Romans 6:11, “11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Growth in holiness—our sanctification—does not constitute an optional addendum to the gospel; rather, it is a necessary fruit of the gospel. Indeed, properly construed, sanctification is part and parcel of the gospel itself. The gospel message is that we become citizens of God’s kingdom and share in all the benefits of this citizenship—peace with God, access to His presence, eternal life, forgiveness—via the imputation of the righteousness of Christ through faith in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21–5:21). But just as true citizens of any country have a love for their country and obligations to their country’s law, true citizens of God’s kingdom have a love for their kingdom and obligations to its law. The gospel does not place on us any obligations to get into the kingdom other than acknowledging that Christ alone has earned citizenship for us. Yet the gospel does demand that we recall that we are kingdom citizens and live in a way that befits that status. In other words, we must live in holiness in gratitude for what the Lord has done (Eph. 4:17–32; Heb. 12:14).
At times this may seem daunting, and may we never give the impression that the Christian life is free of trouble. Yet, in one sense the Christian life of sanctification is simple, for God does not call us to do the heavy lifting. Note the passive voice in what the Apostle has said about sanctification this far in Romans 6:1–10: we “have been baptized into Christ Jesus … into his death”; “we were buried … into death”; we “have been united with him in a death like his”; “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In all of these constructions, we are the ones who are acted upon. Where Paul’s voice is more active—“we who died“; “we will also live with him”—these actions or realities are clearly the result of our passivity, of our being acted upon by God. The Apostle does not tell us to make ourselves die to sin; rather, he says that God has made us die to sin. The Lord has changed our relationship to sin and death; we have not done anything in that regard.
No, the commands that Paul gives us presuppose the reality of what God has already done. The imperative—what we must do—is grounded in the indicative—what already has been done. We are dead to sin in Christ due to God’s work; therefore, we must live in light of this reality. Our Creator has done the hard work of freeing us from sin and making us servants of righteousness. All we need to do is see ourselves properly as dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:11). The Lord has made us holy; all we need to do is live out that holiness.
If we look at sanctification as making ourselves holy, we will be driven to despair, for how can we make ourselves pure? We do cooperate with God in sanctification, but we do not make ourselves holy. He has made us holy, and we live out that holiness. We become in our experience what we already are in Christ. When temptations come, we are to say, “No, I am holy and I am in Christ. To sin would not be in line with what God has made me.”