The Law Increases Liability for Sin
After showing to us the detrimental effects of Adam's sin upon all mankind and comparing it with the beneficial effects of Christ's righteous act upon the same people, Paul reminds us that our personal sins then increased the problem. Romans 5:20 says,
20 And the Law came in that the transgressions might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
He had already set forth the idea that "where there is no law, neither is there violation" (4:15). He had already mentioned that "until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law" (5:13). So now in Rom. 5:20 he tells us that the Law was given (through Moses) in order to increase man's liability for sin.
From Adam to Moses, Paul says, there was not the same accountability to the Law that we find after the Law's revelation at Mount Sinai. The Laws of God were always present, of course, because the nature and character of God are unchangeable. But something changed with Moses. By their vow, the people bound themselves to obey the Law, and the Law was established by Covenant to be the Law of the land.
Once they agreed to be obedient, they became accountable to the Law. This was not bad, but good, for it was part of the divine plan, much as a parent holds his children more accountable when they have been given certain instructions to obey. But the overall effect of the Mosaic legislation was to increase the transgression.
It is not that the Law caused men to sin, but that the Law made it a crime (sin) when they violated the will of God and went contrary to the mind and character of God. I have heard men say that the Law was evil because it caused both sin and liability. Such teachers have told people to have nothing to do with the Law, because if you try to obey it, you will be found in sin.
That is like trying to lower the murder rate by repealing the laws that make murder a sin. The murder statistics would drop to zero if a nation simply repealed those laws. In fact, if you have no laws at all, the crime rate itself would drop to zero—not because men would stop murdering and stealing, but because it would no longer be a crime to commit such acts. Righteous laws do not actually increase criminal activity, but they do raise the statistics, because those actions are now categorized as crime.
The problem is not the Law, but men's carnal minds that are not conformed to the will of God. The Law is not to be blamed for holding such men accountable for their actions and for restraining sin through judgment. Who among us would desire to live in a lawless society?
The Law was necessary to establish a viable earthly society among imperfect men. As long as we understand that the Law was not meant to perfect men but to restrain imperfect men in their desire to sin, we will understand the purpose of law. If, however, we are so optimistic as to believe that the Law in itself can perfect the hearts of men, then we suffer from "irrational exuberance," as Alan Greenspan might say (if he were a Bible commentator).
Every time a law is passed on earth, it automatically creates a new class of lawbreakers. Laws are what make sin sinful, so as more laws are passed, there is more sin in the land. This is always the case when the bar is raised and the law establishes a higher level of accountability. But one cannot blame the law for men's lawless behavior, unless the law is the product of the minds of imperfect men. If the law truly reflects the mind of God, then it is a proper standard by which justice and sin are measured.
So sin increased under Moses, because God defined specific sins at Sinai and held men accountable for violating them. Paul says that this was part of the overall plan of God, in order to show the depths to which man had fallen from the standard of the image of God. On the other hand, it also showed just how much grace would be needed to overcome this sudden increase in liability.
At the cross, Jesus paid sin's full penalty, which, because of the Law, had swelled to enormous proportions. It was the divine intent not only to pay for the sin of Adam, but also to pay for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). It was necessary, then, that those sins be fully defined and exposed as transgressions, adding each sin ever committed to the account which Christ would have to pay.
He did indeed pay it all with the one thing that was more valuable than anything on earth—the life of Christ, the One through whom all had been created (John 1:1-3). Hence, "grace abounded all the more," because the abundance of sin could never incur more liability than the blood of Jesus Christ was worth.
21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here again, Paul reminds us that "sin reigns in death" (C.V.). He was speaking of the first death (mortality) which is the cause of all personal sin. It is only in a realm of death that (personal) sin can reign. Adam's sin brought death to us, wherein sin could reign in our mortal bodies. Then, because of the Law that made us personally liable for our sins, a second death was decreed by which men would be judged for their personal sins.
