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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Dead to sin.

The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, and in particular chapter six has been a grand study of mine since I began my walk with Christ.

I would spend a few word discussing what I have come to understand in my walk with the Lord, and perhaps there are some readers who may be blessed because of it.

There are many ways in which we approach this text - the most common being the careful exegetical approach al. A "pedantic protestant" (see his continuing series on Romans). This is typically the path most of us take - we read the text, are left with a pregnant spiritual truth - that is, we know there is something more to the text than we are currently mining out of it - and though we labour in birth to ferret out the fullest meaning - yet the pregnant truth remains unborn in our understanding. Not that we are without understanding - rather, this is a multiple pregnancy - there are many truths in the womb of this passage, and while we grasp the surface truths with some level of ease, yet we do not deny a greater, more complete understanding is just beneath the surface.

It is for this reason that we mine the grammar of the text. We hover over it for years, coming back to it again and again to dig and prod and see if haven't missed something. Surely this has much to do with the subject matter at hand - how the Christian relates to sin.

I am a first generation Christian - that is, I was saved from sin as an adult. This isn't necessarily better or worse than being saved as a child - but it gives perspective to attitude towards sin, since I can clearly recall what it was like prior to being justified by grace.

I grew up with just enough knowledge of God, Christ, and the bible to mess up all the facts - this is likely because much of what I believed came from cultural rather than biblical sources. In the end I had the attitude that as long as I was more good than bad I would go to heaven when I died. Like most people I sort of pictured a great scale where all my good deeds would be on the one side, and all my evil deeds would be on the other - and so long as the good outweighed the bad, I was in. Notwithstanding, my concept of what was good or bad was entirely worldly. Bad deeds were defined by how mean it seemed to do them - rape and murder were very bad, but stealing to feed your family, or lying to save a Jew's life - these only seemed bad, but the case could be made that they were really (in fact) good.

When I received the truth of the gospel, I gave up on trying to earn heaven by being good (of course) but the unconscious theology that produced my first error remained with me - and this is important - since it has flavoured the way in which I was inclined to view God.

Even though I knew and believed the orthodox line - "not my righteousness but Christ's" I was nevertheless finding myself from time to time locked in the classic Galatians struggle whereby I try to perfect myself by resisting sin instead of living for God.

Really that is the heart of Romans Six - the relationship that the believer has with sin. Paul explains the ramifications inherent in being saved but not yet freed from our unredeemed flesh.

Paul anticipates that the Jews will confuse grace with antinomianism[1], and for that reason he goes out of his way to say that a right understanding of grace will not provoke antinomianism. That is how this thing starts rolling at least - grace cannot lead to antinomianism because there is a spiritual reality taking place behind the physical demonstration.

The spiritual reality that Paul is referring to is our immersion into the body of Christ. When Paul asks, "how shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" the implication is that all true believers have already died to sin - a point he begins to elaborate on in the third verse. John the Baptist heralded Christ as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit - that is, Christ Himself immerses every believer into his own "body" (the church) by sending the Holy Spirit to indwell them at the very moment they are justified. It was certainly determined before the world began, but the reality of it comes into being at a point in time - and it is at this point in time that was move out of the unregenerate camp and into the regenerate camp. This "baptism" is entirely spiritual and is often forensic - that is, there is no attendant phenomenon to punctuate that it has taken place.

While our identification with Christ may seem esoteric or even mystical to some, Paul treats it as a practical reality and lays out the implications of this union in answer to the anticipated charge of antinomianism. Paul's argument is that because Christ took you into Himself, and because you were with Him when he was murdered, buried, and raised by God, that you too were also murdered, buried, and raised. He peels these truths off unapologetically - not dwelling to explain the mechanisms involved - but instead deals with the practical implications of that union.

The first practical implication of our death in Christ is that our body of sin is made powerless and because it is powerless we become free from our former bondage to sin.

Not that our flesh is free from sin's bondage - but that we are free from sin's bondage. That is a critical distinction we ought to make before we go on. Too often we are inclined to think of dying to sin as something we are commanded to do rather than something we are told is already true of us. Paul is saying, if you're a genuine believer, you're already dead to sin.

Paul doesn't say this in a vacuum - that is, we have to remember that Paul is making this point in order to explain why grace doesn't lead to antinomianism. He mentions this truth because the implications of this truth prove his point regarding antinomianism.

I hate to arrest my momentum again, but it is important that we understand exactly what is meant by dead to sin.

What Paul is saying is so simple I think people often miss it because they are expecting something more profound. Paul is saying that when you died in Christ your sin debt was paid. The sting of sin is death, but because you have already died sin no longer can claim your life - you are free from sin's debt.

Terms like bondage and slavery when used in concert with the term sin evoke a rather skewed image of what Paul is trying to say. We hear "slave of sin" and we immediately picture sin as a dictating master whom we are powerless to refuse. We regard the term "slave" only with respect to servitude. But the aspect of slavery Paul was capitalizing on wasn't so much the servitude as the ownership.

