Having vigorously argued in the first chapters of Romans that we receive life in God not by “being good” through religious or ethical effort but through faith in Jesus, Paul turned to address a mistake that people may derive from this gospel truth.
Namely, if we do not and cannot earn God’s favor through our spirituality or morality, are we not then free to act as we please? Indeed, if grace abounds beyond the magnitude of our sinfulness, why should we not continue to sin to increase both God’s grace toward us and our experience of grace? In short, once we have accepted God’s grace through faith in Jesus, can we not do whatever we want? It should not matter how we live since we have been included in God’s kingdom by grace, not by religious or ethical striving.
In the latter part of chapter 6 and following, Paul argued against this grievous misunderstanding and misapplication of the gospel as vigorously as he had argued for reconciliation through faith in the first chapters of Romans. The swing of his argument hinged on verse 11 of chapter 6, immediately preceding today’s reading. Verse 11 reads: “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Verse 12 follows: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body….” (Emphasis added.)
As Paul plainly distilled them, the oppositions are these: alive to sin, dead to God; alive to God, dead to sin. That is, when sin “animates” us, we are actually dead in principle and in practice – dead to God, and therefore dead to true life. When God re-animates us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we become dead to sin in principle. As God makes us dead to sin in principle, we are supposed to be dead to sin in practice.
The basis of this, Paul explained, lies in the reality of mastery. We like to think we are in absolute control of our lives. We deceive ourselves. In truth, what we give ourselves to, masters us. If we give ourselves to sin, sin masters us. If we give ourselves to God, God masters us. Sin is a destroyer, driving us to death. God is a lover, embracing us with life.
The question before us, then, is simple. Once we begin to live in God’s long embrace, why would we turn from it by practicing what only cheats as life and freedom?