“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).
By this point in Romans, Paul had been laying out his case for the need of the gospel, wherein the power of God for salvation is displayed for all who, by faith, stand in God’s grace. In simplified form:
1. Gentiles are sinners (ch. 1).
2. Those who judge others are also guilty (ch. 2).
3. Jews are sinners (ch. 2).
4. All have sinned; grace through Christ is God’s answer to the problem (ch. 3).
5. The works of Law are insufficient to justify (ch. 4). We need grace.
6. Abraham is the pattern of faith for both Jew and Gentile, given that he was justified prior to the Law (ch. 4).
7. We have access by faith into the grace and peace offered by God (ch. 5).
8. Adam presents a path and pattern of sin; Christ presents a path and pattern of righteousness (ch. 5). Grace is highlighted through Christ.
9. Grace does not give license to sin, and being baptized into Christ means we have chosen to follow the path and pattern of Christ into righteousness as it indicates our own death, burial, and resurrection (both newness of life now and future resurrection, ch. 6).
10. Because we submitted to Christ, we are set free from sin. Because of that, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).
What, then, of verse 14?
While it is true that one can give himself completely over to unrighteousness overtly, there is something else to think about as it relates to “not under law but under grace.”
These are two systems of justification. We can attempt to be justified by law or we can submit to the justification of grace. In Christ, justification by grace through faith is the only viable option because law cannot save.
Paul’s argument should spur us on to a better mindset about our relationship to God, sin, and God’s will for us. I can approach my sin in one of two ways: I can try to “work it out” by law, which means I am an horrible failure, or I can receive God’s forgiveness of sins by His grace.
This has a practical import. How many times have we felt, “I just can’t do it”? When we are feeling that way, it is probably because we are seeing our justification based on law, in which case our failure is on display. The problem is that if we maintain this mindset for long, we will continually feel the sting of those failures and then be tempted to quit altogether. We don’t see forgiveness. “I’ve tried and tried, and I fail every time. I just can’t do it. I might as well give up.” Law has won out. We are enslaved to sin because we cannot escape the failure highlighted by this “justified by law” mentality. Works become more ritualistic, more of a drudgery, and this is not sustainable in service to God. This is a burden we cannot bear.
The good news is that we can, instead, see our justification in light of God’s grace. In this mindset, forgiveness is highlighted. We will not think that we can continue in sin (6:1-2), but we will also recognize that we cannot be justified by law because our sin makes that impossible. Instead of being burdened by the continual reminder of our sins, we are encouraged by grace and forgiveness and spurred on to submit to God’s will because we are thankful for what He has done. This is the significance of Titus 2:11-14. The grace of God teaches us to do God’s will, not because we think we are flawless, but because we are grateful for God’s salvation. This, in turn, makes us zealous for good works (cf. Eph 2:8-10). The fruit is sanctification and life (6:22).
Seeing our justification in light of grace is why we can consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (v. 11). Instead of continually seeing ourselves as abject failures before God, God says we are to think of ourselves as alive to Him. This is not saying we are flawless or never aware of sin. It is saying that we are seeing ourselves more as God sees us. Our minds have been renewed. Our thinking is changing.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom 8:5-6).
This is about a mindset. It is about the way we learn to see ourselves in the way God sees us. We are justified through His grace, and that changes everything. I can serve God with this mindset because I no longer have to be dragged down by my sin. I can thank God for forgiveness and seek to do His will out of a grateful heart. We are not ignoring our sin; we are experiencing the forgiveness of it. Praise God!