The Power of Death to Sin

How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer herein? – Rom. 6:2

What shall we say then?

Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? With this very serious question, that really implies an indictment against freely justifying grace, the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans begins.

There was reason for the question.

The truth of God’s gracious act of justifying the ungodly had been set forth in the preceding chapters of the epistle. The glorious gospel that in the blood of the cross there is the power of justification for sinners that are, in themselves, damnable, had been explained. It is the truth that a man is lost in himself, and that a far as his works are concerned, there is no way out, no hope of obtaining righteousness.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness. There is, in this respect, no difference between Jews and the Greek: all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Nor is there any hope in the works of the law. By the works of the law no man shall be justified before God, for only the knowledge of sin is by the law. Man’s case, therefore, is hopeless. Whatever he may do, he remains a damnable sinner before the tribunal of God.

But God revealed another an altogether new righteousness, possessing which the sinner is justified, so that his sins are blotted out, he is declared worthy of life and has peace with God. This righteousness is not of man, but of God; it is not of works, but of grace; it is not through the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. In Him this righteousness is revealed. He obtained it for all His own, by His perfect obedience even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. He bore our sin, He took our place in judgment. He suffered the wrath of God in our stead. He died our death. And so He blotted out the guilt of all our transgressions, and merited for us a righteousness that makes us worthy of eternal life and glory.

This righteousness is imputed to us, freely, by grace; and we receive it by faith only, and even this is of grace for it is the gift of God. Our works have no part in this righteousness. Our good works cannot add to it, or render us more perfectly righteous: it is perfect in itself. Nor can our sins render us unworthy of this righteousness: no matter how great or how many our sins may be, in Christ. We are unchangeably and perfectly righteous before God. For “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” And again: “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteousness.” (Rom. 5:18, 19).

Such is the power of the cross.

On the aspect of the power of the cross we concentrated our attention in the proceeding chapters of the book. The Word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation; by its power we are redeemed from the curse of the law, reconciled to God, delivered from the dominion and fear of death, and our conscience is purged from dead works. Sinners though we be in ourselves, we are righteous before God; damnable though our state may be, in Christ we are justified; the handwriting of God through the blood of Christ, inscribed in our conscience, declares us as righteous, as if we never had committed any sin, yea, as if we personally had paid the penalty for our sins, and kept all God’s commandments ever since!

But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?

Is there no room, then for the question: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

The question, it would seem, follows very normally and, what is more, it would appear as if the answer suggested is the only possible and logical conclusion from the doctrine of free justification: let us continue in sin, that grace may abound. The more we sin, the more we create the situation in which grace may truly shine forth in all its glory. By continuing in sin, it would seem, we serve the cause of grace. Let us, then, fathom the depth of sin, that we may taste the fullness of grace.

The opponent of the truth of sovereign grace, and of free justification through grace in Christ, without works, often claim that this is the only possible inference that follows logically from this doctrine. It makes men careless and profane. It offers them an indulgence to sin. Nay, what is worse, it changes sin into a virtue, since it becomes a means to extol the grace of God. You teach, they say, that we are justified before God without works. No matter how deeply and grossly we sin, we ae righteous before God. Righteousness is simply imputed to us. Good works are not its ground: they cannot add to our righteousness. Sin cannot change it: though our sins are as scarlet, though they cry to heaven, in the judgment of God we are declared righteous. Well, then, say they, it us continue in sin: that is the only possible conclusion you can draw from such a doctrine. If it does not make a particle of difference in the judgment of God whether we sin or do good works, by all means let us sin, for this has, as at least the advantage that it brings into bright relief the glory of God’s forgiving mercy.

Thus the opponents of Paul’s day, and the enemies of the so-called “blood theology” of modern times argue against the Scriptural truth of free justification through the blood of the cross, in order to demonstrate the absurdity and pernicious nature of this doctrine. Nor need we deny that, if their argument were correct, and their conclusion true, if it were the tendency of the cross  of Christ to render men secure in their sin, to make men careless and profane, the truth of free justification could no longer be a cause for glorying. In that case, it would indeed be a dangerous doctrine. Then he cross of Christ would be made of none effect.

But they that thus oppose the truth only speak in their ignorance. They have not experienced, neither do they understand the marvellous power of the cross.

