Romans Chapter 1:1-14
by Rev. Maurice Roberts
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:1-14).
It is very clear from the New Testament, as well as from the Old, that the believer is not saved by his works. No man can be saved from sin by his own virtue, by his own religious devotion, by his own goodness or by his good works. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, it is made extremely clear that we are always and only saved by grace. Grace means two things. It means first of all the unmerited favour and mercy of God - something that cannot be purchased by our good works, something that cannot be bought by our own efforts at self-reformation. Grace is the unmerited mercy and favour of God. Grace is also supernatural spiritual energy - energy to lift the believer above his former style of life and to give him a new style of life. It is very clear from the Old Testament and the New that we are saved by grace. That is the argument here in the Epistle to the Romans; indeed, the very last verse in the previous chapter (chapter 5) goes like this: "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (5, 21). The reason for that is because "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (5, 20).
The argument that the apostle Paul is looking at is this: if we are saved by grace, why should we not as Christians go on in sin? That is the objection you will notice that he anticipates in our text: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (v.1). You can see the force of that argument and many who have been professing Christians have been tempted to think in that way, that if we are saved not by good works but by God's grace, and if God's grace super-abounds over man's sin, then why as believers do we not continue to live in sin so that grace may super-abound? The apostle Paul looks at that objection and argument, and you see here the nature of his answer to it: "God forbid" (v.2), he says. The doctrine then is this: that the Christian must not allow himself to indulge in sin, even though he is saved by abounding grace. The Christian who has been saved by the grace of God must not allow himself to go living any more in sin. The whole work of the Gospel is to deliver us from sin and we must never allow ourselves to go on in sin. It is true that where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound (5, 20), but we must never use that as an argument as believers for continuing in sin. That is what the apostle Paul is here telling us.
Romans 6 is an amazing and remarkable chapter. Some writers who write on the exposition of the Bible regard Romans 6 as in some ways the most difficult chapter in Romans. You know that the apostle Paul was a great genius and he was inspired of God. You will understand that his writings are always profound, always. However, there are many commentators and those who try to explain the meaning of the apostle Paul and they would say to us that Romans 6 is in some ways the most difficult chapter that he ever wrote. Let me give you one or two reasons why they should think like that. It is because in chapter 6 we have what we call a transition. We have a movement in thought from the subject of justification to the subject of sanctification. There is a movement from chapter 5 to chapter 6 in which the apostle Paul passes from justification, which he has been handling for some time, and moves now into sanctification. It is very mysterious that there is a connection between these two things. That is one reason why people have regarded this as a difficult chapter.
Another reason is because, in a mysterious way, what Christ did 2000 years ago for His people is something which affects the Christian's life now, 2000 years later. What Jesus did objectively, 2000 years ago when He died for us upon the cross, has its subjective implications and effects upon a Christian's life now, here in this present world. That very thought is a mystery. The connection between what Jesus has done objectively on the cross and its connection with our own lives now, in this world, is bound to be very mysterious. That indeed is what the apostle Paul here teaches.
Another reason why people have found this chapter rather confusing is because here we are passing from what we might call the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of justification into the experience of God's grace in our own hearts and in our own lives. We are passing then from what is justification - something in a sense outside ourselves - to experience the work of God within us. That movement of thought is a very astonishing and profound one. The apostle Paul then tells us that we cannot continue in sin that grace may abound and then he begins to explain why this should be.
Let me then bring some lessons to you from this chapter.
First of all, he makes it clear that to be justified by grace does not give the Christian any excuse whatever to tolerate sin in his own life. It does seem strange that a Christian should want to argue that he might go on in sin that grace might abound but it is a fact of life. There is within the Christian still the remaining sin which is not yet completely abolished from his nature. As long as the Christian is in this life he must reckon on the fact that he has indwelling sin. He is no longer condemned by that sin and, as we shall see, he is no longer under the dominion and power of that sin, but sin still remains in the Christian and there is something therefore which temptation can appeal to in us all as Christians. Because that is so, it is possible for a Christian, when he is forgetting himself, to argue that if he is saved by the grace of God and if grace is greater than sin, why then does he not continue allowing himself to go on in sin, to give an occasion and an opportunity for grace to display itself all the more. That is not only a wicked thought; it is an extremely wicked thought. You see how vehement the apostle's response to it is: "God forbid" (v.2), he says. God forbid that we, as Christians, saved as we are by grace, should allow ourselves to go on in sin like the world and as we once did ourselves before our conversion. It is not only wrong thinking, but it is shockingly wrong thinking for the Christian to argue in those terms. That is what he is saying and I shall show you now some of the arguments to show that this is wrong.
