Last night, we discussed Session 9 of Tommy Nelson’s Romans: The Letter that Changed the World, which covers Romans 6:1-12.
- What theological problems does the fact that we cannot lose our salvation cause?
- Does this truth scare the church?
The 2nd century church father Tertullian said,
Just as our Lord was crucified between two thieves, so this great doctrine of justification is continually crucified between two heresies.
The first heresy is legalism. We’ll talk about that in a minute. The second is liberalism, or, to use the five-dollar theological term Nelson uses, antinomianism.
In his book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, J.D. Greaar recounts the conversation he had with a young man he tried to witness to on the basketball court. The young man stopped him, and told him that he used to be a “super Christian”– going to youth camp, doing the True Love Waits thing, even leading other people to Jesus. But when he discovered sex, he decided he no longer wanted God telling him what to do:
So I decided to put God on hold for a while, and after a while just quit believing in Him altogether. I’m a happy atheist now.” He then added: “But here’s what’s awesome: the church I grew up in was Southern Baptist, and they taught eternal security—that means ‘once saved, always saved.’ . . .That means that my salvation at age thirteen still holds, even if I don’t believe in God anymore now. ‘Once saved, always saved,’ right? That means that even if you’re right, and God exists and Jesus is the only way, I’m safe! So either way, works out great for me. . . . If I’m right, then I haven’t wasted my life curbing my lifestyle because of a fairy tale. OK, it’s your shot.”
How would you respond to this young man? The Bible says you will know whether someone is saved by their fruit, right? But clearly this kid bore fruit in his earlier life. So now that he claims to be “a happy atheist,” is he still secure in his salvation? Can he fall back on his “get out of hell free” card and live how we wants the rest of his life?
Paul’s answer, in verse 2, is another of his famous me genoito statements, which has been translated as everything from “May it never be” to “perish the thought,” to “hell, no.” “How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?”
If we are dead to sin, it cheapens grace to still chase after it, and it is a denial of who we are in Christ. Martyn Lloyd Jones compared it to the salves following the Civil War who, though they were legally released from slavery, they still quaked with fear whenever they saw their old master again, petrified that they would be sold into bondage again. Or the scene in the Shawshank Redemption, where Brooks, the released convict, can’t cope with how big the world has gotten on the outside. He longs for the comfort and familiarity of his prison bars. Eventually, he takes his life.
When we have died to sin, we are truly free. Before our conversion, we are not free to not sin. It cheapens grace to think that our freedom in Christ means we are now free to sin. What it really means is that we are now free to not sin.
Tim Keller details what Paul doesn’t mean by “We died to sin” in verse 2. It doesn’t mean…
- That we no longer want to sin (duh). If this were true, there would be no need for verses 12-14.
- That we no longer ought to sin. Paul doesn’t say, “We ought to die,” but “we died.”
- That we are slowly moving away from sin. Again, we aren’t dying a slow death. The aorist tense of the verb refers to a single, past, once-and-done action.
- That at the moment of our baptism, we renounced sin. According to verses 3-5, our death to sin is not the result of something we have done, but something that is done to us.
- That we aren’t guilty of sin. Keller acknowledges that while this is true, it isn’t what Paul means here. He is trying to teach about why we seek to live without sin. “Simply restating the truth that we are pardoned in Christ is not the answer” (Keller, pp. 138-139).
We still struggle with sin, and we will until the day we die. This is part of our sanctification process. When Paul says, in verse 12, “Do not let sin rule over your mortal bodies,” he challenges us to continue to fight sin the way we would fight a guerrilla army, who keeps on waging a battle even after it knows the war is lost.
How do we do that? Tommy Nelson talked about several “nifty tricks” (his phrase) that people throughout history have used to aid in the sanctification process:
Asceticism (more sacrifice ): Through rigorous self-denial one can conquer the desires of the flesh
Mechanics (more ritual): Through habits of holiness and spiritual discipline one can master one’s fleshly desires
Scholasticism (more study): Through focused Bible study and Scripture memorization, I can hide God’s Word in my heart that I might now sin against God (Psalm 119:11).
Experientialism (more emotions): Through emotionally uplifting experiences such as worship services and retreats I can keep my heart turned toward God and away from the flesh.
Legalism (more rules): Through strict obedience to the law I can conquer sin.
The trick is to keep these in perspective. Tommy is right to call them “nifty tricks.” All of these can help in our struggle against sin. But we commit the other heresy Tertullian talked about when we add any of these to the gospel.
Next week: Session 10: We Must Obey (Romans 6:13-23)