In Romans 5, Paul argues we are saved through grace alone, culminating towards the end of the chapter:
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21 (ESV)
He anticipates the question many will ask at the beginning and middle of chapter 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1 (ESV)
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? Romans 6:15 (ESV)
We could imagine several possible answers, as we read this; for instance:
- We are still under the Law of Christ, and following that Law will cause us to reduce the sin in our lives. It’s not about freedom from any set of laws, only that we don’t live under the Mosaic Law any longer.
- Our salvation is dependent on our continuing in a proper relationship to God, so we must be careful to reduce the amount of sin in our lives, so as to remain saved.
There are other answers, of course, but the general idea is that while we’re saved by grace, we must somehow live by some law or another in order to remain in grace, or to maintain our salvation, or some such. Interestingly, Paul didn’t answer this question with an answer of the sort I’ve outlined above.
Let’s examine the case Paul does make, instead of the one we might make.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:6-8 (ESV)
The bottom line is we are dead to sin. But what does it mean to be dead to sin? Let’s try to concoct an example to try and understand what Paul is saying here. Suppose you live in a kingdom, A, under a king who is horrible–he is evil in all ways you understand evil. Along comes another king who promises you the ability to move to his kingdom, B, through a simple process, whatever that process might be. Once you’ve undergone that process, you are a member kingdom B, rather than kingdom A.
In other words, you continue to live in kingdom A, but you are a citizen of kingdom B. While you live under the influence of the laws of kingdom A, you aren’t truly subject to them–you are free from those laws. This is an “already is and will be” situation–while you live in kingdom A, and hence live under its laws, you are not bound by those laws.
This is, in essence, Paul’s answer. You are free from the king of this world, death, who rules through sin. Satan no longer has power over you in this world, because you’re not a citizen of this world, you just live here! Just as we might end up living in the Kingdom, and not possess the Kingdom, we live in this world, and do not possess it, nor are we possessed by it.
But how does this answer the question? Why would our citizenship matter? It’s simple, really. We should not rush out and sin because sin belongs to this world, and we don’t. It’s incongruent to chase the things of this world, when we don’t belong here. This answer pulls us away from sin, through freedom, rather than trying to push us away from sin, through willpower. If you want to get rid of sin in your life, just use your freedom to stop living in this world, and for this world.
This sounds simple, but how do you do it? Well, if you were going on vacation in a few weeks, and were really excited about it, you’d probably spend a lot of time learning about the place you were going, wouldn’t you? You’d read about the area, find out about local customs, look at the local foods, find maps by which you could navigate there, and other sorts of things.
Why should our citizenship status not drive us in the same direction? Instead of spending our time in this world, we should be spending our time learning about the Kingdom we are citizens of. How would you learn about that Kingdom? By reading the guidebook, of course, to learn about the King who rules there. What is this guidebook?