NO LONGER SLAVES TO SIN
by Steve Zeisler
We have come to the sixth chapter of the book of Romans, where the first
verse asks two very important questions. The first question is similar to
that of the little drummer boy in the Christmas song who wonders what he
can offer to Jesus. Paul writes:
What shall we say, then?
The opening chapters of this book have described our desperate need for
help and the gracious intervention of God on our behalf. Chapter 3 verse
22 tells us about the "righteousness from God [that] comes through
faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Chapter 5 verse 8 says,
"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Chapter 5 verse
16 says, "...the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification."
With gratitude we find ourselves looking at God with "wonder, love
and praise." We eventually get to the point of exclaiming, "What
shall we say? How can we express our appreciation? How can we respond to
God's love?" Chapter 6 begins the process (which extends through chapter
8) of answering these questions.
THE QUESTION OF SIN
The second question in chapter 6 verse 1 is also critical:
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
This question poses a possible answer to the first question, "What
shall we say, then?" In chapter 5 verse 20, the immediately preceding
context, Paul makes the statement, "...where sin increased, grace increased
all the more." No matter how blighting the effect of sin, how far its
reach, or how terrible the tragedy it accomplishes, grace is greater than
sin. And wherever sin increases, grace increases all the more. Grace always
overwhelms sin and breaks the power of the reign of sin and death.
But it is important to ask what attitude might be behind this second question.
I see two possibilities, and to distinguish between them is important. First,
a person could be asking, "May I continue unchanged in sin? Can I have
favor with God and sin at the same time? If I continue in sin will God be
glorified and grace increase?" Or second, a person could be asking,
"Must I continue in sin? In order to experience the grace of God do
I have to continue to be the person that I have been? Do I have to continue
to shame myself with what now breaks my heart in order to know the grace
of God?"---hoping that it's not so.
There are many who "glory in their shame" [Philippians 3:19] pursuing
that which ought to bring them sorrow. You may have read about the Spur
Posse in southern California, a group of teenage boys who wore San Antonio
Spurs caps as their distinguishing mark. In a game they kept track of how
many under-age girls they could have sexual encounters with and bragged
about it to one another. They passed girls back and forth between them,
taking great pride in trashing the reputation of others, aften with the
tacit approval of their parents. There are people everywhere who boast about
how much they can drink, how many drugs they can take, racial prejudice,
or love of money. If those people had they any interest at all in spiritual
things, they might ask, "Can I continue in sin and have God too? What
a deal that would be!"
But Paul's reaction in the verse that follows is to recoil from the thought
of this possibility:
By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
He is writing from the perspective of someone who has learned to hate his
sin, someone whose sinful nature and history reek of death. They have died
and decayed and are awful to contemplate. He wants nothing to do with them
anymore, and the longing of his heart is to be freed from all that. So he
says we have died to sin, and we should find horrible the suggestion that
we would have to go back into the sewer in order to experience the grace
Some prefer to think of Jesus as a kind of divine sewage treatment plant.
There are all kinds of toxic pollutants and sludge and sewage that spew
forth from their lives. Jesus ministry to cleanse it all and make it right,
but only that---not to change the production of the filth. But he is not
like a divine sewage treatment plant. If we are Christians not only has
Christ died for us but we have died with him, the Scriptures say. Not only
has he forgiven our sins, but we are united with him so that we become different
people. We will have what this passage will call newness of life, so that
instead of producing more and more sludge that is let off into the environment,
we will become people who are changed from the inside out because we have
the life of Christ available to us. We don't have to continue to sin in
order to experience the grace of God. What a great and glorious announcement!
Chapters 6 through 8 are a complex, wonderful, and powerful description
of what theologians call sanctification. Having been justified or declared
right with God, we now undergo the process of being changed into the likeness
of Christ. It is not easy; it is in fact complex. Any time you encounter
quick fix methods for achieving Christian maturity, you know you are dealing
with thinking that is either naive or deceptive, because there are not ten
easy steps. In the process of growing in faith there is a great deal to
learn and apply.
UNITED WITH CHRIST
The key to it all is to realize that we are united with Christ or placed
into Christ. In these chapters, what we are going to be talking about are
all of the implications and questions that flow from that and the growth
in the life of faith as Christ increasingly takes over our experience. Baptism---dying,
being submerged and raised up again---is a way of declaring our being joined
We not only experience Jesus' death for us, but we died with him. Verses
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ
Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.
Originally, the word baptize meant to place something into something else.
A ship that was launched from dry dock into the ocean was baptized into
the ocean. The baptism that Paul is describing here is a spiritual reality.
