Romans: More Than Conquerers
The gospel is freeing. It tells us that God's grace will always be bigger than our mistakes. We have savored that fact over the last few weeks. We left off with this question: What is the conclusion of all this for our lives going forward? Shall we go on sinning so that God can show Himself even more gracious?
Chapter 6 starts with this question. Paul immediately gives us a resounding “no”! Of course, we should not set out to sin more than our sinful selves will naturally do. We have committed our lives to Christ and His standards. While obedience to Him does not earn our salvation, it certainly should be an outworking of it.
In these chapters, Paul uses several analogies to explain our commitment to living righteously. He makes the point that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. He calls us slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin. We are bound to Christ rather than the Law. We live in the Spirit, not by flesh.
There is a battle inside of us that Paul describes in this letter. I'm sure you have experienced it yourself. As believers, our desire is to follow God and do what is right. We want to honor Him with all of our action. However, we still feel the pull of sin inside of us and find ourselves sinning despite our best efforts. This battle is real and will continue on this side of heaven.
There's hope, however. Paul says that we are more than conquerors through Christ. We can overcome sin as the Spirit leads us. He helps us to live more and more like Christ. This sure is a process but it's a wonderful, exciting one. It is not a battle we attempt on our own but rather a work of the Spirit inside of us.
Just like we did not save ourselves, we do not grow our faith by ourselves. Just like our righteous status came through the work of Christ, so our sanctification - that is our spiritual growth - comes through the Holy Spirit.
This gives us hope and motivation to continue to strive for God's will and His plan rather than our own. We don't do it to earn salvation or God's favor. Rather, we do it out of love for God and devotion to Him. We lean on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
A teenager once told me that, for many years, she had served at her church, not used swear words, and helped others. When she discovered that this does not affect her salvation, but that salvation is through faith by grace alone, she struggled. Why did she do all this work? Was it all for nothing? Not at all. God values everything we do for His kingdom and every attempt to do His will. All of those deeds might not be able to earn our salvation, but they sure do honor God. As Christians, that is our highest goal: to honor God with our lives.
Think of it this way: I married my husband in 2006. I have the ring to prove it. Can you imagine if I went around, declaring that I no longer need to speak to my husband, serve my husband, or love him through my actions because it does not affect our status as a married couple? We are already married. We sealed the promise with a ring. He is my husband no matter what I do. But what kind of marriage is this? And what kind of wife would I be if I took on this attitude?
So it is with us and God. As Christians, let's be concerned about more than our status before God. It's not just about “being a Christian” or being in right standing before God. Yes, that was a work done by Christ and not by us. However, now that it's done, we are part of God's family and, as such, we want to honor Him and love Him the best that we can. He has become the center of our universe and we delight in serving Him and following Him as best as we can.
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If any obedience to God does not save us, why should it be important to us at all? Can't we go on sinning, knowing that God's grace and Jesus' blood will cover whatever we do?
Paul poses this question at the beginning of chapter 6, and he continues to explain why this is really the wrong question to ask. In fact, if we truly understand the nature of our sin and our freedom from it, we would not ask to go back to it. Freedom could not be further from this request to go on sinning.
Paul uses the picture of an old life where we were slaves to sin and headed for death. We couldn't help but do wrong again and again, and there was no hope. We had to live in our sin. We were stuck and could not get out of this trap.
Then Christ came, and He freed us. The debt of sin was heavy on us, and we were unable to get out of this hole on our own. We stood guilty before God, and we felt it. We could not save ourselves. God's wrath was coming at us because of our sin, but the blood of Christ washed all of that away. It gave us a clean slate, and it made us stand in righteousness before God. This is what Paul explained in the previous chapters.
Now Paul also describes our new life. When Jesus died, our sin died with Him. And when he was raised from the dead, we, as in baptism, were raised to a new life with Him. We live this life by the Spirit. We are now able to do what's right because the Holy Spirit helps us. Yes, with the help of God, we are able to do what's right.
The reality is this: We still experience an internal struggle on a regular basis. Paul explains this battle in his own life, and I'm sure you have experienced it yourself. We want to do what's right, and, yet, we find ourselves disobeying or making bad choices. We yell at our kids. We get jealous or frustrated with people. We are dishonest or inauthentic. Whatever your personal sin struggle may look like, I am sure you feel burdened by it and frustrated about it.
Paul describes how all of creation craves God and groans for a relationship with Him. It is our nature to desire God. We are made to crave God. Yet, in our old life, when we were walking in sin, we wanted nothing to do with God. We were His enemies and estranged from Him. We see this in the world and in people who don’t want to hear God's truth and even find it offensive.
But in our new life, we are back to where we should be. We are free from the sin that made us blind to our need for God. Instead, we desire God and a righteous life in our inmost being. We wait patiently for the day that we will forever be free from sin in each and every way.
For now, here we are still struggling with our sin, and we don't like it. That's because it is part of our old life. It doesn't belong to us anymore, and it feels foreign. We have experienced what freedom feels like, and we don't want to be slaves again to sin. Really, your frustration with this struggle is a sign that you are now living a new life in Christ and your desire is towards God. It's a good thing that you feel this conviction and that it doesn't feel good. Instead, it makes you aware of the areas that still need growth in your life.
Here's the good news: We live by the Spirit who gives us life and allows us to put to death those fleshly desires. This is a process. If you're like me, you wish it wasn't. You wish it would just happen and that sin no longer had a single hold on your life. But instead, the Spirit teaches us slowly and patiently. He allows us to process through our sin struggles and to overcome them little by little. He grows us. Just like a plant grows over time, so do we.
Remember that even during this process, you are a child of God. You have been made right before God. You have been called by God, and He has justified you. While in reality, we have not yet been glorified - this is something that happens in heaven after this life is done - we are as good as glorified according to the Bible. God will not let go of you. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. You have been washed clean. You are a child of God. This will not change. Remember that God is bigger than all of your mistakes. Nothing can change the fact that you are already in God's family and always will be.
Do you see that, after reading these chapters, your whole being understands that you naturally crave God and righteousness? As a new creation, your nature wants to ask, “How can I honor God? How can I love Him more? How can I grow in my faith and become more like Christ?”
It does not want to ask, “Can I get away with more sin? Can I go back to my old life and still enjoy the new privilege?” These questions are misguided. Why would you want to go back and enslave yourself again to sin? Why would you go back into that hole when you have been freed? You have been released from the entanglements of sin and now walk in freedom as conquerors through Jesus Christ.
Let our question never be, “Can I get away with this?” Instead, let our question be, “How can I walk in more freedom in Christ? What areas of my life are still enslaved, and how can I free those bonds with the help of the Holy Spirit? How can I become free from sin, and walk in the Spirit who is freedom?”
I hope it is those questions that lead to great discussions in your group and bond you to grow in your spiritual walks together. Come alongside one another as you seek to get free from the things that still enslave you and walk in more freedom in Christ every day.