[Continued from Part Two]
[QUESTION. What does Paul mean by the phrase “body of sin” in Romans 6:6? Is he referring to the physical body? And if so, in what sense is it a body “of sin”?]
ANSWER. In Romans six the Apostle Paul presents us with some very good news about what happened to us when we were baptized into Christ. In that moment, he says, our sin-corrupted souls died with Christ and were raised up to walk in new spiritual life. One great benefit of this is that our physical bodies, which in this life are under the rule and power of sin, lost their ability to dominate our spiritual natures and to keep dragging us down into sinful behavior. I.e., the “body of sin” became potentially powerless over us (Rom. 6:6). (See Part One of this essay.)
The bad news is that the body as such is still “the body of sin.” (See Part Two of this essay.) I.e., in our conversion only our spirits were changed; our bodies continue to be indwelt by sinful lusts that war upon our souls. Thus the Christian life becomes a conflict between our redeemed souls and our as-yet-unredeemed bodies, a struggle between the desire to be holy and a will to indulge in sin. This leads Paul to cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Our final installment in this series on “the body of sin” sums up Paul’s answer to this question: What is the solution to the struggle between our body of sin and our regenerated spirit?
We begin with Paul’s answer to his own question: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25, NIV). I.e., Jesus Christ is the source of the rescue sought in v. 24, and Paul thanks God for it! Exactly what has Jesus done for us, that will deliver us from the body of sin and death? Here is Paul’s answer, found mostly in Romans 8.
I. Despite our continuing struggle with the body of sin, we are in a state of forgiven-ness through the blood of Jesus. This is the first aspect of our freedom: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). We do not have to struggle to stay forgiven; we have been justified by faith in Christ’s atoning blood. This means we have been set free “from the law of sin and death” (8:2). What is this “law of sin and death”? It is the principle that sin always results in death. We are Christians, but we are still struggling against the “body of sin.” Does this mean we are continually struggling to say forgiven?
NO! True, we still sin; but the link between our sin and eternal condemnation has been severed! How so? “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,” God has “condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3). Here Paul is referring to Christ’s substitutionary atonement, to his propitiation for our sins (3:25), by which he suffered our condemnation for us, in our place. Because of what Christ has done, the “righteous requirement of the law”—that sin must be punished by death—has been fulfilled for us by Jesus (8:4).
The result is this: even though sin still lives in our bodies and sometimes causes us to fall, we are not condemned thereby. We do not have to spend all our spiritual energy striving for forgiveness, trying to be good enough to avoid hell, struggling to be ready for the Judgment Day. We ARE forgiven! Thus we can spend our time and energy striving simply to be good, simply for the sake of pleasing God.
II. The second way Jesus delivers us from the body of sin and death is that his own death and resurrection supplied the power by which the Holy Spirit regenerated and renewed our spirits in Christian baptism! Yes, the gift of the indwelling Spirit, beginning with Christian baptism on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, is the means by which this regenerating power is applied. Baptism is “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5); in that event we are baptized in the Spirit and drink of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). But the power the Spirit applies to us there was unleashed when Jesus Christ died and rose again for us.
This is the point Paul makes in Romans 6:1-6, when he says we were baptized into Christ’s death and were raised from spiritual death by being united with Christ in his resurrection (see Col. 2:12-13). Christ’s saving work is not only the source of our justification; it is also the source of our regeneration. The implication of Romans 6:1-6 is that in some true and significant sense, the death of Jesus has a death-dealing power in reference to sin. When we became united with Christ’s death in baptism, our old sinful spirit was put to death—not by our own willpower, but by the power of his holy cross. It is as if, in his death, Jesus became a flame that is capable of destroying everything having to do with sin and death. When we are baptized into his death (buried with him in baptism), we touch this flame; and it consumes the “old man” of sin, and sets us ablaze with a holy fire that continues to purge the residual sin from our lives. This is why “the body of sin” no longer has power over us! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
III. The third reason we thank God for Jesus’s gift of victory over sin is Paul’s main point in Romans 8:1-17, and it has to do specifically with the gift of the Holy Spirit received in baptism. Yes, for our regeneration and renewal, the Holy Spirit applied to our spirits the death-and-resurrection power of Jesus (see Phil. 3:10), but that is not the end of the Spirit’s role in our salvation. As Paul points out in 8:9-11, when Christ gives us the gift of the Spirit in baptism, the Spirit enters our lives and bodies as a continuing, ongoing indwelling presence! He comes to live in us! “The Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9)! “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (8:11)!
Why is this so? For what purpose does the Holy Spirit continue to dwell in us? The answer is found in 8:13, which says it is by the power of the indwelling Spirit that we “put to death the deeds of the body”! In other words, the Holy Spirit is given to us to reinforce the ability of our own regenerated spirits to suppress the temptations of “the body of sin” that still wars against us. This is the key purpose of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as seen in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16 that God “may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” This is what it means to be “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:14); it means to walk and live “according to the Spirit”—by the power of the Spirit—rather than according to the flesh (8:4-5).
IV. Finally, we thank God for his final act of deliverance from “the body of sin,” which occurs when we receive the gift of “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23) in the final resurrection at Christ’s second coming. As long as we are alive in this body, we will be in combat with sin and with the body of sin. Our redeemed spirits have the upper hand, though, especially since we are “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner being.”
I believe that Paul is teaching, though, that the struggle will not be over in this life, i.e., as long as we are still in this old body. The idea that we can attain sinless perfection now is a myth. However, we do have this blessing to look forward to at our physical death: during the time between our bodily death and the second coming, we will exist in Christ’s presence as disembodied spirits that have been made perfect (Heb. 12:23). To be absent from the body is not just to be home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8); it is also to be morally perfect in the presence of the Lord.
Then finally, at the second coming, all believers will receive new, glorified bodies like that of Jesus himself (Phil. 3:21)—bodies that are completely free from all influences of sin. Instead of a body of sin, we will exist eternally in a body of glory! And guess who will bring that about? “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).
Thanks be to God, who delivers us through Jesus Christ our Lord!