The book of Romans sets forth God’s plan to save humans from sin through the gospel of the Christ (Romans 1:16,17). Observe these other sin- related truths which also are presented in Romans:
No one is righteous, that is, no human is made righteous before God by virtue of his own goodness (Romans 3:10).
All have sinned (Romans 3:23).
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The cure for sin is the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9), as God’s plan of grace provides redemption in and through Jesus (Romans 3:24).
The Bible describes sin as lawlessness (1 John 3:4), which means to violate/break God’s law. If my action violates God’s instruction, I am sinning. If what I do does not violate God’s truth, I am not sinning.
The Holy Spirit characterizes some people as being dead in sin. For instance, at one point in their lives, the saints who comprised the church in Ephesus had been dead in sin. It is written, “And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Paul included himself in the group of people who at one time had been dead in sin, saying, “Even when we were dead in trespasses . . .” (Ephesians 2:5).
When had Paul and the Ephesian brethren been dead in sin? Before they received the forgiveness of sins, in other words, before they obeyed the gospel. Who caused them to be dead in sin? Not Eve and Adam, not their own parents, and not their religious mentors. They themselves were to blame for their being dead in sin.
What did they do which put them in the category of “dead in sin?” They chose to walk/live according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2), they acted in a disobedient manner (2:2), and they fulfilled the desires of the flesh and mind (2:3). Their practice of sin made them sinners, and the fact that their sin remained uncleansed meant they remained in sin: they were dead in it.
After one is baptized into the Christ and His death, God expects him/her to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3,4). When his sins are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb, he has been freed from sin (6:7). He now is alive to God and dead to sin (6:11). In what sense is a child of God dead to sin? He has chosen to separate himself from sin, to do his best to banish sin from his life, conscientiously avoiding sinful thoughts, sinful speech, and sinful action.
However, after being converted to the Christ, there is no guarantee that one will stay out of sin. It is not an automatic. In that same chapter of Romans, we read that some are slaves of sin while others are slaves of God (6:13,16).
It continues to be a choice. Consider how that truth is presented in 1 Peter 4:1-4. As Christians strive to imitate their Savior, they are people who have “ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Ceasing from sin would be the same as being dead to sin. We read further.
A child of God “no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). One can spend his days living according to the lusts of men/the flesh or he can live according to God’s will. To live after the flesh would be a life that is dead in sin; to live according to God’s will would be a life that is dead to sin.
Put a couple of those ideas together and here is what we see: one who has ceased from sin is one who lives according to God’s will, not his own desires. He is dead to sin. He chooses not to walk as he did in his pre-conversion days. He chooses not to walk in lewdness, lusts, revelries, drinking parties, or in any form of idolatry (1 Peter 4:3). When he makes and keeps such a commitment to remain dead to sin, he may face ridicule, staunch opposition and unmerciful badmouthing (1 Peter 4:4). But he knows the right thing to do is put as much distance as possible between him and sin.
On our best days, Christians may struggle to overcome the tactics of the devil. In weakness, from time to time we will succumb to his temptation. But we will continue to trust in the Lord and strive to walk in His light, having the blood of Jesus to cleanse us continually from our sins (1 John 1:7).
Knowing that sin defiles the soul, God hates all forms of it. So should we. Let us live each day in such a way that we will be dead to sin, not dead in it.
— Roger D. Campbell