Sunday, October 09, 2022

Abiding in Sin: A Study in Romans 6

The word “abide” [Greek: menĊ] invariably carries the idea of staying put or remaining in a relationship or condition. Romans 6 teaches it is contrary to a saint’s calling and nature to remain in sin. Our “old man” (the person we once were) was crucified with Christ. We may sin, but sin has no longer has any legal right or claim to keep us enslaved.

The opening question — Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? — is what one might expect to hear from a lawyer at a trial. Paul has presented his case; believers are justified and have peace with God; a glorious future is ahead.

What Shall We Say Then?

This is a rhetorical question, one designed to make us think through what we have already learned. What conclusion should we come to now that we have been brought to this stage? The apostle calls his readers to think with him concerning a question that naturally follows. Other calls to follow a reasoned approach may be found in 3:5, 4:1, 7:7, 8:31, 9:14 and 30.

Now to the heart of this problem ...

Are We to Continue in Sin?

Paul is thinking historically, not asking in this context if we personally are to continue to sin. Rather, he asks, “Are the redeemed, reconciled and justified in any age to remain in sin?” He is viewing sin as the condition in which the human race was found when “in due time Christ died for the ungodly ... when we were without strength” and “still sinners”. He now asks, “Are we to abide or remain in that situation?” (For clarity, I will use capital-S “Sin” to refer to the condition, and “sin” or “sins” to refer to the act of sinning.) Adam, as head of the human race, opened the door to Sin; it thus became the dominant influence in this world. Is it to reign over saints in the same way? How are those who know themselves already freed from its condemnation to be freed from its control? Paul finds the answer in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Do You Not Know?

“Do you not know,” asks the apostle, “that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” That is what baptism pictures and what the Son of God actually experienced for each one who believes in him. It is not only that Christ died for our sins, but that he died in our place instead of us. He died for us not only as a substitute but as our representative.

Now, God does not ask us to reckon something as true that is not founded on fact. Every believer is as dead to Sin as any other believer; the difference being that some saints at Rome needed to grasp what their baptism clearly illustrated. You can be sure that the demons and Satan himself wish us all kept in the dark! The truth set out in this chapter is an aspect of his grace in which, and for which every saint is called to stand; it impacts on the work Christ finished on the cross.

Position vs. Practice

Our experience may seem to give the lie to what is set before us in this chapter. Have we not for a long time struggled to overcome that sinful habit or habits? Have we not despairingly said, “I tried to reckon myself dead to this or that, but it does not work for me”? The answer in some cases may be that you have tried to die within yourself, to sense or feel you have at last died to some particular sin or sins. Or perhaps you had hoped that your baptism or attendance at some special convention would be the key to the freedom spoken of in verses 7, 18 and 22. Nothing worked.

Question: When will I die and be free from any of the temptations and consequent sinful habits that have been my downfall until now?

Answer: There are practical things you can do to take the pressure off. Are you bothered by the return of youthful desires or lusts? Pictures or fantasies created in the past can too easily be recalled no matter how old you are. Feelings of hostility towards others can be kept simmering in the mind, waiting to boil over. There are locations in the house, in the marketplace or office that provoke you to give way. I could go on giving details of things that are commonly experienced. The scriptures tell us to flee in some cases, or tell us to set no wicked thing before our eyes in others, etc. But this chapter is not, in the main, telling us to what we can do about avoiding temptations to sin; it is telling us what Christ has done to free every believer from Sin’s reign and our slavery.

Four Key Words

There is a progression in this chapter popularly expressed in four key words. They are Know (verses 3, 6, 9 and 16); Reckon (13, 16, 19); Present (13, 16, 19); and Obey (16, 17). It is by faith we know his death was ours. God says it, so I believe it. The alternative is to treat God as a liar. It is by faith, not by our feelings, that we know he died nearly 2000 years ago and we with him. Nothing you can do or experience all these years later will decrease or add value to his work on your behalf, but these four practical steps may help you reap the benefit. God does not charge us to do what is impossible when saying “Let not Sin reign over you.” You have a God-given right to reject any suggestion of its dominance.

Temptations to sin will be presented to you internally (the flesh); externally (the world); sometimes (you may think) by the devil himself. Lies have been their chief weapon from Eden until today. What authority do they have over those who know and reckon themselves dead to Sin and alive to God? You are no longer compelled to sin, though you may; even the most saintly have done so. The apostle John in his first epistle tells us how to handle such trying experiences. But do not let such an event or events alter the truth that “Our old man was crucified with him.” Be sure to remind yourself of that fact; it is the key to present freedom.

— Colin Anderson, “Interpretation: Lesson 2”, November 2015

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