Paul, the great teacher, anticipates his readers’ important questions – particularly when faced with a gospel of grace and freedom on offer. Here’s one: “If grace gets larger when sin gets larger, perhaps we should sin even more!” This comes from chapter 5:20 “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more”.
Paul answers his own question with the facts: When we were baptised into Christ, we were effectively transported back in time to die with him on the cross (strange, but very true!). Our baptism ‘welded us’ to him forever. So then, we were buried with him and then we were raised to a new life with him. (Ephesians 2:6 confirms this: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”). From this point onwards, where He goes, we go. And one day, we will join him in our resurrection bodies. The point of Paul’s current argument is, that when Christ died for sin, we died to sin too – separated from its power forever. We have been released from the power of sin in our lives. So why go back to the thing that you have been released from?
In the Early Church, new birth, repentance, faith, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit were not artificially separated concepts as we tend to view them today; Paul uses the term ‘Baptism’ both in its own right, and as a short-hand for the whole of conversion to Christ. In any case, baptism, whilst essential, is more than just water: it is water combined with saving faith!
The point about grace increasing to cover increased sin is a valid one, but it is not to be taken as a recommendation to sin more. A real-life example is our National Health Service (NHS): it expands its resources to cope with any kind of sickness that UK citizens suffer from. As sickness increases, the resources of the NHS are enlarged to accommodate that increase. But however much we are in agreement with that aim, surely no-one would recommend that we all deliberately make ourselves sicker, just to benefit from those further resources! The ultimate aim of the NHS is that we all become healthier.
Second question: “Shall we carry on sinning because we are under grace and perpetually forgiven – so that it really doesn’t matter?” Answer: ‘No’. Once you were Sin’s slaves and Jesus set you free. Why do you want to go back to your old master and start obeying him all over again – was it so good the first time around! You are free now – and freedom is good – don’t get back into that old prison cell and pretend that you are somehow trapped – that’s a lie! Time and time again in this chapter, Paul states that we are set free from sin; this is a key point to remember when we come to a correct understanding of Romans 7 next.
Sin, very simply, is the drive to make us disobey the Lord and to do what displeases him. We take away from Romans 6 the vital thought that God’s grace is given us to set us free from sin’s power and to keep us free, so that we can serve Him. It doesn’t imply that we will never sin, but rather that we are released from the power of besetting sin.