Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Without a doubt, Paul is used to fielding objections to the Gospel, especially those having to do with the law of God. Already in Romans we have seen him dealing with hypothetical objections because of his teaching that the law does not save. Now, as we come to Romans 6, he pauses again for the same reason, recognizing that his assertion that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” might lead someone to the seemingly logical conclusion that engaging in sin is actually a good thing because it causes grace to increase. Is this true? Certainly not, Paul replies, and sets out to put the question of the law to rest once and for all. In chapter 6, he will deal with antinomianism, the notion that believers can live lives ungoverned by the law, and in chapter 7 he will show the purpose of the law in light of the Gospel.
Dr. James M. Boice points out that the doctrine of the triumph of grace can lead to righteousness or to sinful conduct. But the latter course, while logical on the surface, really is nonsensical, for a number of reasons Paul already has laid out—it defies God’s plan to save people from the guilt, penalty, and practice of sin; we are in Christ, and He cannot be the source of sin; and the reign of grace delivers us from sin’s bondage (for grace to increase, sin must decrease). But the greatest reason is, as Paul puts it, we have “died to sin.”
There are many misconceptions about this phrase, as Boice notes. Some say Paul meant that believers are no longer responsive to sin, that they should die to sin, that they are dying to sin, that they have renounced sin, or that they have died to sin’s guilt. But the Greek verb translated “died” indicates a single action completed in the past. We have died to sin, just as Jesus did (6:10). While He lived upon the earth, He was in sin’s realm, subject to temptation. But when He died, He left that realm forever. It is the same for us. “As a result of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, that old life of sin in Adam is past for us also,” Boice writes. “We can never go back to it. We have been brought from that old life, the end of which was death, into a new life, the end of which is righteousness.” We have been changed forever by God. We have been born again, and we can no more become what we were man an adult can become a child again. We must go forward in the Christian life, living lives of holiness.
At times, our growth as Christians seems painfully slow. Sin entices us; discouragement stymies us. We may be tempted to give up. But that is not an option. One who is truly born again simply cannot return to a life of complacent sinfulness—God will not let him. Look to Him for grace and press on toward the goal of Christlikeness.