*Please note: I forgot to mention that the three-tiered structure (We died to sin, We died with Christ, Christ died to sin) was taken from Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans p. 354, footnote 12; Moo credits Dan Bailey with helping him. Also, I am using Dunn’s commentary on Romans (pp. 323-324) for “firm conviction” and “settled determination” if that is not indicated in the manuscript or outline. Thanks.
Grace and the Power of Sin
Sermon Manuscript for Sunday, August 4th, 2013
Father, this summer we have had a chance to catch glimpses of your grace. We pray that the truth that you are a gracious God, that you have saved us by the work of your Son Jesus alone, and that our thinking and living are based upon your grace—we pray these truths would work their way from our head to our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus name, amen.
What do you think about when you hear the word ‘sin’? Our minds may go to the sin that was most recent, or the sin that challenges us the most. Some of us, our minds immediately think about our physical bodies; we’re overweight, out of shape, or struggle with substance abuse. Others of us just recall that incident, we recall that night, and we recall that conversation or that person.
My purpose today is not to condemn you or even to try to stir up some kind of conviction in you. We will discuss the fact that the grace of God impacts our relationship to sin. In other words: the reality of what God has done on our behalf through his Son—grace—directly confronts, addresses, and speaks to our relationship with sin.
Our text today will be Romans 6:1–11. And Paul will explain why our relationship to sin is forever changed because of Jesus. Did you catch that? He will explain why our relationship to sin is forever changed because of Jesus. His concern is not, “Stop sinning and just obey God already!” He is not telling us: “Quit that!” “Stop that!” “Do X, Y, and Z!” He is working at a different level altogether. He is working with the why of why we should stop sinning and start obeying God.
Every time I have preached, I have given you a subject and I never explained why I do that. When I say subject I mean, “Here’s the point of the text I am working through. And, here’s the point of my sermon.” That means if you get lost somewhere – and I will try my hardest not to do that – just remember that you’ve been given the point of the passage and the point of my sermon. It makes for boring sermons sometimes, but it also makes for clear ones.
The big idea of my sermon is as follows: The reason we should live separate from sin’s power is because we hold a deep conviction of our union with Christ—namely, with his death and resurrection.
Let me break this down for you. The reason: as I already said, Paul’s concern is on why we should stop sinning and start obeying God, not on the fact that we should stop sinning and start obeying God. We: this message is for believers. In other words: this sermon is for those of us who say, “I believe that Jesus Christ is who the Scriptures say he is (the very Son of God) and I believe that he has accomplished what the Scriptures say he accomplished (he paid the infinite debt of my sins to God with his death).” If we hold that belief, then we are the proper audience. Sin’s power: I’ll unpack that in a minute. Deep conviction: we’ll get to that eventually. And I’ll unpack our union with Jesus in a minute as well.
One last thing before we read Romans 6:1–11. When we talk about sin today, we are not abandoning our discussion of grace. The believer’s way of thinking and behaving is founded in the grace of God—i.e. what God has done on the believer’s behalf through the death of Jesus. And hopefully my tone and my words today reflect this truth. We are still talking about grace, but our attention is on how grace impacts our relationship to sin. Now let’s read Romans 6:1–4.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:1–4)
On the surface, this appears to be a massive passage that is full of words and phrases that are difficult to understand. There were several moments in my preparation of this message where I questioned why I am preaching this passage. You see: the temptation whenever we open up Paul’s letters is to miss the forest for the trees. We get fixated upon the details that we miss the point.
Just like I have given you the big idea of the passage—the reason we should live separate from the power of sin is because we have a firm conviction of our union with Jesus (namely, with his death and resurrection), I want to also provide you will the logic of Paul’s argument in these eleven verses. It is quite simple:
We died to sin (vv. 1–4),
We died with Christ (vv. 5–7),
Christ died to sin (vv. 8–11).
To put it differently: We have died to the power of sin because we have died with Christ, and Christ died to the power of sin. If we work this backwards: Christ in his death has defeated the power of sin, and if we are joined to him in his death, then we too have died to sin. Once more another way: what’s true of Christ (he died to sin) is true of us (we died to sin) because we are joined to him (we died with Christ).
