If God creates us into new creations once we put our faith in Jesus Christ, why do we still sin? And if God’s grace is endless, why does it matter if we sin. As we look at Romans 6:14, we will see that “sanctification” is the answer to our questions.
What Is Sanctification?
Imagine if you had been given a bank account that will never drop to $0 no matter how much you spend. But if we can spend whatever we want, doesn’t this mean we can spend irresponsibly with no consequences? Likewise, God’s grace can never run out. But if this is the case, doesn’t this encourage wild living? Romans 5 concludes with these words:
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)
When Paul wrote these words, he knew what the objections would be. If God’s grace just keeps increasing with our sin, does this mean there is no consequence for sin? And if God’s grace just keeps covering our sins no matter what we do, doesn’t this encourage sinful living? Some went so far to say that since God is glorified through giving his grace, we should sin more so God can glorify himself more by giving us more and more grace.
Paul addresses this false way of thinking in Romans 6. He begins with the question, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” (Romans 6:1). The answer Paul gives in Romans 6:2 is profound. He turns everything on its head and totally reverses the logic of it all. He states, “Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:2).
The big idea explained in Romans 6 is that because of God’s grace imparted to you, this should not be a reason to sin more; this is now actually the reason you should be free from sin. Because I have been permanently justified through faith which cannot be taken away, this should now cause me to live more holy, not less.
Paul is saying that the reason you should be able to live free is because Christ has already set you free. Out of our justification, what Christ has imputed to us, should now flow our sanctification. Justification happens in a moment when you first believe. God transfers the perfections of Christ completely to you and they can never be taken away.
Sanctification, however, is a process that occurs over your whole life. Sanctification is the journey of learning to obey God more and more as you learn to walk in the Spirit. It is the process of learning to live from the new nature God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Justification is done to you. Sanctification includes your choice and will. Sanctification is still a work of the Holy Spirit, but it also includes your personal choices. Justification is when God gives you Christ’s perfect holiness; sanctification is when your life becomes holier as you apply the word of God to your life. Justification is what you are positionally in Christ. Sanctification is the holiness and goodness you can witness outwardly in your life. Justification frees us from the damning power of sin for eternity. Sanctification frees us from the reigning power of sin in our lives on earth. Christians are sinless before God because of the gospel (justification), but in their life they will be sinning less and less through the refining work of the Holy Spirit (sanctification).
Romans 6 explains that justification and sanctification are not opposed or conflicting truths in the Bible, they are actually connected and relate to one another. Paul is explaining that our sanctification should now actually flow out of our justification. Because you are justified, you should now be showing the evidence of sanctification. Because you have been given all that you need in Christ, you should be growing bit by bit in your life.
When Paul said, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2), he is basically saying that if there is no sanctification in your life, you were never truly justified either.
The evidence of your salvation will be expressed in your transformation. If there is no change in your life, it means there was no change to your heart.
Why Is Sanctification Important for Transformation?
Without understanding the connection between justification and sanctification, we can error in at least two ways. One, we will think we can do whatever we want since God has completely justified us by grace alone. Because God freely gave us a forgiveness and righteousness, we can feel we have a free pass to sin as much as we want.
The other mistake would be to assume that because you still struggle with sin, God has not truly justified you. If you do not understand that sanctification is a process, you will doubt that God has truly made you into a new creation when you still struggle against sin.
Sanctification corrects both of these errors. We do not have a free pass to sin endlessly since God’s grace is endless. Why? Because someone who has been truly changed by the Holy Spirit will not think like this. If you are truly made into a new creation, it will show up in your life. Looking for excuses to sin more is not the desire of a true Christian.
However, as we all know, Christians do still sin after God makes them into a new creation. Why? If God changed our hearts, shouldn’t we be living perfect lives now? Sanctification corrects this false view because the Bible says Christians are now “being sanctified.” For example, Hebrews 10:14 (ESV) explains, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
While God changed our identity in a moment, it will take a lifetime to learn to live from that new identity. We will never be sinless until we die and are glorified completely, but while we are on planet earth we will be sinning less. Romans 6:3-7 explains:
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. (Romans 6:3-7)
So why is sanctification so important for our transformation? Romans 6:1-5 tell us what happened to us when we became a Christian. Now Romans 6:6-7 tell us what should be the result, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ, we were set free from the power of sin.”
Because our old selves were crucified with Christ, sin has lost its power in our lives. Notice, however, it does not say that sin has died in us or that the sinful nature no longer exists. It’s doesn’t say that. It says that because we are justified, we now have the power to fight sin. The true you is no longer the sinful desires you feel in your body. We are set free from sin, so now we have the power to live free even though sin still tries to enslave us.
How Can We Be Sanctified?
