Sin and God’s Grace
In chapters 6-8, Paul tells us what God will accomplish in us through the gospel—how the gospel produces actual massive, meaningful changes in our character and behavior.
When Paul said, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rm 5:20), in the last part of Romans 5, some people started to attack him by asking him, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1).
That question was discussed in Romans 6. In this chapter, Paul explained in more depth what it means for us to stand in God’s grace.
What they asked seems quite reasonable. If God’s grace increased where sin increased, then, should we keep sinning in order to experience God’s grace more?
By raising this question, Paul’s opponents actually attacked his most important argument—justification by faith. They were saying that the gospel of justification by faith actually encourages lawlessness and makes people sin more because it moves the responsibility for sin from themselves to God’s grace.
In fact, what they were insisting here is reasonable because we actually see some Christians who are insensitive to sin because they believe that whatever they do, God will forgive them and that there’s no sin the blood of Jesus Christ can’t cover.
There are even some Christians who think committing a sin, whether big or small, is not that serious of a problem for them because they always have the remedy—God’s grace.
In that sense, the gospel of justification by faith, which declares that we’re forgiven only by believing in Jesus and God’s grace, without paying anything for our sins, could actually desensitize people to sin. In other words, we can use God’s grace to make up for our sins.
Superficially, their argument makes sense. However, if we really think about what our sin is, what God’s grace is, and what Jesus sacrificed to invite us to God’s grace, we’ll know that that assertion actually doesn’t make sense at all. That’s what Paul’s talking about in Romans 6.
Paul gave a very short and simple answer. “By no means!” (Rm 6:2)
What Paul said is true. Where sin increased, God’s grace increased all the more. However, that doesn’t mean that we can use God’s grace to make an excuse for our sins.
Paul basically said, “You can only say a thing like that if you do not understand the teaching of the gospel. If you understood the teaching of the gospel, you would not draw such conclusions.”
So, in response to the question, Paul basically re-explained and re-applied the doctrine of justification in chapter 6 by explaining our union with Christ.
We Have Died to Sin
After saying, “By no means,” Paul added, “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:2)
Here, the phrase, “We… have died to sin” is crucial to understanding Paul’s response to the question in chapter 6. So, what does it mean to die to sin? We can approach the answer by thinking about what it doesn’t mean.
To die to sin doesn’t mean that we are no longer tempted to sin or that sin has no more power or influence over us. Even after believing in Jesus and accepting Him in our hearts, we know that there are still strong sinful desires inside us. In other words, we’re still under the powerful influence of sin.
Then, what does Paul mean about dying to sin? The rest of this chapter explains his meaning in detail, but the basic logic is that from the moment we became Christians, we were no longer under the reign of sin.
Paul already said in 5:21, “...just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness.” This means that sin still has power and influence over us, but it can no longer force its reign over us.
In Romans 1:18-32, when Paul talked about the Gentiles’ sin, Paul said that, outside of Christ, we are given over to our sinful desires. We “did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God,” (Rom 1:28) and as a result, we “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Rom 1:29).
Previously, those sinful desires ruled over us and we could not see them as sinful, and even if we did, we could not resist them. We were completely under the control and reign of sin whether we realized it or not.
However, sin no longer can dominate us. Now, we have the ability to resist and rebel against it because there is a new power at work in our lives, ruling us. As Paul said in Col 1:13,
“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).
We lived in the dominion of darkness, but now, we live in the kingdom of God, under God’s reign. Paul also says in Acts 26:18 that the gospel comes to people “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” (Acts 26:18)
Having died to sin does not really mean that sin is no longer within us, or that it has no more power and influence over us because it does. It still exists.
However, the huge difference is that now, in God’s grace, sin can no longer rule over us. Even though we may sin because of our sinful nature that still remains in us, Paul told us that we no longer have to obey it anymore.
Since we have died to sin, sin can be dead to us. That’s the meaning of dying to sin.
How We Died to Sin: Being United with Jesus in His Death
After that, Paul goes on to explain when and how we died to sin. In Romans 6:3, Paul asks us,
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3)
Paul tries to explain the meaning of us dying to sin through baptism. Here, Paul is referencing the immersion method of baptism. In this baptism, people are entirely submerged in water, which basically means, ‘death’.
This indicates our new spiritual status in Christ. When we believe in Him, we’re united with Him in His death. Then, whatever is true of him becomes true of us, which means that we are now dead to sin. Because Christ died for our sins, we are free from them.
Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “One died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Co 5:14)
Even though we didn’t physically die on the cross with Christ, we spiritually died with Him by being united with Him through faith. And, now, we’re no longer under the reign of sin alone, but that of grace as well. Paul said in Romans 6:6-7,
“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Rom 6:6-7)
That’s the new spiritual status we’ve come to have by being united with Christ. We’re not ruled by sin anymore. We’re no longer slaves to sin because we’re united with Jesus in His death to sin.
So, those who experienced God’s grace and have died to sin in Christ can’t possibly think that they should sin more to experience God’s grace more because those who have already died to sin won’t live in it any longer.