Having just said, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20), Paul now anticipates his opponents’ challenge. Surely they will charge him with encouraging people to sin so that grace may abound just as they also charged him with teaching people to do evil so that good may come (3:8).
To those critics who assume that people will abuse the freedom grace affords, Paul says, in effect, you do not know the power of grace. And this is why: By grace God made it possible for people to die to sin, and by grace people no longer have to live in sin. Rather than being an excuse for sin, grace inhibits the practice of sin or, as the confessional statement at the end of this message puts it, grace subdues sin.
Paul’s critics were convinced the law is necessary as a deterrent to sin and a prod to obedience. The law remains useful for God’s people as a moral standard, but as we saw in chapter 5, the law cannot solve sin. Quite the opposite, the law only reveals sin, convincing sinners of their sin.
Paul now insists it is not the law but grace that conquers sin—not only by canceling the consequences of sin (condemnation and death) as he laid out in chapter 5, but also in the way followers of Christ live: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (6:14). Grace frees us from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin (Douglas Moo). Believers can gain victory over any sin, any bondage, any addiction. Hard to believe? Stay tuned to Paul’s argument in this chapter.The God of grace
The Greek word for grace conveys something that brings “delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary). Certainly it is our good fortune to be in relationship with the God who introduced himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
Grace pervades everything God does for all those who trust in Christ. Salvation—the whole process of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification—is the work of “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). In Ephesians Paul specifically links grace to our union with Christ in death and resurrection (2:5). And that union is the source of our victory over sin that is the subject matter of Romans 6.
Grace has secured for us not only righteous standing before God but also the ability to live righteously for God. As Wayne Grudem says, “In the New Testament, and especially in Paul, not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the entire living of the Christian life can be seen to result from God’s continuous bestowal of grace” (his emphasis).
What Paul counts on—what his opponents did not or were not willing to understand—is that grace motivates believers to obey God and gives them the power to do so.Grace for a willing heart
This chapter takes us deep into the basis of our sanctification—our growth into an increasingly righteous and holy, Christlike lifestyle. Sanctification is possible only because God transforms the human heart.
Law is helpless against an obstinate heart. The superior power of grace is its ability to create a willing heart, as Paul demonstrates by thanking God that his readers “have become obedient from the heart” to apostolic teachings (6:17). Having died to sin, we are set free from sin’s bondage and can now walk in newness of life or, as NIV translates, “live a new life” (6:4, 7).
Regeneration, the first work of grace in a believer, entails the birth of this new heart. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are new people with a new hatred of sin and new desires and new passions to love Jesus Christ.The believer’s obligations
Paul gives the reader no excuse for missing this amazing transformation, for with this new birth come new expectations.
Because regeneration does not remove old passions and sin patterns, sanctification requires effort by the believer to resist sin and seek righteousness. Although temptations remain, the point is that sin no longer has the power to rule over us in thought and action. Paul combines both negative and positive commands about the use of our bodies: to not let sin reign in our body to make us obey its passions (6:12) and to use our bodies for righteousness leading to sanctification (6:19).
We’ll explore these details as we go deeper into this chapter. The pivotal verse is Paul’s command to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ. Victory over sin starts with knowing who we are and what God has done for us.
Answer: “Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued.” (The Westminster Larger Catechism, cited by Douglas Moo)