Romans 6:1-14

Romans 6:1-14

SERIES: The Book of Romans

Call to Holy Living  

Introduction:  You are not a Christian because you lead a Christian lifestyle; rather you lead a Christian lifestyle because you are a Christian.  There are tens of millions of religious people in this country of ours and countless millions in other lands, who are staking their eternity upon the notion that they are Christians because they try to lead a relatively Christian lifestyle.  But if that were possible, why do you suppose the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian theologian and missionary of all time, would have spent three chapters talking about justification before he ever got to the subject of how to live the Christian life?  The simple truth is that you can imitate a Christian life, and you can fake a Christian life, but you cannot really live a Christian life until you are one.

That concept is essential to understanding why the Apostle Paul is leading us today in Romans 6 into a new subject.  Up until now he has sought to establish that the solution to man’s sin problem is justification by faith.  But while that is the solution, it’s not the end of the story.  God not only wants us to be Christians; He also wants us to act like Christians.  Listen to the Word of God as found in Romans 6:1-14:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? {2} By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? {3} Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 

{5} If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. {6} 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— {7} because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 

{8} Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. {9} For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. {10} The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 

{11} In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. {12} Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. {13} Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. {14} For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

The opening verse in our new chapter provides the transition between the subject of justification and the new topic of sanctification:  “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  Look back at verse 20 of chapter five for a moment:  “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” We stressed last week that God’s grace is greater than our sin.  No matter how widespread or heinous a person’s sin might be, God’s grace is able to neutralize it and go way beyond it.  In fact, our extremity is God’s opportunity.  Not only that, God’s grace is free.  You can’t buy it or bargain for it or earn it.  All you can do is receive it.

Now think with me for a moment.  If you heard this doctrine of free grace for the very first time, what would likely be your response?  I would suggest that it might be one of two things.  First, you might say, “It’s too easy!  Nothing worth having is ever easily attained.  There are no free lunches.”  To that Paul would simply respond, “I agree.”  Salvation wasn’t easily attained, and it wasn’t free; it was very costly to God.  But, because Jesus was willing to pay the price, you get it free.  

On the other hand, you might say, “If God’s grace is free and greater than all our sin, what’s to keep some people from sinning up a storm and expecting God to go right on forgiving?”  In fact, they might even put a spiritual spin on it and say, “God loves to show His grace.  Therefore, if we go on sinning, He will have all the more opportunity!”  

To that Paul would probably respond, “Yes, there are some who will try to take advantage of God’s grace—I will address them shortly in the strongest terms—but that is no cause to deny the truth.”  Sadly, there really are those who argue that we should go on sinning so that grace may increase.  About a dozen years ago (1983) I cut an editorial out of the Wichita Eagle-Beacon, written by George Neavoll, the Editor of the newspaper.  It’s entitled, “The Theory of Relative Sin.”  And I must read part of it to you:

I am a great advocate of sin.  When I explained this admittedly rather unorthodox position to several fellow parishioners at our church’s coffee hour the other Sunday, they appeared … well, stricken.  When I expounded on the subject in one of our editorial board meetings last week, I could tell my colleagues were thinking, “Poor fellow.  He’s finally slipped over the edge.”  But after I was able to explain myself, my companions good-humoredly admitted maybe I had something—which is just enough encouragement for me to lay out the great Theory of Relative Sin before the Eagle-Beacon’s 176,000 subscribers this morning. (BTW, the Wichita newspaper’s circulation today is less than 50,000, due at least in part, I would suggest, to brilliant editorials like this one.  Parenthesis added in 2022).  

If the idea catches on, I might even form a group to promote my theory.  We could call it the Immoral Minority, Inc.   It would be devoted to the popularization, the enhancement, and the steadfast defense of sin—just good old, homegrown American sin.  

