The enticement to sin often seems like a good idea. The consequences appear to be minimal and the pleasure appears to be maximum. And there is always the lavishness of God’s forgiving grace, should one decide that the sin really wasn’t a good idea. So goes the temptation for even many believers. I have heard personal accounts similar to that thinking too many times. “The Lord will forgive me. You don’t have to worry; I know I’m a Christian…” says the foolish man right before he steps into a self-destructive pattern of sin.
But the apostle Paul could not be more emphatic that engaging in a lifestyle and pattern of sinful behavior is a bad idea for the believer. “May it never be,” he says (Rom. 6:1). The thought is abhorrent to him and this phrase stresses the idea that such a thing should never come into existence. We might paraphrase it, “Might the end of the world come before that happens!”
Some in his day accused Paul of being an antinomian (Rom. 3:8) and others were evidently practicing lawless living while still claiming Christ (Rom. 6:1). But Paul could never condone such actions; in fact, he says that those who preach and practice such a “gospel” are justly condemned (3:8b).
But why not pursue licentious living? If (since) Christ has forgiven all sin and there is enough righteousness in Christ to atone for all the unrighteousness in the world, then why should a believer actively pursue a life of righteousness? Wouldn’t Christ forgive it all anyway? Doesn’t our obedience then turn into a form of legalism and works righteousness?
Paul answers that question in Romans 6:2.
Paul could say that sin is detrimental and brings painful consequences and hardship. (Because it does.) Solomon rightly notes that “the way of the treacherous is hard” (Prov. 13:15). Those who go astray from the instruction and wisdom of God will experience difficulty (both in this life and in the eternal life). Scripture also affirms the principle of sowing and reaping: sow sinful folly and you will reap painful and even deadly consequences (Gal. 6:7-8; see also Prov. 7:6-27 for the consequences of sexual sin).
Paul could say that sin is displeasing to God and invites His fatherly discipline. (Because it does.) God always loves His own. But that does not mean that their sin gives Him pleasure. If they sin, He will discipline them to bring them into conformity to His moral will (Heb. 12:5-11). And that discipline will be painful and sorrowful. Sin always seems satisfying in the moment, but the one who experiences the discipline of his heavenly Father will not then say it is satisfying.
Paul could say that the process of committing willful and intentional sin could so harden your heart that you might not want to confess your sin after committing that sin. (Because it does.) Sin does harden the heart and conscience (1 Tim. 4:2). Repeated rebellion against God disinclines one to be repentant and thus removes the possibility of being forgiven.
Those are all reasons Paul could have given why believers should not purse lives of sinful conduct and behavior. But Paul doesn’t say that any of those things should serve as our motive to be obedient and not cultivate a pattern of willful sin.
Instead he points to our new identity and nature — that’s not who you are — so why would you live as if that’s your home and your nature. Why don’t you live in the freedom and joy of who you are in Christ? Notice he says in 6:2, “we [have] died to sin…” That is, the power of sin has been removed from us. We are no longer in the domain of sin and we no longer are identified as sinners. We are in the domain of God’s kingdom, adopted as God’s sons, identified withe the life of Christ and not the death of sin. We are new creatures. And it is incongruous to live as dead men, in bondage to sin, when we are alive in Christ, freed from sin and in bondage (a great and good bondage!) to righteousness.
So why is licentious living a bad idea? It is not ultimately a bad idea because of sin’s consequences, or the Father’s discipline, or the hardening of our hearts. It’s a bad idea because it gives a lie to what and who we are. It goes against our new nature.
In our fight against sin, this needs to be our constant thought and reminder: “I must fight against this sin because I can fight against this sin. I am have been recreated spiritually to live righteously. Why would I return to the old and deadly kind of life (and what I am being tempted to do is deadly and sorrowful) when I can live in the freedom and joy of obedience to God’s good will for me?”