Romans 6 highlights a spiritual progression that involves 1) knowing who you are “in Christ, 2) believing that this really is in fact true, 3) presenting yourself in faith to God, 4) putting into practice who you really are “in Christ, and this leads to 5) a greater understanding, appreciation, affection for your position which starts the cycle over again. Sanctification then is a progressive growth in the understanding and application of our position in Christ.
And every time you come through this cycle, good works, righteous deeds, and the fruit of the Spirit are the result. Progressive sanctification is a daily act of faith which produces righteousness. And sin is simply unbelief as we fail to believe the promises of God over the promises of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Let’s quickly look at each of these four categories:
Know your position
The first eleven verses address the issue of a believer’s position in Christ and how that affects their practice of sin. Now the reason that Paul is writing this section of Scripture is because there are some who are misunderstanding the nature of God’s grace. Romans 5 highlighted the beauty and totality of God’s grace with a statement like “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). But some people might take this positional peace and righteousness too far and think that since they are legally declared righteous they can simply keep on sinning. We hear this very clearly in 6:1 – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And Paul’s answer in 6:2 is very clear: “By no means!”(“May it never be!” – NASB; “God forbid!” – KJV). His answer is strong because to keep on sinning because of God grace is to totally misunderstand everything about God’s grace.
So how does Paul solve this problem of people who think it is okay to keep on sinning? He appeals to their position. He tells them who they are. He calls them to stop living in a way that doesn’t fit with who they really are. He calls them to understand their position.
What is their position? They are dead to sin, alive in Christ. Sin is no longer our master; Christ is now our king. We have been emancipated; there is a new legal standing declared. We are free. Notice how this is stated throughout verses 3-11:
- v 3 – Being baptized in Christ Jesus means that we were baptized into his death. The waters of baptism serve as a great metaphor for what happens spiritually when a person receives Christ. The effect is that when Christ died, we died. Jesus’ death becomes our death.
- v 4 – Death is not the only thing we share. We also participate in Christ’s resurrection. In other words, Jesus’ victory over sin becomes our victory. He was raised from the death, and we will one day too. But there is another nuance to this that is very important. The last half of verse 4 says that “we too might walk in newness of life.” Being “in Christ” and having died to sin means a practical effect now! The spiritual participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus is meant to help us practically. Vicarious redemption should lead to vibrant righteousness. Remember why Paul is writing Romans 6! He wants to refute those who would say that grace leads to more sin. He turns this on its head and shows us that the point of God’s grace was not just to forgive us but also to free us! Positional righteousness leads to practical righteousness.
- v 5 – Paul simply restates our spiritual position: united in his death, united in his resurrection.
- v 6 – He explains our participation in the death of Jesus more specifically stating that in the death of Jesus our “old self” was crucified “in him.” The “old self” is everything connected to Adam’s fall and the penalty that was involved. He took all of the legal consequences of the reign of sin and paid for them. And the effect of this is “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Again, this is the practical reality of this position does.
- v 7 – Paul summarizes the practical truth of what all of this means: “for one who has died has been set free from sin.”
- v 8 – He repeats the connection between death and life as it relates to us and Christ: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Again, died with Christ; live with Christ. That is the equation. That is the position.
- vv 9-10 – A concluding thought is given to us here which highlights the permanency. Notice the phrases “will never die again” and “death no longer has dominion” and “once for all” and “he lives to God.” The sense here is that the position is secured and preserved by the living person of Jesus.
Does your heart beat when you hear these truths? It should! Just think of what we’ve heard: believers are dead to sin because we are alive in Christ. When he died, we died. When he rose, we rose. In his death, the old, sinful, Adam-cursed, aspect of who we are was declared defeated and every penalty connected with that life was paid for by Jesus. And the effect of this is a positional reality that unequivocally declares: “I am free!”
This is who you are. Central to the process of sanctification and the mortification of sin is embracing who you really are. Like a slave on January 2, 1863, your legal standing has been changed. You may still live on a plantation. You may only have slave clothes on. You may have old patterns of “slave acting,” and you have a lot to figure out. But the fact still remains: You are not a slave anymore!
Killing sin begins by understanding that in Christ I dead to sin and alive in Christ.
The second aspect of this cycle of spiritual progress is being persuaded that what the Bible says about you “in Christ” is in fact true. It is taking what you have just heard about your position and accepting it by faith. Imagine a slave who has just heard the Emancipation Proclamation read to him. He hears “all persons held as slave… be then, thenceforward, and forever free” but he looks around and everything still looks the same. On the one hand, nothing has changed. But on the other, hand everything has. So what does he do? He needs to believe what he has just heard. He needs to be persuaded, convinced or believe. The slave will never act like a free man by just hearing about his freedom; he must believe it to be true.
In Romans 6:11 Paul says that in light of what you’ve just heard about your position in Christ and the reality of sin’s defeat, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The word “consider” (Greek: logizomai) is used by Paul when he is describing spiritual realities which must be believed before they have practical implications. He uses the term to describe a faith judgment regarding justification (Rom 3:28), the value of sufferings (Rom 8:18), Christian liberty (Rom 14:14), and his pursuit of Christlikeness (Phil 3:13). In each case there is something that cannot be seen but believing in it could produce actions that would clearly be seen.
The idea is that the first step toward freedom is to believe that you are indeed free. For the slave in 1863, it means believing that despite everything else he sees and what his life has been like, there is a new freedom that he has been given. He must be persuaded.
