In Romans 6 Paul makes clear that we must choose whom we will serve. We can serve good or evil, sin or grace, life or death, God or the devil, but we’re “gonna have to serve somebody.”
Last time we were listening to Paul in Romans 5 he was waxing superlative and doxological about the incredible grace of God that brings a salvation that exceeds the devastation wrought by sin. If the many are condemned by their sin, by their propensity to choose for themselves rather than for God, how much more will these many be blessed by God’s stubborn choice for them at God’s own expense. Even the law comes as a blessing as it is intended to highlight our sinfulness and bring it into stark relief against the holiness of God. Because of the law our sinfulness becomes painfully evident, our desperate need for grace is shown to be even more than exponentially greater than we could have understood, and yet, even as the enormity of our sin blots out every glimmer of hope that we can do something to improve our hopeless lot, God’s grace reaches in and does for us far more than we could ever do for ourselves, far more even than our sin can undo for us. 5:20 “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more!”
This is fantastic news but, knowing the human condition and our inclination to take advantage of every opportunity to relax our discipline if an easier way is available, Paul anticipates our lazy opportunistic question: If our sinfulness is always exceeded by grace, then why don’t we sin extravagantly, so that God’s grace increases even more extravagantly? “Because” says Paul (6:2) “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” This grace that brings salvation brings us salvation from our sin, not merely in our sin. “We died to sin” This great salvation includes our own death to sin as partners with Christ in his death for sin. A dead man has no appetite. Regardless of the chocoholic cravings you experience in life, at your funeral you will have no reaction whatsoever to whatever decadent chocolaty treats your family elects to serve up. If some pervert decides to heap chocolates around your face in your coffin you won’t so much as twitch a muscle, you won’t even have an involuntary reaction of salivary gland production.
A dead man has no inclination to sin, and our new life in Christ is predicated on our having died with Christ first. 6:4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” This salvation does not just cover our sin; it does away with our sin. Being baptized into Christ Jesus is not an easy escape from our sin. Being baptized into Christ is being baptized into his death so that, just as Christ was ultimately raised from the dead, so we too are raised to live a new life, the indestructible life of the resurrected Christ in us.
But here is a strange thing. Our experience of reality is that death follows life. In this text Paul turns it around and tells us that in fact life follows death! 6:5 “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” The way to life passes through death. Jesus said “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39) If we wish to live the new life of Christ we must die to sin. If we desire to know who we are in Christ, we must die to ourselves in sin. This death is a release from bondage into the freedom of resurrection life beyond everything that binds us here. 6:6 “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” We are no longer slaves to sin because death has freed us from sin. Christ’s death on the cross broke the power of sin in the world, our death with Christ ends the rule of sin in our own lives. Death to sin is our freedom from sin.
Paul expresses supreme confidence in this, saying 6:8 “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Death is decisive but it is not final. Death is an insurmountable and uncircumventable limit only as long as we think we live. The mastery of death is over the instant we are raised to resurrection life with Christ. “since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
This is a key factor in our own experience of salvation. Christ’s death and resurrection has decisively terminated the rule of sin and death, but our celebration of the victory is related to our participation in the death that is the price of our sin. We are not translated into the new life without also participating in death. Hence, Paul’s earlier doxological euphoria at the superlative impact of Christ’s obedience in comparison to Adam’s sin (which is our sin) notwithstanding, we must recognize our complicity with Adam, choose to participate with Christ, and consider ourselves dead. 6:11 “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Only as we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ can we hope to live God’s life rather than dying Adam’s death, which is our death. This is a deliberate choice we make, and it is a choice we must live. 12 “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” ‘Reign’ connotes more than simply a choice. Reign indicates a sustained regimen. To “consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God” is more than a choice of direction, it is a commitment to an allegiance that carries monumental implications for our ongoing life. Paul goes on 13 “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” We have a choice, and we must exercise that choice if we are to experience salvation. It’s like Bob Dylan sings:
“You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.”
Paul adjures us to count ourselves dead to sin and offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness because 6:14 “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Freedom is not characterized by the absence of any master, but by allegiance to the proper master. Sin is a master of abject slavery and death, whereas grace is a master of freedom and life!
Grace, however, continues to be misunderstood. 6:15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Why not? For several reasons. For one, sin is a cruel master whose end is death 6:16 “Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or....” On the other hand, offering ourselves as obedient slaves to the Creator of all that is, which leads to righteousness and life. In fact, offering ourselves as slaves to righteousness is the purest form of freedom 6:18 “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
Even though Paul is convinced that Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf is eminently sufficient for our life, he issues this plea for God’s children to consider themselves dead to sin because he knows what we are, he is all too aware of our weakness in our natural selves. For that reason it is imperative that we practice the disciplines of the holy life; the life set apart for God. It is not an automatic result of Christ’s work even though Christ’s work is the only sufficient remedy for our sin, and the only hope for our holiness. We can never hope to save ourselves, but if we wish to be saved we must consider ourselves dead to sin, and walk in the obedience that leads to holiness, which results in eternal life. In Paul’s words 19 “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thanks be to God!