The work of Christ has brought grace to us—a favorable ruling by the satisfied Law—so that we might have "eternal life." The word translated "eternal" is aionian. In the interlinear section of The Emphatic Diaglott, it is rendered literally, "into life age-lasting." In the next column, where it is translated in more readable form, it reads, "for aionian life." Benjamin Wilson obviously understands that aionian does not mean "eternal" in the sense of infinite time. He admits in the interlinear section that it means "age-lasting," but then opts to leave it untranslated in the actual translation itself.
Dr. Young, author of Young's Literal Concordance, renders it "life age-during" in his translation of the Scriptures. Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible renders it "life age-abiding."
The word aionian is time-based, for it pertains to an eon, or an age. It usually refers to the Age of Tabernacles, commonly known as the Millennium. Those who inherit "life age-during" (Young), are those who are given immortality at the start of that Age and are able to enjoy the benefits of immortality "during" the 1000 years before the general resurrection (Rev. 20:12).
These are the overcomers who inherit immortality first. The special salvation that they receive is a better (and earlier) resurrection. They inherit life in The Age and can be contrasted with those who must wait until later. So there is much truth in the popular Christian song that many sing without understanding the words:
One day every tongue will confess You are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose You now.
In other words, Jesus is "the Savior of all men, especially of believers" (1 Tim. 4:10). "The greatest treasure" is aionian life, which is life during The Age, the reward of all overcomers. We are admonished everywhere in Scripture to seek this greatest reward, for even though Christ's death and resurrection has established the FACT of salvation for all men, the TIMING of our reward is determined by our faith.
It is only when we understand this distinction that we can make sense out of Paul's teaching. There is then no contradiction between universal salvation and the judgments of God, by which unbelievers will bow and confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Does Sin increase Grace?
The last two verses of Romans 5 introduce us to the question Paul raises in Romans 6. We learn in Rom. 5:20,
20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
In other words, from Adam to Moses, personal sin was not imputed in some sense (5:13), so God added the Law in the time of Moses in order to make men fully liable for violating the will of God. This increased the world's debt incurred by sin, giving Jesus Christ a huge increase in debt that He had to pay in order to redeem His creation.
So if grace increased to outstrip the load of world debt, then can we not justify our sin on the grounds that it increases grace?
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?
Does grace give us an excuse to continue violating the Law of God? In fact, can we not say that sin is a good thing, since it provides an increase in grace? Paul's answer is swift and firm:
2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Many in the Church have cast aside the Law, thinking that grace is a free pass to pick and choose which laws to follow. Few Christians cast aside the entire Law, and when they do so, their viewpoint is largely theoretical. In practice, they still believe that theft and murder are sins, and they are often quick to quote the Commandments to prove their case.
But yet they also support a prison system for thieves, casting aside the Law of Restitution (Ex. 22:1-4). Most Christians understand murder to be sin, but they are divided about the penalty for murder. Various forms of fornication (biblical definition) are now being debated, with many seeing nothing wrong with couples living together outside of marriage, or engaging in homosexual relationships. At the same time they are outraged at incest and adultery. Hence, they feel that grace has given them the right to choose for themselves which laws to obey and which to cast aside in the name of grace.
Grace is not an evil thing, even if Christians abuse it. Neither is the Law an evil thing, even if the Pharaisees abused it and misunderstood it. It is imperative in either case that we all understand that sin is a matter of violating the Law, and that the Law is the mind and will of God. If we hold those definitions, we then have a firm basis of understanding Scripture.
The Revelation of Baptism
Paul then appeals to the rite and symbolism of baptism to show that no Christian believer retains the right to continue in sin.
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
When we were baptized, it was not the Law that died. We died. Paul made this identical point in Galatians 2:19, 20,
19 For through the Law, I died to the Law, that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. . .
It was the Law that killed Jesus Christ, not because the Law was evil, but because it was good. The Law held men accountable for violating the will of God, and Jesus paid its penalty, thus agreeing with its righteous standard and upholding it to the utmost. We are the body of Christ, and as such, we too died even as Jesus' body died on the cross. This does not put away the Law, nor does it make the Law obsolete. It means that we are raised with Christ and now live as part of His resurrected Body.