Sin is an essential ingredient to one’s being a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist or member of any other faith.  Its presence is the one common denominator of all the world’s great religions.  A Baptist—or an Episcopalian—without sin is like chili without beans, or a Wings game without Crazy George.  It is only when one sins that one knows the forgiveness of the Lord.  Unless one is forgiven, one cannot forgive—and where would the world be if that were the case?[i]

Can you imagine a better illustration of the view Paul is addressing at the beginning of Romans 6?  “What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”  Believe it or not the editorial actually gets worse as it continues, claiming that sin is a great builder of character, that it teaches humility, that it enhances one’s personal perspective, and it offers an invaluable safety valve for today’s normal, overworked person.  Here’s how Neavoll concludes:

I guess what I’m saying in all this is that sinning makes one human, and admitting one’s sinful proclivities strips one’s mortal frame of any pretense to godly perfection.  It’s been the pretenders to that perfection who throughout history have been the perpetrators of wars and the would-be enslavers of people’s minds as well as bodies.  (You knew that was coming didn’t you?  After all, this whole editorial is nothing more than an attack on those advocating traditional values).

Well, I’ll have none of it.  I’ll take a little sinning any day of the week.  Like any other good thing, it can be overdone, of course.  But taken in moderation, exercised in good faith, admitted in all humility, sin can be a mighty elixir, and can make each of us into the kind of person he or she wants to be.

What I want to know is how nutcases like this get to be editors of major newspapers in our country, but it seems to be a common malady.  The really sad thing is that some Christians, though they would never say out loud what Neavoll says, seem to agree that a little sin, taken in moderation, is good for the soul, or at least it won’t hurt anyone.  Unfortunately, some conservative preachers react against this kind of thinking by concluding that grace itself is dangerous.  In the city of St. Louis this very morning there are scores of churches where the free grace of God is not being taught for fear that people might take advantage of it and live like the Devil.

Well, Paul faced the same objections to free grace in the first century.  What did he do?  Did he withdraw his doctrine of grace?  Did he cancel his teaching that justification is by faith alone?  No, not for a moment!  Instead he said to the George Neavolls of his day:  “Continue in sin?  What a ghastly thought!  God forbid!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  The problem is not with the doctrines I have taught in chapters 3-5; rather it is with some absurd and unwarranted conclusions drawn from a misunderstanding of those doctrines.  We are saved by grace alone, but holiness of life must follow salvation.  Justification demands sanctification.  The two are as inseparable as a torso and a head.”  

A young missionary to India tells about going to watch a great pagan parade.  The beggars and the poor marched by in magnificent garments of blue and rose and scarlet and gold, the garments having been provided by the pagan priests.  At the parade’s end he watched the people remove the robes and return them.  Underneath were the beggar rags and skinny, diseased and sore-infested bodies which had been covered up for the parade.  Then he thought about how the Lord Jesus has clothed us in the beautiful garment of His own perfect righteousness, but He has not purposed to leave the filthy and wretched rags of sin underneath.  He has instead provided for us to become experientially what we are already positionally in Him.

With that introduction we are thrust into the new section of Romans dealing with sanctification.  Since this is perhaps a new and unfamiliar term for some, the first thing we want to do is to define it.

Sanctification defined

The word “sanctification” or “sanctify” is a good biblical word, found several hundred times in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments.  However, it is often translated by other terms in our modern English Bibles, like “set apart,” or “saint,” or “holy.”  The definition which I would offer is that sanctification is “the process by which believers are set apart by God as a special people to grow spiritually in personal holiness and to develop Christlike character.”

But it’s also important to distinguish sanctification from some of the other doctrines we have been studying in Romans.

Sanctification distinguished

Please turn to the sermon supplement included this week in your bulletin.  I thought a chart like this would be more helpful than a mere outline in enabling us to grasp the essence of this doctrine of sanctification:  


SIN The need of salvation God’s holiness condemning Righteousness neededSALVATION The way of salvation God’s grace justifying Righteousness creditedSANCTIFICATION The life of salvation God’s power sanctifying Righteousness practiced

A second chart adds even more information on the relationship between justification, sanctification, and glorification:


Past Positional How God sees us in Christ Perfect standing in holiness Result of our union with Christ Deals with the penalty of sin True of all believers at moment of salvation Positional and automatic Accomplished by the death of ChristPresent Progressive How we are in our conduct Daily growth in holiness Result of the Spirit’s work through the Word Deals with the power of sin Begins in all believers from the point of salvation Progressive and changeable Accomplished by the Word, the Spirit, faith, prayer, divine discipline, etc.Future Prospective What we shall be in glory Ultimate likeness to Christ Result of total transformation by God Deals with the presence of sin Finished in all believers when ushered into Lord’s presence Eternal and final Accomplished by the resurrection of Christ

Now thirdly this morning I want us to consider …

Sanctification accomplished

The question at hand is simply this:  How is a person sanctified?  How does a person become holy or spiritual?  All of us certainly desire to be spiritual men, women, or children.  We want to see significant growth in Christlikeness in our lives.  But how does that happen?  What is the best way to deal with sin in the life of the believer?  First, we will examine some common views which I believe are faulty and inadequate.

