How Can We Live in Sin if We Died to It?
Paul is arguing against the “grace means it doesn’t matter how you live” theology. Unbelievers were accusing him of saying that very thing. I like how Piper puts it (speaking of Christ’s sacrifice), “We owe him nothing, and for that, we owe him everything.” We are saved by grace through faith in what Jesus did on the cross to pay for sin. We cannot earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot even help earn it (Romans 11:6), He gives it freely. All we have to do is trust in what He did on the cross to pay for our sin.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Called to Good Works
This is a great and beautiful truth full of grandeur. Once we trust in Him, we are called to produce good works in His strength “striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:29). As Paul says, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it“? We have died to sin in Christ, we now live in Him.
Romans 12:12-14 continues the point: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
As believers, we are no longer slaves to sin, we are “slaves” to God. Our “slavery” to God is true freedom. As C.S. Lewis points out in the Screwtape letters, we are most ourselves when we are most submitted to God’s will. Our “slavery” to God is our most liberating choice. We can and do still serve sin when we “present your bodies as instruments of righteousness”, but Paul calls us to obey God in holiness.
This reflects God’s standard of perfection. “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48 NKJV). This is an impossible command. It is not a call to legalistic self-righteousness, but true holiness.
This call to perfect is not a matter of degree, but an absolute standard. God calls us to be perfect as He is and we cannot be. But God can. And God can accomplish the work of making us right before Him in our condition as well as in our position. He can make our state of being right with Him flow out into our lives to show the world around that He is at work in us.
We are justified, we are made right with God through Christ for our eternal destiny. We are declared righteous before God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice at the moment of salvation. At that moment we start the process of being made righteous in our present lives on this earth.
Pastors and preachers often talk about this as being the difference between positional and conditional truth. We are perfect, we are made right with God in our position with Him at salvation. But we are still being made right with God as a matter of how we live our lives. This is primarily a matter of the heart, a matter of faith, not a matter of outward behavior only. As God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
We must “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22 NKJV). We must set aside our old sinful nature and embrace our new nature in Christ, to “present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom. 6:13). Otherwise, we are in effect mocking what Jesus did for us. We are saying we don’t care. That we’re going to do whatever we want whenever we want without regard for Him.
The Believer’s Struggle
I write about this as I struggle with this. I can identify with Paul in Romans 7:15: “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do”. I don’t want to sin, yet I do. I can also say with Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). One of my mentors told me that any sin is like cancer cells you can’t detect until it’s too late. It takes over. I’ve heard it said that sin is “a rebellious servant and a cruel master”. Flee from sin to God (2 Tim. 2:22).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 3:14). God supplies the strength to obey God. All we need to do is trust that He will provide the grace and submit our wills to His commands. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; ” (Phil. 1:6). If you are a believer, He will complete what He has begun in you. He will make you new in Him. He has promised and He cannot fail. Trust Him.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
This post was originally posted at 12:58AM on 1/25. I backdated it an hour for continuity and easier reference.
Photo by Aaron Burden/Unsplash. Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.