WALKING IN NEWNESS OF LIFE
The fact that we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law raises the question of how we should live. Because the natural mindset is works oriented, many believers find it hard to conceive of freedom from the law in any terms other than freedom to sin. Without an ironclad set of rules they struggle to understand where the line should be drawn. On one hand the Bible warns them not to seek righteousness by the law, on the other it condemns them if they sin. The Apostle Paul tells them that they are free from the law, yet called for the excommunication of one who was unrepentant. Paul deals with this question in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.
The message that Paul is trying to get across in this chapter is that it is possible for us to be good citizens, good neighbors, and honest and upstanding members of the community without trying to make ourselves righteous by living according to a list of dos and doníts (Romans 9:30-32). That is why he never presents his instructions as a new law or a way to become righteous. And, that is what those who are works-minded find frustrating. Verse four talks about walking in newness of life, verse ten about living unto God, verse twelve about not letting sin reign, and verse nineteen about yielding to righteousness. Yet there is a good reason why those terms are never distilled down into a set of rules.
WALKING BY FAITH
1 ∂ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 Absolutely not. How shall we, who are dead to sin, continue living in it?
3 Donít you know, that all who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him through baptism into death: that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also continue together in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he who is dead has been freed from sin.
[Comment: In these verses Paul explains to those at Rome, that when they came to faith in Christ, their baptism outwardly portrayed the fact that their faith made them partakers of Christís death, burial, and resurrection. He then uses that fact to introduce and illustrate the concept of walking in "newness of life." In other words, we are to conduct ourselves as we will after the resurrection, once the corruption of sin has been removed from our nature (1Corinthians 15:52-54, Jeremiah 17:9). I might also point out, that Paul does not command us to walk in "newness of life" as if we were under a new law, but instead admonishes us by the gospel. However, it is hard to describe that conduct, without someone twisting what is said into a set of rules. If I described it as "walking in a clean conscience," there would be some that would think they were free to do any evil thing as long as they felt no guilt over it. At the same time, there would be others who would become enslaved to their conscience, as if obeying their conscience was what made them righteous.]
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9 Knowing that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death has no more dominion over him.
10 For in that he died, he died to sin once for all: but in that he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way regard yourselves as dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Comment: These verses tell us that as Christ (having died unto sin) now lives to God, we should also live to God as if we were dead to sin. In other words we should do what is right and pure and good, not because we are trying to make ourselves holy, but because it is the right thing to do.]
12 Therefore do not allow sin to reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.
13 And do not yield your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness: but yield yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and yield your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: because you are not under the law, but under grace.
[Comment: In these verses Paul contrasts yielding our body to God as an instrument of righteousness, with allowing sin (Satan) to have dominion over us. Here, again, he is not talking about following rules or trying to make ourselves righteous, but about doing the right thing while trusting in Christ to make us righteous.
In verse fourteen he says that sin has no dominion over us because we are free from (not under) the law. In contrast, those who are under the law are under the power of Satan. That statement makes me wonder if those in hell will be forced to keep the law. At any rate, we know that they will be condemned by it.]
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? Absolutely not.
16 Donít you know, that when you yield yourselves to someone to obey him as servants, you are the servants of the one you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But thanks be to God, you who were the slaves of sin, have obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine that was delivered you.
18 And having been freed from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
[Comment: Since those who seek righteousness by the law are continually trying to excuse their sin, Verse 15 tells us that God is not going to allow Christís suffering and death be used as an excuse to sin (Hebrews 10:29, James 4:4). Verse 16 then warns those who would sin willfully (as did David in the matter of Uriah) that they are opening themselves up to satanic influence, the end of which is death. Nevertheless, the obedience called for, is not the obedience of the Pharisee but the obedience of the Publican Ė namely the godly sorrow that leads us to admit our sin and look to Christ for mercy (Luke 18:13, 2 Corinthians 7:10).]
19 I am being frank with you because of the weakness of the flesh: for as you have yielded your members as slaves to uncleanness and to iniquity leading to more iniquity; even so now yield your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification.
20 For when you were the slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.
21 Yet what benefit did you get out of those things that you are now ashamed of? for those things result in death.
22 But now having been freed from sin, and become servants of God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the result is everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Comment: In these verses Paul contrasts the fruits of evil behavior with the fruits of good behavior. In verse twenty-one he points out that evil behavior brings shame and death. Yet instead of saying that good behavior brings life, he points out that "being made free from sin" (i.e. saved), we "have" eternal life, and right behavior is the fruit (or by product) of our salvation. Then, in order to make it clear that salvation is a gift, not something we earn, he sums up what he has said with the words, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."]
SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
As I pointed out before, it is very hard to describe how a saved person should behave, without saying something that will be twisted and distorted by those who lack understanding. In chapter eight, Paul contrasts being led by the Spirit with being carnally minded, and his letter to the Galatians makes it clear that to be led by the Spirit is to have the fruits of the Spirit (compare Romans 8:1-10 with Galatians 5:18-25). Nevertheless, those who lack understanding have turned the "leading of the Spirit" into a new law that will bring dire consequences if not obeyed.
If Paul simply wanted to give us a set of rules, he could have told us to keep the commandments. However, he wants us to trust in Christ for righteousness, not works. Therefore, while he portrays deference to the commandments as love, he makes it clear that obedience to those commandments is not what makes us righteous (Romans 3:10-28 and 13:8-10). At the same time, he tells us that sexual immorality is not to be tolerated. 1John 3:6 tells us that, "Whoever abides in him does not continue in sin: whoever continues to do what is sinful has not seen him, or known him." However, the reason those guilty of willful sin are to be excommunicated does not lie in the sin itself, but in the fact that they are not sorry for their sin (1Corinthians 5:1-5, 2Corinthians 2:6-7). It is hardness of the heart (unrepentance) that destroys faith, and separates us from God (Psalm 51:17).
While the Pharisees put the emphasis on outward appearance, and on trying to impress men with their piety, we need to put the emphasis on the heart (1Samuel 16:7, Isaiah 66:2). Those who come to faith need understand what it means to rationalize sin and why we should not do it (Proverbs 28:13, 1John 1:9). They need to know how to recognize their sin and see themselves as God sees them, so that they are not blinded to their own sin by the deceitfulness of their own heart (Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9). And, they need to understand the importance of having a humble heart and tender conscience before God (Psalm 51:17, Psalm 25:14).
As long as someone thinks that the law will make them righteous, they will see freedom from the law as the freedom to sin. For that reason, it is only as we come to see ourselves as God sees us Ė and know that even our righteousness is as filthy rags Ė that we can see freedom from the law as the freedom to be righteous (Romans 7:18, Isaiah 64:6). Like Abraham, we should believe that righteousness is ours through faith in God's promise, and, trusting in that righteousness, walk in a clean conscience before God.
Gary Ray Branscome