The Law now views us as if we were Christ Himself. The Law sees us as perfect and sinless, because in looking at us, it sees only Christ. The Law was made only for sinners—those who are lawless and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9)—and so it turns to seek out lawless ones whose sins give the Law the right to prosecute them. Such people are said to be "under the Law," because the Law continues to find fault with them for their (personal) sins.
However, we as believers in Christ, are now identified with the Body of Christ, not so that we may continue in sin, but that we may learn of His ways and grow into maturity without the threat of judgment. We are imputed righteous. God has used the Law to rule in our favor, on the grounds that Jesus paid the full penalty for sin. Because of this, we have the hope (expectation) of resurrection, not only as a future reward, but also to live today in the power of His resurrection. Romans 6:5 says,
5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
Christ's resurrection did not suddenly bequeath to Him the right to commit sin. Neither did our identification with Him in His resurrected state suddenly bequeath to us the right to sin. The very opposite is true. The power of His resurrection life has given us the Holy Spirit, who always leads us to do the will of God. To be led by the Spirit is to live as He lives. The Holy Spirit leads us always to do the will of God, not to violate the Law (which is sin).
Who Died? Who Lives?
Romans 6:6 and 7 says,
6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed ["justified"] from sin.
It is not the Law that dies, but "our old self," which is identified with the first Adam, who sinned and was condemned to death. That old identity cannot be saved, justified, or reconciled to God, for His righteous sentence cannot be and will never be reversed. The only way into salvation is to be given a new identity in a new birth. That "son" has the Last Adam as its Father and is therefore called a "son of God." Hence, we read in John 1:12,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh [natural procreation], nor of the will of man, but of God.
The "old self" is dead and "done away with," Paul says. Those who claim justification and salvation on the basis of their connection with the first Adam are depending upon a dead man who cannot help them.
Being Freed from Slavery
In Romans 6:6, Paul also begins to introduce to us another concept for discussion, saying, "that we should no longer be slaves to sin." In biblical Law, all sin is reckoned as a debt, and debt is an obligation that enslaves us in some manner. If a man steals $100, the Law convicts him, not by putting him in prison, but by forcing him to repay double to his victim. If he does not have the means to pay, then he is to be "sold for his theft" (Ex. 22:3). In other words, he must work until he has paid off his debt, and he is said to be "under the Law" for as long as it takes to satisfy the Law's penalty.
Hence, Paul speaks of men being "slaves to sin." Our "old self" sinned many times and incurred debts that it could not pay. Jesus paid the debt for us in order to set us free from the penalty of Law. The purpose of Christ's payment was not to free us to continue in sin, but so that we could be free to follow Him in every way.
In the laws of redemption (Lev. 25:47-54), when a man redeems the debt note of a near kinsman, the slave merely changes owners (vs. 53). The redeemed one must serve the redeemer who has bought him. So when Christ redeemed us, we were not freed to continue in sin but to be obedient to Christ.
Death Brings Justification
Let us look more closely at the process and implication of Romans 6:7,
7 for he who has died is freed ["justified"] from sin.
The purpose of the Law is to correct the sinner, thereby re-establishing the lawful order. When the penalty for sin has been paid, the Law is satisfied and has no further grounds to hold him accountable. The Judge then pronounces him righteous (i.e., "justifies" him).
What about those sins that call for the death penalty? Insofar as earthly courts are concerned, some sins call for restitution, but some sins are such that restitution is not normally possible. Premeditated murder, for example, has no restitution, because it would take the ability to raise the victim from the dead to satisfy the Law. Most people are unable to do this, and so the Law remains unsatisfied.
In the divine court, however, all sin is interrelated. As James 2:10 says,
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
Theft, for instance, is more than just theft insofar as the divine court is concerned. It shows hatred for one's neighbor, and hatred is murder (Matt. 5:22). That same theft is also covetousness of another man's goods, so it is a violation of the Tenth Commandment. But covetousness is also idolatry (Col. 3:5), and idolatry is spiritual adultery with false gods.
