A Look at God's Word by

Gary Ray Branscome

    Many believers wrestle with the question of how they should live their lives. The Bible warns them not to seek righteousness by the law, yet it condemns them if they sin.  The Apostle Paul tells them that they are free from the law, yet he called for the excommunication of one who was unrepentant. Without an ironclad set of rules, they struggle to understand just where the line should be drawn. However, while I understand the reason for their confusion, the difficulty lies in their lack of understanding not in what the Bible says. Therefore, let's look at what Paul said about Christian living, in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.


    Although Paul had quite a bit to say about how we should conduct ourselves, he never presented that instruction 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 defined, or distilled down into a set of rules.


1  What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
3  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also 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 that is dead is freed from sin.
    [Comment: While Paul’s statements about baptism are informative, he uses them 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 (1 Corinthians 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 that would become enslaved to their conscience, as if obeying their conscience was what made them righteous.]

8  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
10  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    [Comment: These verses are saying, that as Christ (having died unto sin) now lives unto God, we should also live unto 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  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13  Neither yield ye 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.
14  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
    [Comment: In these verses Paul brings in the idea of yielding our body to God as an instrument of righteousness, as opposed to 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. That statement makes me wonder if those under the dominion of sin (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? God forbid.
16  Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17  But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18  Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
    [Comment: Although Paul devoted chapters three, four, and five to the good news that we are not justified by the law but by faith in Christ, people persist in twisting what he says here to teach the opposite. The Greek language has a word that can mean either "hear" or "obey," and in these verses Paul uses that word in order to contrast obedience to sin (doing evil) with obedience to the gospel (hearing and believing the gospel). He is not saying that the gospel consists of a set of rules (he defines the gospel as the promise of forgiveness in Christ, Galatians 3:8) he is just making a point. While obeying sin leads to death, believing the gospel frees us from the condemnation of sin so that we can be righteous in the sight of God (Romans 4:3).]

19  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to             uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
20  For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
21  What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
22  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end 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."]


    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. 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 (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 2:6-7). It is hardness of the heart (unrepentance) that destroys faith, and separates us from God (Psalm 51:17).


    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 – and know that even our righteousness is as filthy rags – that we can see freedom from the law as the freedom to be righteousness (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.