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.