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What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – Romans 6:2 – Part 2

Last time I surveyed what I believe is the correct understanding of this pregnant phrase from Romans 6. My conclusion was that it refers to our justification and it teaches us that the old identity in Adam is dead and it is replaced by our new identity in Christ. Therefore, we now have the great privilege of entering into our new life in Christ, free from the condemnation and guilt of sin and rejoicing in our new relationship with God through Jesus, our substitute and representative.

But there is an alternative view that suggests that by this phrase Paul is teaching that our human nature is dead. It suggests that when we place our faith in Jesus, or in a subsequent experience of a second work of grace, the old nature dies and only the new nature remains. Therefore, as we progress in disciplining our mind to accept this truth, we will progress to a life that is free from behavioral sin. But there are two problems and an unnecessary consequence with this view.

First, there is a theological problem – it does not seem to fit the biblical evidence. Dozens of times the Bible instructs us not to respond to sin. But if our human nature is dead and we, by nature, are not responsive to sin, why would God tell us not to respond to sin? Colossians 3:5-11 specifically tells us to put to death the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul tell us to do that if there are no deeds of the human nature? In Galatians 5:16-26, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is at war with the human nature. We are commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul give this command if the human nature was dead?

The second problem is an experiential problem – it does not fit the reality of the Christian experience. I realize that there has been a significant amount of ink spilled over whether Romans 7 is Paul’s present personal testimony as a believer or whether it refers to his testimony of his experience as an unbelieving Pharisee. My view is that it refers to his Christian experience, which then seems to reflect the experience of all Christians. (Although I do not hold this view because it fits experience – that is backwards hermeneutics. But that exegetical quagmire is for another post. To understand the view that it refers to his pre-Christian experience, see Romans by Douglas Moo. For evidence that it fits his present experience, see Romans by John Stott.) Listen to Paul’s testimony:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (Rom 7:14-15 ESV)

Is that your experience? It certainly is mine. But if one holds that the human nature is dead, there is the unfortunate consequence of discouragement and even doubt. Discouragement comes when we cry out to God for this second work of grace whereby our human nature dies, and it doesn’t come and doesn’t come. When we continue to be confronted with sinful impulses and works of the human nature, we feel defeated, even a complete failure as a believer. The ultimate consequence is that we might even doubt our salvation and give up on the Christian life altogether.

But this is not what the phrase “dead to sin” means at all. It means that we are justified and that our relationship with sin has changed. Rather than be discouraged, we rejoice in the grace of God that declares us not guilty and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, not because our human nature is now dead, but because the death of Jesus has paid our debt and we are free from the condemnation and guilt that sin brings!!

So what do we do with the sinful impulses that are our daily experience? Every true believer wants to be free from sin, wants to obey God, wants to walk in the newness of his life “in Christ.” But it is a constant battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin? I’ll begin that discussion in my next post.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – ROMANS 6:2? – Part 1

Recently I gave a sermon on Romans 5:20-6:14 during which I clarified what Paul meant when he told us that because of our union with Jesus, we “died to sin” (6:2). My conclusion was that this phrase, along with the other times it is found in that passage (vs. 6, 10, and 11), refers to our positional state before God. It is a justification phrase that teaches us that we are declared not guilty and thus free from guilt, condemnation, and bondage to sin. The key to this understanding of this verse is vs. 9-10, where Paul declares that Jesus died to sin:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  (Rom 6:9-10 ESV)

Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for sin. He died, once for all, to pay the penalty for sin. Therefore, the moment we trust him for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life, he not only becomes our substitute, he also becomes our representative. Therefore, when Jesus died to deal with the penalty of sin, it is faithful to the text to say that we also died to the penalty of sin. (See also Col 3:3.) That is what Romans 5:1 and 8:1 declare:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1 ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1 ESV)

Therefore, Paul is reminding us that when we become united with Christ in his death, the old identity in Adam is dead and gone. In its place we have a new identity of being “in Christ.” Perhaps an illustration will help. When a person gets married, the old identity of being single is gone. He/she can act single, but the truth is they are not. Why would anyone who is married still act single? (See vs. 2 for a similar question.) This is Paul’s response to the unthinkable suggestion that says, “Because of God’s grace, believers can live in known sin – because God’s grace abounds.” Unthinkable.

The final piece of evidence to understanding our death to sin as referring to our justification is verse 7.

For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom 6:7 ESV)

Literally this verse says, “For one who has died has been justified from sin.” That is the word used in the original language. When we are united with Jesus in his death, we are justified and that justification frees us from the grip and reign of sin. The war with God is over. There is no more condemnation. The old life of being in Adam is dead. The new life of being in Christ has begun. Therefore, according to verse 11, we must discipline our mind, we must be who we are, and:

consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11 ESV)

Now I want to address a huge misunderstanding of this truth. There is a branch of Christianity that understands this phrase to mean that at the moment of our conversion, or even at some subsequent time when one experiences a second blessing or a second work of grace, our human nature dies. It is replaced by our new nature in Christ. Therefore, if and when our human nature dies, our experience relative to behavioral sin changes. We used to be responsive to sin, but now, since our human nature is dead, we are no longer responsive to sin. Any proclivity to sin is simply a lie of the enemy, which we must deny. The illustration is given of a dead animal. If we kick a dead animal there is no response. That kick represents temptation to sin. Since our human nature is dead to sin, the temptation is like kicking a dead animal. There is no response. The expectation then is that, as we master the mental discipline of considering ourselves dead to sin (believing by faith that our human nature is dead), we will progress in living a life free from behavioral sin.

But there is a theological problem, an experiential problem, along with these problems, there is an unnecessary consequence with this view. I will outline them in my next post.

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