Paul thinks so. He writes, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any long?” (Romans 6:2). Sounds dead to me.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…” (4). You only bury dead people. “…in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (5). Christ’s death was my death, and His new life is my new life.
He goes on: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (v. 6,7). So who died? The sinner Paul Anderson. Then who got raised up? The new man Paul—in Christ.
A man once knocked on the door at Martin Luther’s and asked to see Luther, who responded, “He doesn’t live here anymore. Christ lives here.” Martin got the message.
No one is freer than a dead man, and Paul affirms that: “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (v. 7). So if this is true, my job is to believe it. What I believe I become. If I believe that I am alive to sin, my behavior proves it. If I believe that I am dead to sin, that finds expression in how I live. Paul writes, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). The Greek word for “count” is an accounting term, meaning “chalk it up as true and act upon it.”
Paul doesn’t argue his case by looking at his experience, which is what we are tempted to do: “Oh, I just stretched the truth. I must not be dead to sin.” My death to sin has everything to do with the death of Christ, nothing to do with my experience. We live by faith! This is not simply positive thinking or a healthy psychological twist. It is confessing what is true in all cases and in all time—the absolute efficacy of the cross of Jesus Christ. You can trust your experience or the work of the cross.
A phrase I heard often at seminary was “both sinner and saint.” On the positive side, it keeps us from thinking that we are hot stuff. On the negative side, it sets the bar low on what the cross of Christ means for our daily life.
Paul goes on to say in chapter 6 that “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14). He fully expects Christians to get the upper hand over sin. Two chapters later he calls us “more than conquerors” because of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit within. The grace that forgives is the grace that empowers.
John would agree: “I write this to you so that you will not sin [the issue of power]. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense [the issue of penalty]…” (I John 2:1). Are we making too much of ourselves? No! We are taking the cross seriously.
John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Here is the same theme as Romans 6. He talks about freedom from sin, not forgiveness for sin. Forgiveness addresses the penalty; freedom focues on the power over sin. The theme of forgiveness does not occur in Romans 5-8, the theme of freedom does. If we focus only on forgiveness and not on transformation, we won’t get there.
What about Romans 7, in which Paul says that he does what he doesn’t want. Paul is confirming what I am addressing. He shows that desire and grit are insufficient to overcome sin. He goes on to say in chapter eight that the Holy Spirit within can accomplish what a stiff upper lip can’t.
When we went to the funeral of a friend, he was given an award because of his outstanding service as a deacon. When the pastor pinned him in the casket, my daughter said, “If they stuck him, it wouldn’t hurt, right?” I said, “No.” Then I thought, “And he wouldn’t get offended if we told him we didn’t like his suit. Dead men don’t take offense.” How liberating!
Paul declares that we are dead to sin by virtue of the death of Christ. He does not say, “I don’t sin anymore.” Only Christ is sinless. But by walking in His victory, we sin less!
How do we to pull this off? We are taught in Scripture to believe what is true even when it flies in the face of experience. Abraham believed that God was able to give him a child when Sarah passed child-bearing years.
When we sin, we don’t punish ourselves. We confess, acknowledge the truth that this is not who we are in Christ—and move on. If we concentrate on sin, we become sinners. Concentrate on the cross—and live victorious. What you believe is how you behave.