By Larry M. Arrowood
Some interpret Paul’s message to the Romans as suggesting living above sin is impossible; therefore, any effort on our part to do so is futile. So, don’t worry; rather, be happy while you sin, for God understands and is delighted to accommodate sin with His abundant grace. True, God does have an abundance of grace to cover sin, but Paul never intended for his message to be interpreted with such looseness. To the contrary, Paul taught that a victorious Christian life was possible and should be pursued. Consider his message in chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 to the Roman Christians. First, let’s look at what we will entitle “the three R’s of sin”.
The three R’s of sin:
- Reason or cause of sin
- Result of sin
- Remedy for sin
The reason of sin is because of disobedience. Adam and Eve were given only one rule to live by: do not eat of one particular tree. It was their disobedience to this command that brought the knowledge of sin.
The result of sin was that all born would have the nature of Adam. Mankind would be born impure as God regards impurity. Second, mankind was cast out of the presence of God. Fellowship with God was broken (spiritual death). Third, the earth was no longer a utopia. Man must now work to survive. Life became full of toil. Fourth, man’s life span on earth was cut short. He will die (natural death). Fifth, all mankind will be judged and eternally sentenced.
The remedy for sin, however, is the grace of God. This grace was purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. Faith in Christ and obedience to His Word given by the Apostles is sufficient to remit one’s sins. This is called “saving faith”.
The beauty of New Testament salvation is the process by which we obtain it. When sin broke our communion with God, man was totally hopeless. He did not possess the ability to obtain personal salvation. In all of man’s accomplishments, he has not been able to rid himself of his sins. Salvation was eternally out of his reach. He could not save himself. Only God could remit his sins. The manner in which God chose to put man’s sins from him is the world’s greatest love story. Literature has many love stories, but none of them can compare to the love story of redemption.
The God of the Old Testament appeared in various forms in the Old Testament to visit with mankind. Each visit was for a particular reason. This temporary form of God we call a theophany. This body was not flesh. It was differently than we are. It could not feel pain, hunger, or die. Genesis 32:30 is a record of God in theophany form wrestling with Jacob. Other examples are: Genesis 18, Exodus 24: 9-10, Exodus 3, Judges 13:21-22, Isaiah 6. Although these visits were made for specific reasons, none of them were for man’s redemption. Man’s redemption was paid for by Jesus Christ who was God incarnate (God in human form). This flesh of God would suffer and die for the sins of mankind; this is the beauty of salvation. Christ, the first born sinless man, was not born of the blood line of Adam. He was conceived of the Spirit of God. His flesh was sinless. For approximately thirty-three years he lived completely free of sin. He died being perfect; He became the perfect sacrifice. At Calvary, He took upon himself the cloak of man’s unrighteousness. From the first sin of Adam to the present and into the future, Christ took upon himself the sins of the world, and suffered, in man’s place, the judgment of those sins. No wonder his flesh cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He felt the burden and judgment of sin. The Spirit of God did not intervene; therefore, His flesh felt the full impact of the judgment of sin. It was the flesh of God that hung suspended between Heaven and Earth. He drank from the cup of wrath so that we might drink from the cup of salvation.
By the sin of one man (Adam), all mankind came under the condemnation of sin. All must die. By the death of one, Jesus Christ, all may have life. Man is born with a sinful nature. It is therefore natural for him to sin. He sins because he is a sinner. A dog does not become a dog because he chases rabbits. He chases rabbits because he is a dog. Likewise, we sin because it is our nature. This is our natural birth. Jesus Christ offers a second birth. This is a spiritual birth. We are given the nature of Christ. We can live above sin.
We now have the nature of Christ. It is right for us to live righteously. We are not a Christian because we live right, but we live right because we are a Christian. Paul asks the question “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound” [Romans 6:1]? He quickly responds, “God forbid.” The rest of the chapter deals with living a victorious Christian life. We do not have to sin a little every day. We can live above sin. Some would use, for an excuse to sin, the erroneous doctrine that God’s grace is so marvelous that even though we can’t stop sinning, His blood constantly covers our sins. Some suggest that God’s grace is like a flowing river that even though we continually throw litter into it, it continues to flow pure, washing the debris away. We must understand however, that over a period of time, even a clear river may become contaminated. The fish-life within the water dies. There is a spiritual analogy here. Such is the life that persists in sin. The person will become unfruitful and virtually good for nothing. Jesus said the tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down. This is not to say that we will never sin. However, we must not deliberately sin with the thought Jesus simply automatically takes care of sin. Conversely, we should strive for perfection through God’s grace. The wonder of the new birth experience is that we now desire to please God rather than follow sin. His Spirit in our lives gives us strength to overcome temptation. Also, we must be aware that we are in a warfare. When we are born again, the enemy (fruit of the flesh: lying, cheating, cursing, smoking, and drinking) is driven out. Consider this example. Let us pretend our life is an island. Christ comes in. The bad (sinful habits) is chased into the water. Remember however, they get tired of swimming, and attempt to come back. This becomes a continual warfare. We keep them out by prayer, fasting, Bible reading, worship, and church attendance, to name a few. Works’? Absolutely. But it is not the works of flesh, but it is the works of Christ (grace) within us. We have nothing to boast of save Christ within us.