Thus, insofar as the divine court is concerned—where the standard of righteousness is higher—even the smallest of sins calls for the death penalty. The difference is that earthly courts can kill the body only, according to the first death—mortality—whereas the divine court is capable of imposing the penalty of the second death.
Even so, the Law is always satisfied when full payment has been made for sin, whether one is being judged in a biblical court here on earth, or the divine court in heaven. When any sinner receives the favorable ruling (grace) from the Judge, it is a decree of complete and full forgiveness. There are no ex-cons in Scripture, because all ex-cons are forgiven, and no one has the right to hold their past sins against them.
In the light of these basic principles of biblical Law, Paul says in Romans 6:7 that "he who has died is justified from sin." The death penalty, like all other court rulings, defines what a man must do in order to be justified—that is, to satisfy the Law, so that the Law burdens him no further. Death is the lawful ground for all justification.
In an earthly court setting, the death penalty satisfies the Law. In the divine court, the penalty of the second death satisfies the Law as well. Both penalties are meant to restore the sinner to right standing with God and His Law.
Unfortunately, most people today have been trained to think of the death penalty as never-ending punishment. Some say that the first death is forever, while others say that the second death is forever. Such thinking has warped our sense of divine justice and has kept us from understanding the character of the Lawgiver. But Psalm 130:4 says,
4 But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared [or "respected"].
When judgment is administered without forgiveness, whether by parent or by governments, they lose the respect of the people. Such loveless judgment may indeed produce fear, but it also produces loathing and rebellion. God, however, administers His Law with the purpose of restoring the sinner and the Lawful order at the same time. The sinner finds forgiveness and is moved to love and respect the Judge.
The second death is the judgment of the divine Law, administered on the highest level, and it is designed to bring men into righteous standing. It was never meant to be unending. Even as the first death ends in resurrection (Rev. 20:12), so also the second death ends with the Jubilee. The Jubilee is the Law of Grace, the point where all further judgment for sin is cancelled, and every man returns to the inheritance that he lost through Adam's sin.
When sinners have faith in Jesus Christ, they actually go before the divine court and receive grace and are justified (pronounced righteous). This justification is based upon the death penalty imposed upon Jesus Christ on their behalf. Because the sinner has thus "died with Christ," his debt to sin has been fully paid, because "he who has died is justified from sin." The next verse reads,
8 Now, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.
The death penalty, once paid, means that "death no longer is master over Him." This is because death is a penalty for sin, and it must end when the sinner is pronounced righteous.
The Second Death is a Baptism of Fire
The second death functions under the same principle, but it is a different type of death. It is called the baptism of fire and the lake of fire. God Himself is the consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). The fire of His character is designed to "consume," that is, to devour all flesh, all sin, all disease, all death, and all that does not conform to His character and will.
This fire is also the "fiery Law" (Deut. 33:2). Daniel 7:9 pictures His throne as a fire, because a throne symbolizes the Law by which a monarch rules and judges the people. That fire flows down to the people rising from the dead as the books of the Law are opened (Dan. 7:10). This is the same scene that John saw in Revelation 20:11-15. The only difference is that Daniel saw the fiery Law flowing out of the throne down to the people, whereas John sees the aftermath of that river of fire, where it has formed into a "lake."
This fire is the Law itself, which was given to reveal His will and character. It flows to mankind in order to consume all that does not conform to the full image of God. For believers today, we are given the right to experience this river of fire in our lives today. It is the baptism of fire (Luke 3:16), which is the Holy Spirit operating in our lives to reveal His character in us and to judge and consume all that is carnal or fleshly in our lives.
This is the second death, and hence, Paul says, "I die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31). The practical operation of this baptism of fire in Paul's life is discussed later in Romans 7.
Those who do not allow the baptism of fire in this life must experience it in an age to come, following the Great White Throne judgment. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him by the Spirit of God. That means every unbeliever will become a believer at the Great White Throne. Yet they too must undergo the daily baptism of fire afterward in order to come into spiritual maturity—even as with us today.