Some common inadequate views

1.  Spirituality by eradication of the sin nature.  There are some groups within Christianity which teach that it is possible for the believer to reach a state of entire sanctification or sinless perfection in this life.  Among them are many Nazarenes and certain other Holiness denominations.  Often the point at which the sin nature is eradicated is called the “second work of grace,” the first work being justification.  

The idea is that when you believe in Christ, you are saved, but it’s not until you experience the second work of grace, often called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that you receive complete victory in the Christian life.  Let me quote here from H. Orton Wiley, a well-known Nazarene theologian:

Christian perfection is nothing more and nothing less than a heart emptied of all sin and filled with pure love to God and man.  It is a state attainable in this life, but subsequent to regeneration.  It is wrought instantaneously by the baptism with the Holy Spirit and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the aiding, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.

It’s not hard to understand why such a view is attractive to many.  After all, all of us have struggled with sin, even after our conversion.  Some have what are called besetting sins, which persistently plague a person’s life for years.  If there were a way to deal finally with such sins—a way that is as instantaneous as the new birth, who wouldn’t want it?  Sadly, however, neither Scripture nor experience offers much hope in this direction.

We don’t have time this morning to offer anything resembling a full refutation of the doctrine of the eradication of the sin nature in this life.  I would simply mention several difficulties with it.  First, it contradicts the examples of the great men and women of faith in the Scriptures.  To my knowledge Daniel and Joseph are the only two principal characters in the Bible about whom no specific sins are revealed, and never is it stated that they actually reached a state of sinless perfection.  Everyone else—from Moses to David to Peter to Paul—gives evidence of an active sin nature even after their conversion.  Secondly, the view that the sin nature can be eradicated contradicts 1 John 1:8, which is clearly addressed to believers:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 

Thirdly, it has been my experience that people who hold to sinless perfection do so only by redefining sin to fit their own experience.  Sin becomes “an active and premeditated transgression of a known law of God” rather than merely “falling short by either omission or commission of the character and law of God.”  In other words, they may claim to have arrived at a state where they do not sin, but they admit to making “mistakes,” committing involuntary transgressions of God’s law through ignorance, and being subject to various moral weaknesses.  They admit to being tempted, but they maintain that there is no sin unless the thought is “cherished” by the mind and given “inward sympathy.”  Well, for how long?  If you entertain a fantasy for five seconds, is it not a sin, but it is if you entertain it for five minutes?

Please understand that my purpose here is not to cast aspersions at the dear people who believe in this view, many of whom do, in fact, live exemplary lives.  I just believe them to be mistaken regarding the presence of sin in their lives.  

2.  Spirituality by asceticism.  Down through the history of the Church there have been many attempts to achieve sanctification through asceticism or self-denial or mortification of the body.  The reasoning has generally been that it is the things of the world which cause the believer to sin; therefore, if a Christian can isolate himself from the things of the world, and sometimes even from people, he could free himself from sin and become sanctified.  The ancient pole sitters carried this view to its logical conclusion.  Simon Stylites sat on a pole for 36 years to demonstrate his separation from the world, having his food hauled up to him by rope.

The great weakness in asceticism is that while a person can isolate himself from the things of the world and even from the people of the world, he cannot isolate himself from himself or from the Devil.  And the Bible says there are three great sources of sin in the believer’s life—the world, the flesh, and the Devil.  Take care of one and you still have two left to deal with.  And that’s why monasteries have historically not been models of spirituality, but rather at times actually hotbeds of alcoholism, homosexuality, and other vices.

