When I teach on the book of Romans in my classes at Spring Arbor University, most students understand saving grace and why it is important that God offers to forgive our sins. However, they seem to struggle more with the concept of sanctifying grace. Why is it so necessary for God to offer us the power over sin and to live holy lives? I have found two analogies helpful for students to grasp how these two ideas fit together.
The Cookie Rule
I remember when my mother used to make cookies when I was young. My brother and I would walk in the door after school to the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the air. We were excited with anticipation. Then she would tell us that the cookies were off-limits until after we ate dinner: “I do not want to you to spoil your appetite.”
What happened next? We wanted to eat the cookies and did not want to wait. Before walking into the house, we had no desire to eat a cookie, but within a few minutes we were trying to find a way to get a cookie without being caught. What changed? It was the “don’t eat the cookies until after supper” rule.
If we got caught, wouldn’t it then be logical to blame our mother for the transgression? I could reason with her, “If you had not given the rule, I would have never wanted them in the first place.”
That is the same question Paul asks in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful?” He then answers in the next verse, “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.” The problem was not with my mother’s rule. It was with the “cookie monster” inside of me!
How often are we more burdened over the expectation of receiving the punishment for eating the cookie than over the part of us that still wants to eat the cookie? We need God to save us from both.
No Longer Slaves
We tend to think more about God’s saving grace in forgiving us and far less about why sanctifying grace is so necessary. This leads to Romans 6 and the second analogy — the Emancipation Proclamation.
Many of us are aware that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in Confederate-held territory on New Year’s Day of 1863. What is less known is that it took a long time before the proclamation became a reality. Many remained slaves after January 1. Some slaves did not hear about the proclamation for months. When others heard about it, they did not believe it because being a slave was all they ever knew. Slave owners used fear and intimidation to keep many slaves on the plantations.
Romans 6 is what I call the Christian’s Emancipation Proclamation. In it, Paul shows how God gives us the ability to live holy lives through Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s grace does not just save us from the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin as well. How many Christians today are living in bondage to their sin because they don’t know their freedom is a reality?
One of the first verses I learned as a new Christian was 1 John 1:9. God promises to forgive us when we confess our sins. But why don’t we also teach new believers that God has given us victory over our sin nature? Romans 6:3–4 says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Or how about Romans 6:6? “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin (the part that still wants to eat the cookie) might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
As we baptize new believers, we ought to tell them how baptism is a picture of our acceptance of His offer of forgiveness through His death and His offer of holy living through His resurrection.
However, knowing we are free is just the first step. We still have to walk off the plantation. Just as some slaves were convinced by their owners they were not free, we too have a slave owner, Satan, who convinces us we are not free. It is easy to believe that lie when we have struggled with a certain habit for so long. We believe bondage is just a part of who we are. That is why I believe Paul tells us in Romans 6:11, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Everything we need to overcome those sinful habits has already been given to us!
Finally, Paul tells us to “offer ourselves to God” because we have been set free from sin. When we accept God’s offer of sanctifying grace, “the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:22). Usually, Romans 6:23 is mentioned in the context of salvation, but it comes at the end of this section where Paul is talking about sanctification. The gift of eternal life is much more than just life in heaven. It is the ability to live holy right now. God wants to give us the gift of holiness because He loves us and considers it a blessing.
What a sad thing it is to think that in 1863, thousands of slaves were legally free but remained on their plantations. Let it not said be said of Christians in the 21st century that we remained on the plantation of sin instead of living sanctified lives.
P.J. Kitchen has taught at Spring Arbor University for the past 10 years. Kitchen, a graduate of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, also teaches at Cornerstone University. He previously served in local church ministry as a youth minister for 20 years and led a network of area youth pastors for four years.0