I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
–John 15:5-6, ESV
Dead to Sin, Alive to God
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Slaves to Righteousness
15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I deliberated for a while and decided to walk through Romans 6. Romans is a fascinating study in imputed righteousness. Reader, if because I just used a theological word you have tuned out, I would encourage you to get rid of the silly notion that theology is for your pastor and that you “just love Jesus.” Please keep reading.
Imputed righteousness is a fairly simply concept: imputing is giving. Righteousness is simply right standing before God.
Let me address first what sin is: Sin is primarily a condition and secondarily, acts which proceed from that condition. To put it in simple terms, “we do what we do because we are what we are.”
This is in direct conflict with the Catholic and Wesleyan-Holiness (and broader Evangelical tradition) which claims that “we are what we are (sinners) because we do what we do (sin).” This post is not to debate that particular point, but perhaps in the future I will write to that effect. This is simply to come to the table with intellectual honesty at the outset to avoid confusion. Applying a Wesleyan-Holiness sin-rubric to whatever follows may or may not make any sense in the end.
So, the picture is that our sin is a coat we wear before God and Christ’s righteousness is a coat which He wears. In living a perfect life of obedience, literally in our place before the Father, and subsequently dying in our place to make peace by the blood of His cross, He gives us His coat and takes our coat. Luther called this “the Great Exchange.” This is what imputed righteousness involves.
I’m also not going to argue against the teaching of the carnal Christian. That teaching stands in direct contradiction to Scripture in that there is no varsity vs. junior varsity distinction to be found…no “second blessing,” and no “fully devoted followers” (thank you, Willow Creek…warmed over Wesleyanism). Instead, what I’m proposing is looking at imputed righteousness and asking, “What of the brother for whom sin seems to be conquering him? What are we to do with him? He must surely be carnal.”
First, let us say outright that the real defense for such a brother is in Romans 7, which is a sketch of Paul as a Christian. But I choose to emphasize Romans 6 so that we will have a foundation in the gospel before any further posts take root.
The Objective Reality
The Gospel happens completely outside of us. Paul makes this argument when he talks about our righteousness being one of faith (Romans 5:1), which is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). The key words in such situations are words like “in Christ” and “through Him.” This means we have nothing to do with our own being brought from death to life. Since our righteousness is not OF us, we cannot terminate it.
The presence of sin in one’s life, firstly, does not indicate a “living in sin.” Indeed, Paul talks about his own sin in chapter 7. In this chapter, we know that because as believers we’ve been baptized into His death, we’ve died to sin (v. 2-3). Again, our being raised (‘regenerated’ even) has nothing to do with us. In the process, our wills are re-worked to make us desire it from the heart (Phil 2:13), but apart from Christ, we want nothing to do with it.
Then, after Paul discusses the wonderful thing which Christ did on our behalf, he promises our freedom, verse 11. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin, and the practical application thereof is to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies, verse 12. But where does that command come from? The gospel. The fact that we are reckoned righteous.
In essence, Paul is saying, “Be who you are.”
This is not an obedience from fear, but rather Christ’s love constraining to obedience. There is a difference. We do not obey because of a prid pro quo approach to our righteousness. Our holiness is not, as Finney maintained, the reward for obedience. Rather, it is a gift. We are righteous because Christ through His blood declares us to be so. It is in that declaration that we are MADE righteous, not simply put into a new box called “righteous” or “saved.” No, in giving us His coat, He has put a balm for our rotting flesh on the inside lining…this balm is called Sanctification Flowing from the Gospel. It seeps into our skin and, unlike most topical cosmetic applications, proceeds to go past our skin to the very marrow of our bones, reforming us, making us the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
But I Still Sin
Yes, you do. But this testifies to the temporally unfinished work in you, not to the insufficiency of Christ’s work done on your behalf. So what do you do now?
Repent and believe.
Turn from your sin. Believe that Christ came into the world to save sinners. This isn’t a recommitment prayer. This is a daily/hourly/continuous living in submission to Christ, which is our response to His redemption for us. We are to grieve over our sin and the sins of others and then we are to know God’s forgiveness in Christ, knowing that it is sweet to the “poor sinner dejected with fear.”
Christ came into the world to save sinners. I am a great sinner…but He is a great Savior.
Repent and believe the gospel…that Christ died for your sin. And rejoice, for He is faithful to complete the work He began.