Colossians 2 actually denounces asceticism directly and forcefully.  In verse 16 Paul says, 

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a mere shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ ….  (Skip down to verse 20)Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to it rules:  “Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!”?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Ascetics do appear to be godly, but it’s all an illusion.  The Bible makes it clear that the Christian is to live in the world and use the things of the world.  At the same time, however, we must not abuse the world or participate in the world’s evil.  

3.  Spirituality by legalism.  Now this one is a little closer to home.  As I look at the cars in our parking lot and the clothes we wear and the homes we live in, there seem to be few in our midst who are tempted toward asceticism.  But legalism is another matter.  I would like to borrow Charles Ryrie’s definition of legalism:  “a fleshly attitude which conforms to a code for the purpose of exalting self.”  You may have inherited or developed a code of rules and regulations which you feel are essential to spirituality.  So you follow them rigidly, feeling smugly that you have “arrived” by your attention to these rules.  Unfortunately, there is often the tendency to expect everyone else to follow your rules and regulations too, which can cover a variety of issues, like, for example:

         No golf on Sundays

         No playing the lottery

         No alcoholic beverages 

         No TV in your home

         No going to work without a 30-minute Quiet Time, etc.

Now none of these are necessarily bad rules to follow; in fact, I suspect every one of them would be beneficial in the long run, but they are human rules, not God’s rules.  The issue is one’s attitude, one’s judgmental attitude toward others, and what one expects to achieve, spiritually speaking, by following such rules.  If the purpose is to honor God, that’s one thing.  If it’s to exalt self, that’s legalism.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are lots of rules in the Bible, and when God lays down a rule, He expects obedience.  In fact, no one ever became spiritual without keeping God’s rules.  But by the same token, no one ever became spiritual by keeping man-made rules or by keeping even God’s rules with the wrong attitude. 

4.  Spirituality by emotionalism.  I sense that some people judge spirituality by the warm fuzzies.  If you “feel” close to God, if you feel inspired during a service, if you are moved to come to the altar in tears at least once a month, then you are spiritual.  No doubt many of you have been reading of the holy laughter movement that has been sweeping across North America, Canada and Europe.  Rodney Howard-Browne brought it to New Life Christian Center on Highway 30 some months ago, and a few of you attended one of his services.  

Let me read a brief eyewitness account of a Signs and Wonders Camp Meeting in 1994:

Pastors of huge charismatic churches were stumbling around the church stage “drunk” with “holy” laughter.  Wanting to testify to the fact that “holy” laughter had transformed their ministries and their lives, many of them were unable to speak when called on to do so.  But their “drunken” condition became their testimony.  Their halting speech was seen as “proof” of the “power of the spirit” that had come over them.  The congregation roared in approval as pastor after pastor laughed uncontrollably and then fell to the floor.  Standing alongside the “drunken” pastors was evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne, the self described “Holy Ghost bartender” who was serving up this “new wine” of “holy laughter.”[ii]  

More recently “holy roaring” has started, as worshipers take turns roaring like lions.  Now let’s be careful here, especially we who attend a church which is not at the “strongly emotional” end of the spectrum.  Emotions are God-given and we shouldn’t be afraid of them.  If God’s truth doesn’t turn us on from time to time, then maybe it’s because we don’t have any spiritual switches.  If we feel inhibited in expressing praise, sorrow, or joy, then maybe there’s something wrong with us which needs to be corrected.

But at the same time, I do not see how this kind of emotionalism can serve as an adequate foundation for sanctification.  Knowledge and action, as we will see in a few moments, must be the foundation of sanctification.  Those who believe in “spirituality by feeling” are described in Eph. 4:14 as “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”  The solution for such people is given in the previous verses as “the equipping of God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  That’s sanctification.  

5.  Spirituality by quietism or mysticism.  Many different views could be discussed under this heading, but I want to mention just one which has perhaps touched the lives of some of you.  I’m thinking of the Keswick movement, represented, for example, by Major Ian Thomas, an English evangelist and revivalist.  This movement has generally taught that sanctification is completely God’s work.  Listen to the following quotation from one of its leading spokesmen:  

The great and glorious fact is this, that, in giving the Holy Ghost, God gave you all you need for all your Christian life and service.  It matters not what you are, or what you are not; it matters not what you can do or what you cannot do—you have all in having Him.  (So far, so good).  He has not been given to help you when you do your best.  He has been given to do all, because over the very best that you can produce God has written “no good thing….”  Faith is getting out of the way and letting Him work.  Faith is “letting go and letting God….”  The only “surrender” that He asks of you is the surrender that consents to stop working and lets Him do all.[iii]

Now that quotation may not be heresy, but it is, in my estimation, imbalanced.  If we have no part in the sanctification process, then why did God give us so many commands as to how to please Him or how to be sanctified, including three such commands right here in Romans 6:11-13?  

