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The Transforming Intent of the Gospel

December 18, 2022 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans

Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 6:1–4

 

Introduction

I’m especially excited to preach through Romans 6 because it transformed my Christian walk while I was in college. I already had a pretty good understanding of the gospel indicatives we have studied thus far in Romans 1–5. I knew I was a sinner, I knew Jesus died for me, I believed on him, and I knew I was going to heaven.

I also understood that the imperatives in Romans 12–15 and in the rest of Scripture are very important. I was striving to obey God’s will, live a holy life, and love my neighbor. But I had never considered how the gospel indicatives of Romans 1–5 impact the imperatives of Romans 12–15. Rather, I assumed that God saves by grace, and then the Christian life was about me working as hard as I could to meet God’s standard of righteousness.

Then during my sophomore year of college, I took a Romans class, and Romans 6 (as well as 7, 8) revolutionized my understanding of the Christian life. Specifically, I understood for the very first time how the gospel empowers a genuine holiness that I could never achieve on my own. I understood for the very first time how the indicatives of the gospel necessarily drive obedience to the imperatives. It was transformational and so uplifting. I’ve never recovered. I don’t plan on it either.

I pray that the Lord will use the next few sermons to open some eyes to a radically better view of Christian living, and I pray that all of us will walk away with greater hope in our ability to change, with a better strategy for pursuing change, and with greater determination to pursue change. Today we’ll study vv. 1–4. Notice that v. 1 opens the chapter with…

I.  An Important Question (v. 1)

This question builds directly off 5:20–21. Paul just said that the Law of Moses was powerless to produce genuine righteousness. Instead, in the hands of sinners, it only increased the tyranny of sin. But “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” It’s a glorious hope. God’s grace in Christ can save the most wretched sinner.

The Legalistic Challenge: But if you are a Jew who has always believed you must earn salvation by obeying the Law, 5:20–21 sound crazy. Paul understands because he had once believed he could be saved by his works. Therefore, Paul knows what his Jewish readers will ask. We shouldn’t hear this question as coming with a humble, inquisitive tone.

Instead, the Jew says sarcastically, “Paul, your view of grace is crazy. If works don’t contribute to our salvation, then obedience is meaningless. And what a stupid idea that God’s grace is magnified in overcoming our sin. If that’s so, we might as well sin more so that God gets more glory.” We can almost hear him laughing as he draws out the supposedly foolish implications of Paul’s gospel.

He’s not alone. Many legalistic religions believe that free grace eliminates the church’s biggest carrot to keep people in line—fear of eternal torment.

The Antinomian Abuse: Sadly, they can site many examples of professing Christians who have used God’s free grace to excuse ungodly living.

For example, the Free Grace Movement has made a big impact in dispensational circles like ours. They emphasize a simple prayer of faith and eternal security. Therefore, they deny or at least minimize the need to repent, confess Jesus as Lord, or change anything about your life to be saved. And once you are saved, you can deny Christ and commit any sin but still be assured of your salvation.

In fact, Zane Hodges compares salvation to riding a commercial jet. Once the door is sealed, and the plane is in the air, it doesn’t matter how much you hate the plane and want to get off, you are stuck. Similarly, he claims that once you’ve accepted Christ, you’re stuck even if you deny Christ or rebel against God’s will. It’s no surprise that many people take him seriously and are sure they are going to heaven even as they live in ungodly rebellion.

Sadly, Reformed circles are not immune either. There has been a huge swell the last 20 years of people who condemn all effort at holiness and zeal for obedience as legalistic moralism. Don’t try to be holy; just focus on the gospel and wait for Christ to give you a desire for holiness.

There are other churches that are so focused on broad appeal and salvation decisions that they have no stomach for calling people to holiness. I’ve met numerous people who grew up in big, seeker churches. They are confident they are saved, but they live unashamedly in immorality, drunkenness, and other sins.

So, the question in v. 1 is just as relevant today as ever. It addresses the core of our faith and our view of the Christian life. The rest of Romans 6 explains why the assertion of v. 1 is horribly wrong and why every Christian must reject it. Today, we’ll see three reasons in vv. 2–4 why God’s grace must not be interpreted as a license to sin. First…

II.  Christians are dead to sin (v. 2).

I’d like to divide our study of v. 2 into 5 answers that Paul does not give to v. 1.

“Yeah, live it up.” Instead, Paul begins with the strong denial, “May it never be.” You could also say, “Perish the thought” that we should continue in sin. There is no room Paul’s theology for a lackadaisical attitude toward holiness.

“Duh, the Bible is filled with commands.” I want to be clear that this would be a valid response. God’s commands are sincere, and he expects us to obey them. But Paul presses in on a deeper gospel issue. Believers are dead to sin.

