Still Sinful, Still Saved
The task before me is twofold: To do justice to the text itself and draw out its particular meaning, and to keep an eye on the theme and relate the text to it. In many assignments the text and the theme do not always match and there is a lot of work to do to try and make things fit. However, in this case the title describes perfectly the unique experience of every Christian who continues to struggle with sin even while he knows that God has redeemed him from the sin he struggles with each day.
Paul explains this seeming paradox in these two chapters and I would like to outline his presentation of these ideas in this lesson.
Saved - Romans 6
The verse from which most of these two chapters flow is verse 5 of chapter 6. In it Paul summarizes the point he will explain at length in other verses.
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection
- Romans 6:5
Simply stated, if we share His death, we will share His life. The verse puts forth this idea in a propositional form: if we are united in the likeness of His death, then we will be in the likeness of His life.
There have been many scholars who have tried to marginalize or mysticize this passage to make it mean that we somehow symbolically die and symbolically live. But for those who struggle with sin and death, this symbolism is not very comforting.
Jesus' death, and His resurrection and life were real and true historical facts. Paul tells his readers that those who experience Jesus' death and life experience no mere symbol, they experience the true death and true life of Christ. Otherwise our religion is no more than ceremony, tradition, religious exercise and symbolism.
In the verses surrounding this one, Paul explains the death and life we share with Christ Jesus.
The Death - Romans 6:1-4
He begins with the death and demonstrates that our death in Christ is experienced in baptism.
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
- Romans 6:1-2
He begins by responding to a question that one might ask concerning what he has said in chapters 4-5. Someone might ask, "If we are saved by grace through faith, what stops one from sinning, knowing that grace abounds for sinners?"
His answer is that for those who have accepted grace, sin is no longer an appealing option. Only someone who has not experienced the grace of God would bother to ask a question like that. In answering the question, however, he opens up a new page of thought by introducing the idea of our own death to sin. He has already explained how Christ dies for our sins, now he will show how we die to sin.
3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
- Romans 6:3-4
We share, experience and become united in the likeness of Jesus Christ's death through baptism. This is a metaphorical concept that describes a true experience. Jesus' death is real, physical and historical, however its spiritual (unseen, immaterial, supernatural) purpose was to pay for our moral debt of sin. You have a physical thing accomplishing a very real and tangible but unseen thing.
In the same way, a Christian's baptism is real, physical and historical but its spiritual and very tangible purpose is threefold:
- It causes us to share metamorphically in His death.
- It unites us to Him spiritually.
- It causes us to experience His life, a physical thing through which we experience spiritual things.
And so in verses 1-4 Paul explains how we share in His death, through the act of baptism. In verse 5 he continues to explain that this union also permits us another experience: His resurrection and life. In verses 6-23 he describes the details of this life.
Why We Live
6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.
8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 6:6-11
In a word, we live because of the resurrection. Our old life of sin has died and been buried with Christ in baptism. Now we have a new life and that new life is tied to the resurrected life of Christ. There is to be no going back, no resurrection of the old man of sin because as surely as Christ has been raised from the dead, we also have been raised from the grave of baptism to live a new life. Old ways die hard, there is much evidence to suggest that nothing has changed, but we are resurrected as surely as Christ is resurrected.
How We Live
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
- Romans 6:12-14
If we are resurrected, if we have this "new" life, how will we survive in this sinful body? Paul tells his readers that in baptism a very real and important change has taken place, but his readers see the same sinful flesh before them. How will they live this resurrected life within this flesh?
His answer: the Law no longer is the active ingredient in their spiritual lives, grace is now empowering them. While they were sinners the only spiritual source of power working in their lives was the Law and its only purpose was to convict them of sin. The new life has introduced a new spiritual power, the power of grace. While under the influence of grace they will now be able to overcome sin in their lives and despite their failures will be acceptable to God. The new life is possible and is essentially different than the old because it is powered by God's grace and not the Law.
What is the Substance of Our New Life - Romans 6:15-23
The substance of the life lived under the power of the Law had two elements: sin and death. The substance of the life lived under the power of grace also has two elements.
15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
- Romans 6:15-19
Grace enables us to express righteousness in two ways:
- It empowers us to overcome sin which changes our physical lives and helps us to provide a witness to unbelievers. We become better people.
- It provides confidence for salvation in that God offers us Christ's perfect righteousness as our shield against the Law. Grace improves our physical lives and guarantees our righteousness before God which enriches our spiritual lives as well.
20For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:20-23
The old life of sin resulted in shame, condemnation and death. The new life leads to righteousness and eternal life.
Eternal life is not simply a never ending life, but also a life that has a certain quality as well. Although Paul does not describe it here, "eternal" living is living with God, living in joy, peace, love, and never ending sinlessness.
And so this new life with Christ is not simply a theological principle for Paul, it is a tangible, discernible experience and he describes the experience of that new life as:
- Something that is as real and seen as the resurrection of Christ is real and sure.
- Something that is visible not only in the righteous living it produces in the ones who possess it, but in the confidence that these people have in facing death.
Struggling - Romans 7
The case is fully stated in chapter six: In baptism we die with Christ and we resurrect to a new life in Christ. Chapter 7 goes on to explain the conflict that develops as this new life emerges from the confines of a sinful flesh.
There has long been the debate whether Paul is speaking of his former life here or if he is describing his present life as a Christian. There are sincere arguments for both sides. I believe Paul is speaking of his present state for two reasons:
- The entire section deals with the new life one experiences upon being buried with Christ in baptism. Paul is continuing his description of this new life (chapter 6 was the "upside", freedom from fear, death and power in the Holy Spirit) he experiences when the duality of man's natures collide (the new man in the old flesh). Now in chapter 7 he will describe the down side of this life.
