How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2)
One of the most troublesome areas for many Christians relates to Romans 6:11-12where Paul on one hand says we’re dead to sin and in the next verse exhorts us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. Why should we turn away from sin that’s already dead?
The answer to this seeming contradiction underscores the joint responsibility for sanctification. We’re dead to sin because Christ died to sin for us. He settled the ultimate victory. But as we live day by day, sin still remains a constant reality. Though God gives us the will to be holy, the daily fight requires our continuing effort.
Holy living demands constant examination of our actions and motives. But in doing so we must guard against the tendency to focus totally on self, which is easy to do- especially as the culture’s egocentric values invade the church. In fact, this self-indulgent character of our times is a major reason the topic of true holiness is so neglected today by Christian teachers, leaders, writers, and speakers. We have, perhaps unconsciously, substituted a secularized self-centered message in its place. For when we speak of “victory” in the Christian life, we all too often mean personal victory- how God will conquer sin for us (at least the sins we’d like to be rid of)- those extra ten pounds, that annoying habit, maybe a quick temper). This reflects not only egocentricity but an incorrect view of sin.
Sin is not simply the wrong we do our neighbor when we cheat him, or the wrong we do ourselves when we abuse our bodies. Sin, all sin is a root rebellion and offense against God- what R.C. Sprouls calls “cosmic treason.”
Our goal as believers is to seek to please God, not what He can do for us. Personal victories may come, but they are a result, not the object. True Christian maturity- holiness, sanctification- is God-centered.
There is no better illustrations to seeming contradiction of being dead to sin and yet having to continuously resist sin than the stories of Adam in the Garden and the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.
In Adam’s case, we find him in the garden totally innocent of sin. As a matter of fact, until he and Eve ate of the fruit, they did not know good or evil. We could say that they were dead to sin and yet we find the devil coming into the garden and tempting and deceiving Eve who in turn enticed Adam and they both chose the path of sin. I have often marveled over the fact that one could be in such relationship with God that He would come down personally every evening and walk and talk with humanity; to be in a place of such blessing and provision that one would want nothing, and yet to find something that would move them to rebel and sin against God. Yet we read of that very thing with Adam. I find in my own life as a Christian that it’s possible to be walking close to God and God providing every need and yet having to face and resist sin and the voice of the tempter. In Adam’s case, it is apparent the desire to know good and evil overcame his relationship with God and this is the power of sin for in us too is the desire of the things of this world that often overpowers our relationship with God so we yield ourselves to sin and rebellion against our Heavenly Father.
Mel Gibson in the movie “The Passion” portrays how that Satan will invade even the intimate place of prayer. In the movie as Christ is bowed over the stone, bringing His will into submission to the Father, we see the serpent entering this garden as he did the Garden of Eden. I think Mel is using that symbolism in the conflict going on between the flesh of Christ and the God of Christ to remind us that our sin nature has no shame nor fear and will attempt to press us to rebel against the will of the Father even when we are pressing to yield ourselves to His will. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Christ rises from prayer and with His heel crushes the head of the serpent; thus fulfilling the Genesis prophecy.
As the Israelites begin their journey with God to the promise land, hovering over them and influencing their thinking is all the years of bondage and slavery. This was all they knew. Freedom and liberty were nothing more than vague dreams, pieces of conversation, and wishful thinking. I’m sure they had heard the stories of how their ancestors were once free but none of them in their lifetime had tasted such. Their days were filled with commands and work, being driven by taskmasters with no choices other than to obey. So when God brought them out of Egypt and slavery, they had no basis to operate from in this new way of living. We see that at every crisis they would default to their Egyptian lifestyle and it would influence their responses. We might say that though they had been brought out of Egypt, Egypt was still in them. The whole wilderness journey was to root out the essence of Egypt so that they could fully enjoy Canaan. It would not do to bring the old way of thinking into this new land, so God in His love brought them again and again to the place of testing. Though He had broken the power of slavery, He did not take away their ability to choose. After entering the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua and as Joshua is preparing to die, he gives them these words:
“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth; remove the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the [Euphrates] River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is unacceptable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord .”
Now let’s us apply this to us. We know that Christ has broken the power of sin in the world and in us. The moment Christ enters our hearts we are no longer subject to the bondage of sin. Scripture says, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”(John 8:36)
Yet we are told and know that daily we are tempted by sin wishing to bring us back into its bondage again. The Lord’s Prayer includes this as we pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” James tells us that we all are tempted, never by God but drawn away by our own desires.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God” [for temptation does not originate from God, but from our own flaws]; for God cannot be tempted by [what is] evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is dragged away, enticed and baited [to commit sin] by his own [worldly] desire (lust, passion). Then when the illicit desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin has run its course, it gives birth to death.
So we can see that we are at war with the sin nature that constantly attacks our relationship with God. Though we have a choice in whom we yield to for Paul said, “to whom you yield your members to obey, that’s whose servant you are.
Do you not know that when you continually offer yourselves to someone to do his will, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey, either [slaves] of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness (right standing with God)?
In this 6th chapter of Romans, Paul as he addresses this warring between flesh and spirit gives us two important things to remember. First, we must recognize that we are not totally independent or our own masters. We have only two choices available to us: to yield control to God or by default to be controlled by Satan. The idea that we can be free of either is a myth. There are no completely free humans. We are either servants of God or servants of the devil.
And having been set free from sin, you have become the slaves of righteousness [of conformity to God’s will and purpose]. I am speaking in [familiar] human terms because of your natural limitations [your spiritual immaturity]. For just as you presented your bodily members as slaves to impurity and to [moral] lawlessness, leading to further lawlessness, so now offer your members [your abilities, your talents] as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification [that is, being set apart for God’s purpose]. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [you had no desire to conform to God’s will]. So what benefit did you get at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? [None!] For the outcome of those things is death! But now since you have been set free from sin and have become [willing] slaves to God, you have your benefit, resulting in sanctification [being made holy and set apart for God’s purpose], and the outcome [of this] is eternal life.
Second of all we have no ability to break the power of sin on our own. Paul tells us that all the rituals and sacrifices and observances that he had practiced fully as a Jew were not sufficient to break this power. He outlines the struggle of every human in striving to do right and failing and striving to not do wrong and failing. Indeed he give us an almost hopeless scenario. An then he concluded with the message of the power of the gospel.
So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members. Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord!
We have been given victory over the power of sin by Christ and in cooperation with Him we can conquer it in our daily living. Though He has broken its power, we are still free to yield ourselves back for though we have given our hearts to Christ, He has not taken our freedom to choose. If you are struggling with a sin, then come to Christ and surrender your life and that desire. He will break its power and give you strength to resist and overcome.
No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy].
1 Corinthians 10:13
Dr. John Thompson