This is the thesis statement for vv. 2–14. Verses 3–14 simply unpack the meaning and implications of this very important statement.

As I said last week, when Paul uses sin in the singular, he is focused on sin’s ruling power, not individual acts of sin. Romans 1–3 taught that the unbeliever doesn’t just disobey God; sin reigns over his life, blinding his spiritual vision and making him hostile to God.

But v. 2 declares that when I am born again, God doesn’t merely forgive my acts of sin; he fundamentally changes my relationship to sin’s tyranny. He changes my nature. Specifically, I am forever “dead to sin.” So, 3rd

“You must die for your sins.” Christ already died for them. Nothing about Christian effort earns me salvation. Instead, Paul is describing my response to what God has already done. 4th

“You must put sin to death.” No, what does he say? You already are dead to sin because Christ broke sin’s power the moment you were saved.

Paul uses the analogy of death because something that is dead has no power over you. Dead people can’t force you to do anything. Similarly, the true believer is dead to sin. Sin no longer has dominion/authority over his life. It’s not because I broke sin’s authority; it’s because Christ did.

Yes, Christians are still sinners and temptation is still strong. 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns Christians, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” There’s no room to get cocky. Instead, I must live out my death to sin. Paul will talk about this in vv. 12–14.

However, the new birth fundamentally changes our relationship to sin. We are now able to reject sin. It only rules if we allow it to do so. 5th

“Really spiritual Christians are dead to sin.” Paul never mentions a post-conversion decision to surrender your life. He doesn’t mention a post-conversion, baptism with the Spirit or speaking in tongues as necessary to become dead to sin. No, he assumes that every Christian is dead to sin. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). There’s nothing more I must do.

So, v. 2 makes a very important point that we must shout from the rooftops. Namely, a Christian pursuing a life of sin defies the fundamental intent of the gospel. Jesus didn’t die so that God could merely pack heaven with as many people as possible; instead, he died to transform our lives and to create worshippers of God. He doesn’t just justify us; he brakes sin’s power for the purpose of changing everything about us.

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14–15).

So, anyone who uses the free grace of God to excuse apathy about holiness has not truly understood the gospel. God saves so that we “might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again.”

On top of that, the worldly Christian has misunderstood how evil of a master sin is. Satan is a great salesman. But never forget he’s selling or, really, rat poison. Sin is a horrible master.

But if you are in Christ, you are free from sin’s dominion. Don’t be a fool and return to its mastery. Instead, see the wonderful new freedom you have in Christ to live for something better and something that brings eternal joy and meaning. Live for Christ! Praise God that we are dead to sin. Then vv. 3–4 offer a beautiful vision of why we are dead to sin. The second reason God’s grace is not a license to sin is…

III.  We are united to Christ (v. 3).

This verse uses another analogy to describe the transforming work of the gospel—the analogy of baptism. It’s cool that we are in this passage the same day we did a baptism.

This is a great verse, but it has been the subject controversy. First, some use it to argue for baptismal regeneration, meaning that the act of water baptism applies salvation. But we know that Paul cannot mean that because Paul has consistently taught redemption is applied by faith. As well, he makes a sharp distinction between evangelism and baptism when he says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel’ (1 Cor 1:17).

Others believe that Paul is using water baptism as a symbol for conversion. This is because he assumed that when someone becomes a Christian, they will be baptized into the church almost immediately. This was the normal practice of the early church. The NT knows nothing of an unbaptized Christian. Baptism is an essential first step of discipleship. So, it’s argued that vv. 3–4 are simply rehearsing the symbolism of baptism.

But others argue that Paul is describing Spirit baptism, since vv. 3–4 sound like they are saying that baptism accomplishes these things. And the Holy Spirit is the one who places me in Christ and in his church when I get saved.

My take is that we don’t have to decide between Spirit and water baptism because water baptism mirrors Spirit baptism. When we baptize a new believer, we illustrate what the Spirit has already done.

Verse 4 will tease out that symbolism more, but for now, notice in v. 3 that the Spirit’s fundamental work, which we symbolize in water baptism is that he places us in Christ.

We call this union with Christ. It has become my favorite doctrine because union with Christ is the fundamental blessing of the gospel. It’s because I’m united to Christ that I am justified, redeemed, adopted, and sanctified.

But I also love this doctrine because of how beautiful it is. Specifically, as a child, I thought of salvation mostly as a transaction. I prayed a prayer of faith, and God responded with benefits—forgiveness, justification, an eternal home, etc.

