Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Romans (Series 2)

Wages of Sin

Romans 6

Lesson audio

We now encounter a chapter which has caused some trouble to Christians over the years. This is largely because Paul is trying to draw a picture for the Romans – a word picture, an analogy of sorts. Like other analogies, it’s possible to draw conclusions that aren’t really implied. We shall see if we can sort it out.

Buried and Raised

Romans 6:1-4 NIV

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (2) By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (3) Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4) We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Antinomianism

The heart of antinomianism is the idea that the Christian is freed from the Law – or any kind of moral law. This ideal runs through church history, and its nature has provoked a great deal of argument. At this time, however, the issue was rather clear. The antinomians argued as follows:

  • I sin – which is then covered by grace. Therefore, the more I sin, the more God’s grace increases.
  • More grace is a good thing.
  • Therefore, we should sin more.

This was sometimes restricted to sins of the flesh and the world, as these are temporal sins as opposed to pride, a spiritual sin. Paul dismisses the argument in “By no means!” It’s clear to him that to state this argument is to prove its fallacy.[1] The appeal, however, is not gone. Throughout Christian history this idea has arisen many times, usually in a more complicated formulation. Watch for it.

Identification

We must take a detour to understand Paul’s argument. Let’s take this in three steps:

  1. Symbolic communication. When human beings want to say things of ultimate importance, they turn to symbols. A wedding ring is not just so much jewelry; a flag is not just so much colored cloth. There is a difference between what a thing is, and what it is made of. Hence symbols have meaning.
  2. One use of symbols comes with acting them out. For example, when her father gives the bride away, it symbolizes the transfer of the woman from her father’s authority to her husband’s. We call this a ritual. It is the human way of acting out the profound.[2] Communion is a ritual; baptism is a ritual.
  3. Rituals often use the principle of identification. By doing something symbolically, I proclaim myself to be “like” someone else, or part of some organization. (Initiation rituals are often based on this.) Paul, in this passage, tells us that baptism is just such an identification ritual.
Symbolism

So Paul gives us the symbolism used for baptism: it is first a symbol of death, by identification with the death and burial of Christ. In so doing, we say that we are like him in “dying” – and therefore benefit from the effects of death.

We also say we will rise as he rose. Baptism proclaims, symbolically, the resurrection of the dead, and our participation in it.

This, folks, is serious stuff.

Death and Sin

Paul now takes the symbolism and applies it to our lives. The argument is by analogy, but nonetheless an answer to antinomianism.

Christ died to sin

Romans 6:5-11 NIV If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (6) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,[1] that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- (7) because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (8) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (9) For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (10) The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (11) In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Have you ever heard someone say that the only response to temptation is to give in to it? If that’s your guiding light, I have news for you: sin owns you. Sin is what is guiding your life. You may think you’re “doing your own thing,” but you are actually being controlled by something outside you. Don’t think so? Temptation comes, and whose direction do you follow? Temptation comes from outside – so it’s not your own direction.

Paul tells us here that this is not so for the Christian. By this principle of identification, we proclaim that we have died with Christ – so we are no longer slaves to the body. It’s dead, so to speak. We have identified with his atonement, and therefore are no longer under sin’s dominion.

Christ was also raised – and as we identify with his death, we identify with his resurrection. We are saying that not only are we free from sin, but the result will be resurrection and eternal life. Your entire life is a walking symbol of either death in sin or life in Christ – and we should know just what we are symbolizing.

Instruments of righteousness

Romans 6:11-14 NIV In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (13) Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (14) For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

OK, so just what are we to do about this? Remember that when you are baptized, you are a new man in Christ. So you have taken on a new Lord (you do remember taking him as “Lord and Savior?”) If Christ is your Lord, then sin is not – and therefore you should not let sin rule over you.

Want a test of that? Just what is your body doing? Paul doesn’t mention “parts of your body” idly. The most prominent example is in sex. It has been many years since I have heard a sermon that even faintly mentions sexual fidelity in marriage, but the principle is eternal. It’s a test point.

The issue is one of lordship. Just who’s in charge? It isn’t you; it’s either sin or Christ. Be sure you know which.

Slavery

Someone might object, “I am the captain of my fate and the master of my soul.”[3] But are you really? Can you really determine your fate? Can you really tell God where your soul belongs? It is a grand point of hubris to think so. It is the point of saying to God that I’m in charge of me – and that I can make my own results. It’s not that way in physics; you have no choice but to play by God’s rules. It’s not that way in life either.

In fact, you have no solo choice. To reject God is to select sin. If you think not, look again at Invictus and see if you can read it with humility. You are, in fact, going to be serving a master (as they would have seen it in Paul’s time.) It may be something – gold, sex, pride – or it may be Somebody, but serve you will.

How do I know? Because whatever you obey – whatever controls you – is that which you serve – by definition. That you have no choice in. You just get to choose which lord you take. Choose wisely.

Human Terms

Romans 6:19-23 NIV I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. (20) When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. (21) What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! (22) But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (23) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[2] Christ Jesus our Lord.

The limits of analogy

Paul is aware that there are limits to analogy, and that it’s possible to press this argument too far. So he lets us know that he’s put this in human terms so that we can understand it clearly. It is not wise, however, to press the matter beyond our own understanding.

Curiously, however, the more mature the Christian is, the more the analogy comes home. It’s a matter of spiritual growth. The beginner can’t see sin as master, and must be convinced by the analogy to slavery. The mature Christian is quite well aware of the slavery of sin.

There is a side effect of this principle in worship. It’s the beginner who is instructed in liturgical worship; the mature saint is blessed in it. Spiritual things grow sharper in focus as you mature. If I might offer an example, consider the hymn Amazing Grace. When you first become a Christian you see little more than the title in it; but read it over some time. It is full of sound doctrine that touches the emotional heart of the beginner – and the mind of the mature. Think not? Consider the word, “wretch.” To the beginner it seems like poetic exaggeration; the mature Christian understands just what a wretch really is. It’s the difference between the beginner saying, “I’m not a Hitler” and the mature Christian knowing just what a sinner he is. If the artist gets the hymn right, the impact grows with the Christian. So too with liturgy.

Comparison and Contrast

Bring the matter down to daily living, Paul tells us. Look at the results. What do you think of the man you were before you became a Christian? (Remember, he is talking to a church largely made up of adult converts.) Are you really proud of what you used to do? No, you’d really rather not talk about it, right? But afterwards you see the fruit of the Spirit in your life. OK, which lifestyle leads to death, and which to life?

Wages of sin

Paul has been telling us how things work in this universe. You’re a sinner, no choice. You get to pick your lord – sin, or Christ. He ends with another fact of the universe: for sin, you get the wages of sin – death. For repentance, you get the gift of God. One you earn, one you don’t. That’s how the universe is. Your work – or God’s grace. You choose. No other options are available.



[1] Physics students will remember the inevitable phrase, “It is intuitively obvious to the casual observer that…”

[2] It should be noted that our church is very proud of the fact that they have no rituals. One wonders if this is one of the reasons the more mature Christians tend to long for something more in worship than just a rock concert.

[3] Invictus, William Ernest Henley.

Previous     Home     Next