When Does Our Death to Sin Occur?

by
Jason Dulle
JasonDulle@yahoo.com


Quesion:

While I agree with you that at justification Christís righteousness is imputed (reckoned in a legal sense) to us, I personally believe that there is also an actual change that takes place in us spiritually. At our initial faith in Christ (or repentance-I personally don't distinguish between the two) when justification takes place (our sins are placed on His (Christ's) account, and His righteousness is placed on our account), I believe that the ruling power of sin is temporary broken. I don't know about you, but when I repented or initially believed in Christ, I stopped sinning (practicing sin) for all intents and purpose's.

You believe, based on Romans 6, that it is at baptism that we experience a spiritual change; i.e. the ruling power of sin is broken in our lives at baptism. But does this change take place at water baptism? Correct me if I'm wrong here, but doesn't Paul say that "Likewise you also, RECKON yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:11). Sorry, I'm don't see an actual change taking place at water baptism. Water baptism is a symbolic burial of the believer with Jesus Christ. Again, I distinctly remember an actual change take place at repentance, simply because I had a change of mind.

I guess in order to be theologically correct, I would have to say that it is when one receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that the ruling power of sin is actually, permanently broken-"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2) The "law of sin and death" refers here to the "body of sin" or the sin principle that resides in our fallen nature. Any comments?

 


Answer:

My understanding of Romans 6 is that Paul is arguing why the Romans should not continue in sin. Paulís argument is that they were not aware of what objectively happened to them when they were baptized. The Romans were not aware of what really happened to them when they were savedóthe dominion of sin was broken. This is why Paul was so repulsed at the Romansí attitude toward sin. Paul did not say, "How can you believe that a Christian should continue to sin," but rather, "Thatís impossible because of your union with Christ." The union and subsequent breaking of sinís ruling power over oneís life is an objective fact even apart from our knowledge of it (as in the case of the Roman church), but it must be known to be subjectively useful.

I donít see Paulís command to "consider" themselves dead to sin to mean that baptism had no true spiritual effect. It was a matter of the Romans continuing to sin even when they had the power to live above sin. In order for the objective fact to be useful they had to consider themselves dead to sin (acting on the truth of what happened in baptism). If Paulís statement that the believers should consider themselves dead to sin means that there is no actual change in baptism, then neither is there actually a bringing of life to the believer in baptism. Not only did Paul say to consider yourselves dead to sin, but he also went on to say, "but alive to God through Christ Jesus." Although he does not repeat the word Ďconsider,í it is implied because the latter statement is the corollary to the first. That death to sin and life to God both need to be acted upon to be effective in the life of the believer is evident when Paul said, "Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (v. 13), and again, "Do you now know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (v. 16).

If baptism does not bring death to sin, or life, then two questions arise: why should we be baptized other than for mere obedience to the Scripture?, and why does Paul mention baptism in connection with death to sin, and in a chapter that is dealing with the spiritual change in believers, if baptism in fact does not bring any spiritual change?

I cannot see how one can escape the conclusion that Paul connects our death to sin with baptism. Right after saying, "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (v. 2), Paul goes on to explain how they died to sin, "Do you not know that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" (v. 3). I cannot escape the fact that Paul connects the believerís death to sin with Christís death to sin, and that the only thing mentioned in connection with this is baptism. Repentance is not mentioned, and neither is any idea of mere symbolism. Am I to believe that Paul is going to spend an entire chapter telling the Romans why they should not sin, and never mention the actual reason whyóbecause of what happened to them in repentance? No, Paulís argument is that they cannot sin because of what happened to them in baptism. This is the direct reason Paul gave them for their death to sin (v. 2-3). According to Paul they died with Christ when they were baptized into His death in baptism (v. 3-4).

I must disagree with your interpretation of Romans 8:3. I understand the "law of sin and death" referring to the fact that "the soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). This understanding is derived from the whole teaching of the OT of which Paul was very familiar. Paul's reference to the law of sin and death is reminiscent of Paulís teaching in Romans 6:21-23, which definitely connects the result of sin with death, and not the sin nature (because in v. 22 Paul said we are free from sin, and this does not mean that we no longer have the sin nature). Romans 8:3-4 makes it clear that Paul is referencing the law that says 'the soul that sins shall die,' is due to vs. 3-4: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The key words are law, condemned, and righteousness. All of these words are forensic in nature (legal terms). This tips me off to believe that the "law of sin and death" is also forensic in nature, referring to the fact that our sin sentences us to eternal death, i.e. eternal separation from God.

Life in the Spirit frees us from the death that sin brings. This is not to say that the law of sin and death has no reference to the sin nature, but I would argue that it is not the focus of Paulís statement. Contextually there are many references to laws: there is a law of God (7:23), law of the mind (7:23), law of sin (7:23, 25), law of the Spirit of life (8:2), and the law of sin and death (8:2). Surely in 7:23, 25 Paul had in mind the sin nature of man. But when Paul said that we have been made free from the law of sin and death, he cannot be referring to the sin nature because this would mean that the sin nature has been eradicated, which is contradictory to Romans 6-7, and other Scriptures.

My understanding of Romans 6-8 brings me to the conclusion that baptism breaks the ruling power of sin in our lives, while the Spirit allows us to live a life of holiness that is pleasing to God. The power of sin to control us is broken at baptism, while the power to live holy comes from the Spirit.


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