I. We died to sin (Romans 6:1–4)
Point number one: We died to sin. You’ll notice Paul starts this section saying, “What shall we say then?” Another way to put it is: “What might we conclude from the previous conversation?” What was the previous discussion about? I will rely on John Piper to catch us up. Here’s how he summarizes what came before. Please read along and listen carefully:
Paul came to the end of Romans 1–5 with the most radical emphasis possible on justification [God declaring us righteous] by grace through faith, apart from works of the law. He taught (in Romans 5:18) that “as through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [of Christ] there resulted justification of life to all men.” In other words, our union with Adam brought us condemnation because of his disobedience; and our union with Christ brings us justification because of his obedience. This is extreme grace: Christ’s obedience, not ours, is the ground of our justification. God reckons us righteous, and accepts us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness (Titus 3:5), but because of deeds done by Christ in righteousness (Romans 5:18). The whole point of bringing Adam into the picture here at the end of Romans 1–5 is to make this radically gracious way of justification dangerously clear. We are condemned in Adam as his sin is credited to us; we are justified in Christ as his righteousness is credited to us. (Title: Are We to Continue in Sin that Grace Might Increase; Series title: Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written; preached on 09/10/2000; accessed on desiringgod.org).
The background is: people are saved by grace through faith plus nothing else. This should sound familiar to you.
A. We might come to a false conclusion based on the previous discussion (v. 1)
Realizing this truth, we may misunderstand Paul and think that we can now indulge sin. “My works don’t make me acceptable to God, so I’m going to sin to my heart’s content. I can do anything I want.” But this is a false conclusion. We are indeed saved by grace alone through believing plus nothing else, yet grace motivates us to live differently than before.
B. We can no longer live in sin (v. 2)
Paul then asks in v. 2: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” It is a rhetorical question. It does not expect an answer but instead places a statement in our mouth: “I have died to the power of sin and I can live in it no longer.”
Let’s take a moment to discuss sin. Sin appears seven times in these eleven verses (vv. 1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 11). Please note a few observations: (1) sin in this passage is always singular—sin not sins; (2) sin in this passage always has an article in the Greek text (“the sin”), that’s too awkward to translate into English; and (3) sin in this passage is used twice with terms related to slavery (vv. 6, 7). And this imagery of slavery only intensifies in the rest of the chapter (6.12–23). In light of these observations, ‘sin’ in this passage refers to an impersonal and destructive evil power (cf. Gen 4:7). Paul’s concern is not with what we do; rather, his concern is with our relationship to this evil power that rules over us human beings.
Remember Genesis 4:7? God says to Cain, “And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” God described sin as a power that seizes all human beings. When we are under its control it produces unrighteousness (bad deeds) and the result of all this is death. Now to be clear, Paul did not say that there’s a demon or deity out there named “Sin.” Sin is an impersonal and destructive evil power. This is how Paul is describes sin, beyond what we do he is concerned about with our relationship to this evil power.
The logic here is rather straightforward. Imagine a guy and a girl are living together. They fall on hard times and they decide to end their relationship. What usually happens? Somebody moves out. They guy or the girl, but someone leaves. And maybe as the guy is packing, his former women shouts at him, “You’re dead to me! Don’t call me! Don’t text me! Un-friend my mom on Facebook!” [There’s a story behind that last one.] And he moves out. If our relationship to sin is over, there is no way we can keep living under sin’s roof.
C. We know that our baptism identifies us with Christ’s death (vv. 3–4)
Now v. 3. The ground of Paul’s statement that we have died to sin is our baptism. He is using our baptism as the launching pad for discussion. “Do you not know…” implies that we do indeed already understand this. What do we understand? When we were baptized, we were in fact saying, “I’m identifying myself with Jesus.” And God is identifying us with Christ. But Paul says that at the moment we were doing that, we were also saying: “I’m identifying myself with the death of Jesus.” And the Father is also identifying us with the death of Jesus.
At this point it is incredibly tempting to be sidetracked. Some who read this passage ask: does the event of our water baptism accomplish our union with Christ, or does the event of baptism only point to our union with Christ? To ask it another way: are we united to Christ through water baptism? Or does water baptism only signify the union that is already a reality. It is a serious question, but I think was can dismiss the question with confidence. So my answer is: our water baptism only points to our union with Christ it does not accomplish it. When Paul discusses our justification and salvation (how we are joined to Christ and Christ’s righteousness becomes our own) baptism does not come up. Christ’s righteousness applies to us solely on the basis of faith.
It is at this point that Paul begins to display the believer as stuck on Christ, joined with Christ, associated with Christ, robustly identified with Christ, he is our representative and we share in his death. There are a series of with-words that we must watch out for throughout this text. We were buried with him. How does that look in your head? They lay the corpse of Christ into the tomb, and, oh! There we are right beside him.
Now v. 4: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” To summarize quickly: our union with Christ’s death is the foundation for our new life. It is because the Father has joined us to his Son and to his Son’s death, that we get to live or begin a new life. This is what I mean by grace (what God has done on our behalf) as the foundation of a believer’s thinking and behaving.