The first argument is that in a converted person justification and sanctification begin together at the same time; it is impossible to have justification without also having sanctification. You will know that justification is the imputation to the believer of the whole righteousness and obedience of Christ, and that the instant we believe in Christ all His righteousness becomes ours. The moment we believe in Christ all His obedience becomes ours. We call that our justification. It is something which God imputes to us. It doesn't of itself take account of any inward change but, and here is the wonder of it, at the same time as God reckons the righteousness of Christ to a sinner, He also begins a work in his soul so that it is impossible to be a truly justified sinner without there also being an internal change within the soul of that sinner. So then justification and sanctification begin together. There's one argument.
Another argument is this. When justification occurs in a person's life he ceases to love sin because an internal change occurs within his nature. If a person flatters himself that he can have faith and still go on in sin, he is deceiving himself. This is what is dealt with very clearly by the apostle James. He talks about a faith which makes no difference to the way people live. He talks about a faith which is dead, and about such a faith he says it is no better than a corpse: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26). What he is doing there is simply telling us that there is a kind of faith - which some people have - which does not truly save a person. This is what we refer to as 'notional faith' and not saving faith. He says the devils also have that kind of faith; the devils also believe in God and they tremble. But the faith which brings us salvation and justification is a faith which always results in good works. It always results in a change of character. So the Christian, in other words, is in an altered relationship to sin from the relationship he had before his conversion. As soon as a person believes in Christ, not only does God reckon to him the righteousness of Christ to cover his nakedness, but He also begins a change in the sinner's heart so that the will of the sinner is renewed and the desire of the sinner now is no longer for sinful pleasures but for the glory of God. He desires to live to the praise and glory of God. It is impossible therefore for a Christian to love sin with all his heart.
The unbeliever does - the unbeliever loves sin with all his heart. The unbeliever is at home in sin. The unbeliever is drowning in sin and he cannot get enough of it. Sadly, you will see this illustrated in a whole host of ways. People will drink not only a whole bottle of vodka; they would drink two bottles of it if they could. They would drink a hundred bottles of it, if only they could. They would not only be content to get dead-drunk, they would get dead-drunk a thousand times over if they could - if their bodies and constitutions could tolerate it, which, of course, in God's wisdom they can't. The thing that stops a sinner from going too far with his indulgence, whatever it is - and I am simply using one instance of very, very many, whether it be sensuality, or drunkenness, or violence, or whatever - the only thing that restrains a sinner from going on and on and on in sin is that he has no more capacity or strength in his constitution to tolerate it. But the desire of a sinner is to go on and on and on and on drinking sin like water because he loves it! That is his native air; as a man breathes in the open air exhilaratingly, drawing his breath and taking in the fresh air, so a sinner loves the atmosphere of sin and is at home in sin - but not the Christian.
Not the Christian. Something has happened to a Christian at his conversion but that is not to say that there is not some love of sin left in him: there is a residual love of sin left in the Christian. However, it is no longer central in his soul. He loves it and hates it at one and the same time. He hates it with the greatest energy of his soul but because of indwelling sin he is still somewhat inclined, tempted and influenced towards it. That is the way the Christian is. Because that is so, the Christian must be motivated to resist sin and that is what the apostle Paul is doing. Shall we go on in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. The Christian has become reconciled to God and he now wishes to please God. The Christian, if he is a real Christian, now loves God and he knows that God has forbidden sin; so, the Christian, loving God as he does, restrains himself under the influence of temptation. This is what the apostle Paul, I believe, is arguing here, or part of what he is arguing. I have a little more to say about what he is arguing in a moment, but that's part of it. My beloved friends, this is the way it applies to us if we are believers. We must never listen to the voice which tells us that because we are forgiven our sins we may go on in sin. We must never listen to that seducing voice that tells us that because God is gracious and ready to forgive, therefore, we can take advantage of Him because it doesn't matter - we can always apologize and confess. So we can go on and do these things, it doesn't really matter. God is full of kindness and love. He will go on forgiving us. That is an abuse of a true doctrine. God indeed is full of kindness and ready to forgive but that doesn't motivate us to go on in sin. All appearance of sin, says Paul, is to be shunned.
