All of us begin life as sinners, fallen, under the wrath and curse of God, in a state of condemnation, totally depraved and totally unable to do anything to save ourselves. When a person becomes a true Christian, a sinner is changed into a saint. An act of God’s grace takes place and that is followed by a work of His Spirit. The initial act of God we call Definitive Sanctification. The ongoing work we call Progressive Sanctification. Professor John Murray, who taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in the middle of last century, was the one who particularly expounded this doctrine (Works, Vol. 2, pp 277-284).
The Westminster Confession deals mostly with Progressive Sanctification but at the same time acknowledges Definitive Sanctification, though it does not use the term. The chapter on Sanctification begins:
They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and new spirit created in them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His word and Spirit dwelling in them.
Notice that word ‘further’, further sanctified. So there is an initial sanctification. This is what we wish to deal with in this article. It is clearly taught in Romans 6.
Romans is the most theological epistle. After the introduction, Paul in Romans 1:18-32 shows that the Gentiles who do not have the Scriptures are sinners. They do not even live up to the light they have from natural revelation. Their own conscience condemns them. Romans 2 shows that the Jews who have the law are also sinners because they do not keep the law. Romans 3:1-20 concludes that all are guilty. There is none righteous in the sight of God. All stand guilty. Then Romans 3:21 to 5:21 teaches justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Christ’s atoning work is presented as the ground of our justification. Faith is the alone instrument which lays hold of the righteousness of Christ and claims it. ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (5:1).
Romans 6 deals with Definitive Sanctification, Chapters 7 and 8 with Progressive Sanctification, Chapters 9-11 with election and sovereign grace, and chapters 12-16 with practical exhortations on the basis of the theology given earlier.
A Very Important Question v. 1
Romans 6:1 asks a very important question: ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’ This follows the section where Paul is expounding justification by faith. He has been saying that works have no part in our justification. Salvation is all of grace. It is a gift of God. We can neither earn nor merit it. Neither can we add to it. God saves the worst of sinners. Chapter 5:12-19 deals with the imputation of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness. Adam’s sin is imputed and reckoned to all who were in Adam when he sinned, i.e. to every man and woman born of him by natural generation. The sins of the elect were then imputed to Christ who suffered the penalty due to them for their sins. He was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). His righteousness was then imputed to us. In this way we stand perfect in the eyes of God the judge. Our righteousness is perfect. It cannot be added to or diminished. We, who believe in Jesus, will never be more justified than we are today.
Romans 5:20 states that the law entered that the offence might abound. The law came to reveal sin. It convicts of sin. But where sin abounded grace did much more abound. Sin reigns unto death but grace reigns unto life. The worse the sinner the greater the grace. The greater the sinner the more God’s grace is glorified in pardoning that sinner. This is the context for the important question in Romans 6:1. Shall we continue to sin more and more in order that God’s grace will be displayed more and more in saving us? God’s grace is amazing. Shall we display it by sinning?
A Foolish Thought v. 2
Romans 6:2 immediately replies, ‘God forbid’. Away with such a thought! May it not be. ‘How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?’ Something has happened in our lives. Now we are true Christians. The tense of the Greek verb translated here is aorist. It is not the present continuous or the past continuous. It is in the past and it is a punctiliar tense. It is something which happened in a moment – a once for all occurrence. It’s like the verb in the sentence ‘The bat hit the ball’. Thus the sentence could more literally be translated, ‘How shall we that died to sin live any longer therein’. We were dead in sin but then we died to that state. We were under sin’s rule, we were slaves to sin, but now we have died to sin and been set free from sin. We died to Satan and the old life. Therefore the implication is that we cannot go on in sin. Away with the thought that we could go on in evil. We were born again. There has been a radical break with the past. This change is not a mere decision nor even a repentance and a reformation. It is not man-made. It is a new creation. It is a mighty work of God, just like the first creation.
