“What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What should be the relationship of the follower of Jesus to sin? Obviously we shouldn’t do it, but let’s be honest: a simple “ought not” isn’t usually sufficient to keep us from it. We need to understand the why behind the should not before we’re going to wrap our heart and mind around it to a sufficient degree that it begins to have the kind of power in our lives it needs to have. Here in Romans 6, Paul explores this very idea. His treatment may not be exhaustive, but it is powerful. Let’s spend some time unpacking this together.
In chapter five, Paul explores the relationship of sin and grace. He looks at how sin entered the world through Adam, but how grace came through Christ. Grace came in response to sin, and the deeper sin is in someone’s life, the greater grace appears. There is no sin so great that grace cannot overcome it entirely if we will receive it.
This is good news—the best news ever, as MercyMe sings—but it begs an interesting question. If grace is made to look even better in the face of sin, should followers of Jesus who have received grace continue sinning so that grace can keep looking so good? After all, if grace’s size is proportional to the sin in our lives, shouldn’t we jump head first into the deep end of sin so that we can experience as much grace as we possibly can?
Paul’s response is as clear as it could be: Absolutely not! It’s actually even clearer than that. The Greek phrase he uses is the strongest negation the first century language offered. A more literal translation of it would be something like, “____________ no,” where you fill in the blank with your favorite curse word.
Paul is essentially saying that’s the craziest, stupidest idea ever. What would possess someone to even consider such a suggestion? That’s a bad question better left unasked.
Why wouldn’t we? Once again, if sin makes grace great, wouldn’t more sin make grace greater? And isn’t grace something we want to experience in greater and greater amounts? So why not keep sinning even once we’ve experienced grace so we can keep experiencing more?
Paul knew we would be asking in spite of his insistence on how stupid the question is, so he answers it. It’s because we died to sin when we experienced grace, and how can you keep doing something after you’ve died to it?
Now, this idea of our dying to sin is one Paul explores more in the rest of the chapter, but let’s unpack just a bit now. How is it that we die to sin? Why do we need to die to it in the first place? Because apart from the grace of Jesus Christ, won for us on the cross (where He died), we are slaves to sin. We can’t not sin. We don’t have that power. Everything we do ultimately ends with sin. We can do all the good and righteous things we want, but the underlying motivation will ultimately be sin. That’s the life of a slave. They can do whatever they want as long as it isn’t covered by their master’s will. At the end of the day, though, a slave does what his master wants.
Well, there are only three ways a person gets out of slavery. The first is to be voluntarily released from the slavery somehow. When it comes to sin, it is jealous for what it has, meaning no release is going to come. The second is to be rescued from the slavery by someone else. This is more possible with sin—for instance, a person might help us break an addiction of some kind. But the problem here is that there is always the possibility of being enslaved again. After all, in rescuing you, something of great value has been taken from your former master, and it is naturally going to want you back. This is why the third way is the only way of guaranteeing that release.
The third way to get out of slavery is to die. When you die, your master loses any and all power over you and never gets it back. In Christ—and this is a big part of what makes grace so amazing—we spiritually participate in His death to break the power of sin, but we get to keep our lives in Him. So we die to sin, but live in and for Christ. It’s a bit of a master exchange, yes, but our new master wants us to be free so free we are.
This brings us back to Paul’s question. If we have experienced this incredible freeing from the power of sin by dying to its power in Christ, why would we voluntarily resubmit ourselves to it as obedient slaves by sinning again? Why would a slave who has been freed willingly go back into slavery? What insanity! What utter foolishness! What gross inappropriateness! What a tragic warping of the mind of the once-former slave! What a profound display of ingratitude toward the one who died to make us free!
This is why Paul gets so worked up about the question. Sinning as free people who have received the grace of Christ is to either totally misunderstand or else reject it entirely. This is no way to live. When we have received grace, sin isn’t a legitimate option anymore. Righteousness is our new path. And life is found on that path.