Finally, I would mention an approach that is not only inadequate but extremely dangerous.

6.  Spirituality by New Age methods.  This would take a whole sermon in itself, but allow me to simply mention that yoga, meditation with mantras, crystals, channeling, etc., are never going to lead you to the God of the Scriptures or to holy living.  In fact, they will lead you away from Him, for He has warned us strongly against any involvement in the occult.  That is absolutely not the way to grow in holiness. 

Now if none of the above methods is the biblical means of sanctification, what is?  

The Romans 6 method of sanctification.  We will not have time this morning to do anything like an exposition of Romans 6.  That will have to wait until next Sunday, when we will go through verses 1-14 verse by verse.  However, I do want to draw your attention to three key words that, in my opinion, express the essence of biblical sanctification: know, count, offer.  

1.  Know the facts.  (1-10).  The word “know” appears first in verse 3:  “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  Then it appears again in verse 6:  “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with …. “  And again in verses 8-9:  “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again …”

What the Apostle is saying to us here is this:  sanctification begins with knowledge, specifically the knowledge that when Christ died, we died.  That is, our old self was crucified with Him.  But Jesus rose from the dead, so death is no longer His master.  Therefore, if we also rose with him, and we did, the sin that caused His death is no longer master over us.  Knowledge of these facts is essential, for if a person doesn’t know that sin has been defeated, he may well keep on fighting the same old battles.  

But knowledge of the facts in and of itself is not sufficient.  And that’s why the second key word is so important. 

2.  Count them to be true (11). Look at verse 11:  “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  In the KJV this word is translated “reckon” and in the NASB it is translated “consider.”  All of these terms are helpful in getting at the meaning, for this word takes us a step further than knowledge.  It means to “count it as true,” “cement it in your mind as a fact,” “get ready to act on the basis of.”  The difference between knowing and counting is like the difference between knowing that God exists and knowing Him as one’s personal Father.  Demons know that God exists, but only His children count on their relationship with Him.  

The third word, then, completes the cycle.  It is the word “offer,” and it has both a negative and a positive aspect to it.

3.  Offer your bodies. (12,13)  Look again at verses 12-13:  

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  

It’s obvious from the use of this word, “offer”—found three times in these two verses—that we as believers play an active part in the process of sanctification.  That isn’t true of justification.  Someone has said that the only thing we contribute to our justification is the sin from which we are redeemed.  We simply believe and receive, and God does the rest.  Not so with sanctification.  We must refuse to offer our bodies as instruments of sin and instead actively offer our bodies as instruments of righteousness to God.  Interestingly, I believe this is the very first time in the Book of Romans that we are asked to do anything.

Conclusion:  I have a question for you.  Why should we seek sanctification?  What’s in it for us?  What will happen if we know the facts, count them to be true, and offer our bodies to God?  The answer is given in a glorious promise in verse 14:  “For sin shall not be your master.”  Now isn’t that really what our hearts desire?  Don’t we all say to ourselves from time to time, “I wish I could get control over that nasty habit, over my temper, over my laziness, over my apathy, etc.?”  Here’s God’s promise:  “Sin shall not be your master.”   That can be true if His method of sanctification is followed. 

Count on it, believe it, live it.  Next Sunday, Lord willing, we’ll examine in detail how and why it works!

DATE: March 5, 1995





Sin nature



Holy laughter


[i] George Neavoll, Wichita Eagle-Beacon.  I cannot locate the exact date of this editorial, but I have a photocopy of it in my files.

[ii] Quoted in SCP Newsletter, Fall 1994, Vol. 19:2, “Holy Laughter or Strong Delusion?”, by Warren Smith.

[iii] Citation lost.