You may have been a Christian for some time and yet not grasped your new status in Christ. You may still be intimidated by the domineering character of the tyrant who once ruled over you.
Believers sometimes wrongly assume: “I have sinned; therefore, sin still has authority over me. I cannot possibly have ‘died’ to sin.”
Paul unambiguously contradicts this thinking. Sin has no authority over anyone who is in Christ. You are no longer under its dominion. You have received a new identity. You have died out of that old kingdom. You have been raised through Christ into the new kingdom where He—not sin—reigns. From this vantage point, you can look back to your former king and his kingdom, and say: “You once ruled over me, but no longer. I am a citizen of the kingdom of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He alone reigns over me now.” You may not yet be what one day you shall be; but thank God you are no longer what you once were (Rom. 6:17–18).
Paul asks the Roman Christians: “Don’t you know this? Was there a slip-up in the teaching you were given? Around the time you were baptized and came into the fellowship of Jesus Christ, did no one tell you that this is what it means to be a Christian?"
Perhaps that was true in some of the early churches. Believers did not always know these things. Perhaps no one told them. If so, it is all the more likely to be true in contemporary churches. Perhaps no one has explained to you that no matter what Tyrant Sin, in all his various guises, may say, we are no longer under his dominion. He no longer has grounds for blackmail. He has no right to paralyze us into thinking that we can never make any real advance in the Christian life because we will never be free from this prevailing sin.
I enjoy reading crime novels and have frequently relaxed on long journeys by reading the novels of Margaret Perry. Many of them are set in nineteenth-century London.
One of her central characters is a detective named William Monk (not to be confused with the American TV detective Adrian Monk). His life and adventures are made the more intriguing by an event in his past. While a police officer in London, he was thrown from a horse-drawn cab driven at high speed. Monk survived but lost his memory. As a result, he finds himself in situations where he is at a great disadvantage because he has no memory of what happened to him in the past. He does not know who he really was, so he does not clearly understand who he really is.
That is a basic problem for many Christians. We lose touch with the person Scripture says we really are. Perhaps we never really understood that becoming a Christian meant receiving a new identity in Christ.
Paul is saying: “Christians of Rome, you need to understand who you really are. You are people with a new citizenship. You are no longer under the dominion of sin. That makes a radical difference to the way you live the Christian life. It releases you from captivity.”
It is easy to read this passage, and say: “Paul, you are not talking about me. I certainly don't think of myself as someone who has died to sin.”
If that is true, a serious accident has taken place. You are like William Monk, constantly in situations you cannot handle properly because you suffer from spiritual amnesia. You do not clearly understand your identity in Christ. You are always trying to piece things together, but never getting the picture clearly.
But when you begin to understand that in Christ you died to sin and have now been delivered from the dominion of sin; that you are no longer under its bondage; that you no longer need to be a victim of its subtle paralysis—then you find yourself saying not only “Isn’t this amazing grace?” but “What glorious freedom Jesus Christ has bought for me on the cross.”