I come now to three illustrations that the apostle Paul uses. At his conversion the Christian becomes united to Christ in a spiritual union. The Bible frequently compares conversion to Christ, to a marriage. In marriage one man becomes united to one woman and they, having been two, now become one. The two are one flesh, says the Bible, and that is an illustration of what happens to a Christian at his conversion. When a person is converted to Christ, he and Christ become united in a spiritual sense; not one flesh but one in spirit. They become one, whereas before they were two; now they are one, united and in union. The apostle Paul illustrates this union in our text with three illustrations, and I want to show you now what they are.
First of all: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (v.3/4). That's the first illustration, and we can say that it is an illustration drawn from Christian baptism. However, emphasis is not upon the water of baptism but upon what that signifies. Baptism seals and signifies far more than simply the outward act of placing the body and the water together. Baptism seals and signifies the union of a believer with Christ. He is, says Paul, brought into union. We are buried with him by baptism into death. So, here we have the first of these illustrations: what happens to persons when they become born again is that they become baptized into Christ; they become united with Him spiritually. The reference is not, as I say, simply to the external form of baptism but to what baptism symbolizes, which is union of the soul of a believer with the Lord Jesus Christ. The things that Christ has done, objectively, in history, become personally applicable to his own soul. What do I mean by that? I mean, what Christ did 2000 years ago when he died, was buried and rose again, becomes operative in the soul of a believer as soon as he, through the new birth, becomes united to Him. That is to say, when we believe in Christ our soul undergoes this change: we become dead with Him, buried with Him and raised again to newness of life with and in Him. There cannot be any doubt whatever but that that is what is being said here.
Professor John Murray has written one of the best commentaries, I think, there is in any language on Romans 6 and is well worth your studying if you are able to do so. Professor Murray refers to this experience as 'definitive sanctification'. That is to say that when a believer dies with Christ, is buried with Christ and rises with Christ, something spiritual of immense importance takes place. There begins a sanctification within that soul which will never cease until the soul becomes perfect in the glory of heaven. But it begins then and the new birth is a sanctification of the individual believer with Christ in the fruits of his death and resurrection. I grant you, that is very mysterious. How can you and I in the year 2004, supposing we were to be converted for the first time this very year, how can we participate in what Jesus did nearly 2000 years ago? The answer is, I can't explain it but it is a fact, and it is a doctrine of the Word of God. When I believe in Him for the first time, then, in a mysterious way, my soul enters into the fruits and the effects of Christ's death and resurrection so that all of that becomes operative in my soul and I become dead to sin. I become buried with Him - I become raised again to a new state of spirituality which was not true before I entered into union with Christ. 'Definitive sanctification' is the term which I commend to you from that eminent writer, Professor John Murray.
The second illustration of the three is as follows: "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (v.5). This is a different illustration. He is talking here about planting together. The illustration is that of two trees, let us say, that a man might plant side by side in the same plot of land. It is very often done. People take two trees and they plant them side by side and they grow together. Their roots become intertwined; their shoots, trunks and branches eventually come out and develop together. Paul uses this as an illustration of the way in which Christ and His people are united spiritually - they are planted together in the likeness of His death and they are going to be planted together in the likeness of His resurrection. If that is the case, it means that we are united to one who is holy. As Christians we are planted together with the One who is the embodiment of holiness itself - that holy Man, Jesus Christ - and, if we are united to Him, how can we any more go on in sin as the world does? We cannot! It would be a contradiction of our whole spiritual condition. So the second illustration is implantation together with Christ.
