Did you know that you cannot live in sin? Well that’s exactly what Paul says in the first two verses of chapter six! He anticipates the objection that grace encourages people to sin in order to get more grace. Apparently, some had accused Paul of encouraging sin in just this way (Rom.3:8), and he replies with a claim that will knock your socks off! He asks, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”(6:2). Do not attempt to dilute this radical statement with theological qualifications. He said you can’t live in sin. I know exactly what your response is (so did he), but hold on and let him finish this entire section of the letter (chapter 6-8). But before we move on to what Paul says next, let John reinforce this truth in his own incredible words.
First of all, John says of Christ, “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). But we are “in Him.” Doesn’t that mean there is no sin in us, either? Keep reading. “No one who lives in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (v.6). If this is not enough, read this one last arresting statement: “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed lives in him; indeed he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (v.9). How does that declaration strike you?
What we are beginning to see is that we are merely vessels, either of wrath or of mercy (Rom.9:22-23). Just as a branch can only produce the fruit of whatever tree it belongs to, so a vessel does not have an identity of its own. It receives its identity and purpose from whatever it contains. Because we are vessels, we have always received our identity from someone else. But sin has deceived us into thinking that we have an independent identity which we constitute by our actions. This is the great lie, and it continues to deceive both unbelievers and believers to this day. For the rest of chapter six (vv. 12-23), Paul uses the metaphor of slavery to describe our condition. A slave has no life of his own, but must do whatever his master tells him. That is all we have ever been! But sin deceived us into thinking we were free men (and women) while all along we were “slaves to sin” (vv.17,20). This deepens our problem because, now that we are believers, we still believe we are free men and thus capable of going back under sin’s mastery. Therefore, whenever we act like sinners we are sinners, and we’ve gone back to our old selves. But what we do not see is that we are now slaves of righteousness!
By Neil Carter