By Gary DeLashmutt
Briefly review the distinction(s) between justification and sanctification (especially penalty vs. power).
Many people think that justification impedes sanctification because it encourages moral laxness. Read 5:20-6:2a. Paul’s opponents accused him of teaching, “If God’s grace covers you no matter how much you sin, why not sin more so you can get more grace?” Such people usually prescribe another model for sanctification–which Paul calls “under law” (6:14).
It relies on FEAR-THREAT MOTIVATION (“Stop sinning or God will reject you”) & WILL-POWER DYNAMIC (“Just do it” – terminate your wrong behaviors and do what is right).
Although this may sound reasonable, Paul warns that it will never liberate us from slavery to sin (implication of 6:14a). It may produce superficial behavioral change, but it will not free you from sin in a deep way, and it will produce prideful self-righteousness, which is only another form of bondage!
Instead, we need to pursue a different model for sanctification–what Paul calls “under grace.”
This model begins with a radically different MOTIVATION, by taking the FEAR-THREAT off the table and affirming that we are unconditionally accepted by God. It also has a radically different DYNAMIC also, which Paul reveals through three key terms in 6:2b-13. WARNING: This is more “meat!”
Sanctification begins not with something you do for God, but with learning about something God did for you. Three times (6:3,6,9), Paul says we “know” something that forms the basis for our sanctification. What is it that we need to know?
Read 6:2b-4. Paul says God has done two things for every Christian that form the foundation for our sanctification.
First, he has “baptized” us into Christ. This “baptism” is not Christian water baptism; it is what Paul elsewhere calls the “baptism by the Holy Spirit.” Baptizw was a generic term that meant to “put into” or “immerse” so that the thing baptized takes on some of the properties of the thing into which it was baptized. Garments were “baptized” into dye so that the garments took on the color of the dye. In the same way, God’s Spirit “baptizes” you into Christ when you believe in him–so that you become identified with Christ in certain key ways.
Second, because we have been baptized into Christ, we somehow participated in his death and resurrection–and we receive certain benefits from this participation. This sounds weird because it is not a truth that we experience. Once I received Christ, I did not recover memories of hanging on the cross, I didn’t start having dreams of being nailed through my hands and feet, I can’t feel what it was like to lay in the tomb. Neither did Paul. He is describing something that is real even though you didn’t experience it.
We learned that because of our biological descent from Adam, we were “in Adam” when he rebelled against God in the Garden, that we “participated” in his decision to rebel (even though we have no memory or experience of this), and that we inherit certain negative consequences from his disobedience (death; condemnation; sin-nature).
You may also remember that the only way out of this plight is to become a descendent of a new “Adam” who obeyed God. If we could be adopted into that “Adam’s” line, then we would inherit the positive consequences of his obedience. This is exactly what God has done. He has sent Jesus as the “last Adam,” who started a new humanity and obeyed God by going to the Cross. When you receive Christ, you are born spiritually into his family, you participated in his death and resurrection, and inherit all that he accomplished through them (GOD’S ACCEPTANCE; UNDER HIS PERFECT CARE; A ROLE IN HIS PLAN; DETAINED FOR ETERNAL LIFE).
What does this have to do with sanctification? Lots–read 6:5,6. Here is some more meat! The desired outcome is clear enough–“that we might no longer be slaves to sin.”
But the means to it is not. Let’s take it phrase by phrase.
“Our old self was crucified with him . . . ” “Old self” refers to your old identity as a descendent of Adam. That identity was destroyed at the cross (2 Cor. 5:17?).
” . . . that our body of sin might be done away with . . . ” “Body of sin” refers to your sin-nature, which you inherited from Adam (5:19a). “Done away with” is katargew, and should be translated “taken out of authority.” Paul uses the same word in 7:2 (“released from”).
He is not saying that you no longer have a sin-nature (this passage would be unnecessary then!), but that your change in identity/descent has effected a change in your relationship with your sin-nature. Whereas before you were under its authority, now its authority over you has been broken so that you are free to experience “newness of life” by following God.1
This is pretty abstract. Maybe a couple of illustrations will help.
Imagine being born into a very abusive family. As a small child, you have no choice about the parental mistreatment you receive. Finally, the court intervenes and authorizes a healthy couple to adopt you. Since you live in the same town, you still see your biological family, you still remember their mistreatment, they still try to get you to submit to their manipulation and abuse. But because you now have new legal identity, your relationship with them has changed. You no longer have to submit to their authority, and you can begin to experience a new family life with your new parents.
