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The Christian's Emancipation Proclamation

A Study of the Sixth Chapter of Romans

Freedom

by Dennis Pollock

Paul never wrote his epistles in chapter and verse. The chapters and verses were added later to help believers easily find particular passages. The men who added the chapters tried to separate passages into reasonable sizes and to make the breaks at natural points in the writing. Sometimes they were more successful than others. But in the case of the sixth chapter of Romans they did an excellent job. This chapter stands on its own pretty well and contains one major point – that in Christ we are free from the power and dominion of sin.

In this devotional study it would be impossible to cover every single verse, but we shall look briefly at certain key points made by the apostle Paul as he declares again and again that Jesus has truly made us free – not merely in some mystical legal sense, but in a very real, a very practical, and a very much down-to-earth, where-the-rubber-meets-the-road sense.

In the earlier portion of this amazing letter to the Roman believers, Paul has been arguing and demonstrating that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. In Romans 5:1 he states the heart of the matter, writing: “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has stated the case plainly, forcibly, and repeatedly. By the time he got to what we call the sixth chapter of this epistle, he apparently felt, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, that it was time to inject a new idea. Fearing his readers might get so carried away with this concept of grace that they would assume it meant that they could live lawless, ungodly, lives and still be good Christians, he asks the question: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Then he answers his own question with a forceful: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

Knowing the tendency of men and women to run to extremes, the Holy Spirit clearly wanted to establish the fact that grace does not serve as a “sin-as-much-as-you-like” pass given to every Christian. Indeed, the rest of this chapter demonstrates that the grace of Christ does the exact opposite – it brings about victory over sin and temptation in a way that the law of God never could.

We Who Died…

The first thing we notice is that Paul refers to Christians as “we who died to sin” (Romans 6:2). To be saved, to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior is to become one of that select company, the only people on our planet who can truly be described as “we who died to sin.” This is not merely some label for super-Christians who read the Bible hours every day. This refers to every man, woman, and child, every plumber, carpet layer, school teacher, and university professor who put their faith in Jesus. According to Paul such people can no longer live in sin. They can never again live their lives happily fornicating, lying, stealing, swearing, and getting drunk on Saturday nights. They have become a member of a highly exclusive club – joining with Paul as “we who died to sin.”

Paul spends the rest of the chapter elaborating upon this amazing theme. A key thought is expressed in verse six: “…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him (Jesus), that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” Here we see the reason why Christians cannot go on living in sinful habits and practices. Our “old man,” that is, our carnal, sinful, nature inherited from Adam, was in some way or another crucified, put to death with Jesus at His cross and therefore “done away with.” As a result, we are no longer slaves of sin; we must not allow ourselves to be overcome with bad habits, wicked practices, and a lifestyle that contradicts our testimony of being one of the redeemed of Jesus Christ.

But in what way has our old man been done away with? This can present a real problem for Christians. Every one of us feels the tug of sinful desires from day to day, and sometimes it is more than a slight tug – it feels like a powerful, almost irresistible pull to do things we know full well would not be pleasing to God. If our old man has been crucified and “done away with,” why do we still feel these strong temptations and sinful propensities? And why does Paul say in Galatians, clearly speaking of Christians, that “the flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh?”

Neutralized

The answer lies in understanding the nature of Christ’s victory at the cross, as it relates to our sinful nature. When Paul writes that our old man was done away with, he is not suggesting that our sinful nature no longer exists. If that were true, there would be no flesh to war against the Spirit, and no Christian would ever feel any lust, temptation, or powerful urge to do anything wrong, ever. Such is clearly not the case. When Paul says that our old man was “done away with,” the Greek word he used can mean “to abolish,” but it can also mean “to render inoperative.” This is surely the point Paul was making: not that our sin nature is no longer with us, but rather that when things are working the way they should, it has lost its effectiveness; it has become essentially inoperative.

airplanePerhaps an illustration will be helpful. Some people have probably never noticed or thought about the fact that an airplane’s wings always are curved on the top side. That curve is not merely for looks; it is in fact vitally important. The curve on the top side of the wings means that the air rushing over that wing rises higher than it otherwise would, and a slight vacuum is created just behind the curve. Since the underside of the wing has no such curve the air pressure below the wing is greater than the pressure above the wing and a force that we call lift is created. As the pilot increases the plane’s speed on the runway, the air rushes over the wings, the lift factor is increased, and the plane is lifted gently into the air.

