In this post, I want to continue the discussion of what it means that we have “died to sin” as the Book of Romans says.
Romans 6:7 (NRSV) – “Whoever has died is freed from sin.”
In this passage, the Greek word translated “freed” (dikaioō) is translated “justified” in Romans Ch. 3-5. In Chapters 3-5 Paul explains that people are “justified” by faith, apart from works. So, “justified” is obviously an appropriate translation there because it conveys the idea of being accepted by God. However, in Romans 6, most Bible translations began using the word “freed” instead of “justified.” I first became aware that the underlying Greek word was the same when I saw the word “justified” in the Concordant Literal New Testament. Then, I looked up Rom. 6:7 in Strong’s Concordance online and saw that the Greek word translated “freed” was translated “justified” in passages from Chapters 3-5. I believe that the word “freed” is fine given that it conveys a true idea; however, “justified” reveals a different dimension to one’s death to sin that sheds new light on Romans 6 and the epistle as a whole.
Sin has a two-fold effect. One effect is causing problems in one’s life. The other effect is creating a burden of guilt, and causing some form of tension between humans and God. However, if we have died to sin, deactivating our burdensome relationship with it, then we are no longer tied to sin, and it cannot ruin our lives anymore. This explains how we are “justified” from sin by having died to it.
The concepts discussed in this article can also be applied to problems in your life that may not necessarily break Biblical commandments, such as procrastination or overeating. The reason is that the problems inside of you that result in procrastination or overeating probably also result in “real” sins. Thus, rather than debating over whether something was a “sin” or not, we should look inside of us and see whether the cause of the issue is connected to the “body of sin” that Paul wrote about.
Let’s put this in practical terms. Suppose you have a bad habit that you worry is going to hurt you in your future. If you get through the day without engaging in that habit, you feel good about yourself. Things just feel “right,” inside of you. You feel good about the future. However, if you slipped and engaged in the habit, then you feel bad about yourself and your future.
I am going to start typing Sin with a capital S in order to personify it. The goal of Sin is to ruin your life. This is why it is so hard to break bad habits. Even though you know that the habit is bad for you, something inside of you wants to ruin your life. However, if you proclaim to Sin that you have died to it and been released from its power to ruin your life, then you disarming sin and dissipating its energy inside of you. Thus, you are justified from Sin in the sense that, whether or not you engage in the bad habit today, Sin cannot ruin your future. If you declare this to Sin, you can soon begin to experience freedom from its power.
I will give an example of how I exercise this principle in my own life. I probably have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for years I struggled with intrusive, blasphemous thoughts, which is a famous symptom of that disorder. I worried that God would only forgive me if I was making my most sincere effort to eliminate those thoughts. However, trying to fight off those thoughts didn’t really solve the problem. What finally got me free from this problem is when I started telling those thoughts that they couldn’t harm my spiritual status; even if they were to bring out all their ammo, it would be to no effect because I’ve died to them and they hold no power over a dead person. When I say these things to intrusive thoughts, they rapidly dissipate.
Another reason we are justified from sin by having died to it is that, our lives do not have to be dominated by guilt or shame. Sometimes people joke about dying of embarrassment. However, where Romans is concerned, we have died to embarrassment. Sin wants to make you feel bad about yourself; however, since you have died to it, it cannot inflict guilt or shame. Can you embarrass a dead person? Can a dead person be guilty of anything?
I am not denying that there is an afterlife where a person’s experience reflects the kind of life they lived in this world. This goes to illustrate that physical death is really only a shadow of death. To understand the kind of death that occurred to us with Christ, you have to think about going out of existence completely. If you are completely removed from existence, then you cannot be guilty of anything. Imagine a relationship between two entities: A human and Sin. The relationship is such that Sin inflicts the human with guilt or embarrassment. However, if the human goes out of existence, the bond between the human and Sin is broken. Thus, Sin cannot inflict the person with guilt or embarrassment anymore.
Now, in your own life, it is impossible to avoid feeling guilt and embarrassment at times. The reason is that you have a conscience and a sense of dignity that are bothered when you do something wrong. These feelings are not going to go away simply because you believe something. However, you can tell these feelings that they are not going to ruin your day. These feelings will either get you to do something you are convicted of, or they will eventually subside, but they do not have to bog you down to the point that you are paralyzed by them. You do not owe anything to guilt and shame. These feelings may cause you to do good (that’s one reason why God gives people a conscience), but deliberately entertaining these feelings does not do yourself or God any favors because you have died to these feelings. So, freedom from guilt and shame are another reason why, because you have died to Sin, you are justified from Sin.
Thus, I think that the Greek word dikaioō in Romans 6 could be rightfully translated “justified.” Translating it “justified” would clear up some confusion surrounding Paul’s gospel. As mentioned earlier, almost all Bible translations have phrases like “justified by faith, apart from works” in Romans 3-5. However, Romans 6-8 are important because they show us the basis upon which we are justified apart from works. When we realize that we have died to sin and risen to a new life, and believe this truth as the ultimate reality for our own lives, it starts to become an experiential reality. And God, knowing our destiny to which this process leads, goes ahead and declares us to be justified apart from our present works because He knows the direction our life is headed.