But the NT teaches that Christ himself is the fundamental blessing of the gospel. To be a Christian is to be in Christ. We don’t fundamentally get a ticket to heaven; we get a relationship to a person.

And v. 3 says that this relationship to Christ radically transforms my relationship to sin. That only makes sense. For example, if I buy a loaf of bread from a baker, after we make our transaction, our relationship is over. Once I walk out of the store, I can do whatever I want with the loaf of bread. I can cherish every bite or feed it to the birds. It doesn’t matter because the bread is mine. But if Heidi bakes me a loaf of bread, I better cherish it. My relationship to her changes everything.

Similarly, when I got saved, I didn’t just make a transaction with God; I entered a relationship with his Holy Son. I was “(Spirit) baptized into Christ.” So, anyone who thinks he is free to do whatever he wants with the grace of the gospel has fundamentally misunderstood what the gospel is. The gospel is a relationship to a person.

And vv. 3–4 proceed to say that I’m not just united to Christ’s legal righteousness. Rather, I am united to his death and resurrection in a much more practical way. The 3rd reason why grace must not be interpreted as license is that…

IV.  We are united to a new power and a new direction (vv. 3–4).

These verses are so crucial to the Christian life because they say that when Jesus died and rose again, he didn’t just answer the legal penalty for sin. He also addressed sin’s reigning power. He broke the power of sin and death over humanity (v. 10).

And when I am united to Christ, I am united to every aspect of this powerful victory. So, v. 3 concludes that we have been (in the ultimate sense) “(Spirit) baptized into His death.”

Before I was saved, I lived under the dominion of sin. I was spiritually blind, I lived for myself, and I was hostile to God. But the moment I was united to Christ, that old life died with Christ. I’m not the same person I once was. My old life is dead.

In fact, v. 4 adds that I was also united to Christ’s “burial.” “We have been buried with Him.” The significance of Christ’s burial is that it confirmed his death. He really was dead, and we know it because he was buried for 3 days. So, Paul mentions our burial with Christ to confirm that the old man is dead.

But thankfully, Christ didn’t just die, and neither did I. I love how v. 4 puts it. “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father.” John Murray says, “The Father’s majesty or perfection in its fulness is conceived of as operative in the resurrection of Christ and, in that event, this expression more than any other in the NT would signalize the redemptive, vindicatory, and revelatory significance of the Father’s act in raising Christ from the death—the plenitude of the Father’s glory is manifest in the resurrection of his own Son.” Jesus didn’t just come to life. The Father shattered death and displayed incredible glory.

In so doing, he made resurrection life available to all who are in Christ. And this new life is not just about going to heaven. It changes everything about my life today. I can walk in “newness of life.” “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). I’m a totally different person.

I always like to emphasize that when we baptize someone, it symbolizes this incredible union. Dipping in the water symbolizes the fact that my old life is dead and buried with Christ. And Christ has raised me from spiritual death, and I intend by his grace to “walk in newness of life.” Baptism is a sober declaration that I intend to live for Christ, but I can only do so “in Him.”

So, when I began to appreciate what Paul is saying in Romans 6, it transformed my understanding of the gospel. I get so angry when Christians water the gospel down to a quick little decision, a passing feeling, or a sheepish raised hand. That’s not the gospel. Being born again is about entering a beautiful, glorious, and radically transformative relationship with the Son of God.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). That’s incredible. Union with Christ is so transformative that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). John clarifies in 1:8, 10 that he does not mean we never sin. We still have a sin nature, and we have a long way to go. But this verse says the “seed” of Christ abiding in us transforms my relationship to sin. I have a brand new power and an entirely different life direction.

Conclusion

I’ll develop all this much more as we continue through the rest of the chapter, but I hope we can all see that turning the grace of God into a license to sin is a terrible abuse of God’s grace. If someone leaves the transformative impact of the gospel out of their evangelistic presentation, they are distorting the gospel.

Yes, doing so might make the gospel more appealing to a spiritually dead sinner, but it hides much of the gospel’s beauty. What could be more incredible than entering union with Christ? I am “in Him.” And this fact gives so much hope as I battle sin (v. 14). I can overcome, and I will overcome.

So, Christian, rejoice in your union with Christ and be encouraged in your battle with sin. And then commit to engaging the battle. Every sin you commit is an offense against your union with Christ. Resist it firm to the end but do so in conscious, constant dependence on the strength of Christ.

And if you have never been saved, you can be united to Christ this morning. Yes, Jesus demands everything, but he is worth more than anything he calls you to leave behind. Jesus invites you, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).

More in Romans

May 19, 2024

Don’t Graduate from the Gospel

May 12, 2024

Separatism Serves Unity

April 28, 2024

Friends and Teammates