We are baptized or placed into Christ. We were joined to him on his cross,
in his grave, and in his resurrection. All that has happened to him has
happened to us in the inner man. Thus complete change has taken place in
The result of being placed into Christ or united with him, Paul says at
the end of verse 4, is that we are to live a new life. This speaks of profound
change. But all that is new does not happen instantly to people who place
their faith in Christ. There are choices we must make through this sanctification
process, and that is what Romans 6 begins to help us grapple with.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW
What is the process? To begin with, the idea of what we know becomes very
important. Paul says in verse 3, "...don't you know that all us who
were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Remember,
the questions he is beginning to answer were, "What response can I
make to all that God has done for me? And how do sin and grace interact
with each other? How can I be free of this sinful pattern that is mine?")
Twice more now he is going to use the idea of what we know. Twice also he
uses a logical device called a conditional statement. A conditional statement
has two parts, the antecedent and the consequent, each of which is a statement
in itself. The truth of the antecedent is the basis for stating the consequent.
Paul's first conditional statement is in verse 5. Let's read verses 5-7:
If we have been united with him like this in his death [antecedent],
we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection [consequent].
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of
sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin---because
anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
If we have been united with him in the likeness of death, we will be united
with him in newness of life, in his resurrection, in being changed. And
we know that we have been united with him in his death; we can be certain
of that, for that is what it means to be a Christian. So we can also be
certain that resurrection life is our destiny, too. We have available to
us the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and brought about the
change that he underwent from a decaying body in a grave to a glorious resurrected
body that death could never touch again.
Paul makes his second conditional statement in verse 8. Let's read verses
Now if we died with Christ [antecedent], we believe that we
will also live with him [consequent]. For we know that since Christ was
raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over
him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives,
he lives to God.
There are two great verities here that we can know with absolute, unshakable
certainty: We know that we are united with Christ; and we know that Christ
died, was raised, and is now experiencing new life unto God. The process
of complete change from sin on the cross to decay in the grave to life forever
has been finished in his experience. We are united with Christ, and the
process is over for Christ; therefore the process will be ended for us as
well. We can be sure that we too will experience resurrection life; we too
will be made new. In unity with Christ we have all that he has.
THE AUTHORITY OF SIN IS GONE
But let's carefully consider what it means for the body of sin to be done
away with (verse 6). We are no longer slaves to sin because sin has been
executed; the old nature has been put to death. We were on Christ's cross.
Something that used to command and control us died when he died. The body
of sin is not speaking of just our physical self. Our body is no more sinful
than any other aspect of us; physical things are not sinful by nature. He
is talking about a commanding presence---the person of sin, if you will;
the authority that has owned us all our lives, demanded our obedience, crushed
and hurt and confused and frightened us. That commanding presence has been
executed, and we are no longer required to obey it.
One of the most famous experiments in psychology had to do with conditioned
reflexes. It was performed by the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov on some
dogs. Pavlov would let his dogs become very hungry, and then he would feed
them great quantities of aromatic, entirely enticing food. They were so
hungry they could do nothing but eat it. And every time he gave the dogs
food he would ring a bell. This went on for a period of time. Then eventually
he rang the bell without waiting for the dogs to be hungry or giving them
food. And because the dogs had been conditioned to associate the sound of
the bell with the food they had been so hungry for, when Pavlov rang the
bell they would salivate just as they had when he gave them food.
What Paul is saying about the sin nature's having been executed on the cross
is very similar to that in our experience. There was a time when sin had
real authority over us, when it made us really hungry, and we had no choice
but to eat the food that was placed before us. It had an aroma that was
absolutely overwhelming to us. And the bell would ring every time. But now
all sin has in our experience is the sound of the bell, which it uses to
try to stimulate the same response in us as when it had authority over us.
And when sin rings the bell, we can be made to think we have to sin---unless
we see the process at work and choose that it should die. Because we have
been conditioned to associate the sensation of temptation with the absolute
power of sin in our life, what we must do is hear the gospel and believe
it, and then choose to recognize that what once owned us owns us no more;
it has died. And it is as we choose to assert the death of our sin nature
and to believe that life is given to us from God that we begin to be changed;
we no longer sin as much. This real change in our behavior is taking place
in us because we have a new identity; we are united with Christ.
The difficulty we experience is believing that the sin nature is really
dead. It is a very savvy and wily former master of ours. There are times
when sin is so familiar that we are blind to what we are doing. We are led
down paths of temptation into foolish things without even realizing it,
so habitual are they. There are times when the ringing of the bell is so
persuasive that we feel as if we can really do nothing other than its bidding.
The experience of newness of life is less familiar to us than sin is.
It is important to recognize the emphasis that Paul therefore gives to the
crucifying of the old nature in this passage. In verse 3 Paul says that
in baptism into Christ we have died and have been buried in death with him.
