Tag Archives: Sanctification

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 2

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.

Being a Real Christian – Part 5

In Part 1, I mentioned what often happens when we try to change our ways. Although a small percentage of us will succeed, most will not see a meaningful, sustained difference. And I think that in Romans 7, Paul describes why that is the case. It took me many years as a Christian to see that Paul is actually admitting the difficulty that we all face when we try to change ourselves. It was too hard to believe that the Bible was acknowledging these things.

Look at Romans 7:4-5, “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

Notice that Paul mentions “sinful passions aroused by the law.” This is why changing one’s lifestyle through self-motivation can be impossible. You set rules for yourself, but when you push yourself to follow the rules, desires to do the opposite are also energized, so the net result is little or no change, or even a negative difference. The “just do it” mentality breaks down.

Some have said that when Paul refers to the law, he is only referring to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and that he is not referring to Biblical morality. If we were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, that is probably the right interpretation (I may write an article on that later). However, in Romans, the concept of law encompasses more than religious rituals. The problem that Paul addresses of law stimulating desire to do the opposite, thus nullifying one’s efforts, applies to laws of any type, and I think subsequent passages in Romans 7 make this clear.

Paul writes, “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Romans 7:7-8).

More evidence that trying to follow laws can keep us trapped in bad habits comes when Paul has to address the misconception that the law itself is sin. If Paul were not saying that good laws can trigger bad psychological reactions leading to sin, why would anyone come to the bizarre conclusion that the law itself is sinful? Also notice that Paul uses the law forbidding coveting as an example. This is the ultimate proof that, in Romans, Paul’s references to law are not confined to ceremonial rituals.

Looking at verses 19-20, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Here Paul is describing a human condition which further explains why the “just do it” mentality can fail us. Notice that Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Notice that he used the word “cannot.” Some people say that we should stop using the word “cannot.” But Paul used that word! Many think that if we fail it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. In a sense, that may be true. However, if we’re under a mentality of law, antagonistic parts of our minds will eventually cause us to stop trying. At least, this is what my personal experience has shown.

So, if imposing rules on ourselves causes these problems, should we stop trying to follow those rules and just do whatever we are inclined to do instead? I think we need to find a balance between two situations, the first being insistence on doing what’s wrong even if the temptation to do it isn’t all that strong. This approach makes existing problems worse. The other situation is forcing ourselves to continue noble but vain efforts that contribute to a vicious cycle. I think that Romans 8, which we’ll look at next time, has some clues for how to find a balance between those two situations.