Causing Grace to Abound
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”- Romans 6:1-2
Since Romans 6:1 is a major transition point in Paul’s exposition of the gospel, let us summarize the five chapters before it. God, the covenant Lord of Israel, set apart the Apostle to preach the gospel of God (1:1–15). This gospel says that those who are justified by faith will live forever (vv. 16–17). Justification—being declared righteous in our Creator’s sight—is the greatest need of Jew and Gentile alike, because all people (except Jesus) fail to honor and thank God (Rom. 1:18–3:20). Having rejected the Lord, we can do nothing to save ourselves. God cannot violate His justice to save us, so our sin must be punished and His wrath propitiated (turned away). Our Lord offered Jesus as this propitiation, and we benefit from His work and are found righteous, or justified, before God only by trusting in Christ. Justification means the non-imputation of sin to our accounts (3:21–4:25), but it also means the imputation of Christ’s righteousness—His perfect obedience to God—to our records. He is the last Adam, who succeeded where the first Adam—whose sin plunged us into a state of guilt and misery—failed. We are reckoned as having kept God’s covenant with Adam by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, not by our own keeping of the law, which was given not as the means of solving the problem of sin but to increase sin and drive us into the Savior’s arms. Having been justified, we have peace with God and access to His grace forever (chap. 5).
The law increased sin, and where sin abounded, divine grace—being more powerful than sin—abounded all the more (vv. 20–21). This raises a key question: if grace abounds where sin abounds, should we sin freely in order to see grace poured out even more? (6:1). Paul’s reply is far less condemnatory than it was in Romans 3:8 to a similar question. There, Paul dealt with those who objected to his gospel, while Romans 6:1–2 addresses people who follow the Apostle’s train of thought but need some clarification. However, his answer is still emphatic: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2).
With this statement and rhetorical question, Paul begins to focus on the transformation that follows justification, namely, sanctification. Upon conversion, we gain not only a new legal standing of righteousness but also a new heart inclined, generally speaking, to holiness (Ezek. 11:19–20). Sanctification is the process by which we grow in holy obedience, and it occupies Paul’s attention for the next several chapters of Romans.
We rest for our final salvation in the work of Christ alone, but that does not mean there is no change in our own experience of sin and holiness. John Calvin comments, “the faithful are never reconciled to God without the gift of regeneration; nay, we are for this end justified—that we may afterwards serve God in holiness of life.” Everyone who is justified is also being sanctified, and if you are justified, you will have a desire for holiness, though you will not be perfect before you die.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 2:24