What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)
When Paul writes he often predicts potential objections and questions to the truth, brings them up, and then answers them. One such passage is Romans 6:1. After unpacking the depth of God’s grace to his enemies (Romans 5:6-11), Paul asks the question he knows many are wondering: if it’s all being forgiven anyway, can’t I just keep sinning? Paul answers with an emphatic “By no means!” How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2b).
Paul answers this way because all who are in Christ have become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we are united to Christ, his alien righteousness becomes our own. So, when God sees us he sees our righteousness—belonging to us now in Christ as much as our sins belonged to us before.
Christians are united to Christ in his death and also in his resurrection in order to walk with him in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). Christians simply can’t keep living like the old sinful person they were because that person has been spiritually crucified with Christ, laid in the grave, and been raised a new person (Galatians 2:20).
Christians can’t make themselves new
Throughout Romans, Paul describes salvation as a gift—the greatest gift a person can ever receive (Romans 3:24, 5:15-17, 6:23). However, the word “gift” may be confusing for people who see salvation as a reward for obedience.
Imagine receiving a gift from a friend. If you immediately pay your friend for the gift, you haven’t received a gift at all. Instead, you’ve made a payment for a commodity. To truly receive a gift means that there is no expectation or requirement of repayment. That’s what makes it a gift. However, Christians can be prone to view salvation as a license to sin and live however they want. If God is gracious then there is no need to change lifestyles. This is what the Roman Christians were tempted to think (Romans 6:2).
But salvation isn’t just cleaning a sin-stained record. The very heart of the gospel is that Christ’s righteousness has become your own and your sin debt has become his own (Colossians 2:9-15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). This exchange does not mean you can now live however you want with no consequences. No, salvation includes an entirely new record given to you by God himself, and that exchange—our sinful record for his righteous one—brings about a new life, a life of loving God and loving neighbor.
A lifestyle that fits a new life.
The gift of your new life includes good works that God has prepared, which all who receive this new life are now able to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). People do things according to their identity. For example, I’m a husband. In the way I sacrifice myself for my wife, I’m trying day by day to be a better representation of Christ laying his life down for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). I make mistakes but this doesn’t change the fact that I am still a husband. What God has made me can’t be undone by my failures or by anyone else’s (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). The same is true for Christians. Now that we are new creatures, we live in accordance with who we are as saved sinners in Christ.
Isn’t “trying” opposed to the gospel?
Dallas Willard has said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.” Since you have received new life as a gift, your works are not a method of earning or keeping your standing before God. Instead, your works are a display of the fruit of the Sprit in your life (Galatians 5:22-23). Becoming like Christ—sanctification—is a process, and it’s a process that you actively participate in through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jeremy Treat writes, “Christian growth is not a matter of changing into something you are not but is about becoming who you truly are ‘in Christ.’” You become what God has declared you already are.
Being a Christian means that you are in Christ and are called to walk in accordance with the new life you’ve received in Him (Ephesians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). You have been given this new life so that you will be able to now walk by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:3-4). As you work hard to love God and obey him, you do so knowing that all of it is an outworking of God’s glorious grace in your life (1 Corinthians 15:10-11).
At times, you will fail to obey God perfectly. Though you are right now spiritually seated with Christ in heaven (Ephesians 2:6), you are still wrapped in your sinful flesh (Romans 7:14-24), and can be pulled away from the good works God created for you to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). However, if you have died and been raised anew with Christ, you are still a Christian, and your works—the fruit of your new life—ought to prove that fact (James 2:14-26).
Christians are free to obey.
If you have been given the gift of new life in Christ then you are set free from obeying God to earn salvation (John 8:36). If God is for you, then there is nothing that can separate you from the gift of life he’s given to you (Romans 8:31-39). By faith, you can live out the gift of new life with the greatest confidence and security. What shall we say then? How can we continue to sin since His grace to us is so abundant? The gift of new life in Christ propels us to live lives demonstrating that the Author of all life has made you his own.