For rather than causing men to rest secure in their sin, seeing they are justified without works, so that they become careless and profane in their walk and conversation, the power of the cross has the effect that it causes men deeply to abhor sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and to walk as children of light in the midst of the world. To verify this, just ask, not the enemies of the cross of Christ, but those that have experienced the power of the blood of Jesus unto their justification, and that know what it means to be justified freely by His grace. Ask them, if they have any confidence in their own works as a ground of their righteousness before God, and they will assure you that all their boasting is in the cross of Christ, and in the atoning power of His blood. To them, all other ground is sinking sand. They utterly repudiate it. But again, ask them whether this exclusive confidence in the cross as the ground of their righteousness, does not have the effect upon them now they become careless and profane, induces them to draw the conclusion that it is profitable to continue in sin that grace may abound, and they will reply with holy indignation and abhorrence: God forbid! They will assure you that the power of the cross, as they experienced it, bore the very opposite fruit: it caused them to abhor sin, so eschew it, to flee from it to fight it with all their might. Through the cross they have become the enemies of sin. And for nothing they long for more fervently than to be delivered from the defilement of sin finally and completely. “Live in sin?” they will say, rather amazed that you could approach them with such a proposition, “continue in sin? How could we, that have tested the power of redemption in the cross of Jesus, consider such a possibility, or do such a thing? God forbid!”

This is also the answer of the Scriptures, by the apostle Paul, in the sixth chapter of the Romans. Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! Such a proposition cannot be entertained seriously, even for a moment.

But the apostle does more than merely express the spiritual impossibility of such an attitude on the part of believers. He also sets forth the reason for this impossibility. For he declares that believers are dead to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? And he continues to explain that the justified believer is one that is baptized into Christ, and that, by being so baptized, he is baptized into His death. In fact our old man is crucified with Him, and by this crucifixion the body of sin was destroyed, that we should no longer serve sin. We are, therefore, dead with Christ, and he that is dead is free from sin. Christ died unto sin, we died with Him, and therefore, we must reckon ourselves to be dead unto sin, and alive unto righteousness. Sin, therefore, must not reign in our mortal bodies that we should obey in the lust thereof; nor must we yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness unto unrighteousness. I a word, quite in opposition to the evil slogan: Let us sin, that grace may abound,” the truth is that sin shall have no dominion over us, exactly because we are not under the law but under grace! (Rom. 6:2-14)

Thus the apostle explains the believer’s being dead to sin in the sixth chapter of Romans.

And the same truth is taught by him in other passages of his epistles. Thus, for instance, he write in II Cor. 5:14, 15: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

It is plain, therefore, that, according to Scripture, the redeemed in Christ have died with Him, and that now they are dead unto sin, so that sin no longer has the power to reign over them.

It belongs to the power of the cross to render men dead unto sin.

Two questions arise in this connection: 1. What does it mean to be dead unto sin? 2. How is this spiritual state effected by the cross?

In answer to the first question, we should carefully observe that the Bible does not say that sin is dead in the believer, but, on the contrary, that he is dead to sin. The difference is evident. It would be a grievous error to change this expression, or to understand it as meaning the same as the statement that, as long as the believer is in the world, sin is dead in him. For this error would certainly create confusion in the mind and heart of the sincere Christian. Fact is, that when we are engrafted into Christ, and the power of the cross is realized in us, sin is not dead, but remains very much alive. In this life, we never have more than a small beginning of this new obedience. Even the very holies of the saints, he that is farthest advanced on the way of grace and sanctification, still has only a principle of the new life in Christ. Our old nature, earthly and carnal, remains with us till the grave. Not until we breathe our last are we delivered from it. And in that old nature are the motions of sin. And they are very active. In fact, it often seems that, according as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, the motions of sin in our members also increase their activity, always attempting to bring us again into bondage. We must, therefore, till the day of our death, heed the exhortation of the Word of God to put off the old man, and put on the new.

Yet, although sin is not dead in the believer, he is surely dead to sin.

The natural man, the sinner apart from Christ, is alive unto sin. Sin is his lord. The power of sin is enthroned in his heart. It is his rightful lord. It has the right to exercise dominion over him, and he is its legal slave. God’s sentence is that the sinner shall die. To this death belongs the spiritual darkness of mind, the perversion of will, the pollution of the desires and inclinations, that make the sinner a slave of sin. From this sin he does not even have the right to be delivered unless atonement is made for his sin. Sin, therefore, has dominion over him. This dominion of sin, however, is not contrary to the will and desire of the sinner, so that he ever longs to be delivered from its bondage. On the contrary, he agrees with it. He is well pleased with the reign of sin. He delights in the service of his evil lord. He is a willing servant. He loves the darkness rather than the light. He yields his members to the service of unrighteousness. He is in bondage, yet, because the service of sin is sweet unto his corrupt taste, he does not feel the oppression of his slavery. He takes sin to his bosom. Quite willingly he allows her. To the service of sin he willingly devotes his body and his soul, his mind and will, all his desires and inclinations. For sin he lives. With sin he agrees. The paths of sin are his delight. He is alive unto sin.