- In verse 25 he summarizes the entire chapter in the present tense, suggesting that the experience he describes in chapter 7 is one that he is now undergoing.
In chapter 7 Paul tells the Romans, "We are saved and salvation is real and you can see it in your lives, however, while you are in the flesh you will still struggle with sin." Chapter 7 describes this struggle in his own life. In chapter 8 he will offer the solution to this problem.
The essential problem that Christians face, which Paul explains here is that in becoming united to Christ and having a new life we are no longer subject to the Law in judgement but we are still influenced by the Law in effect. In other words, the Law no longer condemns us before God, but it still has the power to effect our lives here on earth.
This idea being free from the Law, Paul explains in chapter 7:1-6:
1Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
4Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
- Romans 7:1-6
He uses the analogy of marriage to show that the Law has limits. The Law governed marriage until a partner died, after which the person was beyond the Law (not beyond God, simply beyond the Law). In the same way, if a person died with Christ, they were beyond the Law (not beyond God). Those in Christ have another power source; grace, not Law.
7What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
- Romans 7:7-12
In verses 7-12 the Apostle reassures his readers that just because one is beyond the Law does not mean that the Law has failed or the Law is in some way imperfect. On the contrary, the Law has done its job, it has convicted Paul of sin and made him aware that he was condemned. This is the essential purpose of the Law in its relationship with man: to convict and to condemn and ultimately lead one to Christ for forgiveness and salvation. And in doing its job the Law remains perfectly suited to what it was created for. It is perfect, holy and without fault.
In the final section Paul will describe the nature of the struggle that takes place within himself as a saved spirit dwelling inside a sinful flesh that is not judged by the Law anymore, but affected by it (Why Christians sometimes feel guilty).
Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
- Romans 7:13
First of all, there is another rhetorical question which asks, "How can something good and holy (the Law) cause death?" Paul answers that it is sin that causes death, the Law merely exposes sin by holding it up to the light of perfection and condemns sin by revealing God's response to sin. The Law does not cause the suffering and death experienced by the flesh, it is a diagnostic tool God uses to show us what does cause life's misery: sin. For example, an x-ray does not cause or cure the cancer, it reveals the cancer you have suffered from. When revealed, however, anguish and suffering are heightened.
14For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
- Romans 7:14-17
Paul explains the struggle from a personal perspective. He notes several things about it:
- The essential reason for the struggle is that a regenerated spirit dwells in a sinful shell of flesh.
- The regenerated spirit recognizes and desires to practice the Law, but the sinful flesh undermines any attempt to do so.
- What makes the struggle so painful is that a Christian is aware of this dichotomy at all times.
When he says that he is no longer the one doing it, Paul does not reject personal responsibility for his sins because of his struggle. He means that when he sins, he has failed to do what he really wants to do, obey God's Law. Sin is a victory of his flesh, not his spirit. It is still his flesh, however.
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
- Romans 7:18-23
In these verses Paul describes the outcome of this struggle between the regenerated spirit and the flesh. He sees clearly the desire of his regenerated spirit to do God's perfect and holy will and also see clearly his sinful flesh's unwillingness to respond. The struggle brings to light the opposite forces in his nature. He also sees clearly which of the two has the preeminent position. It is his "inner man", his "spirit", his "regenerated self", that wills, that recognizes, that delights, that desires to do God's will. The flesh is a pawn, a force, a resister that frustrates these desires, but it is not the dominant force in the Christian's life.
He concedes that this struggle will continue throughout his lifetime (a prisoner) and he must accept the situation.
The final verses summarize what he has explained in the last few verses.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
- Romans 7:24
This is an impossible situation, a wretched one to be continually denied the desire of the inner man by the sinful influence of the flesh. The body of death is sinful flesh that will not allow a complete union and harmony between the regenerated spirit and God.
What is the solution to this problem?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
- Romans 7:25
The solution is twofold:
- Jesus Christ: Paul does not explain all that Christ does to help us, he simply says that the solution is in Christ. In chapter 8 he will describe how God helps us deal with the struggle (by giving us the Holy Spirit, and promising resurrection).
- Acceptance: The struggle is painful and frustrating but is easier to bear once accepted for what it is.
Paul explains simply that as a regenerated man, he serves God honestly and sincerely with His spirit and when he sins the flesh is responsible. This is not to absolve him of responsibility, but rather to confirm the existence of both entities and which one influences his obedience and disobedience.
From this then, are several lessons we can draw from these two chapters that can be applied to our own lives today.
This is every Christian's struggle. Do not think Paul was unique or that his struggle was more intense than the average Christian of today. What he describes is the normal struggle that each one of us experiences as we try our best to serve Christ and see how short we fall at times. It is not an excuse for lukewarmness but it does help us to understand why even knowing and wanting to do our best for Christ does not always guarantee the results we desire. The flesh also has its say.
The struggle is really a sign of life. Do not be discouraged if what you see in Christ is not always what you accomplish in Christ. The fact that you see, the fact that you desire, the fact that you hurt is the proof that Christ is in you and that you are truly a regenerated person. The unregenerated man, whether he is an unbeliever or calls himself a Christian, is always easiest to spot; he has no struggle.
God will provide. Although he only mentions it briefly in chapter 7, Paul knew that God would and did provide for his struggle. He provides help and encouragement in this life so that we do not lose hope or desire for the next life. He provides a promise of eternal life so that we know that one day the struggle will end.
Be happy, rejoice in your struggle brethren, knowing that it is a sign and a promise of your salvation now and to come in Christ Jesus, our Lord.