We are not told how long that age of fire will last. But it will end according to the Law of Jubilee, which limits the amount of judgment that can be imposed upon felons. (Forty stripes is the limit of judgment for misdemeanors—Deut. 25:3.) The divine Law, which springs out of His character of Love, always limits the amount of judgment even upon the worst of sinners.
For this reason, Paul says, "he who has died is justified from sin." Even as the Law is satisfied when the worst of sinners has been put to death, so also is the law satisfied in the divine court when sinners have completed their time in the baptism of fire that is the second death.
The entire purpose of the lake of fire is to restore the lawful order, that His will may be done in earth as it is in heaven. When all things have been put under His feet, then God will be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
Earthly and Heavenly Courts
In Romans 6, Paul discusses death and its purpose as a penalty for sin. Death satisfies the Law's demands against all sinners, and hence, the one who has died is justified from sin. Yet there is a second type of death to judge sin on a level where the earthly lower court falls short. The "fiery Law" is the same, but at the Great White Throne the hearts of men are laid bare and all the facts of every case are brought forth in evidence.
The Old Testament model for these two courts is found in Exodus 18:24-26, where Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law and established judges under him. These were, in essence, lower courts. In Deut. 1:16, 17 Moses instructed them, saying,
16 Then I charged your judges of that time, saying, "Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God's. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it."
Moses was a type of Christ (Acts 3:22), and we know that all judgment was given to Him (John 5:27). He will be the Judge at the Great White Throne. But meanwhile, here on earth, God has established lower court judges to maintain justice on the earth. We are those judges, and Moses' instructions above are therefore to be taken seriously.
Yet keep in mind that because Israel's judges and priests failed to exercise their authority properly, God stripped them of it and put them under the authority of various "beast" nations. Our authority is thus limited to spiritual matters, while the earthly courts are bound to enforce the laws of men. Our realm is biblical law—the mind of God—but God's sentence in years past has placed certain limitations and restraints upon our authority to implement the mind of God in the earth. Thus, when we see the injustices of men's laws or in men's court systems, we must keep in mind that they rule by God's decree as a judgment upon us. We do retain the right to appeal to the Divine Court, but we do not have the right to enforce God's Law while in this captivity to the kingdoms of men.
While in captivity, much of our activity is designed to be a learning experience. We are to contemplate what we would do if we were judges in a truly Christian nation. As Lower Court justices, we should know the laws of restitution and liability. We should also be led by the Spirit, depending upon the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we would always judge as if it were God Himself sentencing, decreeing, or justifying men.
In the case of a capital crime, we could do no more than sentence a man to death, which merely hastens the results of his own mortality. The Higher Court, however, is capable of sentencing a man to the second death. At that time, the second death will render the first death irrelevant, as we read in Rev. 20:14,
14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
At that point in time, no sinner will die from mortality, because the second death will require him to pay the Law's penalty until the Creation Jubilee finally sets him free in the end of time. This penalty will not be a torture pit, but labor. The Law reckons all sin as a debt to be paid. Because they had not availed themselves of the Sacrifice of Christ on their behalf—either through ignorance or by rejecting Him outright—they will have to labor to pay off their own debt.
Since that debt is obviously unpayable, their debts will be redeemed by the Body of Christ, who in turn were previously redeemed by Jesus Christ Himself. The laws of redemption will then apply, and those judged will serve the redeemers-in-Christ, as we read in Lev. 25:53,
53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him [the redeemer]; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight. 54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of Jubilee, he and his sons with him.
All who are so judged will be placed under the authority of the overcomers, who will rule them according to the loving character of Christ and NOT with "severity." The overcomers will be in a position to teach them the paths of righteousness (Is. 26:9) so they know Christ for who He truly is. This is the penalty of the "fiery Law," according to the character and intent of Christ, the Lawgiver.
We know that Paul was familiar with the laws of redemption, and with Lev. 25:53 (above), because he appeals to this passage later in Romans 6:16-22. We will cover this shortly.
Meanwhile, though, this much is sufficient to give a basic outline of the nature of the second death. God will judge mankind by the standard of His own character as expressed in His own Law. The underlying principle is Love, and Love's goal is restoration, not destruction. The Law reflects His character, and God is well able to restore all men to Himself and to fulfill His every desire.
As believers in Christ, we would do well to study the Law so that we know how to act as judges here on earth. Paul scolds the Church in 1 Cor. 6:2 for not being capable of judging their own cases, having to go to the worldly courts of law to settle disputes:
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?
While it is true that I have digressed somewhat from Paul's discussion in Romans 6, I believe that it is important for us to know more fully the meaning of verse 7 and how death justifies us from sin. There are enormous implications in Paul's statement, which few have discovered because they know not the Law.
Consider Yourselves Dead to Sin
As believers, we have died with Christ and have been raised with Him as well into newness of life. Paul's point is to show us that we are new creatures, no longer descended from Adam, the man of sin, but from Christ, the Righteous One. As new creatures, we are part of the Body of Christ, and having died, we are no longer subject to sin. This is how Paul answers the original question in verse 1, asking, "Shall we continue in sin?" That is, is it now acceptable or good to continue violating the Law?
The answer is obviously NO.
10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Some think that if they just reckon themselves to be dead, that this releases them to sin as they please. Paul was saying the opposite, for our actions will measure just how "dead" we really are. How can we say we are dead to sin if we continue to violate the Law, or to advocate unlawful practices such as showing partiality in judgment, usury, fornication, homosexuality, or the prison system?
If we practice such things, it is evidence that the old man is very much alive and doing well in spite of our church attendance. It is the old man that sins. The new man in Christ does not sin. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 7 in his discussion of the two "I's." Our daily walk, then, is an earthly way of measuring the authority of each in our lives.
So how do we consider (reckon) ourselves to be dead to sin? The Greek word is logizomai, the same word used so often in Romans 4. Paul defines it as calling what is not as though it were. In Romans 4, God does this with those who have faith. In Romans 6:11, Paul tells US to do the reckoning. The fact that our "death" has to be "reckoned" shows it to be a legal declaration of something that is not yet a full reality.
Hence, from the Law's perspective, on account of our faith, we have already been pronounced "righteous" and "justified." This is based upon the fact that we are in Christ, who has died for sin and has been raised from the dead as well. Therefore, we are also reckoned to be dead, insofar as the Law is concerned. To put it another way—to the Law, we are dead. That is, the Law views US as dead, not that we view the Law as being dead.
We consider ourselves (that is, our old Adamic man) to be dead and buried, while at the same time there is a new man that has been begotten in us, whose Father is in heaven. That new man is "Christ in you." It is (like Jesus) the product of God and man, having a heavenly Father and an earthly mother. It is both son of God and son of man.
As we reckon this new man to be our "real self," we will be like Christ, do like Christ, think like Christ, and in every way be in agreement with Him as we are led by the Spirit. This new man serves the Law of God (Rom. 7:25).
Not Under the Law but Under Grace
Romans 6:12-14 says,
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body [body parts] to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present your-selves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.
This passage must be one of the most abused in all of Scripture—particularly verse 14. Christians use it to justify sin, when, in fact, Paul meant the exact opposite. 1 John 3:4 says that sin is lawlessness, that is, spiritual anarchy—living as if the Law has been put away. So every time we read the word "sin," we ought to think of its biblical definition.
Hence, Paul was saying, "do not let lawlessness reign in your mortal body" (vs. 12), "for lawlessness shall not be master over you" (vs. 14). Why? On what grounds? It is because "you are not under the law, but under grace."
Because Christians have not understood what it means to be "under the law," they have defined it to suit their own lawless tendency and have made it say the opposite of Paul's intent. Paul was teaching men NOT to sin (violate the Law). He was not allowing men the right to sin if they happened to disagree with some of the laws of God.
The term "under the law" is the condition that sinners find themselves. They are under arrest and being prosecuted because of their sin. As long as they are subject to prosecution for lawless acts, they are said to be "under the law." If a thief is sentenced to repay his victim a million dollars, and if he cannot pay, the Law says he is to be "sold for his theft" (Ex. 22:3), and he is said to be "under the law" for as long as it takes to work off his debt to sin. When the debt is paid, he is said to be "under grace."