He comes now to a third illustration: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (v.6). The third illustration is the fact that when we become born again, we enter into a state of being crucified with Christ so far as our own sin is concerned. The fruits of Christ's death on the cross immediately become operative in the believer. When we were in Adam we were an old man; when we believe in Christ we become a new man. I am not going to take time to show that you cannot be two men at once. There is a Gaelic poem that says, "I am an old man and a new man." That simply means that the Christian at his best is not perfect; there are still remnants of indwelling sin. It is a very beautiful and a very touching way of expressing it, but it is not strictly the way the apostle Paul and the New Testament state the case. If we are going to go strictly by the way the New Testament puts it, a non-Christian is an old man - he is a man in Adam. When we become Christians we become a new man - that is, a man in Christ. We cannot be both at one and the same time. When you cease to be an old man you begin to be a new man. When you become a new man you are no longer an old man. You cannot be both. It is true, of course, that the new man is not in every possible sense perfect. No, no! Sin remains in this life in the new man, but he is a new man for all that; and the fact is that you cannot be both at one and the same time. If you wish to study Murray on this point in Romans 6, I commend it to you.
This is what the apostle is arguing: those who are in Adam - who have not yet become Christians - are in Scripture regarded as being an 'old man'. The consequence of being in Adam is threefold. First of all, Adam's sin is reckoned to them. Second, they come under the condemnation that all sin comes under when we are guilty of it. And third, they enter into a state of death because death is the wages of sin. That is the destiny and the future of every non-Christian. Sin is imputed to him, condemnation rests upon him and death lies before him. That is the sad condition of the non-Christian and we have in all love and kindness to tell this to people. That is why we bid them to 'flee from the wrath to come' and trust in Jesus. When a person believes in Jesus he immediately becomes a new man and all those three things - that complex of truths which was so of the old man - is reversed. In Christ, sin, condemnation and death are now reversed. In Christ we have this righteousness, justification and eternal life because we are now united to One who is alive from the dead and the resurrection life of Christ is now working in the souls of all believers. It is true that we are not yet absolutely perfect. It is true that sin remains within the believer as long as he is in this life. But we are, says the apostle, in this privileged condition - that this life now is in us. We are crucified: "our old man," he says, "is crucified with him (Christ), that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (v. 6).
There have been two ways of interpreting those words. Some people say we are crucified with Christ in the sense that our old man is slowly dying - he is with Christ on the cross and he is slowly, slowly, slowly coming to his death. There are some who take it that way but I cannot believe that that is so for a moment. I will tell you why. What he is rather saying is that our old man has died. When a person believes in Christ the old man dies and he becomes a new man. The proof that that is the correct interpretation is this: he tells us that not only have we died in Christ, but that we are buried with Him and it would be a monstrous injustice to bury a man who is on the cross and not yet dead. No, no, we bury the old man because he has died. He tells us here in this third illustration that when we believe in Christ we become, as it were, joined with Christ on the cross and then enter with Him into a state of death and then burial. If that is the case, how can we who are dead to sin continue any longer therein? This is his argument. Justification, in other words, is never alone; it is always accompanied by an inward work of grace in the soul of those who are justified, whereby they are renewed in the whole man in the image of God - in knowledge, in righteousness, in holiness. They begin a life of progressive sanctification here in this present world and when they enter into a state of death their souls are immediately made perfect in holiness and pass into the presence of the Lord and their bodies rest in the grave until the resurrection. At the resurrection their bodies - being still united to Christ - are raised in glory and they are in the final state of their comfort and redemption by the blood and power of Christ. This is what the apostle refers to in his own case.
Listen to these words: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Now there's a mysterious verse - "I am crucified with Christ." All right Paul, you must be dead then. "Nevertheless I live." Oh, wait a minute, you're still living. "And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Paul, are you alive or dead? Well, he says he is both. He is dead as to what he was, and he is alive as to what he is. As to his being an old man - he is dead; as to his being a new man - he is alive. Yet, it is not his life but Christ's life in his soul. The Holy Spirit is given to him to make him what he never was before - a new man in Christ.
Listen to Professor John Murray as I quote him very briefly: "It is a mistake to think of the believer as both an old man and a new man. We are a new man as soon as we come to believe in Christ but there are the remains of sin within the new man as long as the new man is in this present world. However, when the believer comes out of this world into a state of glory then, all sin which is in the new man will be entirely abolished and we shall be even as our blessed Master is - away from the very presence of sin."
