Justified to Break the Power of Sin
From Gospel Translations
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 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. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
I begin with a general statement about the believer's union with Christ:
Because of our union with Christ, we have died with him and we will most surely rise with him from the dead.
Now immediately, on hearing that, you should ask, "Is that really what you want to say? Don't you mean to say, 'Because of our union with Christ, we have died with him and we have been raised with him – not: we will most surely rise with him?' Don't you mean to say, 'Since we are united with him and he has risen, we were in him and also rose with him'? Isn't that present experience of resurrection implied in verse 4b: 'As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life? And verse 11: 'Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus'? And verse 13b: 'Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead?"
"And doesn't it say in Ephesians 2:5, 'When we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him'? And in Colossians 3:1 doesn't it say, 'If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God' (see also Colossians 2:12)? So surely what you mean to say, Pastor John, is, 'Because of our union with Christ, we have died with him and we have been raised with him.'"
My answer is Yes, Yes, I want to honor the biblical truth that our union with Christ means that we now "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4), and we now are "alive to God" (Romans 6:11), and we now are "alive from the dead" (Romans 6:13), and we "have been raised up with him" (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1). But I also want to honor the biblical truth of Romans 6:5 and 8. Verse 5: "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection." That sounds very future. It's the same in verse 8: "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." Again our resurrection is future. And I want to honor the meaning of Romans 8:11, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Again, our union with Christ by his Spirit guarantees our future resurrection. And it's the same in 2 Corinthians 4:14, "He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus."
And one of the reasons I want to say it the way Paul says it in Romans 6 is because he may be protecting himself from a heresy that was afoot in his day. Listen to his description of the heresy in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. He warns against those whose talk "will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some." The heresy was, "The resurrection has already taken place." So it is possible to take the biblical truth from Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1 and Romans 6:4, 11, 13 and turn it into a gangrene-like heresy.
So how shall we not do that? Answer: We will say what the text says in Romans 6:5 and 8, and then we will ponder how this fits with the other rest of the truth. And what the text says in verse 5 is, "If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection." And what the text says in verse 8 is, "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that weshall also live with Him." So yes, what I want to say for my general statement today is, "Because of our union with Christ, we have died with him and we will most surely rise with him from the dead."
Now here is what this means: One way that our death with Christ works newness of life now (freedom from sin now) is by the effect this death has on our future. I'm getting this straight from the logic of verses 5 and 8. Be sure you see it. Both verses have an "if . . . then" construction. Verse 5: "If united to him in his death, then certainly you will be in united in his resurrection." Verse 8: "If we have died with Christ, then we believe that we shall also live with Him." So one crucial point for Paul is that death with Christ guarantees the life and glory of our future.
Believing this is utterly crucial in experiencing the present power of Christ's resurrection in your life. Believing that our future is gloriously secure and happy in Christ is one way that we experience the power of Christ now to free us from sin.
Paul develops this in two different ways: one in verses 5-7 and the other in verses 8-10.
1. Let's take the second first, Romans 6:8-10.
Look at how important it is to believe that your future is secure in Christ. Notice the word "believe" in verse 8: "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." That is what we believe. That is our confidence – that our future is secure and firm and unshakable and happy in Christ. This is how we consciously experience the benefits of union with Christ – we believe them. We bank on them. We rest in them. We are satisfied by them.
Then look at how Paul buttresses this faith in the future. His argument in verses 9-10 has five steps.
1) Christ died to sin once for all. Verse 10a: "For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all." That is, Christ really died, and when he died he dealt with sin so completely that his death never has to be repeated. It is once for all. He took care of the sin problem for all who are in him.
2) Then he rose from the dead. Verse 9a: "Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead . . ." The work was done. Sin was dealt with completely. That is why he died. So there was no reason for him to remain dead. So he rose.
3) Now the life he lives, he lives to God. Verse 10b: "The life that He lives, He lives to God." In dying he satisfied the claims of sin; and in living he satisfies the claims of God. His resurrection life is a life utterly oriented on and for the glory of God, with the problem of sin finished and done with.
4) Therefore, he is triumphant over death. Verse 9b: "Death no longer is master over Him." Death is a defeated foe. Christ is master of death, not the other way around. Jesus holds the keys of death and hell. Death serves his purposes and has no final authority over him.
5) Therefore, Jesus will never die. He is indestructible, forever. Verse 9a: "Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again." Jesus will never die again.
All of that great argument is given by Paul to support the belief of verse 8b: "We believe that we shall also live with Him." He means for us to feel the firmness of those five steps in our soul by faith. We must believe, trust, be confident that we will "live with him – forever." If we are united to Christ by this faith, we have died with Christ; our sin problem has been dealt with; we will rise; we will live to God; death will not be master over us; we will never die again; we will share his indestructibility.
That is what Paul wants us to believe and to experience. That confidence. That hope. That security. That satisfaction. That's what God is for us in Christ Jesus. And believing it is what makes our union with Christ a powerful and effective experience now, not just in the future.
