Paul lays out the doctrine of original sin in these verses, which is that we are all guilty and sinful by nature because of the guilt of Adam which has marked us all. He stood in our place, as the representative head of humanity so that when he rebelled against God in the garden, he brought condemnation not only upon himself but upon us all. Our sinful nature alone is enough to bring condemnation upon us because we compulsively and chronically diminish God and inflate self. We're sinful to the core.
The law came later through Moses to help clarify that reality. Sin and death still dominated the human story from Adam forward. But the Law came through Moses to clarify and amplify our guilt... that we do make sinful choices all the time, which confirm the sinful instinct. We need forgiveness for those choices, but we also need rescue from the condition itself. The law helped us to see how obvious and pervasive our sinfulness is, and how desperate the situation is. We need rescue. We need redemption. We need deliverance. We need a Savior.
But here is the larger thrust of the passage... Paul is contrasting the first Adam and the second Adam... showing us how Jesus came to reclaim all that Adam forfeited, and how Jesus came to make right all that had gone wrong since Adam. So just as sin came into the world through Adam and all were judged, in Adam, so grace and mercy have come through Jesus and his perfections, and all who identify with him by faith are justified through him. Sin and death entered through the rebellion of one man, but how much more, Paul says, has life has forgiveness and life come to us through the righteousness of the greater man.
Where Adam stood in our place and asserted his will, Jesus stood in our place and surrendered his will to the Father. Where Adam stood in our place and unleashed chaos into God's order, Jesus stood in our place and restored order to the chaos we've created. Where Adam stood in our place and elevated himself above God, Jesus stood in our place and denied himself though he is God. And where Adam's sin put blood on our hands, Jesus' blood has washed us clean. Jesus is the true and better Adam.
But the only way we get all the benefits of Christ and identification with us, is to identify with him and receive his grace by faith. Jesus doesn't force himself upon us. But he offers himself fully to us. He took resposnibility to be our representative before God, so that we could receive, not just forgiveness for our sin, but the record of his righteousness. Just as Adam's guilt came upon us, so Jesus' holiness and perfection has been gifted to us. And we will either walk in the living deadness brought upon us by Adam, or we will walk in the deadness to sin and aliveness to God which Jesus has secured for us.
So, Paul continues to voice and respond to the anticipated questions which people bring to the gospel. And Romans 6 confronts the most obvious question when faced with free grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus for our forgiveness and justification. Because the sinful condition is so deeply embedded in the core of our being, we immediately respond to the idea of grace with the thought that now we can really get to sinning. If we've already received grace to cover our sin, why not let sin run wild? And Paul emphatically and unequivocally rejects that notion.
The real grace of Jesus is neither an endorsement of sin or permissiveness to live for your own fleshly pleasures and impulses. The cross isn't God's wink at our wickedness. Calvary isn't Christ's willingness to die for our sin so we could remain in the deadness of our sin. Calvary is the infinitely costly price Christ paid for deadness to sin and newness of life free from the rule of sin. Our identification with Christ through faith, expressed through the ordinance of baptism, is the exchange not of an old life of guilt for the old life with no guilt... it's the exchange of the old life for a new life altogether.
Grace as an earthly idea enables our sin. Grace as a spiritual reality frees us from sin. If our understanding of grace excuses us to keep living for sin and self, it only demonstrates that we have not yet encountered the reality of grace. Of course we will still sin after receiving newness of life in Jesus, but our tolerance for our sin and sensitivity to our sin should be forever recalibrated so that where sin remains in us, we are actively and aggressively struggling against it, by actively and aggressively pursuing obedience to Christ and oneness with Christ.
Newness of life in Christ is about a change of masters. Where sin was formerly our master and we were compelled to obey it's demands, we have come under the authority of Jesus, and are now driven to obey his commands. We have a new nature that desires to obey and follow Jesus, but we've lived in sin long enough to still retain some of those habits. We're developing new reflexes over time with the life of the Spirit in us, but we must consciously root out sin and our impulses to comply with the old nature.
It's like coming out of an abusive relationship and trying to learn a healthy way to live. Your instincts are all wrong. You don't know what normal is. You have to retrain your responses and interrogate your thoughts and assumptions, and you have to confront fears and insecurities, which the Spirit of God lives in you to lead you through. But we must keep renouncing the old identity and our allegiance to the old master as it tries to assert control over us, while reasserting our new identity and allegiance to the loving Lordship of Jesus.
Walking in newness of life is not a passive thing that happens to us, it's a willful and intentional surrender and obedience to Jesus, to war against the old man and live into the new man. The life of God's Spirit is in us to help us and see us through, but we must cooperate with his leadership and direction, moment by moment, and day by day, because we have an enemy within us competing for our desire and allegiance. We are in a constant battle and we need to gird our loins if we are to walk in and experience the victory which Christ has already won on our behalf.
Paul says in v. 19 that he is "speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations..." He is using earthly metaphors to convey spiritual truths order to help his readers understand the transformation that has already happened to them because of Christ, so that they might actually walk in step with Christ. It's a reminder to me to pause, and to prayerfully consider the Scriptures as we read and study or are taught from the Bible, because this isn't another book for intellectual stimulation. This is about spiritual formation. This is about knowing the God who is there, and knowing ourselves as we really are and rethinking everything in light of the gospel.
And in this particular text, Paul is trying to help us see how we once lived as slaves to sin, obeying our selfish impulses and submitting to our natural inclinations. And the reason any of us has come to faith in Christ, is an awareness of where that was taking us and what that was leading to. In some sense, because of the life of the Spirit in us, we have come to an understanding at some level, that our lives were not what they were meant to be and we had no power to redirect them on our own. We were powerless to change ourselves.
But now, if you are indeed in Christ, that powerlessness is a thing of the past. We now have the power of the resurrected Christ working in us and through us to transform us. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to God. Meaning we belong to another, and are under the command of another. And the disconnect Paul is talking about is that we revert back to a slave mentality in relation to sin, while living as though we are free from the burden to obey God... as if obeying God is the burden and not obeying the flesh.
Paul is making the argument that everyday, essentially, you wake up, not as your own independent person, but as a slave with a master. And you will live as a slave to one of those masters. We will submit to some authority. And the idea of being our own authority is just submitting to sin by another name. Self rule is at the heart of sin. So, Paul's trying to get us to evaluate from just a logical perspective, what sin and self is producing in our lives... is it moving us in the direction of life, freedom, joy, wholeness, peace? or in the direction of death, frustration, brokenness, regret, selfishness, isolation, unrest?
We're talking about two totally different ways to live, rooted in two different mindsets, that come from two different understandings of who we are... and we're either going to see ourselves and live like those are bought with a price, or we will see ourselves and live as those who can make our own way in the world as the captains of our soul.