“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” —Romans 6:18
In Romans, chapter six, Paul gives us some wonderfully optimistic promises about our relationship to sin. He says we have died to sin, we are not slaves to sin anymore, it no longer reigns in us and does not master us. Our first inclination is probably to think how is this possible? We battle with sin all the time and are surrounded by temptation.
The context in which Paul tells us this is where he alludes to two wrong responses to sin every Christian is susceptible to. One is trying to deal with the problem of sin by legalism. Legalism is easy to adopt. It is to conclude that since I have been reconciled to God and my sin forgiven, my job now is to live by the rules God has given me. That is appealing to us, because rules are easy to identify and give us a means of measuring our efforts and progress.
We may feel secure in keeping the rules, but in due course, we will find ourselves living under the pressure of ”what I should and should not do.” They are rules externally imposed, which conform us to a dry routine, very often under the scrutiny and influence of other Christians. Our lifestyles then become driven by an expectancy of keeping the rules with very little individuality or independent thinking. We kid ourselves into believing this is being holy, but we have merely adhered to a behavioural pattern we think is pleasing to God.
The other response is licence. Because we stand justified before God, and have a kind, forgiving, merciful God, our sin is not of that much consequence anymore. Our justification before Him is not only a gift to be received, but is irrevocable. We are eternally safe and God’s grace is plentiful. Romans 6:2 says that we have died to sin and because Christ has dealt with our sin, we are under the notion we can live the way we please, even extending to the notion we no longer need to confess our sin. This is not usually people’s theology, but it can very easily become their attitude.
The answer to sin is not legalism or licence, but the life of Christ lived in us. In Him, we are given new appetites, new desires, new energy and motivation to live a godly life. Just as we are not set free from sin by our own efforts, we cannot live the Christian life by our own efforts. It is in the strength of Christ we are meant to live, and each time we yield to Him instead of sin, His presence in us is expressed in ever-increasing holiness.