It is impossible to live a life pleasing to God without the new birth experience. Paul explains the importance of this experience. He says we are dead to sin. How’? Our baptism. We need to realize the following comparison of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to the new birth experience.
The Experience of Christ Our Experience
Death: Repentance is death to the old nature.
Burial: We are buried with Him in baptism. Baptism in Jesus’ Name removes our sins, for His death applies to us personally.
Resurrection: Through the infilling of the Holy Ghost, we have a new nature, the nature of Christ.
The grace of God is not a license for us to sin, but a plan whereby we can be forgiven our sins, overcome the world, fleshly lust and the devil. For us to continually sin does not cause grace to be magnified, but shows a lack of appreciation, dedication, and growth on our part. Since sin was the product of the old nature, righteousness should be the product of the new nature.
“. . .even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” [Romans 6:19]. In this scripture, “now” refers to after we have been born again. It is therefore imperative that we experience and preach a born-again salvation. The new birth is essential for living a victorious life. One must repent, be baptized in Jesus’ name, and receive the Holy Ghost in order to live an overcoming life. This is God’s new birth plan.
Chapter 7 of Romans is one of the most misinterpreted chapters in the Bible. Some use it as a license to sin. Others use it to establish the message of eternal security or “once saved, always saved.” It is also used to substantiate the doctrine of purgatory. All of these, however, are misconceptions of the true meaning. In this chapter, Paul paints a picture of the struggle that goes on in a man’s life when he is trying to live for God under the law, without New Testament salvation. Paul points out that the law causes a man not to feel good, but to realize he is a sinner (verse 7). This was not necessarily bad, but it was incomplete. Verses 15-21 express the inner struggle of trying to obey the law of God with a nature that was contrary to the law of God. He concludes with a question, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He seemed so desperate. His mind wanted to serve God, but his flesh desired the things of the world. The law only reached the mind. It could not change a person’s nature. Under the law, man was left with a two-fold problem. His sins remained with him. His desire for sin remained with him. Even if he could change his desire, he still had his sins hanging over his head. Or, if he could get rid of his sin, the desire to sin was so strong, and his resistance so weak, that he would continue to sin. He desired to learn the law of God, but the more he knew about God, the more condemnation he felt. But the law was no accident, nor was it a cheap shot from God. Galatians 3:24 tells us, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. . .” What did the law teach us? All have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Unless we experience the new birth we will continue to sin. What does the law not do? It does not cleanse us from our sins, nor give us power to overcome sin. It does not change our nature, thus our desire for sin is still present. The law lacked a perfect and life-changing sacrifice for sin. The law lacked Christ and Calvary. But it did bring us to them.
Chapter 8 is a sequence to chapter 7. The answer to Paul’s question of “who shall deliver me?” is given. We should note that in chapter 7 the word “I” is used 38 times in 25 verses. We are quick to point out however, that in Romans 8, Paul no longer uses the personal pronoun “I” but uses the word “Spirit”. In fact, twenty-one times in chapter 8, Paul refers to the gloom and despair of defeat experienced under the law as being corrected by the indwelling Spirit of Christ which grants a victorious overcoming life.
Paul lists results of a Spirit-filled life:
# 1 verse 10 – The old body (old nature) is dead
# 2 verse 10 – The new nature (righteousness of God) now lives by the grace of Christ
#3 verse 11 – Resurrection power
#4 verse 13 – We can now mortify (discipline) the flesh
#5 verse 14-15 We are the Sons of God by adoption
#6 verse 17 – We are heirs of eternal glory
#7 verse 28 – Divine protection is given us
#8 verses 37-39 We are more than conquerors through Christ that lives in us
Under the law, it is man trying to live for God. Under grace, it is God living in man. Under the law, it is man working for God. Under grace, it is God working in man and through man.
We must understand that the writings of Paul, along with the rest of the Bible, were not originally divided into chapters and verses. This was done at a later time by Bible translators. Translators saw a need for a uniform way of locating a specific verse, thus, the division of chapter and verse came about. The first edition of the New Testament to appear with a division of chapter and verse was published in 1551. This division is accredited to Henry Stephens (Dictionary of the Bible, William Smith). It soon gained universal acceptance. This division of chapters can cause us, in our studies, to sometimes incorrectly isolate and interpret scripture. This is true of Romans chapter 7. It is often used to prove that living above sin is impossible. “Sin a little every day” is man’s theme from chapter 7. We must realize, however, that Romans chapters 7 and 8 were included in one letter — the same letter. Romans 7 is incomplete without Romans 8. In chapter 7, Paul is expressing what it was like to try to live for God under the law, before his Christian conversion. The law only made him conscious of his sins; it did not give him the inner strength to overcome. In Romans 7 it is “I” equals struggle and failure. Paul found that works without grace and faith are futile.
But Paul found victory, not only from sin, but over sin, through the grace and power of Christ within him. This experience was impossible under the law, but was expected to be a part of the Christian life, made possible through the new birth experience.
If something can be biblically classified as sin, or even leaning in the direction of sin, the Christian should strive to overcome it, not ignore or excuse it. This is the true Bible message.
But, if I fail, where does that leave me? I still have faith in God’s grace! And that’s why it is so amazing.
The above article, “Living Above Sin?” is written by Larry M. Arrowood. The article was excerpted from the fifteenth chapter of Arrowood’s book Grace Faith Works: Finding the Biblical Balance.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.