The third thing I say to you is this. The imperatives of our sanctification are therefore based on the indicatives of the Gospel. I must explain what those words mean. The imperatives are the commands and the obligations which fall upon us as Christians; all of those commands and imperatives are based upon the facts of what has happened to the Christian already. The command is not to 'die' but to 'reckon ourselves dead' - you see, that is the way the apostle Paul puts it - we are to reckon ourselves to be dead: "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (v.11). The believer dies to sin in this sense at his conversion. I must explain to you, therefore, what is meant by 'dying to sin' as the apostle Paul uses these words here. It means, first of all, sin can no longer condemn the Christian. What a mercy! What a blessing! What a favour! A Christian rests upon this great truth: my sin, which is great, can never condemn me because the consequences of it have been suffered by Christ. He has dealt with the penalty of it.
The second thing it means here is this: sin is no longer the Christian's native sphere. Sin is no longer the air that we breathe. Sin is no longer our home. Sin is no longer where we desire to live and to be. It is true that there is sin in us, but the Christian is not in sin - do you see the difference? Sin is in the believer but the believer is not in sin - there's the difference. Sin is still in me and I hate it, and so do you. "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh [I still serve] the law of sin" (7, 25). We are not in sin as Christians. Sin is in us but we are not in it. Sin is what we desire to be clean from and clear from and free from. We groan in this body, longing to be delivered from this body of death in which we live, because sin is what we wish to be clear of and to be quit of forever.
A third thing which is meant here is that sin, thank God, is no longer the Christian's master. Sin is not my master. Sin is the master of those who are not believers. Sin is the master and he will keep the unbeliever under his slavery - the lust, passion and love of this world. That is why poor sinners are slaves to sin - because the devil keeps them there. Sin keeps them there. Sin is a tyrant - it drives men continually. Many a poor sinner has said to himself after recovering from drunkenness or something, "That terrible bottle - I'll never go back to it!" But he does, and he cannot help it because sin is too strong for him. How can a man break the love of sin? The answer is he can't of himself. But the love of sin is broken by the power of God as soon as we believe in Christ. That is how, when people come to Christ, they can break these evil habits. As I speak, I think of a dear Christian friend of mine who has now passed into glory who was a fearful drunkard in his younger days, and this is true in his experience. Let me tell you before I close. He was so addicted to drink that with any money he got he went straight to the public house and bought drink. On one occasion he was given, I think, ten shillings to buy a new pair of glasses or something. He went off from the house to get the glasses but he couldn't resist the temptation to spend it in the public house. He never got the glasses with that money, he got something else - he got a drink with it. That is how he was. He was probably selling his furniture to make money to drink and drink and drink, and the family became poorer and poorer. They had almost nothing left. It is a common story. Then he was converted to faith in Christ and everything came back. The drink went out and the house began to be built up again and things went wonderfully well and he resisted this temptation, his besetting sin. However, one day at work, his friends - at least his colleagues - played a trick on him; a very mean and wicked thing to do. They had a raffle and they put his name into the raffle for a large bottle of whisky. He didn't know about this - they did it behind his back. They drew out his ticket and he didn't know anything about it until it was all over and done. At the tea break this day, they sat him down and they all sat round him and they said, "Mr. So-and-so, we've had a raffle. We didn't tell you but you've won it." "Oh?" said he, "what have I won?" "You've won this large bottle of whisky," they said, bringing it in front of his face. "Oh! Thank you!" he said, and he took it in his hand and put it on his knee. They wondered what he would do with it because they knew very well he had been a terrible drunkard, but they also knew he had given up this terrible habit. What would he do? Well, he began to speak to the bottle of whisky like this: "Oh my darling," he said. "the day was when you were my idol. The day was when I would have done anything for one of you. But," he said, "that day is passed." And he took it by the spout and he smashed it on the floor, and they watched in amazement as the whisky flowed away.
You see, can we go on in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Whatever the sin in our life, God forbid! Break with all sin - we must break with it, whatever the sin. We can do that when we believe in Christ because where sin abounds grace much more abounds. However strong the temptation may be, there is more grace given to us. No matter how terrible the lust in our nature may be for sin of the past, for the Christian, God gives more strength to overcome. That is how it is that believers are more than conquerors of all their lusts through Him that loved us. Blessed be Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us that we might have this power over sin in our own lives.