Union with Christ vv. 3-4
What is a real Christian? It is someone who died and is now resurrected. Here in v. 3 it is someone who has been baptised into Christ. This is not talking about the mode of baptism (immersion) though Baptists like to think that it is, and use it as their proof text. Dr Lloyd Jones in his excellent volume of sermons on Romans 6, argues that this passage has nothing to do with the mode of baptism. Baptists argue that sprinkling will not do. They say you must be dipped under, as a symbol of being buried in the waters. Yet a quick dip under water is hardly a good picture of burial. Rather what is referred to is the spiritual experience of conversion. Baptism is essentially union. In 1 Corinthians 10:2, Paul states that the Israelites ‘were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea’. He is speaking of union with Moses as leader. The Egyptians were immersed and drowned but Israel went through on dry ground yet were baptised. Baptism into Christ is union with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. Having risen with Christ you should now live a resurrected life. Be a new person not continuing on in the old sins. Outward baptism is not of course vital to salvation and many who are baptised end up in hell, whatever the mode used. Outward baptism is symbolic of the inner reality. It is particularly a picture of washing and union with, or engrafting into Christ. Every Christian, whether outwardly baptised or not, is baptised into Christ according to Romans 6:3-4. Again the emphasis here is on the huge change which has taken place.
The Picture of Planting v. 5
We have been planted into Christ. We were originally in the old tree Adam. We sinned and fell in that now barren tree. But something wonderful has happened. We have been cut out of the old tree Adam and grafted into a new tree Christ. Now we are dead to Adam, but alive to Christ. Romans 11 speaks of the Jews as cast off, because they rejected the Messiah, and the Gentiles, have been received in their place:
For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? v. 15
One day they, the Jews, will be grafted into their own olive tree.
For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? v. 24
There will be blessed days ahead. So the true Christian is grafted into Christ.
The Old Man vv. 6-7
In much Puritan and subsequent devotional literature it is stated as John Morison, the blacksmith poet of Harris put it: ‘I have a new man and old man’. This resonates with Christian experience. We are aware of the conflict within. But we must keep to what the Scripture states: ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin’ (v. 6). The same tense of the verb is used in the Greek throughout this whole passage (vv. 2-11). It is the aorist. It refers to the past and something that took place in a moment. It is not a process of gradually crucifying the old man. At a certain point the old man was crucified.
What is the old man? It is the old self, the man as he was in Adam. The unconverted man died. He is dead. He died to the old life and became a new man. ‘That the body of sin might be destroyed’ – some see this as referring to the mass of sin as like a body. Rather it is a reference to the fact that sin is particularly linked to the body and the lusts of the flesh. You died with Christ, body and soul. ‘He that is dead is freed from sin’ (v. 7).
The New Life v. 8
Since we have died with Christ, the truth is that we shall also live with Him. This is not referring to the future resurrection but to the present. The fruit of resurrection with Christ is that we live a new life here. In v. 9 we are told that Christ is raised. Death has now no claim on Him. Death has no dominion over Him. In v. 10 we are told that He died unto sin once. He now lives to God. He died to the realm of sin. He now lives with God in heaven. The Mass is blasphemy because it pretends that Christ dies again every time the mass is offered. ‘By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ (Heb.10:14).You died to sin and live to God. What a change!
Application vv. 11-23
V. 11 - is the first practical exhortation of the Epistle. Reckon, realise and be aware of what you are and of the great change which has taken place. Be dead to sin and be alive to God. It is a huge change. ‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creature’ (2 Cor. 5:17).
V. 12 - Let not sin reign in you or over you. It is dead.
V. 13 - Do not yield parts of your body to sin.
V. 14 - Sin shall not have dominion over you. You are not under the law, the old covenant of works, the old Adam.
V. 15 - Shall we sin because we are not under the law? God forbid. Away with the thought.
V. 16 - To whom you yield yourself, you are his servant. You are not sin’s servant, you must not be, but you are righteousness’ servant.
Vv. 17-18 - You were the servants of sin but now are the servants of righteousness. Thank God for that.
V. 19 - As you served sin in the past, now serve God with the same enthusiasm.
V. 20 - When you were the servants of sin you were free from righteousness. You had none.
V. 21 - What fruit did you have? The end of these things is death.
V. 22 - But now your fruit is holiness.
V. 23 - The wages of sin is death but God’s gift is life.