The penalty for sin is death, or as Paul states elsewhere, the strength of sin is death. Every sinner has forfeited his or her life - that is the power that sin has over us - we owe a debt and the debt is our life. Paul is saying that when we died with Christ the debt was paid, and sin no longer has a claim on us. Paul continues the slave metaphor - since we are no longer slaves to sin, we are free from the hold it had on us.

Now here is where some honesty really helps. We must recognize that we are have not been set free from the desire to sin. Surely you need not be convinced of that - but the distinction is important later on. When we admit that we are not free from sin's desire, we understand that the bondage Paul is talking about is not our propensity to sin. We see in chapter seven that the propensity to sin is actually tied to our unredeemed flesh - and it never goes away.

Why is that important?

It is important because when Paul says "For he who has died has been freed from sin," many people imagine that Paul is in some way implying that one becomes free from the desire to sin through a form of self-denial characterized as dying to self.

Paul is not saying that. What Paul is saying is that sin can only condemn you until you die, and once you're dead sin no longer has a claim on you. The sin problem has been dealt with. That is what Paul is saying - but he isn't saying it just to make the point - he is saying it because it needs to be understood if one is going to understand why the charge of antinomianism is inappropriate, and in verse eight, Paul begins to swing that boat around.

He has shown the outcome of our union with Christ in death - that our union in death means we are freed from our bondage to sin. Now Paul deals with the implications of our union with Christ in being raised from the dead - our sanctification.

Question: How do we feel if we don't really believe that we are free from sin's penalty?
Answer: Afraid.

Fear is a powerful motivator - and many Christians are obedient to the law because they are afraid that if they are not obedient it will mean that they are not saved. This is not so much an articulated thought - but if we plumb the depths of their motives, we see that fear rather than love motivates them.

Paul describes these believers are being still "under the law" - that is not understanding or failing to believe the grace in which they stand, they set about trying to ensure their righteous standing with God through their own righteous efforts. These are the Galatians who have fallen from grace, and are setting about trying to establish their own righteousness in order that they might be pleasing to God.

NOTE: When scripture refers to falling from grace it is talking about a mindset that abandons trusting in the imputed righteousness of Christ to satisfy God (grace) and embraces trusting in one's own righteous acts to satisfy God (law). This "fall" can last a moment or days or even the rest of our life on earth. It doesn't mean that one has lost their salvation - it means that one has lost their assurance - their peace, they no longer are at rest in Christ, but have instead began again to look to works of the law to appease God.

So when Paul describes how Christ now lives to God and associates our walk with Christ's life, he is saying that our sanctification does not come about by keeping the law - it comes about by our living for God.

That is a mega-concept, and our enemy knows it. The last thing Satan wants is for you to understand that sanctification happens not when you are "trying not to sin" - but when you are presenting yourself to God - alive from the dead. The bible describes the inward obsession with trying not to sin as - (gasp!) - the carnal mind - a mindset that demonstrates a hatred of God.

No you say? That isn't true? Trying not to sin is the very definition of loving God? Uh-uh. That isn't how it works. No matter what you tell yourself , your motive in trying not to sin is always self. Did you get that? You might tell yourself that your focus on trying not to sin is God's glory or something silly like that - but deep down you know I am right. The truth is quite ugly, we truly are --that-- deceived. If you find yourself disagreeing with my I imagine you are always a bit confused by the last line in chapter seven - "So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Paul understood that his flesh would always serve sin - so instead of trying to beat it down under the law - (the impossible path of the Jew) he instead accepted that he was a sinner, and set his eyes forward (on Christ) rather than inward on self. Not that he gave himself over to sin - God forbid! But that the very path to freedom is found in trusting Christ to deliver us from sin rather than setting about to make sure we don't sin.

I know, it's all topsy-turvy - up is down; dogs and cats living in harmony together - whacky sounding, and nigh nonsensical - yet it is the truth.

For some readers the idea that your sanctification does not rest in your ability to keep the law, but instead in Jesus who is really going to sanctify you must be jarring. You are the slave of the one whom you obey - that is, if you are Christ's slave you will obey Him, not that you become Christ's slave -by- obeying Him - it is a subtlety. The idea is that the genuine believer has presented himself or herself to Christ - Christ now owns them, and -this- is Paul's answer to antinomianism - grace doesn't lead to sin because you will not continue in sin when Jesus Christ owns you (you are His slave). Everyone who names the name of Christ departs from sin - that is not an imperative (command), it is a statement of fact. Paul's answer is that grace, when understood properly results in sanctification and not sin.

This doctrine is perhaps the most commonly messed up one I know of - people trying to die to themselves all over the place - hoping to be free from sin so that the burning desire in them to be pleasing to God might be slaked. But the reality is that we are dead already, and because of this we need not try and make ourselves holy - we can't do it - the best we can do is generate a personal righteousness that God considers a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6).

