Born to Live
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 20: Romans 6:1-14
We are not just born to be born. We are born to live. It is monstrous to think that a parent would want children just to give birth to them. The whole idea is to love them, to care for them, and to help them grow up. It is equally unthinkable that God’s great goal for believers is only that they be born again. The whole of Scripture teaches that the “new birth” is to create God-honoring people. Even spiritually, we are born not just to be born. We are born to live.
The first five chapters of the book of Romans summarize how lost humans are justified. Every human (Jew and Gentile, educated and fool, slave and master) is totally fallen in sin, and depraved to the core of his being. It rules out the fantasy that anyone lost in sin could do anything truly good in God’s eyes. No natural descendent of Adam can grasp the actual truth about God, or rightly appreciate what he has done and made.
All who do what is truly good, or who trust in God’s promises, do so because God enables them by his mercy. The true children of God are those restored to fellowship with their Creator. Their separation of spiritual death ended when they were made alive spiritually having had their debt of sin paid if full by the work of Jesus Christ. He satisfied divine justice in their place.
In chapters six through eight Paul turns his attention to the results of this new birth. Now that a person is made spiritually alive, he is to live in Christ by becoming more like him morally. We call this “sanctification.”
The Shorter Catechism defines sanctification in its answer to question 35.
Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
There is one sense in which all true believers are holy already in Christ.
All Christians are declared “sanctified” in Christ. This is the judicial part of Sanctification. God declares us to be holy because he imputes the holiness of Christ to us. Sixty one times believers are called “saints” (holy ones) in the New Testament. In several places believers are directly said to be sanctified when they are born again.
1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”
Hebrews 10:10, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
This does not mean they were free from sin and had become perfectly holy in their attitudes and behavior. These verses only have to do with the fact that the holiness of Christ is credited to them judicially.
There is another sense in which we are not yet sanctified.
We need to be growing in holy behavior and thoughts, and overcoming our habits of sin. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 the Apostle wrote, “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ ” Here, Peter used the same word for “being holy” as the other verses referring to our having been sanctified.
This kind of “progressive sanctification” is what Paul is talking about in this next section of Romans. This is what the catechism is describing in question 35. The work of the Christian life is to be growing to be more and more holy, and less and less influenced by the corruption of sin.
As Paul develops this idea in Romans six through seven,
he brings up four questions.
Paul uses these questions to correct common confusions about our battle with sin.
Question 1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1)
Question 2, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15)
Question 3, “Is the Law sin?” (7:7)
Question 4, “Has then what is good become death to me?” (7:13)
This section follows Paul’s telling about how God delivers us by grace from our deserved condemnation. Salvation has nothing to do with what we have done. It is based solely upon what Christ has done. It is not even our choice or decision that makes us believers. It is the change produced in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that makes undeserving sinners into humble believers. Grace is what enables us to repent, and to believe.
So then Paul raises a question that might come up in the confused mind.
Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”
This is a common reaction of those who are confused about the biblical doctrine of grace. Their thinking goes this way, “If our behavior doesn’t cause God to save us, and if our wickedness becomes a backdrop that demonstrates the wonders of grace, then why stop sinning? Shouldn’t we keep on sinning so that grace will be displayed all the more?”
Paul immediately dismisses the idea implied by this question.
Romans 6:2, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
He uses a very strong expression here. He does not say “God forbid” as some earlier versions have it. Those words are in no Greek manuscript. They are not a direct translation. The words in Greek are mae genoito (μὴ γένοιτο). They literally mean, “let it not be!” It is like saying, “don’t even think such a thing!”
Then he gives his reason, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
But how is it that the believer is “dead to sin?”
We are certainly not dead to the influence of sin as some dare to imagine. Biblical examples and direct statement of Scripture show that we still get taken in by temptations, and need to be growing to become more holy. Those who teach some form of Perfectionism violate these clear statements of God’s word.
Some would speculate that we are merely dead to the penalty of sin, as if we can now sin without guilt or consequences. It is true that the power and penalty of sin is death, and that this is removed in Christ. But Paul is speaking of sinning less, not of getting punished less for it. It disproves his own point if Paul meant that we can now comfortably continue in sin with no concern for its consequences.
Some others teach that we should just think of ourselves as dead to sin, even though we are really not dead to it. Paul is not commanding that we live in some kind of mystical delusion. There is no hope or truth in that. There is much more here, something anchored in reality, a change in our nature. It is not something that simply “ought” to be, but something that “is.” We are in fact dead to sin.
These theories do not make much sense when you consider the context, and the point being made. These ideas have only been suggested to avoid what the Bible does in fact mean. Some of these interpretations imply that sin is not such a serious problem any more, that we need not concern ourselves over it much, it has been taken care of.