Larger planes sometimes fly over six miles above the ground. On that plane people are talking, some are napping, drinks are being served, and most people are paying no attention whatsoever to the fact that the law of gravity should be pulling that plane violently down to the earth. And why isn’t gravity doing its job? Has it ceased to exist? Has gravity been magically removed from the earth?

No, gravity is still around. It is every bit as powerful as it ever was. And should those jet engines be turned off, everyone on board will soon know it. But as long as the engines are doing their job, and the wings are doing theirs, the law of gravity has been overcome by the law of lift. You might say it has been “nullified” or “made inoperative.” This is precisely what the grace of Christ has done with respect to the old sinful nature that leads to death. Paul will write a couple of chapters later, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

This may sound like a lot of theory and theology, with no practical relevance to Christians who struggle with various lusts and temptations, but in truth it could not be any more practical. This is what God declares is the situation for every single Christian. In some manner that we may never fully understand, our selfish, sinful nature which has caused us so many problems, and still seems to raise its ugly, miserable head just when we are feeling really spiritual, has been retroactively crucified with Christ. It has been put out of commission and made ineffective through the death of Jesus on the cross and the power of His resurrection.

How We See Ourselves

Later in the chapter Paul instructs believers: “Reckon yourselves (consider yourselves, think of yourselves) to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). This is how the inspired word of God tells us to see ourselves: not as pathetic, struggling, faltering, stumbling, failing, miserable sinners who can never live a single hour without sinning and reproaching our Lord, but as triumphant believers redeemed from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Typically, we become pretty much what we think of ourselves to be. If we see ourselves as failures, we set ourselves up for failure. If Christians see themselves as nothing more than sinners saved by grace, they will live accordingly. In the past I have seen a bumper sticker that I have disliked. It says this: “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” Some might wonder why I would disagree with this. Is it that I don’t admit that Christians are not perfect? No, not at all. I have never seen one yet that is perfect, and when I look in a mirror, I surely don’t see perfection there! Then what is the problem? The problem I have is with that little word “just.” The saying says that we are “just forgiven.” It appears to be saying that no one should expect us to live any higher than the world. We will go on sinning just as the world sins, showing our anger just as the secular man does, and sleeping around just the way we see it in the movies. After all we are not perfect – just forgiven.

But is that really all that Jesus Christ has done for us? Is Jesus like the doctor who has a cancer patient come to him, and rather than operate and relieve his condition, He simply gives the man a banner to wear that says “cured,” and tells him to go his way? When Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin, is it like a mother telling her ugly daughter to tell herself that she is pretty, when they both know it is a lie? No, if Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus, in some way and in some fashion we must truly be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus.

Later in the chapter Paul writes, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Other versions say, “Sin shall not rule you,” “Sin shall not be your master,” “Sin shouldn’t have power over you,” and “Sin can’t tell you how to live.” Whatever the version the meaning is clear: in Jesus Christ and by the power of His cross we do not have to, and we must not dare to go on living in the same sordid, ungodly, selfish, lustful, slavish lifestyle that we led before receiving Jesus. Or to put it in Paul’s words we saw at the beginning of the chapter: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1,2).

A Life of Faith

This new victorious life is activated by faith in Jesus. Sinful habits and stubbornly persistent wicked ways are never overcome by resolutions to do better and admissions of guilt. The reason that sin shall not dominate us is that “we are not under law but under grace.” “Who is he who overcomes the world?” writes John. He then declares who the overcomers are: “He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

Under the law, the means of victory rested on human resolution, sheer determination and iron will power: “I will serve the Lord.” The entire Old Testament reveals that this always results in failure. Men and women simply don’t have it in them to consistently live the compassionate, upright life of integrity and love that God requires. All of our resolutions, all of our vows to do better, all of the new leafs that we try to turn over do not get the job done. But as we trust in Christ, as we put our faith in Him and not in ourselves, we find blessed victory. The rushing torrent of the grace of God through Christ overcomes the sinful habits that would dominate us and keep us in a constant state of guilt. Paul sums up this wonderful life later in the chapter with these words: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22).


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