In answering the question ‘Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?’ Paul begins his argument with the statement - 'We died to sin' (Romans 6:2).

If we do not understand this brief statement correctly we will fail to understand Paul's whole doctrine of salvation.

Many Christians make the mistake of understanding Paul’s 'we died to sin' to mean that we have personally arrived at a point where sin has no more ability to tempt us and trip us up. As a consequence of this understanding some Christians see themselves as divided into two groups - those who have arrived at this point where they have no more trouble with sin, and those who have not arrived at this point.

But Paul is not talking about that, as he clarifies in the verses that follow. He is talking about the identification and union of every true believer with Jesus Christ, our substitute, in his death, a death in which he bore the penalty incurred by sin - our sin. In Christ, our substitute, we have died the death penalty which sin imposed on us. As Paul stated in 5:21 'sin reigned in death': it was in charge, it was in control, it called the shots, it involved us in an inescapable condemnation, it held us bound in death and it demanded our death. In our union with Christ in his death we have fulfilled all that sin could justly demand of us. Its authority over us has been terminated. We died to sin. In other words, as far as sin is concerned, it has no authority to do anything more to us, because all that it could legally do to us was done completely and effectively in the death of Jesus Christ for us.

On the basis of this legal termination of sin’s authority over us, Paul says 'We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?' Here Paul points to the wrongness and incongruity of our continuing to live under the power and authority of sin when, by our union with the death of Christ, we have been completely and effectively removed from the authority of sin.

This wrongness and incongruity is evident at a number of levels:

The level of giving in to sin's temptations: Sin is not in charge any more - so why submit to sin's suggestions and pressures? Sin has no authority over us, so why continue to obey it?

The level of perceiving the real meaning of the cross: The cross is a massive demonstration of what God thinks about sin: this cross death, this agony of separation from the Father, displays more than anything else how much God hates sin, and how great is his wrath and condemnation that falls upon the sinner. Having seen this death, having been united by faith into this death of Christ on our behalf, and having thus acknowledged that this death is what we deserved - how can we now ever again think that sin is okay? Sin, our sin, did this to Jesus: how can we now ever again think it is okay to submit ourselves to sin's authority and do what sin wants us to do?

The level of living in a new kingdom with a new mindset or paradigm: As Paul has begun to teach us in 5:12-21, the genuine believer, whom he describes as being 'in Christ', now lives in a new kingdom, a kingdom where grace reigns (5:21) and where we 'reign in life' (5:17). Here, at the deepest level, we understand that for those who are 'in Christ' the questions of whether or not sin is okay, of whether or not condemnation will fall on us if we sin, of whether this person who has these sins is more or less accepted by God than that person who has those sins, have ceased to be relevant questions.

Those who are 'in Christ' have, or should have, taken on board the paradigm of grace in the kingdom where grace reigns. Those who have this paradigm and are in this kingdom, know that they are sinners, otherwise they could stand in God's presence apart from grace. They also know that sin is sin and that it is never okay, for the cross of Christ has told them that. They also know that no wrath or condemnation will ever fall upon them or on other genuine believers because it has already fallen on Christ their substitute.

Here, in the paradigm of grace, we have the freedom to acknowledge that we are sinners, for we no longer need to justify ourselves.

Here, in the paradigm of grace, we have the freedom to accept others who are also sinners; we no longer need to demand they justify and defend themselves.

If we do need to justify ourselves, if we do require others to justify themselves, then we are still holding to the paradigm where sin and death and law are in charge, we are still living 'in sin': under the authority of sin, as though sin were in charge and retained its authority to condemn, and as though we were not 'in Christ' where grace is the operating principle.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020