Other theories imply that we have the ability within ourselves to overcome sin. This reduces sin to our wrong attitude, rather than it being a real enemy. It shifts the burden onto the sinner. This produces depression and discouragement because it just isn’t so.
In this section of Romans Paul clarifies how our relationship with sin has changed. We do not need psychological theories of sin, or creative theological complexities to understand God’s promise. As the Apostle concludes his answer to this first question, he wrote;
Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you,”
The point Paul is making here is that we are dead to sin in a very specific way. We are dead to it as our master. Our former bondage to sin is a thing of the past. It no longer controls our moral inclinations.
Death in Scripture is primarily a “separation.” When a person dies physically, his body and soul are separated. When a person is spiritually dead, he is separated from fellowship with God. When we are dead to sin’s mastery (which is the context here) we are free from it’s blindness and dictatorship. If we are separated from the mastery of sin, then being alive in Christ in this chapter must mean coming under his mastery instead. The separation of the lost sinner from true righteousness has ended.
We will see how that is done more in our next study of this section. It is clear in this passage, that since we are dead to sin by being united with Christ in his death, and since we are now alive in him as our new master, there is a real hope and promise that we can make progress in overcoming sin.
This conquest does not rest in our own strength or determination. It does rest in a real promise and method given to us in Scripture. It explains our frustrations and failures to grow spiritually when we try any other way.
Being dead to sin directly answers the question in verse one. Those who are dead to sin are dead to it because they are alive in Christ. Those who are alive in Christ will not be looking for ways to excuse their sin. A person asking if he should sin all the more so that grace might abound, shows that he has not known the work of grace upon his heart at all.
The question raised is not a problem with the doctrine of grace. It is a problem with the sinner. Instead of the fear that grace would make us careless about sin, the change worked by grace makes us all the more concerned about our sin.
When the true believer sins he does not try to find a way to deny that it is wrong. He grieves before God that he failed his Redeemer. He humbly repents. He wants to overcome it. He finds comfort in the awesome suffering and death of Christ in his place. Though in this life he never fully eliminates sin, he is no longer bound to it as his lord and master.
The believer still sins to be sure. So how is it accurate for Paul to say, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” John’s first epistle helps us understand the situation.
1 John 3:6, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.”
1 John 3:9, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”
Both of these verses, and the references by Paul in Romans 6, use forms of the Greek verbs that indicate a continuing or habitual practice. It is more accurate to translate it that the believer is “not continuously sinning.” There are other ways in Greek to say that a person does not sin at all. A person born of God cannot be sinning in this way; not as his way of life, not as that which rules him as his master.
So then, why do believers struggle so much against sin in this life? Though we are not under bondage to sin, we are not yet fully sanctified in this life.
There is a sin principle that is very much active in us.
Though we are not kept from ever sinning again, the living child of God is in the process of growing in sanctification. We are born not just to be born, but so that we might live in Christ, growing in holiness. It is part of what glorifies God in his church. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.
Romans 5:16, “… the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.”
Romans 5:20, “… where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,”
However, it is not true that this should motivate us intentionally to sin more. Those reasoning that way really show no interest in seeing grace abound. It is just an excuse to cover up the serious offensiveness of sin.
Explaining this, and helping us discover the victory over sin which we have in Christ, is Paul’s purpose in Romans 6-8. That victory over our daily sins and sinful desires is the theme of this section. We need a more biblical understanding of the triumph that is ours in Christ.
The problem that challenges us is to know and understand the promise of God. We should no longer be deceived by an imagined false bondage to sin. Our growth in holiness should demonstrate God’s power in his maturing children.
We love to see our babies grow up into mature adults. That is every parent’s dream. We mark down when they first sit up on their own, when they first walk and talk. We remember that first day of school, the first date, the first job they have. We remember their struggles, their failures, the times we have with them of laughing and grieving together. No, we are not born just to be born. We are born to live. We are also redeemed in Christ not just to be redeemed by a moment of birth. God gives us life so that we might live for him! What a tragic life that is content to be merely born. It is also tragic when a Christian is content to simply be redeemed but has no evidence of growing up into mature Christ-likeness.
Sin is joyfully conquerable in Christ, not just in theory, but in truth and in practice. The Apostle John wrote this promise for us in the first chapter of his Gospel account,
John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
If you have no interest in growing in holiness, then you have cause to question if you are alive in Christ. In contrast with this, if you have an interest in holiness, and admit that it is a winnable struggle for you, then there is great hope in this promise of God. Our next studies will show how Paul develops this lesson for us.
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)