We are no longer "under the law, but under grace," because Jesus Christ has paid our debt to the Law. So can grace be used to justify sin? Shall we sin that grace may increase? Shall we claim the right to sin, saying, "Jesus is willing to pay whatever debt I incur, so this is my license to steal some more"??
God forbid! It is not that the Law was put away, but that the Law was upheld and its demands fully met. Once its demand was satisfied, this did not change the righteous character of God as expressed in the Law. We were redeemed, not so that we could be free to sin further, but so that we would be conformed to His character and His ways.
We have been redeemed, and the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to our accounts, so that we are declared legally righteous during our training period as sons of God. But we ought not to abuse our position as sons, for if we do, we will find that God has some disciplinary tactics of His own and will not hesitate to use them to train us as sons.
I speak from personal experience, for God has never allowed me to get away with sin. Those disciplines, I discovered, did not mean that God had rejected me, but proved that I was a son. We know this from Hebrews 12:5-8,
5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
There is no discipline apart from the Law, for it is the lawlessness in those disobedient sons that the Father seeks to eradicate. Anything God tells us to do is a Commandment and is a Law to us, whether it was written by Moses or spoken to us directly by the Spirit.
For example, through Moses I received the command not to steal, but by the Spirit I learned how to apply it in more subtle ways in my life and ministry. The Holy Spirit taught me how to apply the Law properly in my dealings with other people.
Paul says that the reason sin is no longer master over us is because we "are not under the law, but under grace." Having been redeemed from the mastery of sin, we now serve a new Master, whose commands are holy, just, and good. Because all of His commands and instructions come out of His good character, He will never command us to sin (though some might think His commands to be sinful by their own carnal standards).
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
Some have said that we are now free to violate the law if we wish, but that we do not choose to do so. I am thankful that such people do not choose to violate the law, but the fact that they want to retain the right to sin still portrays the attitude of lawlessness. Invariably, this desire to retain the right to sin does not come out of a right spirit. At times, it will be used to justify sin when the person happens to disagree with God or if he wants to indulge in his favorite sin.
Having said that, it is true that we ought to go beyond obedience and into agreement. The example above pretends to be in agreement with God, but in fact it is rebellion. God is pleased when we think and act in accordance with the mind of Christ (character of God) and do not need to be told what to do—because we already know His will as expressed in His Law.
Being in agreement with God is the goal of obedience. We are obedient as long as we need to be told what to do, for that is how we are trained as sons. The goal of such training and discipline is NOT to arrive at a place where we are allowed to violate the Law. The goal is complete conformity to the righteous character of God as expressed in the Law.
For example, when I was a child, I was told (commanded) not to fight with other children. This was something I had to learn by discipline (believe it or not), because it did not come naturally to me. What if, when I grew up and left home—what if I had said, "I am now no longer under the law, so I am free to return to the dictates of my carnal nature and fight with whomsoever I please"? Does not God expect me to remain in conformity to His Laws after I grow up? Or am I now independent and am able to choose for myself which laws to obey and which to disobey? Do I retain such a right?
The Law of Redemption
In Romans 6:15-22, Paul appeals to the Law of Redemption, showing that a redeemed man must serve his redeemer. Before looking at Paul's discussion, let us again quote Lev. 25:53,
53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.
The context shows that this is speaking of the redeemer and the redeemed one. He who is redeemed—even by a near-kinsman—is not free to live his own life. He is purchased from a stranger who does not love him. The near-kinsman is more likely to treat him with love and "not rule over him with severity." Even so, the redeemed one is still under authority as a slave. He has simply changed masters.
So it is with us. We were redeemed by our near-kinsman, Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:11-15). Our debt note was purchased by our Redeemer. We were bought with a price, Paul says elsewhere:
(1 Cor. 6:20) "For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."
(1 Cor. 7:23) "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men."