I know this seems difficult and hard to follow. But the only thing that the apostle has really done, and the only thing I want you to see, is that he has made the assertion that we are dead to sin’s power. But how does he come to this conclusion?
II. We died with Christ (Romans 6:5–7)
Moving on to point number two: We died with Christ (vv. 5–7). Let’s read vv. 5–7.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom 6:5–7)
A. We were fused to Christ’s passion and resurrection (v. 5)
Let’s look at v. 5. “United together” this is the next term that Paul uses to bring us right up next to Christ. It’s an organic or biological word. I had surgery in late June. And this surgery required a long cut. The stitches came out and the flesh and skin on this side of the cut has fused with the flesh and skin on the other side. That’s sort of the picture that we should see behind the phrase “united together.” We have been fused to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The historical is becoming personal. Jesus really died about 2,000 years ago on a Roman cross—and that truth doesn’t change. But now we are learning that we were included into Christ’s death and resurrection, mashed together with Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection. Christ is distinct—he has really died and has really risen from the dead. We are part of it and we truly share in it. I think that is why Paul uses the expressions “likeness of his death” and “likeness of his resurrection.” The word “likeness” brings us really close but maintains a little distance. Christ is distinct, but we are strongly identified with them. Tom Schreiner in his Romans’ commentary sheds a lot of light on this (Romans, 314).
B. We, before our justification, were crucified with Christ (v. 6)
Look at v. 6. We know that our old man was “crucified with” Christ. This is now the third term that Paul uses to associate believers with Jesus. ‘Our old man’ refers to who and what we were before we were justified—i.e. who and what we were before God declared us righteous. That person was nailed to the cross. Matthew, Mark and John use the Greek verb ‘to crucify with’ for the criminals who were crucified at the left and right of Christ (Mt 27.44; Mk 15:32; Jn 19:32). Now what imagery is coming to mind?
God’s purpose in crucifying our pre-justified self was to get rid of the body of sin. The phrase “might be done away with” means that the body of sin was rendered completely powerless. The “body of sin” is identical with our pre-justified self (“our old man”). The difference is that it refers to the whole person ruled by the power of sin. The result of our co-crucifixion with Jesus and the fact that the whole person ruled by the power of sin has been rendered completely powerless is that we are no longer slaves to the power of sin.
C. Dead people are unresponsive to sin’s power (v. 7)
You are saying what I am saying at this point, “I do not get it Paul! Did I lose you somewhere? I mean, really Paul!” So Paul goes, “Guys, I got you. I am not that confusing. Let me clarify all this for you.” That’s what that word ‘for’ is there for at the beginning of v. 7—it is to clarify things for us. V. 7 reads: “For he who has died has been freed from sin.”
The argument is pretty simple: when you die, you do not have any more obligations. Death ends all earthly obligations. Think of it this way: I am a graduate student. And like anyone my schedule can be very demanding between school, church, work, and somewhat of a social life. If I’m dead, then I don’t have to turn anymore homework in, I don’t have to show up to church anymore, my employer would not expect me to log anymore hours, and my friends should not expect me to meet up with them on the weekends. I am totally unresponsive to any earthly obligations.
Because you have died with Christ, because you have been identified with the death of Jesus, you are now totally unresponsive to sin’s power. The control and power sin once had over you is no more. You no longer have to put up with sin’s demands and answer to it’s every beck and call. Why? Because you died with Christ and Christ died to sin. We are strongly identified with the one who has died to sin. Now, let’s move on to our last point.
III. Christ died to sin (Romans 6:8–11)
Our third and final point: Christ died to sin. Read the last few verses:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:8–11)
A. Our new life (now and in the future) is based on our union with Christ’s death (v. 8)
If you noticed as I read, the focus has shifted to Christ—in other words: we have shifted to our final leg of the argument. We died to sin (vv. 1–4) because we died with Christ (vv. 5–7) and Christ died to sin (vv. 8–11).
Earlier I said that the big idea of this passage is: the reason we should live separate from the power of sin is because we have a firm conviction of our union with Christ—namely, with his death and resurrection. Paul then only summarizes what we already know from the rest of the passage, our new life is based on our union with Christ’s death.
Paul does not elaborate on the “new life” in these verses. But all I will say is that this new life is basically eternal life, which we will fully experience after our resurrection, taking root right now. No longer is there an impersonal and destructive evil power controlling us; rather, it is the Holy Spirit who is giving us life, helping us in our weaknesses, and empowering us in this new life (Romans 8). I am all about keeping it simple: we are becoming now what we will one day fully become after our resurrection. But the whole of vv. 1–11 is not about becoming what we will become, but becoming who we in fact are.
