The Freedom You’ve Always Wanted

Romans 6:1-7

May 20, 2007 | Brian Bill

I came across an article this week called “The Fruit of the Word” that was unsettling and yet it resonated with me.  Here are a few quotes: “The contemporary evangelical Church is the most Christian-educated generation of believers in all of Church history…Never before has a generation of believers had so many options and opportunities for studying and hearing the Word of God.  Sermons, Sunday School classes, Bible study groups, TV and radio ministers, tapes and CDs, retreats, workshops and seminars abound week after week, month after month, year after year. [I would add that we also have a seemingly infinite number of resources available on the Internet as well]…You have a veritable monsoon of Christian teaching raining down on the evangelical community every day of the week…the field of the evangelical Church is sown and re-sown with the Word of God, and watered and re-watered with the rain of God’s truth.”  

The article then makes this rather stunning conclusion: “The world complains over and over about our shallowness and hypocrisy…What’s wrong?  Why is the most Christian-educated generation in all of church history so devoid of the fruit we should reasonably expect to find?”

George Barna has pointed out, in study after study, that the way Christians behave is not appreciably different from the way non-Christians live their lives.  On a pastoral level, I’m often discouraged when I see Christ-followers falter and fail or when I see church members chuck it all.  Sometimes I wonder if what I do makes any difference at all in the disciple-making process.  Maybe my sermons are too shallow, too deep, or they just don’t matter at all.  Maybe I’m not praying enough, which is certainly the case.  On a more personal level, why don’t I practice everything I preach?

G.K. Chesterton once said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  Warren Wiersbe notes that “too many Christians are ‘betweeners,’ living between Egypt and Canaan, saved but never satisfied; or they live between Good Friday and Easter, believing in the Cross but not entering into the power and glory of the Resurrection.”  

Maybe that’s because we’re still living in bondage to sin.

The habits and customs of the Eskimos of North Alaska have remained very much the same for 500 years.  They have developed an ingenious way of catching the polar bear, which provides them with meat, clothing, fat for cooking, and tools from the bear’s teeth and bones. However you don’t just go out and catch a polar bear.  Here’s what they do.  They first kill a small seal and drag the carcass across the snow leaving a trail of blood.  They then take a double-edged knife and freeze the long handle about two foot deep into the snow leaving the double-edged blade protruding.  They then place the carcass over the blade and wait patiently for the polar bear.

The polar bear smells the blood in the snow and follows the tracks to an easy meal.  After saying grace he chows down on the seal.  The Eskimos are smart because they know that if they use a small seal rather than a large seal, the bear will still be incredibly hungry even after eating the seal.  He devours the little seal, cutting his tongue on the knife.  The bear licks the knife some more, and then licks, and licks and licks some more.  The more he licks, the more his tongue bleeds.  And the more blood he tastes, the more he licks.   Sadly, it’s the taste of his own blood that kills him!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the more we lick the sharpness of sin, the more blood we shed.  And the more blood we shed, the more we want.  It’s like we’re trapped…and we are.  We’ve fallen and we can’t get up on our own.  If we don’t break away from the bondage of sin it will destroy us.

One of the keys to communication is to know your audience.  Let me just make sure I know who’s here today.  Can I see the hands of everyone who is a sinner?  That’s good.  I feel at home with you.  This is a church for sinners and we don’t really have anything to offer you today unless you’re a sinner.  

In the first three chapters of the Book of Romans we learn that we are all sinners who have been separated from God.  In chapters 4-5 we’re introduced to the topic of justification.  Those who put their faith and trust in Jesus have been declared righteous.  Beginning in Romans 6, we’ll see that we’re more than just sinners; we’re also saints.  While justification takes care of the penalty of sin, sanctification addresses the power of sin.  Using Lazarus as an illustration, S. Lewis Johnson says that justification brings us from the tomb while sanctification delivers us from the old “threads.”  John 11:43-44: “When He had said this, Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

Ray Pritchard writes: “There is a sharp right turn between Romans 5 and Romans 6.  Romans 5 explains how God declares people righteous.  Romans 6 explains how God makes people righteous.  Justification is that act whereby God declares you righteous in his eyes.  Sanctification is that act whereby God makes you righteous.  But those things are not the same…

Justification happens at the moment you trust Christ and is never repeated.
Sanctification happens moment-by-moment as you surrender your life to the Lord.