This is why Paul stresses the effect that dying with Christ has on our future. Because in believing that – in being hope-filled and secure and satisfied in that future with Christ – the power of sin is broken in the present. Sin can't enslave a person who is utterly confident and sure and hope-filled in the infinite happiness of life with Christ in the future. So Paul stresses in verse 8 that our death with Christ secures our triumphant resurrection with him in the future. That is the point of verses 9-10. Believing that is how our death with Christ becomes powerful in the present.
Now that is one way Paul develops the relation between dying with Christ and our future (vv. 8-10). He does it a very different way in verses 5-7. So let's look finally at the way he argues here for the connection between our death with Christ and our future resurrection with him.
2. Romans 6:5-7
Notice that the unit begins the same way that 8-10 does, namely, with the connection between our death with Christ and our future resurrection with him. Verse 5: "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection." That is given as the basis of our walking in newness of life in verse 4. So it is crucial and powerful for Paul that we know that we will be united with Christ in a resurrection like his. Believing that and hoping in that is essential, just like we saw in verse 8.
But now Paul argues for this link between our death with Christ and our future resurrection in a very different way than in verses 9-10. There he focused on Christ's indestructible life. Here he focuses on our transformed life.
He says, You are going to be united in a resurrection like Christ's (v. 6), "knowing this [= for you know this] that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." In other words, he argues that your death with Christ certifies, guarantees, your future resurrection because it secures your freedom from the slavery of sin. Your old self was crucified. Which means that your body is no longer the helpless accomplice of sin. Instead you are freed from slavery to sin and the body can now become the instrument of righteousness.
So verse 6 supports the certainty of our resurrection with Christ by showing that death with Christ sanctifies us, changes us, breaks the power of sin in our lives. This doesn't mean that sanctification (holiness) earns resurrection, but it does mean that there will be no resurrection without it. (See verse 22: "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome [of this sanctification], eternal life.")
Which raises the question, doesn't it: What about justification? Aren't we acquitted and accepted and declared righteous by faith alone? Isn't that what secures our final resurrection with Christ? How does justification fit in?
Paul gives the answer in verse 7, but the English versions make that hard to see by translating the word "justified" as "freed." Verse 7 says, "For he who has died is justified from sin." Everywhere else in Paul's writings (26 uses of the verb dikaiow) the meaning of this word is "justify" or "acquit" or "vindicate." Nowhere else in Paul does it have the meaning "free" from in the moral sense of freeing from sin.
So how then would verse 7 argue for verse 6? Verse 6 says, in essence, "Our old self was crucified so that we would no longer be slaves us sin." Now verse 7 says, "For [that is, because] he who has died is justified from sin." O how easy it is to jump to the conclusion that since justification from sin argues for no longer being slaves to sin, it must then not mean what it usually means (the declaration of innocence), but rather real transformation of behavior.
But that seems superficial to me. For this reason. How are people enslaved to sin? One way is by the powerful lure of sin. It is attractive. And if that is the only way that sin holds us in bondage, then verse 7 probably would have to mean. "He who has died is freed from this powerful attraction of sin." And "justified" would not have its ordinary meaning.
But there is a deeper way that sin enslaves people, and holds them captive. And I have seen it do this horrible work in recent years. Sin creates a blinding guilt that makes a person feel hopeless and despairing that they could ever be forgiven and included among the righteous. This is deeper and more terrible than slavery to the lure of sin. This is slavery to the blinding despair of sin.
You ask a person in this slavery to sin, Don't you realize that the promise of sin is a lie, and that you are on a dead-end street of destruction? And amazingly, they may agree with you, and perhaps say something like, "I know, but it doesn't make any difference. There is no hope for me anyway." Here is a person not only in bondage to the lure of sin, but even more terribly to the despairing blindness of the guilt of sin. They can't make any progress in fighting the lure of sin, because they feel no hope in escaping the guilt of sin.
Now if there is such a slavery as that, then verse 7 is perfectly designed to describe the remedy. It goes like this. Verse 6: "Our old self was crucified so that we would no longer be slaves us sin." How so? How does death with Christ free us from slavery to sin. The answer of verse 7: it goes first to the deepest root of slavery – not the lure of sin, but the blinding and hope-destroying guilt of sin, and says, "He who has died is justified from sin." The guilt is taken away before the lure is broken.
Which means this in summary: In overcoming the power of sin in our lives we are not first given the moral ability to break sin's allurement; we are first given the personal legal right to break the despair that I cannot be forgiven and declared righteous. We call this justification. To put it another way, justification is the foundation of sanctification which, in turn, is the certification that we are on our way to a resurrection with Christ in union with him.
So the main point of verses 5-10 is that union with Christ secures our eternal resurrection life of joy with Christ. It does so in two ways: 1) it unites us to Christ who himself is alive with indestructible life and cannot die; and 2) it unites us to Christ who justifies us and takes away the blinding despair that we are hopeless in our sin. And from this place of indestructible hope, we grow in our ability to defeat the deceptive lures of sin, and give our lives away in love.
Copyright 2000 John Piper