It is in v. 8 that we get the final “with” words. Paul now explicitly says that we “died with Christ” and that we will one day “live with” Christ. We’re here! We have the full picture: we were crucified with Christ (v. 6), we died with him (v. 8), we were buried with him (v. 4), we have been fused to the likeness of his death and resurrection (v. 5); and we will live with him (v. 8). Paul says we are joined at every juncture to the passion of our Lord and his resurrection. We are strongly associated, stuck, robustly identified, joined, fused to the work of Jesus Christ—the historical has become personal. What is true of Jesus is true of us because God the Father has joined us to his Son.
B. Our Savior forever lives a death-less life free from sin’s power (vv. 9–10)
It is our confession as a church that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And with that confession we are simultaneously saying that he will never die again. Jesus now lives a deathless life; he must face no other kind of death or repeat his physical death.
Notice that Paul pictures death just like sin before as a power over humans. In other words: even our Savior – because he identified with us (i.e. became one of us) – was subject to death and sin. Death as a power is effective since human beings die; we all face death. But death can bring us down to the grave, but once you come out of the grave, death is no longer applicable. Think back to what I said about sin earlier. Christ is no longer responsive to the power of death or the power of sin; they have no hold or authority over him in his resurrected life.
Keep in mind that I am talking about Jesus here, not Lazarus. Lazarus did come back from the dead. But his comeback pointed to the fact that Christ himself was the Resurrection and Life. Christ is the first fruits of resurrection, Lazarus and all of us will follow Christ in living forever after our resurrection in the future. So Lazarus went back into the grave.
On to v. 10! The death Christ died was a death to sin. We are still talking about the power of sin. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who is fully human and fully God, entered our space, our land, and our territory. He too was subject to sin. The difference is that he did not give in to sin’s rule and power (Hebrews 4:14–6).
When he died, sin no longer had any claim on him. But even more, after his resurrection the only power and person Christ must respond to is God! Let me quote Tom Constable on this point:
Jesus Christ will never have to die again because when He died for sin He died to sin. This means that when He died His relationship to sin changed. It was never the same again. Sin now has no power over Him. After He paid for our sins, He was free to resume His intimate relationship with God forever (Constable, “Notes on Romans,” 78).
C. We must reckon ourselves (v. 11)
Praise the Lord because we are at the last verse! What do we do with all of this? Paul tells us explicitly: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Most of us think of a cartoon with buckteeth, patchy clothes, and a straw hat, when we hear the word ‘reckon.’ But ‘reckon’ is not guessing or pretending. It is the same word used of God counting Christ’s righteousness as our own (several times in Romans 4).
Reckoned in this context denotes a “firm conviction” and “settled determination.” This is why I said way back at the beginning: the reason why we should live separate from sin’s power is because we hold a deep conviction of our union with Christ—namely with his death and resurrection.
The last thing I will point out here is that the word reckon denotes action that is continuous. It is not a one-time thing, “I died with Christ. Ok, now I won’t submit to the power of sin anymore.” No! For the rest of our lives we will be plumbing the depths of what it means that we are joined to Christ, stuck to him, closely associated with him, and robustly identified with him, and how it is that the historical events of Christ become our own. I have often thought: “There’s grace in the Greek.” Since Paul tells us this is an ongoing process, do not be afraid. Do not question your salvation. But realize who you are. You are with Christ and Christ died to sin, and so what’s true of him is true of you. Sin no longer has any control over your life. Amen? Amen!
The outline of today’s sermon followed the outline of Romans 6:1–11. The logic of Paul’s argument was pretty simple: we died to sin because we died with Christ and Christ died to sin. If we hold that firmly, if we become resolved of this truth, imagine how our lives might change. We would know that those sinful impulses we feel do not have to be obeyed. We are free from sin’s power. Your challenge and my challenge are one in the same, to live in light of that truth.
If you lost me at any point in today’s message, just remember the big idea of the sermon and of this text: the reason we should live separate from the power of sin is because we hold a deep conviction of our union with Christ—namely, with his death and resurrection. We will spend the rest of our lives learning by God’s help how to strengthen that conviction. Don’t let sin discourage you. Your Savior has paid for your sins with his death, and with his death, he has freed you from sin’s power.
Father, I pray that you take my weak and poor attempts at communicating your grace to your people, and make them something significant. Long after we remember where we heard it and whom we heard it from please drive your grace deep into our souls. I ask this for Christ’s sake through the power of the Spirit. Amen.