received God’s grace and forgiveness. After what he has done for us? Shear gratitude demands we strive to live lives pleasing to God. Indeed, our love for Christ makes it the sweet desire of our soul.
So, how can we live out the reality of our existence, as we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus? The second part of v. 13 tells us, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
So often, people hear only part of the gospel. They hear the part, “Believe in Christ and you will be saved.” They miss (or ignore) the part that says believing in Christ puts him as Lord over your life. As Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe….”
Have you ever consciously resolved to put your body, your intellect, your life, your wealth, your family, and everything you have and you are to the service of God for his righteous purpose? That’s the brass tacks, when it comes to trusting in Jesus. You trust him with you, with no exceptions, for all eternity. It is an acknowledgment that every Christian must make, as it is an essential part of being a Christian. “Jesus, I trust you! I have faith in you!” It is total submission: “Here I am Lord, use me, all I have, all I am, for your righteous purposes.”
Grace comes with the responsibility to live a holy life to God. Striving to live a life pleasing to God is living free from sin. The striving is not due to fear of punishment. It is simply living consistent with the reality we are now in—under grace. It is harmonious living in the midst of a discordant world. It is something we are uniquely equipped for, as Christians. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, “Only he who believes is obedient … only he who is obedient, believes.” This is because, united with Christ in his life, we are not alone as we strive to live for God. The Lord helps us. Phil. 2:13: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” He gives us the will and the strength to live for Christ. God himself empowers us for righteous living, as we live every day united with Christ.
My friends, every year we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and new life, at Easter. This is right and good. Even so, does Easter worship impact your life in any way? Does it really mean anything to you after the worship service is over?
Think about this. What happened with Jesus, all those years ago, was not just some historical happening that has no personal connection with you. That is what Paul has been saying in our passage today. You were the reason Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. He did it because he loves you, and always has (Eph. 1:4-5). Jesus died for your sins and was resurrected for your life. And, if you are truly his, you were part of it all, united with him. Jesus did it all, and in your union with him you received the benefits. Jesus has given you everything! Think about that.
Let this Easter be a bolstering day for your faith. Let it encourage your resolve to live every single day for Jesus Christ our Lord, following after him, in his grace. Since Christians are united in Christ’s resurrection and life, we should live according to our freedom from sin.
Now, if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, if you have never turned to Him for forgiveness and followed after him as Lord, I urge you to trust in him today. Life is very uncertain, yet it has a certain end. In Jesus you will find certainty in life now; resurrection to come; and a joyous, fulfilling, life eternal. In Jesus there is freedom now and forevermore. Trust in him. Follow him. Don’t delay.
Brothers and sisters, you are united with Christ through your baptism in his death, burial, resurrection, and life. You live in a new realm, a new reality free from the dominion of sin and death. Let your life reflect the reality of your union with Christ. Since Christians are united with Christ, we should live according to our freedom from sin.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 167.
 From a conversation with CW4 Alexander while in Iraq, 2007.
 Stott, 181.
 I read about this somewhere and don’t remember where.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 2018), 64.