Last night we studied this passage in the men's meeting portion of my care group and the focus was on the phrase "we died to sin". I think all of us who follow Christ have, at some point in our walk, voiced thoughts like these in relation to the presence of sin in our lives even though we have been saved from the penalty and power of sin: "Really? I died to sin? That's funny. It doesn't seem dead to me. In fact, it seems to be pretty alive and active!" But do we really understand what Paul is trying to convey when he wrote those words? I find Jerry Bridges to be very helpful here:
"The question arises, however, "If we died to sin's dominion, why do we still struggle with sin in our daily lives?" When Paul wrote, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" he was referring, not to the activity of committing sins, but to continuing to live under the dominion of sin. The word live means to continue in or abide in. It connotes a settled course of life...
We must distinguish between the activity of sin, which is true in all believers, and the dominion of sin, which is true in all unbelievers. Sinclair Ferguson has written, "Sin is not primarily an activity of man's will so much as captivity which man suffers, as an alien power grips his soul"... [or, in the words of Ferguson paraphrasing John Owen] "while the presence of sin can never be abolished in this life, nor the influence of sin altered... its dominion can, indeed, must be destroyed if a man is to be a Christian.
Therefore a believer cannot continue in sin. We no longer live in the realm of sin, under its reign and practical dominion. We have, to use Paul's words, died to sin. We indeed do sin and even our best deeds are tainted with sin, but our attitude is essentially different from that of an unbeliever. We succumb to temptation... but this is different than a settled disposition... [or, again in the words of Ferguson paraphrasing John Owen] our sin is a burden that afflicts us rather than a pleasure that delights us."
In another place, Bridges goes on to describe how the believer should view the fact that he is dead to sin:
"To die to sin then means, first of all, to die to it's legal or penal reign and, secondly, as a necessary result, to die to its dominion over us. Sin no longer has any legal right to rule us. When Jesus died, He died to the legal reign of sin. Through our representative union with Him in His death, we, too, died to the legal reign of sin. But because the legal reign and the practical dominion of sin in our lives are inseparable, we died not only to its legal reign but also to its corrupting dominion over us."
But there is also a serious caution to those who have a "settled disposition" to sin:
"The lated Scottish theologian John Murray wrote on Romans 6:2, "What the apostle has in view is the once-for-all definitive breach with sin which constitutes the identity of the believer. A believer cannot therefore live in sin; if a man lives in sin he is not a believer. If we view sin as a realm or sphere then the believer no longer lives in that realm or sphere.
My perception of present-day Christendom is that most believers have little understanding of what Dr Murray calls "the once-for-all definitive breach with sin." But it is this decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin through union with Christ in His death that ensures that a true believer will not have the cavalier attitude, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" If a person does have such an attitude, it is a likely indication that the person is not a true believer, however much he or she professes to have trusted in Christ for salvation."
- All quotes from "The Discipline of Grace"