In Romans 6:1 Paul raises the question: If the grand facts about being 'in Christ' that he has taught so far are true, then shall we keep on sinning to give God the opportunity to be even more gracious?

His answer is No: Because believers, baptised into Christ by the Spirit, are so united to Christ that his death is reckoned as their death.

Paul expresses this identification with Christ’s death several ways:

‘We died to sin’ (verse 2). That is, Christ’s death was all about sin. By his death as our substitute every legal hold that sin had over us - its guilt, its condemnation, its penalty - has been satisfied.

We were ‘baptized into his death’, that is immersed into Christ’s death and all its significance (verse3).

We were buried with him (verse 4). That is, this ‘death’ is confirmed. From God’s perspective we are legally dead; his law and our guilt no longer apply; the penalty has been paid, and it cannot legally be again demanded. His justice has been fully implemented and cannot be implemented again.

We have been united with Christ in his death (verse 5). Our old self was crucified with him (verse 6). By this union with Christ in his death we have been set free from our previous master, sin (verse 7).

Paul’s repeated reference to this union with Christ’s death highlights that those who are ‘in Christ’ are no longer slaves under the tyranny of the sin/law/death trilogy of masters of which Paul spoke in Romans 5:12-21. These old masters have no longer any power or authority over us because in our dying in the death of Christ our substitute the penalty is paid, the condemnation has been fully borne. The result/purpose of this death and consequent termination of the old sin/death/law enslavement is that we should have, and live in, newness of life. Reckoning this to be true (verse 11) we are to refuse the old master, sin (death/law/condemnation), the right to rule us, because we are now under the rule of grace (life/faith/righteousness) (verses 11-14).

To put Paul's answer another way: No. Because, when we were untied to Christ at the point of our conversion we were united to him in his death and we were united to him in his resurrection. We were removed from the realm, rule and reign of sin and death and placed under the reign of grace and righteousness. Sin is utterly incongruous in this new kingdom in which we now live, and to suggest that it is okay or desirable to persist in sin depicts a complete failure to understand both what God has done for us in uniting us to Christ and what his purpose is in doing it.

In raising this question, Paul correctly anticipated that people would respond to the message of grace with this godless, self-serving way, and people still are responding to the true preaching of the gospel of grace in this way. Such is the perversity of our human hearts.

Consider some quotes from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

'The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.

'If our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel. ... it was brought frequently against Martin Luther. ... It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity - if there is such a thing - has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God 'justifies the ungodly', and that we are saved, not by anything we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

' ... I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation ... ' (Romans. Exposition of Chapter 6: the New Man, pp8-10)

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020