The fact that we were purchased means that we are not free to do as we please, but to serve our Redeemer. He owns us, and so we are not free to sin that grace may increase. Paul says in Rom. 6:16,
16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you WERE slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed [eleutheroo, "to make free; set at liberty"] from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
In other words, if we sin that grace might increase, we become a living testimony that we are yet slaves of sin, rather than of Jesus Christ. We have no right to tell our Redeemer, "Thanks for setting me free; see you later." God forbid! Our Redeemer has every right to invoke the Law and to place us under His authority. His authority is not based upon fear but upon love. Even so, the authority is real, and we should not take advantage of his love by continuing in sin.
Take note also that verse 18 above does not say that we are free TO sin, but free FROM sin. Neither does it say that we are free from the law, as if to say that the law has been put away as some sort of oppressor. Our Redeemer did not purchase us from the Law, but from sin (violation of the law). The redemption was done lawfully according to the Laws of Redemption.
19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members [body parts] as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [anomia], resulting in further lawlessness [anomia], so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Paul obviously has not put away the Law. He shows us that we have been redeemed from the slavery of lawlessness, so that we may now present our body parts as "slaves to righteousness," in direct contrast to lawlessness. Jesus uses that same term anomia in Matt. 7:23, where He says to those who did miracles in His name: "Depart from Me, you who practice anomia." The word nomos means "law," and anomia means "lawlessness."
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
In other words, those who are enslaved to sin are being commanded by their master to commit sin, and such people are not subject to the righteous Master who would command them to obey the Law. But when we have been redeemed, we are subject to righteousness, so that we are no longer lawless, nor even legalistic, but lawful.
21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.
Paul here is speaking of the second death, which is the result of our own sin. He is not speaking of the first death (mortality), which is the result of Adam's sin.
22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctifica-tion, and the outcome, aionian life.
Here Paul states the Law of Redemption in his clearest terms. We are freed from Master Sin and have become "enslaved to God," as even Lev. 25:53 commands. This is Paul's conclusion in discussing the question set forth in verse 1: "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?"
Paul's teaching about justification came in the earlier chapters. But now, having been justified, Paul goes to the next level. Sanctification has to do with our manner of life after we have been justified. Shall we continue in sin after being justified by faith? Shall we continue to serve the old master after being redeemed by Jesus Christ?
Let us not make sanctification the basis of our justification. We are not justified because we have been sanctified. We are justified in order that we might begin walking down a new path of righteousness, resulting in sanctification. While this may seem obvious to most people, there are many who yet labor under mental bondage, doubting their justification on the grounds that they are not yet sanctified.
One only needs to learn the story of "the church in the wilderness" under Moses. They were justified through Passover when they all came out of Egypt, being set free from Pharaoh. Their sanctification feast came about seven weeks later when they arrived at the Mount for their first Pentecost. Pentecost is the feast of sanctification. It is the feast celebrating the giving of the Law, whereby the intent of God is to write His Law in our hearts through hearing the Word and being led by the Spirit.
The "outcome" of sanctification, Paul says, is aionian life, which The Emphatic Diaglott translates "life age-lasting." Our justification reverses the effects of Adam's sin and turns mortality into immortality. But sanctification gives us a more specific reward, wherein we inherit Life in The Age. The reward is given sooner to those who are sanctified, for they inherit immortality in the first resurrection, so they may rule and reign with Christ during the Sabbath Millennium. They will be the examples manifesting the glory of God for the benefit of the rest of humanity who do not know Jesus Christ or His Love and character.
Thus, sanctification is important, for it is our primary focus once we have been justified. Justification by faith is not the end of the story, but only the door out of Egypt that begins our journey to the Promised Land. Sanctification is that journey. The end is the Glorification of the body through the feast of Tabernacles—our entry into the full Promise of God, which is our inheritance.
On the flip side of this, Paul says in verse 23,
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift [charisma] of God is aionian life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In other words, the wages of our personal sin is the second death, contrasted by the gracious gift of God, immortality in the first resurrection, which comes to those who are not only justified but also sanctified by the hearing of His word. The first resurrection is the special salvation given to those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10).