Now, not only did Christ's body die, but it was buried, and a rock was rolled
over its tomb. He was really dead! That is Paul's clear emphasis here. And
just as certain is the fact that our old nature was crucified, the body
of sin done away with, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin. But
if we are not careful we may think of sin as having been sent to its room
rather than having been crucified, or of its having been tamed and having
its knuckles rapped and somehow coming in line. We want to think that we
can manage it a bit. But that will not do. What we have to do is see that
sin has no life left. It can't command anymore, it can only ring the bell
and try to make us think we need to sin. It can only dredge up all the old
memories, but we don't have to do those things anymore.
In verse 11 for the first time in the book of Romans a command is given.
For six-and-a half-chapters we have been given information and discussion.
We have seen analysis of the sin problem, grace, what God has done, and
the promises he offers. We have been given extraordinary insight into the
power and authority of grace. Because we are united with Jesus Christ, we
are now given a command. Verses 11-14:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God
in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that
you obey its evil desires. 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. For sin shall not be your master,
because you are not under law, but under grace.
The first response we are to make is to apply the theology to ourselves.
This is true not just for pastors, for Billy Graham, for the saints of old,
or for missionaries overseas. It applies to you. Consider yourself dead
to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Every day, perhaps dozens of times
throughout the day, you and I need to have theological discussions with
ourselves: "I am united with Christ; I am his. That is who I am. My
sin nature has been executed. It rings bells, but it has no power. I am
dead to sin but alive to God, and that is what I am going to believe about
myself. And I'm going to walk around and apply theology to myself as often
as I need to to begin to take on that identity for myself without reservation."
The second command in verse 12 logically follows the first. "Therefore
do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
We have become familiar in the last several years with the language of emotional
co-dependency. That is helpful language to understand what Paul means by
not letting sin reign. In the familiar pattern of someone who flees an abusive
situation and goes back to it, is rescued out of it and goes into another
one, and another. The first time they might have been fooled, but eventually
it is clearly by choice that they are allowing hurt to themselves. They
are letting something have authority over them that is destructive, and
they have to stop it. It may be very difficult; there are powerful factors
that contribute to this pattern. But the prayers of believing people, good
counsel, and the love and the support of others are all aimed at helping
them realize that they are letting something destroy them that doesn't have
to. They must choose to break the pattern. In the same way we have to choose
to stop letting sin in any form reign because it has no real authority left,
even though it acts like it does.
The third command for us in this section is in some ways the most practical
of all. We have body parts---feet, hands, ears, a mouth to talk with, and
sexual capabilities. We have as well time, relationships, places to go,
and assets to dispose of. These are the very practical means by which we
interact with the world every day. And we are not to offer them to sin as
instruments of wickedness, but rather to offer ourselves to God as those
who have been brought from death to life, and to offer the parts of our
body to him as instruments of righteousness. So we must pray, "Lord,
this day you may have my mouth---what I say about people, the arguments
I offer, the blessings I speak, the opportunity I have to build up rather
than tear down, the opportunity to tell the truth rather than confuse. I
am not going to give my mouth over to destructive behavior as I have been
in the habit of doing. And you may have my hands today. The work I do is
to glorify you. You may have my time...." And so on.
There is a conscious turning from the sinful opportunities. The bell ringer
is dinning in our ear and telling us what we ought to spend our time on,
what our minds ought to think about, where we ought to go, and what we ought
to say. It is telling us whom we can hurt, anger we can express, and lies
we can speak. We have all those practical opportunities, and we turn aside
from them because we are united with Christ. And we start actively saying,
"Feet, today we're going to go where Jesus wants us to go today for
a change. Wallet, today we're going to use our money as Jesus directs."
That is the practical process of taking the truth that we are united with
Christ and beginning to change who we are inside and in our activity. This
text does not imply that it is simple, easy, or automatic. The journey of
sanctification is not completed with what we have elarned in Romans 6:1-14,
but the foundation---union with Christ---is laid and practical obedience
has been set before us.
Let me close by focusing on the hope that is offered in verse 14: "For
sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
We are going to win. In Christ, the sewage production facility is in fact
going to be completely changed. It is not a question of just hoping that
by the grace of God the process will turn out as it is described; it is
going to turn out that way. Sin will not master us, because we are not under
law but under grace. If our confidence was in the law, in the power of the
information and the commands of God to change us, then we would be without
hope. But our confidence is not in the law but in grace, and grace is greater
than sin. And because we are under grace, our Lord God is going to see to
it that we are sanctified, that the day will come when we stand in glory
with Christ as his sons and daughters reflecting his glory back to him.
It does not ultimately depend on us. This is a tremendous word of hope,
and so we can joyfully enter into obedience.
Catalog No. 4298
June 6, 1993
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