Yesterday I preached from Romans 6:1-4 in our series through Romans titled, “The Gospel According to Paul.” Through chapter four and five, the emphasis of Paul’s message was centered on the subject of justification. How is a person justified? Is it based on works or the grace of God alone? Paul labored his point and emphasized justification by faith alone in Christ alone. As we turned the page into chapter six, the focus shifts from justification to sanctification. Paul drives home the clear call to holy living.
Paul takes up the issue of a serious problem that plagued the Church in the early days – apparently in Rome and elsewhere – as Paul places his cross hairs upon the idea of antinomianism. The false teaching and system of thought known as antinomianism is the idea that the law is invalid and unnecessary since the grace of God super-abounds where sin increases. This is a teaching that produces lips that profess the name of Jesus, but a lifestyle that refuses to submit to Jesus. For Paul, this was a sickening system of thought.
Some people live by the idea “once saved always saved” and think that they possess a privileged status that will keep them out of hell and allow them to enter heaven, but we must be reminded that an attitude that desires to live in sin is the product of an unconverted soul. Any desire to have Jesus as Savior while maintaining a love and affection for the world is the fruit of Adam rather than the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul makes the point that we can’t live in sin that grace may abound. This does not glorify God. He then moves on to ask the question, since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? This is an obvious question for those who walk in sin and profess Jesus with their lips. This is an important question because as Paul makes clear, it’s the difference between a true conversion and false one.
To illustrate his point, Paul points to our baptism into Jesus’ death. This is obviously not talking about water baptism since he’s referencing a permanent change that takes place as a result of the baptism. Any teaching that claims water baptism provides a permanent spiritual change (washing away of sin or the receiving of the Holy Spirit) is heretical. That would be to add something to the work of salvation which would contradict Paul’s entire theological framework.
Sometimes the word baptism (βαπτίζω) can be used for something other than plunging or immersing under water as an ordinance of the church. It was used outside of the Greek New Testament by Josephus who used it metaphorically as he described the crowds who flooded into Jerusalem and wrecked the city. It was used in the New Testament as a mark of identification as when the Israelites were identified with Moses their leader after crossing the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). In this case, Paul uses it to refer to the spiritual union between an unbeliever and Christ that takes place at conversion. This causes the unconverted sinner to die to sin (which is buried with Christ) and then he is raised to walk in a new life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
This being true, this new life should look, sound, and function in a new way altogether. The new believer suddenly finds himself loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates. The Christian will desire to obey Christ and to follow after him. The child of God as led by the Holy Spirit will have interest in what God’s Word says and will have a commitment to the local church—in a way that can only be explained by the person’s union with Christ. The life of a Christian will be marked by movement of sanctification—a true pursuit of holiness (Gal 2:20-21).
Moralism can only take a person so far in life, but a pursuit of holiness is a life marked by submission to God in a joyful manner. Jerry Bridges once stated, “Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.” It must be stated, holiness is not an optional choice for the child of God. Hebrews 12:14 states, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Remember, holiness is not legalism. Holiness is the product of a life changed by Jesus. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.
J.C. Ryle has stated, “There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough – a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice – which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.”