Whose slave are you? In the last chapter Paul argued that the believers’ justification is truly certain because God acted in Christ before we came to be. The last Adams’ obedience (Christ Jesus) secures our standing before God because it’s the gift of life which is unlike the first Adams’ rebellion which secured our death. But now that grace has come in Christ, Paul asks a question:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Vv.1-2)
Certainly Paul encountered religious Jews who argued that if one is justified by faith through grace then people can go on sinning; living the same rebellious life as before their conversion. That is, “since these people are eternally secure in Christ in their salvation, who cares how they live!” But such a position completely misses the point. The reason is because when believers belong to Christ, his death and resurrection are applied to them so that as Christ presently lives a new resurrected life, we too might walk in that life (Vv.3-4). Paul continues:
“5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Vv.5-7)
It seems Paul is pointing to our mystical spiritual union with Christ such that in his crucifixion we actually died to sin and in His resurrection we actually have come to eternal life. Spiritual unions in the Bible, among other things, concern sexual intercourse between two people whether married or not. As the Bride of Christ, this union is real not imagined, it’s spiritual not physical.
The “old-self” is the pre-regeneration self that was dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1-4) which has been killed so that we believers would no longer be slaves to sin. Thus, the purpose of Christ’s crucifixion in which believers are identified, was to release them from the chains of sin. Thus to think that sin increases and thus makes grace more glorious is to totally miss the point (V.1), for the fruit produced by Christ in believers is a new life.
Paul resumes with his argument pointing to Christ’s victory over the grave which signifies that death is no longer master over Him and He says a profound truth here:
“10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Christ is the example believers are to follow here. They are to consider themselves as dead to sin, that is, they are to live in the reality that sin is no longer their master, God is, for Christ has vanquished the grave. Here, Paul is exhorting and encouraging believers to live in the reality of new birth which brings new life. And where new life exists, the “old-self” which was already killed is to be rebelled against. This metaphor points to the reality of what being in Christ produces. Too often we listen to “old tapes” believing lies about ourselves. Make no mistake about it believer: you are no longer a slave to sin. So don’t obey its’ commands.
Paul is not denying that sin remains and must be battled, but he’s exhorting believers not to be enslaved to sin which Christ conquered, instead:
“12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
The righteous can and do sin, but not because they are under its’ mastery (Christ fixed that problem), but because the battle(s) remain to be fought. They however must be fought from the truth that as freed men and women from sin our enemy is relentless and thus we must also be unyielding in battle. Moreover, because believers are under grace, not under the Law (which only increased sin, never was it to produce new birth) this means we have a new master—Christ the Lord of Life. Believer, how much more vibrant would our lives and witness be if we constantly lived in light of this truth.
Paul has thus answered the first objection which was based on the faulty premise that grace would produce increasing sin in believers. No! Grace actually produces new birth, new life and a new master which says, “You shall be holy for I am holy”. This new life has been secured by Christs’ work of redemption and having said that; Paul does not deny that sin has vanished. For when believers sin and repent grace does shine. What Paul wants to accentuate however is that grace does not produce a sinful lifestyle, but one of sanctification. Paul now asks a second question connected to the first one:
“15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”
Here he continues explaining that whoever is obeyed (sin or righteousness) to that one we are slaves. The former produces death, the latter generates life (V-16). But as believers once obeyed sin and were thus slaves to death, now in Christ after new birth, they have become slaves of righteousness resulting in sanctification (Vv.17-21). One master produces death, the other master produces life. Note that everyone, according to Paul, is serving something other than themselves. He continues:
“20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul is concluding with what brings benefit and what brings destruction. Sin while pleasurable for a time eventually yields death, but grace and new birth yield a life of grace and sanctification toward God which produces life. Sin’s pay-off is death; graces’ pay-off is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is, if the Law (as described by Paul) is in what we trust to be right with God, then our end is death. But if we trust as Abraham did in the free gift of God’s word of promise fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, then life is our end. This smashes human pride on the one hand but on the other hand it calls for believers to walk humbly before our gracious God and the observant world. (SDG)