A Christian is a person who has been set free. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Whereas we were enslaved to sin—its pull, its deteriorating influence, its consequences—we have been liberated. Romans 6 powerfully proclaims that through sharing in the death of Christ, we have died to the power of sin. Sin can no longer control us.
Yet how many Christians do you know who live as though they are free? I would answer, “Some, but not many.” How is it that Paul can proclaim us free from sin, yet most of us live as though we were enslaved? We are free, yet we still live as though sin is our master.
Tim Chester states it graphically:
“We’re like a freed slave who still jumps at his old master’s voice. We’re like a man with a healed leg who still limps out of habit. We’re like a former prisoner who still wakes at prison hours.” (You Can Change, 49)
If we are still being bullied by sin, can we really claim to be free? That’s the beauty of Romans 6. Paul informs us that we are free from sin, then calls us to live as though that were true. He calls us to present our members to God as instruments of righteousness. So the gospel first sets us free, then calls us to live as free.
Paul seems to be suggesting that we don’t realize what has happened to us in the gospel. For those of us who are united to Christ by faith, there is a huge difference between who we were and who we are. Tragically, many Christians still view themselves in terms of who they were. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul lists everything we used to be. If we’re honest with ourselves, we resonate with part(s) of this list. But then Paul turns the whole thing on its head:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Yes, you used to be a sinful person. BUT—you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of Jesus! Do you have any idea who you are? You’re not defined by your sin. You shouldn’t identify yourself based on the sins you struggle with. You are a child of God, and as such you have been cleansed of your sin.
Paul is so clear on this point: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). That’s who you are. You’re not a prisoner to sin. You’re not even you. You’re a new creation. Who you are is fundamentally different than who you were.
So back to Paul’s point in Romans 6—you have been set free from the power of sin, so live as though you were free. Don’t keep offering yourself up to sin as though you were its slave, offer yourself up to God as His slave.
How do you do this? Well, it’s impossible—for the old you. For the you without the Spirit of God. Paul’s instruction on how to put sin to death in our lives is as simple as it is mysterious: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).