Out of Death, Into Life

This article is by David McLemore and published by For The Church


20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

– Romans 5:20-6:14

One of the great wonders of the Christian life is reconciling who you are now in Christ with who you once were without him. We are like one who marvels as he sees his empty bank account become one with an infinite sum. Life will never be the same. For the Christian, however, our lives have not simply been enhanced as the rich man but resurrected as the dry bones of the valley (Ezekiel 37). We have passed from death into life.

John Piper says, “Romans 6 deals with the kind of life that leads to eternal life: What it is and how to live it.” When we placed our faith in Christ and trusted his finished work to set us right with God, we received his grace. What do we then do with that grace? In Romans 6, Paul points out two opposing options. We can use grace as an excuse for sin, or we can use it as a power for obedience.

There are two key words throughout this chapter: death and life. Sin leads to death, and grace leads to life. If we choose to use that grace to sin more so that grace might multiply, we have misunderstood the purpose of grace. Grace doesn’t increase because we seek sin, but because we pursue God. As we see God in light of the law, we perceive more of our sin. But we also see more grace covering our sin. That leads to more obedience to God, not less. Life in Christ is stronger than death in Adam. Grace saves us from sin and to obedience. Life is found in and lived through Jesus.

But when preached rightly, the gospel of grace leads to a charge sounding something like this. “So, you’re telling me that it doesn’t matter what I do. Jesus has paid for it all. If that’s true, then why not sin?” Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound? No way! How can we who died to sin still live in it? As Michael Bird says, “The problem with remaining in sin is the absurdity of the thought. It is kind of like asking whether one should remain stuck at the bottom of a well even while a rope has been lowered down to us. Grace is designed to get us out of that situation, not to make us feel more comfortable within it!”

Paul gives us five implications of this grace that leads us out of death and into life.

1. We are united to Christ (v. 5)

If there was a theme to Paul’s writing, it might be this idea of union with Christ. The Christian doesn’t merely follow in the footsteps of Jesus; he weds Jesus. What he is, we are. What he experienced, we experienced. Since God unites us with Jesus in his death, he shall indeed unite us with him in resurrection. The boundless hope of our life is not that we will bring ourselves from death to life, but that by being joined to Christ, he will do it for us.

2. Our old self was crucified (v. 6)

The cross is the center of the Christian story. Upon the cross, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. It was not merely a nice gesture or a symbolic act. It was real punishment leading to real death for real sin. On the cross, Jesus, the sinless man, had the entire weight of sin placed upon him. He paid for it all. Since we are united with him, when he was crucified, we were crucified. Sin’s reign in our life is over.

3. We are set free (v. 7)

Sin runs the course of life. David confesses he was born with it (Psalm 51:5). Sin’s reign is mighty and pervasive. It wire-taps our brain, reading our desires and offering the latest high. It infests our flesh, pushing us toward comfort and satisfaction in forbidden choices. But in the crucifixion of Christ, being united to him, we are set free from the rule of sin.

4. We will live with Christ (v. 8-9)

If the first event (dying with Christ) has happened, the second event (living with Christ) follows. God keeps his promises. If we have died with Christ, we will also live with him. Sin is irrevocably defeated. In Jesus’ resurrection, our relationship to sin is fractured.

5. We are alive to God (v. 10-11)

Once upon a time, we were alive to sin and dead to God. But now we are dead to sin and alive to God. Jesus’ once for all death lead to his resurrection life. We join him in that. We don’t have to wait for it, either. We join him right now in part as we await the fullness of what is to come. We should consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God this very moment.

If 6:1-11 tells us what is true, 6:12-14 tells us what to do with that truth. We are not under the rule of sin anymore. It can allure us, tempt us, call out to us from the streets, but it has no power to make us obey. Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace, and that grace leads us away from sin and into obedience. We can say no to sin and yes to Jesus. We can do this (and succeed in doing it) because the words of 6:1-11 are true.

The question that remains is not “will we receive grace?” but rather “what will we do with the grace we received?” There are two options before us. We can use grace as an excuse to sin or we can use grace as power to obey. Paul urges us to present ourselves to God (v. 13). Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace. That means the grace we need to grow in holiness is the grace that comes from our union with Christ. We must never stop drinking from this fountain. Let’s present ourselves to God and let his grace rule.

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