Ultimately our eternal destiny will be determined by how God sees us. As our divine Judge, it is Jesus who will make the decision as to whether we gain entrance into Heaven or not. While many may claim to know Christ, the more pressing issue is whether or not He knows them. This is what justification is all about - making us righteous in God’s eyes so that we can be saved.
But even after God forgives, pardons, and declares us righteous in His sight, we still continue to live in these bodies of flesh. Although our spiritual nature is justified, our defiled human nature remains. While the LORD sees us as His righteous children, we see ourselves, others, and even Him from the perspective of our own brokenness. Within our very beings the flesh wages war with the spirit, producing an ongoing inner conflict that is present within all true Christians.
Gradually over the course of a believer’s life, the spirit should be gaining greater control over the flesh. Increasingly, our human nature should be disciplined and submitted to the spiritual. As this happens, our behaviors will be progressively cultivated and perfected. This process of growing into the image of Christ is known as sanctification.
Baptists define sanctification as “the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.”
This definition neatly summarizes the Bible’s teaching on sanctification, which we will examine in more detail (in chapters 6 through 8) over the next few weeks. It states that sanctification begins with regeneration, and so this is where we will start. What exactly is regeneration and what all does it entail? Let’s see what Paul has to say in today’s passage....
I. DEAD TO SIN (Romans 6:1-4)
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” When we begin analyzing this statement, we can see that the “old things pass away” before the “new things come”. This is exactly what this passage in Romans is addressing.
Today we commonly use the phrase “passed away” as a softer substitute for the word “died”. We will say things like, “I was so sorry to hear that your cousin passed away last week.” Like us, when Paul says that old things must pass away he means that they must die. The first thing that must die is our subjection to the reign of sin over our flesh.
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we die to sin. Notice that it is not sin that has died, but rather it is we that have died. Anyone who has been a follower of Christ for anytime at all can attest to the fact that sin is still a very present reality in their lives. Sin and the temptation to sin has not passed away, but rather it is us who have died to it and been made into new creations.
Death to sin is pictured through the ordinance of baptism by immersion. When new Christians are baptized, they are first plunged underneath the water. This submersion symbolizes their death to sin and the subsequent burial. Immersion, just as practiced in the New Testament, is the proper method of baptism because it correctly demonstrates the reality of regeneration.
II. FREED FROM SIN (Romans 6:5-7)
Having died to sin, we are not longer subject to its authority over us. The tyrannical reign of sin no longer has jurisdiction in our lives. It is though we were citizens living in the kingdom of sin, but something happen to us and we died. Now deceased, the rule of the kingdom of sin no longer has application to us but rather only to those still living under its dominion. Our death to sin has, if effect, set us free from its lethal control.
The Bible speaks often about the liberation of Christians from the reign of sin. Jesus, speaking on this topic in John 8:36, says that “if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes that “it was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Free from what? The authority of sin ruling over us. In Christ we find this glorious emancipation.
There is only one method for attaining this freedom from sin. We cannot escape from it, we cannot negotiate with it, nor can we successfully overthrow over it - we must die to it. This past week my son watched the old movie “Escape from Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood. It is held by many that no one ever successfully escaped from this infamous prison known as the Rock. Whether they did or did not I don’t know, but one thing I am certain of - no one escapes the kingdom of sin alive. They only way to be freed from its clutches is to die to it.
III. ALIVE TO GOD (Romans 6:8-11)
In our minds, death seems to be so final. We think of it as the end. But in Christ, death is the necessary prerequisite to life. After the “old things have passed away” it is time for the “new things to come”. Put another way, after we die to sin we are then made alive to God. We are raised from the dead, in a similar fashion to the resurrection of Jesus. This too is pictured through the ordinance of baptism as we are lifted up and out of the water.
Jesus died once to sin, and forever triumphed over its rule and reign. He will never die to it again, as sin no longer has mastery over Him or those who trust in Him. Therefore, when we die to sin our regeneration occurs only once. We are made alive to God - a new creation in Christ Jesus. We are born again, this time into the kingdom of God; and as citizens of it we are entitled to all the privileges and rights that He affords to us.
Have you ever seen a movie or read a book about a person who went to sleep in one place and woke up somewhere else? While we don’t go to sleep, still this analogy can be helpful in understanding what happens in regeneration. In the recent Movie “Captain America”, the hero goes to sleep (is frozen actually I have been told) in 1941 and wakes up in 2011 - some 70 years later. The changes he encounters are overwhelming. So too is the enormous contrast from the old kingdom of sin to the new kingdom of God.
As regenerate believers, we are no longer subject to the reign of sin over us. But… as they say, “old habits die hard”. While it may no longer have absolute control over us, sin still has a persistent lingering effect. Our flesh remains inclined to sin, despite the fact that we have been made spiritually alive to God. The difference is that when born again Christians choose to sin they do so voluntarily as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, not because they are trapped under sin’s dominion. Simply put, Christians sin because they want to - not because they have no alternative.
Paul challenges us to consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. He exhorts us to think of things in this way, and to view ourselves in light of this truth. And as citizens of God’s kingdom, we should aspire to put off our old ways and live in the flesh according to the LORD’s commands. When we continue to voluntarily submit to the rule of sin, even though we have been freed from it, we give place for Satan to exert influence over our lives.
Sanctification is a process that begins with regeneration. A repentant person dies to sin, is freed from its control, and then is reborn alive to God. But this new life of freedom from sin’s reign does not imply an absence of sin’s presence or influence. We must exercise the strength to resist it in the flesh, as aided by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. Strengthening personal resistance to the allurements of sin and increased submission to the Lordship of Christ form the basis of sanctification.