Justification is an event.
Sanctification is a process.

Justification happens once and only once.
Sanctification is gradual and continuous.

Justification cannot be repeated.
Sanctification must be repeated.

Justification is the work of a moment.
Sanctification is the work of a lifetime.

Justification gives you the merit of Christ.
Sanctification gives you the character of Christ.

Justification leads to sanctification.  Those who are truly born again are led of the Spirit into a life of growing holiness…These two chapters are distinct yet joined by a natural progression of thought.”

During the summer months we’re going to rehearse the transforming truths of Romans 6-8.  These three chapters are designed to be read and understood as a unit and so I encourage you to read this section at least once a week for the entire summer.  It’s my prayer that when we’re finished you’ll not just endure your Christian life; you’ll actually enjoy it.  Instead of licking sin, you’ll allow the Lord to lick the sin in your life so that you can move from defeat to deliverance.

Please follow along in your copy of the Scriptures as I read Romans 6:1-7: “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  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.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

As believers we have the freedom to not sin.  Unfortunately, I think most believers feel stuck in their sins.  Instead of living victoriously many are vanquished by besetting sins.  Some of you have given up hope of ever changing and you feel bad about it.  Others of you might feel like sin is no big deal since God forgives anyway.  Many people today don’t live like they should because they have a grossly misinformed view of God’s grace.  After all, if God forgives, why does it matter how one lives?  W.H. Auden, one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century boldly stated: “I like committing [sins].  God likes forgiving them.  Really the world is admirably arranged.”  Friends, the gospel of grace, properly understood, leads not to licentiousness but to righteousness.  Remember that Jesus fully and freely forgives but he also says in John 8:11: “Go now and leave your life of sin!”

A Common Question

As Paul loves to do, he anticipates a question and addresses it before his critics can complain.  He used a similar technique in Romans 3:5: “But if our righteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?  That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?”   In order to understand why he raises this issue, we need to go back to Romans 5:20: “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”  If we get more grace when we sin, then why not just sin more?  Look at Romans 6:1: “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  The phrase “go on sinning” means to stay in sin.  The word was used of one who remained in the same place for a long time and carried with it the idea of habitual persistence.  The Phillips paraphrase says this: “Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God?”

It would be helpful at this point to understand the word antinomianism.  The phrase “anti” means against and “nomos” is the word for law.  An antinomian is the person who says, “I’m saved but I can sin any way I want.  God will forgive so why does it matter how I live?”  I’m afraid that the American evangelical church is filled with antinomians today.  I’ve heard people say, “I know what God says but I just want to be happy.”  Or, “Everyone sins so why does it matter if I do this?  God will forgive me anyway.”  Friends, this is not biblical Christianity.  

Justification was not intended as a license to sin, but as liberation from sin

Justification was not intended as a license to sin, but as liberation from sin.  Or to say it even stronger: If you believe and behave like this you may not even be a believer.  Charles Spurgeon put it like this: “An unchanged life is the mark of an unchanged heart, and an unchanged heart is a sign of an unregenerate life.”  Donald Grey Barnhouse said: “Holiness starts where justification finishes, and if holiness does not start, we have the right to be suspect that justification never started either.”   We could add that salvation is more than a transaction; it is a transformation.

An Amazing Answer

In verse 2 we see Paul’s highly emotional answer to his own question.  You can hear his sense of horror and outrage when he bluntly responds: “By no means!”  This phrase is used 14 times in Paul’s writings and can be translated: “May it never be!  Perish the thought!”  He finds this idea deplorable and rejects it indignantly, using the strongest Greek idiom to communicate that this is unworthy of acceptance.  It is inconceivable and inconsistent for a born again believer to persist in sinning just to get more grace.  