Ultimately, just like justification, sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. But unlike justification, sanctification is contingent upon our personal choices as well. The work of the Holy Spirit and our choices certainly blur together, and while although this topic can be mysterious, the Spirit’s empowerment of us and our freedom to choose do not contradict.
Notice the emphasis on the words “know” and “believe” throughout Romans 6. Romans 6:3 (NIV), “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”Romans 6:6 (NIV), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him.” Romans 6:8 (NIV) “Now if we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him” and Romans 6:9 (NIV) “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again.”
Paul starts with the mind because our objective and factual beliefs are the foundation for our subjective experiences and feelings. What you experience often stems from what you believe. Your mental beliefs often govern your feelings.
For example: When someone tricks you and makes you believe that a spider is on your head, you can feel fear even though there is actually no danger. Or if you see a black and white car and you think it’s a real cop car, you might get nervous and slow down. But when it passes you and its some high school kid in an old cop car stripped of all authority, you suddenly feel very different. What’s in our minds affects the way we live.
Christianity is based on historical, theological, and practical truth. But even though Christianity is true, if we don’t mentally accept the facts, we will not experience the blessings God is offering us.
We need to educate our minds on truth so we can experience this truth in our lives. As Martin Loyd-Jones said, “Doctrine is always to be applied, it is never to be considered as an end and of itself.” We must also start with the mind because, as Warren Wiersbe said, “Satan knows if he can keep us ignorant, he can keep us impotent.”
2 Corinthians 4:4 states, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan works through false beliefs about ourselves. He’s not the father of power, he’s not the father of possession, he’s not the father of brute force, he’s not the father of fear tactics, but he is the father of lies. He knows if can get us to believe lies, he can get us to live a lie. Therefore, we must pay attention to our minds if we hope to live free for God:
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
These verses teach us that the more deeply you know and understand the truth of what Christ has already made you into, the more this is going to play out in your life. The more deeply you understand and believe the fullness of your justification, the more this is going to bear fruit in your sanctification.
As one commonly used sermon illustration explains: When an new agent for the U.S. Treasury is being trained to detect counterfeit money, how do you think they are taught to decipher between the fake bills from the real money? Do they look at counterfeit currency all day? Do they educate themselves about inks, watermarks, and paper quality? Believe it or not, they don’t! Their preparation consists of one primary thing: countless training time of touching, scrutinizing, and smelling real money. Why? Because if someone wants to know the genuine from the artificial, they don’t need to know every artificial example. They only need to know the truth so they can detect every fake.
That’s what Paul is doing in Romans 6:3-10. He’s instructing people in the truth about their position in Christ now that they are saved so they can detect when the counterfeit self is trying to take over.
Your actions are a reflection of what you believe. As Martin Loyd Jones said, “Sanctification proceeds as we are led by the Holy Spirit to draw deductions from the doctrine of justification.” Romans 6:11-14explains:
So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
Romans 6:11is the first time in the whole book of Romans where Paul tells his readers to actually do something. Every verse up to this point has been used to explain what is true. It’s all been facts. But now that Paul has thoroughly explained what is true, he says if you want to experience this truth, you need to “consider” (ESV/NLT) or “count” (NIV) or “reckon” (KJV) yourselves dead to sin but alive to God.
This word “count” means something more than “think” or “believe” or “know.” It means “to take into account, to calculate, to estimate.” It’s the difference between possessing a check and cashing a check. Romans 6:11 means that not only are we supposed to believe what God says is true, we are supposed to apply this truth to the reality that we live in.It’s supposed to shape the way we live in the world around us.
In Romans 6:11 we are told to apply our beliefs to our lives. Then, in Romans 6:12-13, we are told to now exercise our will power. These verses are not talking about “free will” but rather about the “freed will.” Our wills used to be enslaved to sin, but now God has truly set us free when we put our faith in Christ. And the more deeply we believe that we are free, the more empowerment we receive by the Holy Spirit to live free in our lives.
Sin does not have control over the true you in Christ. However, what the sinful nature can still have control over is your body. The body itself is not sinful. But the body, mind, and emotions can be controlled either by the power of sin or by your true self in Christ. So to conclude, let’s look one more time at Romans 6:11-14 (NIV):
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
This “therefore” in Romans 6:12 is really the key to the whole chapter. Romans 6:1-11 lay the ground work of truth and Romans 6:12-14 command us to apply this truth. We have been given a freedom in Christ that actually affects our lives. Paul is saying “Believe the truth that you are a new man. Believe it so deeply you are counting on it. Christ has set you free. You are justified. You were made right with God. You are a new person with a new life. The old has gone and the new has come. The sin in your body is not the real you. You are a new. Therefore live free.”