For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6)
Another Sunday, another great text from Romans, today chapter 6, of which I just read the last verse. To fully appreciate this last verse of Romans 6, you need to grasp the entire chapter sixth chapter of Romans from the beginning. It really forms one complete thought. And that thought is this: You are dead to sin, dead to your self, dead to the Law. And at the same time, you are alive to God, alive in Christ, and free.
The chapter begins with a question: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? That’s a good question. Paul’s heard it many times, I’m sure, as he taught in the synagogues. He’s taught that the grace of God, His undeserved kindness toward sinners, a grace that reconciles the enemy, exceeds the worst of our sin. Not only that, the purpose of the Law, the commandments of God, is not to make men better but to make them worse, to amplify the Law and make sin utterly sinful so that people trust in Christ and not in themselves.
Now when you first hear that you are freed from the Law, that grace abounds over sin, that the sinner is justified freely for Christ’s sake, the first thing the old Adam in us thinks is this: Oh boy, now I can do whatever I want! In fact, why not sin, so that God can be even more gracious to me?
Paul’s heard the question before, and he anticipates it. Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? The answer: Absolutely not! In fact, if you ask the question that way, you’ve missed the point entirely. You’re dead. “We died to sin, how can we still live in it?”
But I’m still alive and breathing, Paul. What do you mean, I’m dead. I’m not dead yet. I’m very much alive.
And Paul says, “That’s where you’re dead wrong. Don’t you know that those who were baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized in His death? Of course you know that. That’s basic catechism 101. You died. Not physically, as they say. That will happen soon enough. You died in a much more significant way. God declared you dead, like the judge that declared Steve Fossett dead, even though no one has ever found the body. You’re forensically dead; declared so by God.
When did that happen? When you were baptized. “We were therefore buried with Christ through Baptism into His death.” Baptism is a forensic act; an objective act of the Word of God working through water. God declares you officially dead. The rest, you might say, this business of dying we’re so occupied with, is simply catching up with what God has already declared to be a fact. You’re dead. Crucified with Christ. Buried with Him.
Now normally we think of being dead as a bad thing. Death is a bad thing. The wages of sin is death. In dying, we get what we deserve. What we deserve is to die forever. But God has a different plan. He wants us dead now, to tuck us into the death of Christ now, which is the only death that is safe for a sinner. Die with Jesus. Be crucified with Jesus. Joined to Jesus in His death.
People say, “I just want to die.” God says, “You’re on the right track.” Now you can’t kill yourself; that sort of death won’t work. God has to kill you. And He does it by putting you to death in Jesus and declaring you legally dead. Dead to the Law. So get it straight. You may think you’re alive, and in a certain sense you are. But as far as God is concerned, you’re dead, so you may as well get used to the idea. And when you do, you’ll find it a most liberating thing, really. The dead have nothing to lose. They are free.
God doesn’t declare us dead so we can be a bunch of deadheads or deadbeats, but so we might be free to be our true selves. “We were buried therefore with Christ by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life.” Ah, you see, it’s no only about being dead, but being alive. Not in your selves, there’s nothing but death in there. But in Christ. You are alive to God in Christ, and being alive to God in Christ, you get to walk in newness of life. A new life now. You don’t have to wait around from the resurrection or what we call “heaven.” You are given a new life now even while you are dying and legally declared dead.
So you might say that God wants you “dead and alive.” Dead to sin and self; alive in Christ who is your Life.
Are you with me so far? Good! There’s more. Since God sees you as dead and alive, you may as well see it that way too. Who knows better anyway, you or God? Paul says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You are at once dead and alive. God has declared it to be so, and faith says, Amen, that’s the way it is. Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
That sets up today’s reading. Therefore, because you are dead to sin by God’s own declaration, and also alive to God in Christ Jesus, do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions. Your bodies, which were once instruments of unrighteousness are now instruments for righteousness. Your whole body, all its 2000 or so parts along with your reason, senses, psyche, mind, spirit, and however else you want to slice and dice it, belongs to God as an instrument of righteousness.
You have been rescued, brought from death, the wages of your sin, to life, as a free gift of God. You have been freed from the Law. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Law cannot condemn you. You are no longer under Law, but now you are under grace, undeserved kindness. And being under grace means something – sin will have no dominion over you.
That’s God’s promise. Because you are under grace, because you are dead to the Law, because you are alive to God in Christ by His own declaration, sin will have no dominion over you. You will sin, certainly. You haven’t ceased to be a sinner. But under the grace of God, sin has no lordship over you. You are not ruled by Lord Sin but by the Lord Jesus.
Now that’s the amazing thing. It’s counterintuitive, opposite the way we think about things. You would think that being under Law would keep things in order, wouldn’t you? We run society that way. When there’s more crime, you need more law, tougher punishments, more dire consequences. But God does things oppositely. He declares us dead to the Law and the Law dead to us. And rather than putting us under the Law with threats of hellfire and brimstone, He puts us under grace, a rule of undeserved kindness and mercy. He justifies the sinner in Jesus.
So now what do you want to do? Keep on serving sin under the Law? Nonsense! There’s a better way. Where you once offered your bodies as slaves to sin, now being set free by Christ, you are free to offer your bodies as slaves to righteousness. This is the thing few people seem to understand, including people who supposedly know their Bibles. This is one of many reasons why the book of Romans is so important. There is no neutral ground. There is no neutral position between death and life, between sin and righteousness. You are either a slave to sin under the Law, or you are a slave to righteousness under grace. And notice something here: there is no crossover position either. There is no being a slave to sin under grace, nor is there being a slave to righteousness under the Law. Those combinations don’t exist.
There is only serving sin under the Law which leads to death; or serving righteousness under the Gospel which leads to holiness and in the end to eternal life. Lord Sin or Lord Jesus? Which do you want?
Dumb question, right? Exactly! That’s why all this hand-wringing about good works and sanctification doesn’t accomplish a single good work. All it creates is two kinds of sinners: frustrated ones and smug ones. Holiness is not something we accomplish in ourselves; it’s the fruit that God produces in us when we live under grace and serve the Lord Jesus, being dead to the Law and serving Lord Sin.
The wages of sin is death; wages you earn. The gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Gifts you receive. You are baptized. It is granted you, for Jesus’ sake.