Fine then, the Law came in so that lawbreaking would increase which would mean all the more need for grace. So what does it matter? Why not (for example a Jew who has the Law and knows this) keep sinning? I mean, Paul, if God is so righteous and he is now saving sinners by grace’why not sin so that there’s even more grace? What answer do you have to that sin nature in all of us?”
In our courtroom Paul is backed into an apparent corner where the prosecution smugly crosses his arms waiting for Paul’s answers. Paul wisely paces his case in responding specifically to that charge of the problem of the sinful nature which leads to more sin. He points out how we who died to sin can not live in it anymore. In a little bit he’ll say that our old man is crucified with Christ. Soon after that he’ll say that we are to consider ourselves to be dead to sin.
Now we have the tendency to leap ahead and say “Yes! The Holy Spirit enables us to not sin anymore and we know in Romans 12 that we’re supposed to offer our bodies a living sacrifice!” Maybe we might even leap into Galatians and say that we have been crucified with Christ or perhaps start quoting how Christ told us to carry our cross daily. Those are all well and good but Chapter 6 serves a purpose in the core of Paul’s argument.
Paul uses a picture of the water baptism explaining it as a picture of being unified in Christ’s death. What does that entail? Is this a mystical union, solidarity of some non-mystical sort (I’ll have to examine that at some other point) or is Paul illustrating the first defense for sin not having power over a believer?
Now we may have a tendency to leap once more, this time within the chapter, and say that it is a mental exercise. That we are to constantly walk about thinking “I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead…” to survive the assault of sin while others say ‘I literally am now dead” and effectively downplay the sin that so easily besets us.
Paul tells us that the old man, our old self, was crucified with Christ: not our old nature, but our entire person. Who we are, the way we act, the former man as defined by sin as a system was crucified with Christ and we identify with that death in the picture of water baptism. Knowing that this is the case and that Christ has been raised from the dead, we can now walk in newness of life. Death is no longer a master over this person for they have died in that legal sense.
Paul is offering a legal defense of God’s dealing with sin in man. He’s already paid for the sin via propitiation, but now, that entire old self is legally killed in the identification with Christ. This isn’t a daily thing for Paul points out that this old self was (past, present and evermore) crucified with Christ. This being the legal case, a believer can now consider his own person and say “I am legally dead to sin–it has no hold over me since I have already died.”
With this legal ruling in mind, the believer no longer has to let sin reign in his body but he can legally point out that sin has no authority there. Now, does this leave sin powerless?
Law, consisting of Commandment (Do this or Do NOT do this) plus Penalty (or else) would demand nothing less than perfection from a person. But this demand is not friendly advice: if the perfection is not met you are tossed into hell for that lack of imperfection. Grace, which is super-abounding, allows the individual to fail and to get up and try again. The penalty of sin is gone, this is true, but the consequences are a totally different thing.
A person can still present his members to sin and incur the natural consequences. Sin, although no longer being the fruit of a person’s life, can now become the habit of a New Man’s life. Sin can reign in the mortal body and in such a way as to make those members instruments of unrighteousness indeed even slaves.
Let’s not get blue in the face thinking that Christians can not go down this dismal path; it’s happened often enough. Christian’s addicted to anger, or alcohol, or pornography. Sometimes reveling in biting one another (Gal 5:15), division or even preference? Elsewhere we’re told that there is even a sin which leads unto actual, physical death (1 John5:16)!
So then a believer, who has been freed from sin and now enslaved to obedience (to God, one would rightly assume), decides to put sin to reign in his members will produce in his body the outcome of sin which is death. This is not a spiritual death here but an all encompassing death of benefits. Paul makes a point to underscore then that the wages of sin is death, resulting in more death but the benefit of the free gift of God is eternal life.
Paul uses a final legal picture of marriage in Romans 7:1-6 A woman is bound to her man as long as he lives, but now that he is dead she can marry another. The picture shows how death has divided the legal connection of marriage, therefore our death in Christ releases us from the marriage to the Law and it’s fruit bearing for death. But now, we serve in the newness of the Spirit, this spring of new life, and not the oldness of the letter.
There’s surely some question here if this is some sort of legal fiction. By that I don’t mean something made up that sounds like it fits some sort of law requirement, but rather an acting out of legal requirements which were previously not considered. It looks at previous rulings and wonders “how does this apply in this new matter”. A good example is in United States citizens being able to sue corporations when they previously could only sue other individuals. The court decided to make Corporations a “Corporate Person” and this allowed for the expansion of powers. But this question won’t be addressed here.
Here, Paul’s defense of God’s righteousness in this aspect is a legal defense showing identification in one death and subsequent identification in one life which is eternal. Matters of imputation, solidarity, union and so forth will have to be addressed at some other point
Other articles in this series?specifically the second movement: God’s Righteousness Defended in The Believer’s Mind.