Alternately, if we are a little less intellectually honest, we can play games with ourselves - and even though we keep ourselves from sin in our own power, and do all our good deeds in our own strength - we tell ourselves that God is "giving us the ability" to do it - and so give God credit for what we ourselves have done. Not unlike the other world religions...

Truly, if your Christianity means that you are doing everything but calling it God's power - you are going to burn out eventually.

When we comprehend that God really does it all - everything - then we see that our sinfulness, as wretched as it is, is the qualifier for God's grace. Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. We look upon our utter bankruptcy and only when we are truly poor do we understand God's rich love that he extends towards us. We can begin to thank God when we come to him in confession - thank him that he loves us in spite of this sin, and that He hates it more than we do - and that he is sanctifying us.

That is not to say (however) that we are inactive in this part - that we sin all we want and wait for Jesus to zombify us into obedience - rather it is to say that our focus must be on living honestly with God, trusting that we are acceptable to God in Christ - even when we are being rebellious in our heart - and because this is true we can come to the throne of grace to find help in our time of need. We can go to God in mid-treason, and declare our sin, and our own love of it, and inability to be free from it, and cry out the cry of a child to a Father - deliver me Father, for I am content in my wickedness unless you change my heart.

I could go on, but it is time to ask: what do we do with this? What is the bottom line?

The bottom line is simple. Give yourself to Christ body, mind and soul. Be honest with God about the whole thing - let Him know you want to be free from sin because you are terrified that maybe you messed up your faith or something - let Him know that you are haven't really be trusting Christ alone, but slip back into trusting your own efforts - and accept with all your understanding that God alone is going to sanctify you. Determine in your heart not to be motivated by fear, but instead by a genuine love of God. It may be that God's love towards you doesn't seem like motive enough - tell God if that is the case - you need to understand how much God loves you - otherwise what is driving your faith??

[1] Antinomianism: the belief that because salvation is by grace through faith alone, the believer is not morally obligated to obey God once they are saved.
posted by Daniel @ 11:27 AM  
  • At 6:17 PM, September 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with the last 3 paragraphs or so...and the rest...some ok, some not. I am not a theologian however so my ability to speak on this is limited. However, I will say, that one thing that has blessed our life tremendously is in reading the WHOLE Bible...not just the smaller part...and looking at it in unity. And in so doing we find that our desire to please God has intensified greatly (no, I do not think we feel fear as you describe)...but the changes that it has made has resulted in some of the greatest blessing in our lives..and quite frankly, we rather enjoy being blessed. No, I am not referring to a cheap grace, or cheap gospel...do this and you will be filthy stinking rich...that is so shallow and untrue in my opinion! But the blessings is in our walk and relationship with our GOD, our relationship with each other and other people in general. We will proceed ahead! There is so much to learn that most all churches seem to have left out...either purposely or by ignorance. Are we brilliant...no, not by a long shot. The more we learn, the more we realize we yet have to learn! I think this continues on our whole life. And then when we are in eternity we will still be learning at the foot of the Master!!

  • At 7:36 AM, September 28, 2005, Blogger Daniel said…

    Romans six is far deeper than I have penned here, and better men than I have written far more than I am willing :)

    I wanted to bring out one aspect that is often overlooked in examining this portion of scripture and that was the ownership aspect of slavery. When we read slavery/bondage we (in the first world at least) immediately equate it with servitude rather than ownership. This gives us a sort of lopsided understanding of Romans six - one that cannot possibly agree with any honest Christian experience. Most Christians who see it that way and that way only either ignore it or neglect it.

    The grand picture is that we are freed from sin's ownership - which allows us the liberty to follow Christ as we ought. No one is delivered from sin by "not sinning" - we are delivered from sin the same way we were translated into the kingdom of light - through faith on account of God's grace extended towards us.

    No one writes on Romans six and expects the Christian world to agree with *all* they say - at least I don't ;)

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • At 2:09 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Understood...and it is a hard subject to ponder...thanks for the input and allowing comments. :0!

    And I am far from the normal "church goer" by the way. Went from the age of 2 weeks on, but through a long series of circumstances and events...well, living here in "the Bible belt", we are down to just a weekly Bible study with a few others and then on the weekend listen to fabulous teaching/preaching via internet...how glad we are for that opportunity! Quite frankly, the churches here that would fit us best are "full up" and want no more attenders. It would have saved a lot of time and effort if they simply put out a "no vacancy" sign. But we hope the next move will put us in a better place...because though hubby and I have fellowship...there is nothing for our daughter, age 21. That to me is the worst part of all!! (But she will be ready to move in December when her AS degree is done here...then we must find a 4 yr. college to finish up..yes, we are trying to make it possible for her to stay at home...her food allergies require quite a bit of time and effort...and when mom is taking care of it, she has more study time). God uses all things in our lives...and really there are no circumstances I think...so we are patiently waiting for change. Any rate...long story.

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