As it relates to the mortification of sin, it means that we must believe what the Bible says about us. We must believe that we died with Christ, sin has been defeated, our old self was crucified, and we no longer have to serve sin. We have to believe that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ. So sanctification is a work of faith as well. We must have faith that these things are true! We are saved by believing, but we are also sanctified by believing.
Listen to how Paul captures this in Galatians 2:20 –
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Do you see the connection? This is important because if you remember last week I talked about the internal battle between good and evil. While that is true, there is a real battle inside. There is another important aspect from a positional standpoint: the powers of good and evil are not equal. As I kid in church I heard the analogy of two dogs – one evil and one good. And whichever one you fed was the one who grew stronger. But the problem is that the evil dog is dead. Now you can still act as if the evil dog is alive, you have patterns that are hard to break because you lived with the evil dog for so long. But the fact remains: the evil dog is dead.
You see the Bible tries to show us that sin is common and it is struggle, but it is as unnatural and unnecessary as an emancipated slave refusing to leave an abusive slave master. Far too many believers give their sin too much authority, power, and control. And one of the first steps in defeating sin is realizing and then believing who you are. You don’t have to sin. And when you do, you embrace something from which you have been delivered.
You need to be persuaded that you are dead to sin and alive to God.
In order to make spiritual progress we have to know our position in Christ, and we have to believe that is in fact true. The third aspect of spiritual progress is found in verses 12-14, and the focus in this section is on what it means to “present yourselves to God.”
Verse 12 serves as a reminder or a reinforcement of what we have seen so far – that sin should not be allowed to control the believer because it is a defeated tyrant. To follow sin is to negate the true reality of what is at work here – “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Rom 6:12).”
Verse 14 also reinforces the principle that is in play here. He returns to the spiritual reality upon which all of this is based – “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6:14).” In other words, sin’s reign should not be allowed since it has no dominion.
But what does that look like? Verse 13 shows us:
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.
“To present” means to cause something to be used for service, making something at someone’s disposal, or setting something up for dedicated use. A military analogy might be helpful here. I’m sure you’ve seen the crisp display of a line of soldiers who twirl a rifle and snap it up right. At some point in the ceremony, someone says, “Present arms!” And when this command is declared, the soldier presents his rifle. The call to “Present Arms!” is the introduction and the dedication of an instrument of battle.
This is what the Christian does, and he or she does it with their whole person. The tense is aorist active which indicates that there is a once-for-all dedication but with continual application. In other words, the follower of Jesus has enlisted and when called into formation we line up for battle orders.
Understanding your position in Christ and believing it to be true means that the follower of Jesus continually – daily – presents him or herself to God “as those who have been brought from death to life” and “as instruments of righteousness.” They realize that they are in a battle, and they approach their lives through a lens of “who am I presenting myself to?”
A failure to understand this dynamic has led to weak Christians and weak churches. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflects on this when he writes,
The main trouble with the Christian church today is that she is too much like a clinic, too much like a hospital…suffering with the mumps and measles of the soul…feeling our own pulses and talking about ourselves. We have lost the concept of the army of God, and the King of Righteousness in this fight against the kingdom of evil. What we all need is not a doctor but a sergeant major…who is there shouting out the commands of God over you – “Let not sin reign in your mortal body. Yield not your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. Yield yourselves to God”. You have no business to be slouching about like that; stand on your feet, realize who and what you are, enlisted in the army of God. Present yourselves. This is not a clinic.
We must present ourselves to God as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1).
Put into Practice
The final aspect of spiritual progress involves a very important word for the believer, a word that you need to know: obey. Why is this word so critical? Real actions that fit with righteousness, is what all of this is about. Sanctification is not just about position; it is about practice. So any discussion or study of sanctification that doesn’t result in greater and greater obedience is not a true understanding of sanctification. God’s mission is not just to make us holy in the future. He aims to have us be holy (albeit incomplete!) now!
Verses 15-19 lay this out very clearly by linking obedience to ownership. Paul again uses slavery to make this point: you obey the one who owns you. Or to put it another way: whomever you obey is the one whom ultimately serve. For the Christian to obey sin is to live as a slave of a dead master.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15–18 – ESV).
Paul wants us to see that this is so much more than theoretical and spiritual positions. That is certainly in play here, but the other issue is the matter of obedience. It is like he gets in our face and says, “Why are you serving sin? It’s dead. You belong to someone else.”
What he wants here is for us to change our practical, daily allegiance. He wants for you and me to get serious about righteousness. He wants for us to think about all the energy and effort, time and money, thought and planning that went into our sinful actions. And he wants for us to direct the same level of energy to the practice of righteousness.
19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Romans 6:19)
The calling here is for us to see that the call to holiness and the call to obedience is not just something super-spiritual Christians do. It is the normal and natural effect of your position in Christ, being persuaded that it’s true, presenting yourself to God, and putting this into practice with everything you’ve got.
You are free! Jesus paid your debt! He crucified the old you! He has removed the tyrannical power of sin! Believe this! Commit every part of you to this mission! And the live every day of your life in light of this beautiful reality.
When you don’t, do you know what you are like? You are like a slave who is discovered by a Union solider months after the Emancipation Proclamation. Imagine the pitiful scene of a slave who is still choosing to live in the terrible conditions of his slavery and working the fields in fear even though his master has been run off and he is legally free. Imagine a solider saying, “Look here! You are free. Stop living here and acting like a slave. The master is gone. We’re in charge and the President has declared you a free man.”
Imagine the tragedy of a freed slave whose master is gone who still choses to live like slave when he is in fact free!
The cross has defeated the power of sin. You are dead to sin and alive to Christ. You are free! So live like it!
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Exposition of Chapter 6 – The New Man, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1972), 174.