When the Thirteenth Amendment became law in December 18, 1865, the legal identity of African Americans in the South changed. Their old identity as property/slaves was “killed.” They received a new legal identity as citizens. A census taken on December 19 would have shown a huge increase in the population of the South. Why was this important? Because this changed their relationship to their previous owners. Their previous owners continued to exist, but their authority over them was now removed, so that they were no longer legally obliged to live as slaves. They were legally free to walk off the plantations into new lives.
How important was this knowledge? Do you know that thousands of them continued to live out their lives as slaves because their ex-owners successfully kept this information from them?
In the same way, many Christians continue to live in slavery because they do not know this truth! Therefore, the first step in sanctification under grace is to study, discuss, review, and prayerfully reflect on this truth until you really understand it!
But it is possible to understand it and still not benefit from this knowledge, unless you respond to it in two key ways . . .
Read 6:11. Here is the first thing Paul calls us to do. “Consider” is logizwmai, an accounting term meaning to enter a transaction into the ledger. If you’ve ever kept a checking account, you know how important it is to do this.
We all know what happens if we keep spending while failing to enter withdrawals into the ledger (“WE CAN’T BE OVERDRAWN; I STILL HAVE PLENTY OF CHECKS LEFT!”).
But think about it the other way. What if you’d never had more than $100 in your account, and a stranger-benefactor called you and informed you that he had deposited $100,000 into your account? What if you fail to enter that deposit into your ledger and keep on living as though it wasn’t actually there?
In the same way, God has entered something into our ledger–that we are now “dead to sin” (freed from the authority of our sin-nature) and “alive to God” (free to be transformed by God in every are of our lives). To “consider” this means to consciously choose to believe and affirm this to yourself and to God–in spite of contrary feelings, thoughts, prior experience.
You can’t expect your sin-nature to be quiet or agree with this. It will continue to tell you that you are its slave, that you’ll never be able to be freed, etc. This is why you have to decide to reject its lies and affirm what God says is true.
This refers to your general view of yourself (“I’m just a loser.”) and also to specific areas of your life (“Others can be freed in this area, but not me.”). “God, even though my feelings are screaming that I am a slave in this area, I elect to believe your Word that I am not, and that you are willing and able to change me.”
This is crucial, even though nobody sees it. But there is another response that is just as crucial . . .
Read 6:12,13. What does “present” mean? It involves actual obedience to God’s moral will (6:16 – ” . . . of obedience, resulting in righteousness”). But not just impersonal will-power:
We present ourselves “to God”–a personal giving of ourselves to him in general, and in area after area, and situation by situation. “Here I am, Lord. I believe you love me, and I want serve you. What would you have me do?”
We present ourselves “as those alive from the dead”–knowing and considering our new identity as free adopted children, rather than approaching him as alienated slaves trying to earn his acceptance.
We present ourselves to God “as his instruments”–depending him to empower us and work through us to accomplish his will in the world.
I love Mary’s response to God in Lk. 1:38 (read). Obedience in this sense is not impersonal or legalistic. It is a profoundly personal expression of trust in God, and the pathway to experience more of his goodness and faithfulness (Jn. 15:10,11).
When we present ourselves to God in this way, he reveals to us specific, personalized steps of faith to take. These steps often involve a negative (6:12,13a – “do not”); they usually involve a positive (6:13b – “present”). They are always consistent with scripture’s moral teaching, and they always ultimately involve loving God and expressing his love to other people. And they are almost always scary, because we know we can’t do them by our own power (EXAMPLES)
As we present ourselves to God in this way, we will gradually experience more and more freedom from sin to serve God and love people. This gives us more confidence in this truth, paves the way for additional freedom in other areas . . .
Don’t get the cart before the horse! Before you can have a new identity and experience this freedom, you have to receive Christ.
1 “(Jesus) was united with humanity in the Incarnation, not only to bear the guilt of human sin in a sacrifice which satisfied divine justice, but also to break the power of sin in human nature through his death . . . This is because there is a mysterious unity between Jesus and all believers when he died on the cross and was raised from the dead (Rom. 6:2-7). Our union with the Messiah is the reason those who believe in him are freed from the compulsive power of sin . . . In the crucifixion, therefore, the old nature and the bent and broken world of fallen humanity went down into the grave. And when Jesus, the second Adam, was raised from the dead, with him rose a new humanity no longer afflicted with the curse inflicted on Adam and his descendants.” Richard F. Lovelace, Renewal As a Way of Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 126.
Copyright 1999 Gary DeLashmutt