After making this strong statement from his gut, it’s as if Paul returns to logic in the second half of verse 2: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  Don’t skim over the phrase “We died to sin.”  Notice that it is in the past tense.  It’s not something we’re told to do now; it something that happened to us in the past.  The picture is of finality because you and I share in Christ’s death.  The truth that we have died to sin is the foundation of this entire chapter and for the Christian life.  One pastor put it this way: “This is not a present tense—‘We are dying to sin’—or a future tense—‘We will die to sin’—or an imperative—‘Die to sin!’  Nor is it an exhortation—‘You should die to sin.’  This is a simple past tense—‘You died to sin.’  The simple truth is that if you are a believer, you have already died to sin.  It’s a past event, an accomplished fact.  It means that you have been set free from the ruling power of sin in your life.” 

It is not normal for a Christian to live in sin because we have died to it: “How can we live in it any longer?”  That doesn’t mean that we will be perfect this side of heaven but it does mean that we should experience power over habitual sin.  As Christians we will sin, but sinning should be out of character for the Christian.  We need to balance 1 John 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” with 1 John 3:9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”  To be dead to sin means that it has no influence over us because we are now identified with Christ.  Notice how this idea is developed in the opening verses of Romans 6:

6:2: “We died to sin.”

6:3: “Baptized into his death.”

6:4: “Buried with him through baptism into death.”

6:5: “United with him like this in his death.”

6:6: “Our old self was crucified with him.”

6:7: “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

6:11: “Count yourselves dead to sin.”

6:13: “As those who have been brought from death to life.”

We need to grasp this amazing truth because in a real sense when we put our faith and trust in Christ, at that precise moment we shared in His death and thus His mastery over sin.  Check out these additional passages: Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”   Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

Now, how do we do move this from propositional truth to personal application?  Verses 3-7 tell us that we must know certain things, we must grow, and we must let it show.

1. Know that we are identified with Christ. 

In verses 3-4 Paul asks one last rhetorical question: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  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.”  Paul wants us to know about the importance of baptism.  Baptism can be a controversial topic and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the methods and the modes this morning.  If you’d like to study more, see “Proclaiming God’s Purposes in Baptism.” 

Bob Beasley, a pastor in Ontario, Canada told the following true story: “Our three-year-old daughter, Rena, sat with us during the baptismal service last Sunday night, which was a new experience for her.  She exclaimed in surprise, ‘Why did he push that guy in the water?  Why, Dad, why?’  My wife tried to explain briefly and quietly, but Rena just wouldn’t be satisfied. Later that night we tried to provide an answer that a child’s mind could comprehend.  We talked about sin and told Rena that when people decide to live for Jesus and ‘do good’ they want everyone to know.  We then explained that water symbolizes Jesus’ washing people from sin; when they come out ‘clean,’ they try to be ‘good.’  We quickly realized we’d have to work on our explanation a bit when she immediately responded, ‘Why didn’t the Pastor just spank him?’”

While baptism doesn’t change one’s behavior, it does give public testimony to the change that has taken place within.  Let me just say that in the early church it was unthinkable for a Christian to not be baptized.  In the Book of Acts, baptism followed so closely after belief that they were often considered part of one event.  If you are a born-again believer and have not been baptized, it’s time to take the plunge.  Let me make two additional points:

  • When you are converted, you are immediately spiritually “baptized” into Christ.  We see this use of the word in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  The Israelites were not literally baptized with water in the name of Moses but were identified and united with Moses in the sense that they belonged to him.  In the same way, believers are united with Christ at conversion, because when Christ died, we died.
  • When you confess Christ in water baptism, you are symbolizing salvation.  I believe that baptism by immersion most closely lines up with this passage for it graphically represents dying with Christ as we go into the water; being buried when we are under the water and rising from the dead as we come up out of the water.  In addition, the Greek word for baptism means “to dip, immerse or overwhelm something.”  Water baptism is a divine object lesson of what has taken place internally because you are saying, “I died with Jesus Christ, I was buried with Him and now I am raised with Christ to brand-new life, and it’s my intent to live my life under His leadership and for His glory from this point on.” In short, in your baptism you are preaching a sermon without using any words at all. 

