SINNERS, SAINTS, AND SANCTIFICATION
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
— Romans 6:1-14, ESV
We are all sinners. Some of us profess to be saints. But how many sinners who profess to be saints are really sanctified?
Perhaps some definitions will be helpful. We will use the book of Romans as our dictionary. Let’s look up “sinner,” “saint,” and “sanctified.”
A sinner is any cognizant human being who misses the mark of God’s perfect righteousness and revealed truth. Sinners deliberately disobey God because of their depraved nature and willful choices. Apart from saving grace, sinners will die and experience the wrath of God.
A saint, to whom the book of Romans is written (ref. 1:7), is a holy one, a person regenerated and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. By grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are born again to be true Christians. Saints still sin, but all sins are forgiven, and their relationship with sin is quite different from a non-saint or pretend saint, as we shall see in this sermon.
Sanctification is the second stage of salvation. It plays out after justification until the day of glorification. Sanctification is the work of God’s Spirit and God’s word upon your mind, heart, and habits, making you a more holy, loving, obedient, follower of Jesus Christ.
Sanctification is Paul’s subject now in the letter to the Romans (ch. 6-7), flowing from his full discussion of justification (ch. 3-5), preparing us for the promises of glorification (ch. 8). The theological truth is everyone who has truly been justified, is being sanctified, and will be glorified. Contrarily, those who fake or falsely profess justification, will be found out by their lack of sanctification, and therefore cannot expect to enjoy glorification.
So how does one know if he or she is being sanctified?
A New Relationship with Sin (vs. 1-4)
Paul begins with the benign. False Christians have faked conversion since the first century. To them grace is cheap, believing is easy, repentance is unnecessary, and no commandments need be kept. The more you sin, in their warped minds, the more grace you get. No matter what you do with your body, your heart still belongs to Jesus?! Paul’s answer should suffice for the ages.
When you are truly saved, sin starts singing you a new song. It sounds a little like the old Hank Williams hit: “Why don’t you love me like you used to do?” Sanctified people no longer love sin. They don’t love the lying that makes them look good, the immorality that makes them feel good, or anything else contrary to God’s word, which is good.
Real Christians have “died to sin” and raised to “walk in newness of life.” This is beautifully symbolized in the ordinance of baptism. Paedobaptists, for whom I have much love and respect, can’t quite pull off this illustration when baptizing babies, but it is the perfect picture for credobaptists. Sin is defeated in Christ, and saints, true saints who are being sanctified, just cannot love sin like they used to do.
A New Relationship with Self (vs. 5-11)
Saints feel differently about sin because sanctification makes them a different person. The “old self was crucified,” the self that loved sin, ignored God, and was lost. God has found you and “set [you] free.” He has saved you to serve Him “in a resurrection” begot at justification that begins sanctification.
Sanctification gives you self-esteem. You are “united with Him,” with the Holy God, making you a holy one, a saint. You will never be punished for your sins, Christ took that upon Himself on the cross. You will never die, for “a resurrection like His” is forever. You may not be considered by the mainstream press to be among the most important people on the planet, but you are among the only people that will survive this planet and enjoy a new heaven and earth when Christ returns.
Sanctification gives you self-confidence. You are “no longer enslaved to sin,” but “set free.” You have the Holy Spirit, you have the holy Bible, you are part of the holy church. Your free will is restored to freely and willingly obey the Lord.
Sanctification gives you self-purpose. Sanctification makes you “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” As you share His gospel, help build His church, exemplify His word, espouse His theology, you will influence others. A false Christian leads people to Hell. A sanctified Christian shows them the way to Heaven.
A New Relationship with God (vs. 12-14)
When I was lost, I did not think much about God. I probably had Him confused with Santa Claus. If I wanted something really bad, I would pray, not realizing at the time that the only way to the Father was through the Son.
When I faked Christianity for a few years, having been baptized after a bus ministry roundup but never changing behavior, I misunderstood God. I was like the people Paul talked about in the first verse. I thought I’d received a get out of Hell free card. I thought I was free to fornicate, get drunk, and otherwise enjoy a life-long season of sin and still go to Heaven. Fake Christianity is claiming justification without sanctification, and it is as counterfeit as a three dollar bill.
But when I was saved, by grace through faith in Christ, I came to know the true and living God. That’s justification, knowing God. Sanctification is wanting to know Him more.
Sanctification is a growing relationship with God whereby you delight in keeping His commandments. Imperatives abound in this last section. “Let not sin … reign.” “Do not present your members to sin.” “Present yourself to God.” Lost people and fake Christians hate God’s commandments, but sanctified people love them.
Sanctification is a growing relationship with God whereby you constantly surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Sin does not “reign” anymore, because Jesus is the only Lord of your life. And if He is not Lord, He is not Savior. If you are not sanctified, you are not justified.
Sanctification is a growing relationship with God whereby you revel in the fact you are “under grace.” You are saved and you will always be saved. Your sins are forgiven, one and all, past and present and future. Therefore, you are amazed by grace, and would never abuse grace by antinomian or licentious living. Instead, you grow in grace.
So if you ain’t growing, then chances are, you ain’t going, to Heaven, that is.
Hollywood seldom gives us a picture of genuine Christianity. But 1983’s Tender Mercies is a notable exception. It starred one of my all-time favorite actors, Robert Duvall, and Arkansas’ own Tess Harper.
Duvall plays a shipwrecked, alcoholic, former country music star named Mac Sledge. He hits bottom and meets Rosa Lee, played by Harper, and her son, Sonny. In the beginning of the movie, Duvall is recognized by a patron at a store who asked, “Aren’t you Mac Sledge.” He replied, “I was.”
Near the end, after Mac and Sonny have been led to Christ by Rosa Lee, they are baptized in the local church. Sonny asks Mac on the way home, “Do I look different?” Mac says, “Not yet.”
Justification, wonderfully illustrated by baptism, doesn’t make you look different, just wet. When you dry, however, sanctification does make you different, different towards sin, different towards yourself, different towards God.
There is still a struggle with sin, as Paul will explain soon, but the sainthood is real, because the sanctification is evident. And remember, if you’re not sanctified, then you haven’t been justified, and you cannot expect to be glorified. For all sinners who become true saints are being sanctified.