I had a friend who grew up in church, was certainly a believer but then strayed from the faith while he was in college. He gave the best years of his life to wild, late-night parties. In the time that followed college, he wanted to get back in church but wasn't ready to give up his party lifestyle. He would party late into the night on Saturday and then find a pew Sunday morning. He visited a few churches in his town but was having trouble finding a place that didn't make him angry. He once reported to me on his church-going experience.
“Why do preachers always want to preach about sin,” he said.
“Oh, it’s part of the job, I guess.” I could see where this was going since the traditional definition of sin had his name all over it.
“I’ve stood up and walked out on preachers when they start griping about sin.”
“Oh really,” I said. “Did that make them stop preaching on sin?”
“No, but it made me stop hearing about it.”
I smiled because I understood how it must have made him feel, although, it wasn't surprising to me. Someone who is saved but decides to live a sinful lifestyle usually isn't excited to hear sermons about how bad sin is. If a preacher starts in about sin, it's never to say, "Don't worry about it; sin is fine."
We have probably all experienced defensiveness concerning our own dirty secrets. I know that for me, most of my sin has been committed as a Christian since I was saved at a young age. Although it's nothing we want to talk about, we need to be able to discuss it. In this chapter, we'll take a quick look at the two familiar eternal distinctions from the perspective of sin.
Jesus often had his opponents try to corner Him. It always backfired, but they still tried. During one of the public discussions, He said this:
If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)
Notice in the verse that the issue is not that they committed more sin than anyone else. The main problem is that they do not believe that Jesus is who he says he is. They must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. (John 20:30-31) They need to recognize him as the giver of everlasting life.
His cousin John once called Him "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) That Jesus would take away the world's sins is what makes us all "savable." However, He explains a few verses later that people who commit sin are slaves of sin. (John 8:34) He's warning that if those who refuse to believe in Him continue to disbelieve, they will die still chained to the sin that controls them.
What’s incredibly sad is that Jesus has taken away the sin of the world. He’s the atoning sacrifice not just for believers but the entire world. (1 John 2:2) This eternal distinction reminds us what a waste it is when people refuse to believe in Jesus. That’s because those who die in their sins will be eternally separated from God even though Jesus paid for those very sins. Dying in sin is the first of our eternal distinctions. However, if you've believed in Jesus, you will not die in your sins.
We'll take a look at the full verse in a second, but first, notice this phrase Paul uses to describe what happens the moment someone gets saved:
…we who died to sin… (Romans 6:1-2)
Whereas an unsaved person is dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1), a saved person is dead to sin. As you can see, being dead in sin and being dead to sin is the first eternal distinction, belief for eternal salvation. Being dead to sin doesn’t mean that the believer never sins. Instead, it means that the believer has been set free from the bondage of sin. The Christian is no longer a slave to sin. They are free whether they actually live like it or not.
Since we’re talking about slavery to sin, you could think of it this way. A person could say, “I will die in slavery,” or they could say, “Slavery is dead to me.” The first phrase means they will be a slave all their life. The second means, they are no longer a slave. That is essentially why Jesus said, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
Those who will die in their sins are people who are unsaved, while those who have died to sin are those who will be in Heaven with God forever. The fact that believers have died to sin doesn’t mean that they might not serve sin from time to time.Now let’s take a look at the whole verse, as promised. Here’s what Paul says to his Christian readers:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Paul is talking to people who have died to sin. That means they are eternally saved and no longer are slaves to sin. The amazing thing that Paul reveals in the following chapters is that Christ gives each believer the power to overcome their own sin. However, what he reveals in the same chapters is that not everyone takes advantage of that amazing sin-defeating power. A person who has died to sin can actually continue to live in sin. This is a sad state of affairs.
This is our second eternal distinction. A disobedient believer is the one who continues to live in sin. It’s possible for Christians to continue to live in sin even after they have died to sin. If it were impossible for Christians to continue to live in sin, Paul could have easily said so instead of spending the next few chapters telling his readers how to overcome the damage of sin in their lives. In the following chapter, Paul talks extensively about his own sin, implying that even he is tempted to continue to live in sin at times.
Peter uses the same term as Paul when he says:
…[Jesus] bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness… (1 Peter 2:24)
All believers have died to sin and are saved. Jesus died on the cross and bore our sins so that we didn’t have to. He explains that we have died to sin so that we could live for righteousness. The purpose of grace is not so that we can do whatever we want without consequences. We are set free from the bondage of sin and death so that we can live for righteousness. Once you've believed in Jesus for everlasting life, you will either continue to live in sin or live for righteousness. The reward that you will experience in Heaven depends on which you choose.