To be dead unto sin is the direct opposite of this. It is the state in which we are no longer under the legal dominion of sin. Sin is no longer our lord. It has no longer the right to reign over us. Just as a slave for whom the price is paid, or that has been declared free by the law, is no longer legally bound to serve his former master, so he that is dead to sin is liberated from the legal dominion of sin by God’s own verdict of liberation. Sin shall not have dominion over him, because he is not under the law but under grace.

Moreover, this sentence of liberation is also realized in him. He is actually, spiritually, liberated from the bondage of Sin. His fetters are broken. Grace instead of sin, the law of the Spirit of life, rather than the law of sin and death, is enthroned in his heart and has do dominion over him. His mind is enlightened, his will is turned about, his heart is renewed, and from that renewed heart all the issues of life move in a direction opposite to that of sin. The result is that he beholds and judges sin in a new light, the light of the love of God. Formerly, he agreed with the dominion of sin, now he radically disagrees with it. Formerly, he always said “yes” when sin said “yes,” and “no” when sin said “no”; now he opposes sin’s “no” with his own “no” with his own “yes,” and sin’s “yes” with his own “no.” When he was alive unto sin he loved the works of darkness, now he is dead unto sin he hates them with all his heart. While in his bondage to sin he yielded his members to the service of unrighteousness, he now strenuously opposes that service.  He is dead unto sin.

O, sin still present with him. And it operates in his members. Ever it attempts to regain its former lordship over him. But all that is within him, according to his inner man, hates and abhors the service of iniquity. Sin is not dead, but he is dead to sin. His entire attitude over against his former lord has radically changed. He is converted. And for the sin that still operates in his members, and ever tempts to divert the vehicle of his life and walk into the old ruts of unrighteousness, he humbles himself before God daily, repents in dust and ashes, and confessing his sins before God, he has no rest till he has found forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb.

He that is in Christ is a new creature: old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new! (II Cor. 5:17)

How, then, would it be possible that the believer in Christ should live according to the slogan: “Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound”? God forbid! How then shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Now, the source of this tremendous and radical change is in the cross of Christ. That this is the teaching of Scripture we have already seen. Into the death of Christ we are baptized, and we become one plant with Him in His death, and are crucified with Him. And it is because of this fellowship with the death of Christ, that we are dead to sin.

To understand this power of the cross we must consider, in the first place, that the death of Christ is the crucifixion of the old man, the destruction of the body of sin, the dethronement of sin as lord over the human nature. By the “old man” we means the human nature as it is legally in bondage to sin, so that it has no right to be liberated unless the price for its deliverance is paid. In Christ that “old man” was crucified, killed, and buried. For by His perfect obedience, Christ paid the price for our redemption. His death is perfect satisfaction of God’s justice in respect to sin. The result is that all that are n Christ ae free from the law of sin and death. Sin has been deprived of the right to exercise dominion over them. Through the death of Christ they have been purchased free from its lordship. Legally, they are free from, and dead to, sin. For, secondly, we must remember that Christ did not pay the price for His own redemption, but for ours, for all those whom the Father had given Him. He was never in bondage to sin. For He is the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, and even in the human nature He was perfectly free. Always it was His meat to do the Father’s will. He knew no sin. But He was made sin for His own. He was, so to speak, the Head of a corporation, of which all the elect are members. He represented them in the hour of judgment before God. They were all in Him. Legally, they were one with Him. When He, now more than nineteen centuries ago, was crucified, they were all crucified; when He died, they all died; when He was buried, they were all buried; when He arose from the dead, they all were raised with Him. Hence, their old man was crucified, dead, and buried. When Christ died, they all died unto sin. There and then, the price of their redemption was paid, and sin lost its right and power to have dominion over them.

That is the power of the cross.

Lastly, when this power of the cross is applied unto us personally, so that we are ingrafted into Christ by a true faith, and become one plant with Him, we are at once appropriate, by faith, the atoning death of Christ, as if we ourselves had actually paid for all our sins, and experience this fellowship with His death as a power of liberation from the dominion of sin. When the Spirit of Christ enters into our hearts, and establishes the living fellowship of faith between us and the Christ that died and rose again, and calls us through the gospel, we know that we are free, that we are not under the law but under grace, and that sib shall have no dominion over us. There we reason ourselves dead unto sin, and alive unto righteousness. Then we reveal our having dies unto sin by a hearty repentance and sorrow after God, by our eschewing and abhorring sin and fleeing from its lusts, and by a positive delight in righteousness to serve the living God.

That is the power of the cross.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

How absurd!

The power of the cross is our death unto sin.

The power of His resurrection is our quickening unto a new life of righteousness.

With Him we might live!

O’ glorious power of Calvary’s tree!

(The power of the cross by Herman Hoeksema. pp. 91-104)

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11