How important is your baptism? It is your personal identification with the greatest act of human history–the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Baptism doesn’t save you as Ephesians 2:8-9 makes very clear: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” Your guilt before God is removed the moment you trust in Christ. But baptism is your personal testimony to, and the inward assurance of, your passage from the old life to the new life.  In essence, believer’s baptism is a funeral.  It’s an act of faith in which we testify, both to God and to the watching world, that the person we used to be is dead and buried, and that we’ve been raised to new life as 2 Corinthians 5:17 states: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

2. Grow in our relationship with Christ. 

We need to have the right information but we must also make sure that it leads to transformation.  We must learn it and then we must live it.  Truth must be apprehended and then appropriated.  We see this in verses 5: “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”  The phrase “united with him” literally means to “grow along with when planted together.”  It has the idea of being fused into one.  We have been united in both His death and His resurrection, meaning that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us.  The old is gone, the body of sin is dead and we are no longer slaves to our passions.  As a result we have been freed from sin because what happened to Christ is counted by God as happening to us.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Our union with Christ is a living union, so we may bear fruit; a loving union, so that we may enjoy Him; and a lasting union, so that we need not be afraid.” 

3. Show our freedom in Christ.  

We must know certain things; we must grow and finally it must show.  Take a look at verses 6-7: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we no longer have to be slaves to sin!  The New English Bible captures this well: “We know that the man we once were was crucified with Christ.”  The phrase “done away with” literally means “rendered powerless.”  The whole goal here is freedom from sin.  Jesus said in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

We’re going to develop the idea of freedom in greater detail in the weeks to come but let me just say that you don’t have to sin!  Augustine explained it this way:

Adam before the Fall…was able to sin.

Adam after the Fall was…not able not to sin.

Believers in Christ are…able not to sin.

In heaven we will be…not able to sin.

The key to all of this is that born-again believers have been united with Christ.

Hitting a Home Run

Recently, at a fund-raising banquet for a school for children with special needs, one of the fathers got up and told a story about his son named Shéa.  He described how he and his son had been walking through the neighborhood of Brooklyn a week before, and they stopped to watch a group of boys playing baseball.  Shéa does not communicate well, but he let his father know in his own way that he so wanted to play baseball with these boys.

The father thinks that there’s no chance of this happening but he goes up to the pitcher and explains the situation.  The pitcher makes an executive decision and says, “You know, it’s the eighth inning.  We’re down by six.  What have we got to lose?  Come on in, we’ll let you bat in the bottom of the ninth.”  Shéa is ecstatic.

But when the ninth inning comes things have turned around.  Now they’re down only by three runs and the bases are loaded.  If they get a home run, they’ll win the game.  And now it’s Shéa’s turn to bat.  The father’s heart begins to beat rapidly as he wonders if they’ll keep their promise to Shéa and let him bat.  The team realizes their predicament so they have a little huddle.  Then, to the father’s amazement, they say to Shéa, “Come on.  You’re up to bat.”  And Shéa is absolutely delighted.  He clutches the bat at a strange angle and holds it tightly.

Then the pitcher from the opposite team does an amazing thing.  He takes several steps forward and lobs an easy one right over the plate.  Shéa swings wildly and misses widely.  Then a player from Shéa’s team comes up behind him and gently wraps his arms around him.  Together, they hold the bat.  The pitcher lobs another one, and they bunt it, and the ball just rolls to the feet of the pitcher.

It’s an easy out, but everybody’s screaming: “Run to first.  Run to first, Shéa!”  And the pitcher throws it far and wide.  Shéa makes first, and they say, “Run to second, Shéa!  Run to second!”  The guy out in the field is planning to whip it into second, but then realizes what is going on and throws it far and wide.  Everyone starts yelling, “Run to third!  Run to third!”  All the other players have crossed home plate and they start yelling, “Run home, Shéa!  Take it home!”  And just as he hits home plate the ball zings in.  A loud uproar from both teams erupts; they put Shéa on their shoulders and parade him as a hero. 

But Jesus has wrapped His arms around us so that what He has experienced we have too

Friends, because of our sins we have all struck out spiritually.  But Jesus has wrapped His arms around us so that what He has experienced we have too.  He’s hit it out of the park in order to bring us safely home.  In the meantime we enjoy the victory that He has won.  I close with three action steps.

  1. Believe.
  2. Be baptized.
  3. Behave as a Christian.

Know…Grow… Show…That’s fruit that anyone can find.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?