Romans 6:1–11 (NKJV)
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage addresses a question that is raised by critics of the gospel of grace—mercy encourages misbehavior.
It does. Criminal justice psychologists can attest to the dangers of failing to punish the guilty. If the rules of psychology applied here, the critics would be right.
But the gospel isn’t about behavior modification through conditioning; it’s about transformation—new life in Christ. Rather than using reward and punishment to get people to change their behavior, Christ puts the old person to death and raises a new one to life. It’s a completely different approach.
Thus, grace can’t cause us to sin more. How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? … For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Behavior modification doesn’t work against sin anyway; the condition is systemic. You can’t cure a cold by suppressing a sneeze either. Attacking the symptoms of a cold may be useful, but it still has no impact on the real battle—the microscopic war going on inside your body.
So it is with sin. Sin manifests itself as specific sins (envy, greed, pride, etc.) but these things are just what bubbles to the surface. Suppressing those sins does not fix the internal condition of sin.
You might even say, “Christ didn’t die to cure us of our sins; He died to cure us of sin.” That sounds wrong at first, but it’s precise. The cross is the cure—the only cure.
But the real cure isn’t instantaneous, even though the justification part is. The sins remain—and drive us nuts. “Why can’t I stop?”
Trying to stop sinning through effort and will power, misses the point. You must make an effort, but prayer is the key to success. The Holy Spirit has to do the heavy lifting.
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