“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? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:1-4
We will for the most part look at the question raised in the first verse:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
This question is a result of what Paul has been saying through out Romans, that:
“by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…” Romans 5:12
“by one man’s offence death reigned…” Romans 5:17
Remember what it means to be “in” someone. Recollect how the Philistines were “in” Goliath as their champion against Israel. And recall how Israel was not “in” Saul, but rather Israel was “in” David when he slew Goliath. And think of how Jonathan and David made a blood covenant with one another and how the blood covenant bound them not only to one another but also to their unborn children who were within their bodies. And don’t forget how David honored his promise to Jonathan by loving and saving Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, a child who wasn’t even born when the promise was made. Another way of saying this would be to say that Mephibosheth “participated in” the covenant because he “participated in” his father Jonathan. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” but it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was “participating in” Abraham. Again, Abraham’s seed “participated in” the promise God made to Abraham because his unborn seed was “in’ Abraham. And now it is in light of that narrative history that we are to understand the first question of chapter 6:
“Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
I want you to keep this in mind as we revisit the problem of sin and death. At the end of Romans 5 Paul once again states that “sin hath reigned unto death” which is to say that death constitutes a kingdom, a regime that has its own administrators who order and control life that under death. It will be a while before Paul identifies the administrators; these managers and supervisors of sin and death, but for now he wants us to thoroughly understand that there has been a very successful insurgency into God’s creation. The goal of the insurgency has been especially to the separate the creature man from the God who is God. The beginning of the rebellion is described in Genesis chapter 3, the old familiar story of the Garden of Eden: The serpent approached the woman and said, “Did God give you a specific commandment not to eat from every tree in this garden?” The woman said: “Yes he did. We can eat from every tree except that one over yonder; God said not to eat from that tree because if we do we will die.” The serpent said: “Ah. That’s not true. You will not die, but rather He knows that if you eat the fruit of that tree it will open your eyes and ye shall be as gods.” (Notice that the way this began with man was with a commandment from God that the serpent used to give birth to sin.) Paul reviewed the wreckage that followed in human history in chapters 1, 2 and 3 of Romans. This is the human condition according to Paul; humanity, indeed creation itself, “participated in” Adam when he entered this insurrection against God and therefore we too are “in” sin, we too became insurgents against the Creator. We too love and live among a people who foremost love and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Our world and we are lost in Adam.
Up to this point, Paul and the Jews would have been in agreement, but now he will separate the wheat from the chaff on the matter of how to deal with Adam’s rebellion and the infection of sin and death. From a Jewish point-of-view the Mosaic Law is God’s instrument of salvation; they believed that it was given in order that Israel might escape the ruin of Adam’s sin. But Paul argues that it is foolish to “rest in the Law of Moses,” as though the Law is the sword of Lord for the conquest of the Kingdom of Sin and Death. Indeed the Kingdom of Sin and Death made its insurgency into God’s creation through disobedience to a direct commandment from God.
From Adam to Abraham up to Moses there was obviously no Mosaic Law. But that did not keep sin from increasing and it certainly did not eliminate death, understood as destruction, from the creation. That was Paul’s point in chapter 5 when he wrote:
“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”
The Kingdom of Death continued to have dominion over mankind even though they had not sinned after the similitude of Adam – that is even though they had not sinned against a direct commandment like Adam had sinned. Then at the right time, God called Abraham to fight back, not by giving him another commandment, but by making him a Promise. God promised him that He, God, would somehow use Abraham’s family to redeem all of creation and to bring about such a beautiful, blissful blessing upon every creature and every man, woman and child in the world, that it would strain man’s imagination to even glimpse that future world that God was preparing. And Abraham believed God and that established the Promise that Paul is constantly referring to in his epistles.
But before the Seed of the Promise, Jesus Christ, was born, the Mosaic Law was introduced and it was obviously after that the Israel took it to be the gift of God for conquering sin. Of course all that it really accomplished in practical terms was that sin now increased because of the provocations of the Law of Moses. This is what Paul says at the end of chapter 5:
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound…”
After all if one commandment in the Garden of Eden became the serpent’s instrument for the Fall would not 613 commandments make sin take off like a wild fire? That is pretty much what the word we have translated “abound” means.
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound…spread like wildfire.”
So Israel took the Mosaic Law as God’s path of salvation and rather than bringing God’s blessing upon her it lead them further and further away from the Promise God had made to Abraham. As long as one attempts to please God through the Mosaic Law, and I believe we can frankly extend that to anything in the world other than believing God’s promise – any form of Law taken as a means of salvation as opposed to the faith of Jesus Christ only leads to participation in and greater bondage to the Kingdom of Death.
So you see that the phrase “Shall we continue in sin…” does not only mean to continue doing sin, but rather it means to continue to participate in Adam, continue to participate in the dominion of sin, to live as a child of Adam, an offspring of Death, a loyal subject of the regime of Sin and Death.
The opening question in chapter 6 was almost certainly the slogan of hecklers used against Paul in order to discredit him before the Church. Paul addresses this sort of libel in his letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians and so I think the statement and its source was quickly recognized by the Christians all over the world and that includes the Roman Christians.
“Let us abide in the regime of Sin and glorify God.”
It is of course a ridiculous statement and like all political sloganeering it is suppose to be ridiculous because it is meant to smear an opponent by reducing his statements to absurdity. But Paul had been down this street before and he quickly turns the tables on his enemies by taking the slogan as a serious theological statement to which he gives the answer:
“How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”
What Paul is saying is that we have been moved from one kingdom into another kingdom by the faith of Jesus Christ. How is that possible if we originally participated in Adam and the insurrection against the Creator? Paul believes that the “promise” made to Abraham, the really critical one, is that all the nations will be blessed “in” Abraham; that is all nations will participate in Abraham’s blessing and thus benefit from Abraham’s faith. “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” but it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was “in” Abraham. The point that Paul is making is that the promise was made to Abraham before he was circumcised and therefore the promise applies to both Jew and Gentile. These words also apply to all of us; we who believe in God who raised Jesus from the dead – we too are reckoned righteous; we too are children of Abraham and feed upon his faith. We are not “in” Adam nor are we participating in the Kingdom of Sin and Death. We have died to that kingdom because we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and made members of his Body. We are the true children of Abraham, we participate in his Seed, Jesus Christ who by his faith founded the New Covenant. And like David who loved Mephibosheth as though he was Jonathan, so the Father loves us with the same love he has for Jesus. And all of the promises the Father made to Jesus apply to everyone who is in Jesus and just as the Father raised him from the dead, so that very promise belongs to us as well. Paul goes on then to draw out the implication of our new position in Christ and he makes it abundantly clear that this is not an antinomian position, that is that sin no longer matters. Nothing could be further from the truth:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:12-14
Christians do not have to sin because we have died to sin and death. By our baptism we have been grafted mystically into life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been buried with Christ in baptism we have died to the regime of sin and death and we have been raised to his moral life. For that reason Paul says: