How Was Christ Alive To Sin?

In our Bible study for the Eugene Reformed work, we have been faithfully crawling through Romans—the slow pace is my fault I am afraid. Romans is just such a rich book of the Scriptures that I cannot resist looking at every little thing. To prove this, I would invite you to look at Romans 6:10, which we read in our study but did not discuss. Let me point out what is said here and see if you agree that Romans is very rich and edifying in its details.

To begin with, please read through Romans 6:1–14 for the context of verse 10 and particularly focus upon verses 7–9. The context shows Paul decisively removing any thought that the free justification and eternal life we receive in Christ by grace alone through faith alone (Rom 3–5) leads to a life of wanton sin for followers of Christ (Rom 6:1). Then the critical point Paul is making is that we are now, in Christ, set free from sin and alive to God so that we might begin walking in “newness of life” (v. 4). As God accounts us and we too account ourselves righteous by faith in Christ, so we are also to account or consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in growing holiness of life (v. 11). “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13); “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). This is the critical context of Romans 6:10.

But I have always found the first part of Romans 6:10 itself to be a bit shocking: “For the death he [Christ] died he died to sin.” Christ is now “dead to sin” and “alive to God”?! How was he ever “alive” to sin? That makes it sound like he was enslaved to sin like us (v. 6). This cannot be, because of all the people who have ever lived, Jesus “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:22). What does Paul mean then with verse 10 and Christ’s death to sin?

The answer to the previous question is actually quite profound and important for our faith. It seems to me that there are two possible things Paul is expressing in Romans 6:10a. The first is that the Son of God in his incarnation was subject to human temptation to sin during his earthly life. In part, this is why he took on a genuine human nature, though he did not take on the guilty corruption conveyed to us through Adam our forefather (e.g., Rom 5:12, 18–19; 1 Cor 15:22). Christ’s father is God not Adam. Adam is his stepfather. Temptation is one way Christ was “alive” to sin, yet he himself committed no sin whatsoever in thought, word, or deed. Note the following two passages to this connection from Hebrews:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:17–18)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15–16)

This first option of Christ being tempted by sin is a good option theologically and biblically. The problem though is that Paul does not seem to be talking in the context of Christ’s temptation such as found in the Hebrews passages. Hence, we must turn to a better option for understanding Romans 6:10a. To get at this option we will want to think carefully about the following verse from 2 Corinthians: “For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

Notice how strongly Paul expresses the imputation of our sin to Christ by God the Father: “he made him to be sin.” Christ was not sin and “knew no sin” by nature, but he was made to be sin on the cross where he “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). This is the reality of imputation. God accounted Christ Jesus, our impeccable mediator to become us, corrupted in our sin and misery, sold into slavery to sin (Rom 6:6, 17; 7:14), and by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Jesus became an accursed sinner for us (Gal 3:13) by imputation.

But that is not the end of the story. Jesus was vindicated by his Father as the fully sinless Savior who fulfilled the task of redeeming his people on the accursed tree. And he was raised and exalted beyond the highest heavens as his reward to live and rule with the Father forever on his glorious throne (e.g., Rev 22:1–5; Rom 6:10b).

What does this mean for us? Everything. It is the gospel. Just as Christ died because he was accounted to be our sin, so also we will live forever in resurrection glory because we are made to be righteous with Christ’s own righteousness. This is what Paul had just been saying in Romans 5:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. . . . so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:18–19, 21)

It is by reason of the reality of imputation of our sin to Christ and his righteousness to us, that our sanctification and growth in holiness is rooted in faith: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11). This considering or reckoning ourselves dead to sin is not an empty mantra or mind-trick. It is believing the truth about us in Christ which is as real as his own dying to sin and living to God. This is the teaching of Romans 6:10 and the great benefit of understanding the unfathomable truth taught in this verse.

©S. M. Baugh. All Rights Reserved.


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Posted by S. M. Baugh | Friday, May 3, 2024 | Categorized Church Life, Church Planting, Scripture, Sin | Tagged Bookmark the permalink.

About S. M. Baugh

The Rev. Dr. S. M. Baugh is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California, where he taught Greek and New Testament from 1983–2021. He is author of two grammars of New Testament Greek, a contributor to the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, the commentary on Ephesians in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series, The Majesty of High (on the Kingdom of God), and numerous articles. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Meet all the Heidelberg contributors»

4 comments

  1. Dr. Baugh,
    That was a glorious post. Crawl through the wonderful account and truth all you want, I say!
    That Christ was actually made sin is difficult to fully grasp, yet “no hope without it”.

  2. The slow roll is nothing to apologize for. It is a rich and beautiful post of the Glorious Savior Jesus Christ the Redeemer of His people! Amen!

  3. S.M.Baugh,

    Thank you for posting the Eugene Reformed work in Romans.

    My question relates to the Prayer of Confession in the Reformed Liturgy.

    I believe Romans 6:1-14 and especially the clarification of the blessed exchange in 2 Cor 5:21.

    How does this imputation of Christ Righteousness change the content in the Prayer of Confession in the Reformed Liturgy? Do I confess my sin?

    Or is my confession the new identity (‘justified sinner’, ‘sanctified saint’, and ‘at peace with God’ ) God imputes to me in Christ, who rules the inaugurated kingdom?

    It seems the Reformed Prayer of Confession for believers is a context of worship, praise, and gratitude, especially as the Spirit’s work (who uncovers everything based on Hebrews 4:12-13) establishes Romans 6:11-14 in me.

    Thank you for Majesty on High.

  4. Hi Catherine,

    You can take what you are talking about here as a blend of two parts of our liturgy: 1) confession of faith (or “profession”) usually using the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds; and 2) confession of sin, usually after reading the law.

    For the latter, you are asking, I take it, why do we still need to confess sin if we are forgiven all of our sins in Christ and justified. This good question has the simple answer that we are commanded to confess our sins, even our daily ones which may reach 7×70 (Matt. 18:21-22). This is our life in this age short of glory when we will be so utterly transformed that sin will no longer plague us as it still does now. For Scripture on continued need to confess our sins we have, for example, James 5:16 and the implication of 1 John 1:9 and its context. It’s important to note that the Lord’s prayer contains confession of sin in the fifth petition; the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 194 is helpful here.

    I personally view this practice as critical for our daily, humble walk with God. Of all the places in Scripture, Micah has what one could call a programmatic statement for the Christian life: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

    Just my 2 widow’s mites,
    SmB

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