“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”Romans 6:1 (NASB)
The dialectical tension that is so obvious in most if not all Biblical truths is really picked up in this rhetorical question in verse 1. This question relates to the statement which Paul made in chapter 5 verse 20, where he says, “then law crept in to multiply the offense. Though sin has multiplied Yet God’s favor has surpassed it and overflowed it”. So, somebody thinking about this, that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, got the idea that therefore, if God draws enjoyment from forgiving sin, then we ought to really sin more to oblige God. Of course, this is antinomian or libertarian view. It’s a view that says, I want heaven, and I want to put it in my pocket. And I want to take it out, and look at it every now and then, and check it to make sure I have it. And then I want to live the way I want to live my life. What is our conclusion then? Are we to continue to embrace sin, so that His grace may abound? Often, Christians who believe the freeness of salvation in Jesus Christ tend to forget that, although it’s free, it cost God an unbelievably high price. And once we fully understand the price that God had to pay for our free salvation, our salvation takes on a brand-new worth – a brand-new cost. And so, here is someone who likes to say, “Well, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin, so therefore, now that I know that I’m a Christian because I prayed the sinners’ prayer, that I can go out and live any way I want to, and it won’t make any difference. And Paul’s only response to that is this very rare optative mode in Greek which says, “May it never be”! King James says, “God forbid”! There is something horrible about a Christian saved by the death of Jesus Christ could have that audacity, the impudence, the misunderstanding, and the absolutely bad attitude to think that now that he’s saved, he can really enjoy his life in sin.
In verse 2, Paul describes what he feels like is the answer to this unbalanced truth when he says, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? And look at verse 6 which has the same idea where it says, “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;”. Now look at verse 7, “for he who has died is freed from (the claims of) sin”. Now look at verse 12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,” for sin must not any longer assert mastery over you. This chapter is going to use the analogy of baptism to show what Paul believes is the way that Christians deal with sin. And of course, verses one through 14 have the present tense, “continue to sin” which speaks of our old nature in Adam; how do we deal with this old man who wants to become a new creature. What it’s basically saying is that we believe that the ideal of baptism has two pictures: the ‘washing away of sin’ is one big Biblical picture, but another equally big picture is that when you go into the water, it’s like you died to the old life, and coming out of the water is like you’re alive to the newness of the life of God. It’s a double picture. The picture that Jesus died for you and came back to life is a picture that somehow you participated in that death with Christ, and now you’re alive forevermore. So, Paul picks up on this idea of death to say that when somebody dies, he’s no longer a slave of anyone; that sin has no more claims on him. So, it comes to say that we have died with Christ, and so our relationship to our Adamic nature has been severed. I think it’s very true. From the previous chapters, we learn that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather, we sin because we are sinners. We have all been affected in Adam, and we are all rebels against God. But Jesus in His great love for us, died for us while we were yet sinners. And He offers to us as a free gift, complete forgiveness in His finished work. And so, the Bible presents it like this: the old man has passed away, and therefore all has become new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). It’s saying there is a death to the old life. And what Paul is saying is, if there’s death to the old life, then we do not have to sin anymore. When before we were saved, we had no real choice; we could struggle with sin, we could pray about sin, we could even grieve over sin, but we had no choice other than to sin. We were locked into Adam, we were locked into sin, and our lives reflected that. But now that we’ve trusted Christ, now that we’ve symbolically been baptized into His death, we are no longer constrained of having to sin. We now have the option. We now have the freedom. We’ve been set free from the slavery and tyranny of sin and death, and we’ve been set free to serve God. And that’s the analogy Paul is drawing all the way through chapter 6.