Dead to Sin
This article by Donald Moffatt, a new contributor to our pages, formed the basis of a broadcast over The Family Bible Hour. It may be of further blessing in this more permanent form.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
It is noticeable here that the Apostle Paul answers one question by asking another. The first question is, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” This is asked because some of the enemies of the Gospel were contending that since man’s sin was the cause for the display of God’s grace, then, the more man sinned the greater would be the manifestation of the grace of God.
But this thought is abhorent to the Apostle Paul and to all who love righteousness. Paul’s first reaction was of the emotions. He exclaims, “God forbid!” Or, this might be translated more literally, “Away with the thought!” It is not worth considering.
Paul’s second reaction was of reason. He asks, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” He says, in effect, that this is an absolute impossibility. Just as impossible as for a person to be physically dead and physically alive at the same time.
The force of the expression is not, “we that are dead,” but rather,… “we who died.” This looks back to an actual event when the believer is said to have died to sin.
We did this in the person of the Lord Jesus. For while the truth of chapters three to five of Romans is that Christ died for us, here in chapter six it is that Christ died as us. The pronoun … “we”, in the expression, “we that are dead to sin,” speaks of quality. We might read it “people like us who died to sin.” The believer is looked at as one who has passed through death to sin.
Now, when we speak of the believer having died to sin, we find there are three major errors taught about this death.
First, some deny it to be true. They say that since we still have our old sinful body this is proof that we are not dead to sin.
Second, there are some who will say it is true as to theory, but cannot be enjoyed practically.
The third is the teaching that we ought to be dead to sin, and the Christian is exhorted to strive to bring this about in the life.
There are other errors which could be added to these. This death to sin is not the death of sin as a power or principle in the heart. To hold this would lead to a life of self-deception. There is a vast difference between the expressions “death to sin” and “death of sin.”
It is not a resolution to imitate the Lord Jesus in taking up the cross. A person does not die by an act of the will, nor through an act of faith.
The fact is that the death of Christ was also the believer’s death. This is clearly seen in H Corinthians 5:14 where we read, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all then were all dead.” It is also taught in 1 Peter 2:24, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” Here we learn that we were perfectly identified with the Lord Jesus in His death to sin.
The Christian is so united to Christ that God views him as though he had actually died and actually entered upon a new life, just as His Son had actually died and had actually entered upon a new life.
This is true of every child of God whether he realizes it or not. The thought behind the words, “We who died to sin,” is literally, “we who have done the act of dying to sin.” And this is not viewed as related to the experience of the believer, but as an event that took place in the past. It took place at the cross. For eleven times, in the first eleven verses of Romans six, the verb in the past tense is used with reference to our identification with the death, burial and ressurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At Calvary, not only did Christ die, but the believer died there also. The death of Christ is reckoned to be the death of the believer. When he died, God reckoned that the believer died. This is the way God wants us to look at this wonderful truth. As definitely as Christ died by an act, and by an act was raised from the dead, so in His death every believer died to sin and rose again to walk in newness of life.
There are three ways we may look at this great fact of our having died with Christ.
First, we may look at it representatively, and see that Christ’s act of dying unto sin is reckoned to be ours. Second, we may look at it legally, and see that our relation to sin has been altered.
Third, we may look at it potentially, and see that power has been given the believer to overcome sin. Before we were saved, we were under the dominion of sin, but our death with Christ has delivered us from this. It means that we have been released from all the power and authority of sin, in just the same way that a slave is, by death, released from the power of his master.
Is it not true that as believers we are often more occupied with the fact that Christ died for us than we are with the fact that we died with Him? Christ’s death for us has procured our acquittal from the guilt of our sins. But our death with Him has severed us from our former position. This state is described in Psalm 51 as being “in sin”, and in Romans 3:19, as being “under sin.” Because the believer has died judicially with Christ, he is forever freed from the oppression of sin and from its claims to control his life.
Now, what is to be the effect of this upon our daily life? For the truth of the Word of God is only of immediate blessing in the measure that it is applied and produces spiritual fruit in the life of the believer.
Let us read our verse again. It says, “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” To live in sin is absolutely inconsistent with our having died to it. To “live in sin” means more than to “continue in sin.” It is to have sin for the element in which we live. And the question, “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” implies, not a physical impossibility, but a moral contradiction. To live “therein” does not mean sympathy with sin only, but union and oneness with it. You will note that the question here is not about “continuing to sin,” but about continuance “in sin”, in its power.