Rick’s upcoming new book: Losing Your Luggage

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a manuscript for a new book called Losing Your Luggage: Finding Freedom from Sinful Baggage. The book explores the life-changing and liberating truths found in Romans 6-8. These chapters have been favourites of mine for decades as they chart the biblical pathway to freedom from controlling sins. The book is scheduled be published by Heritage Seminary Press in 2023. I’m excited about the impact it could have on the lives of those who are longing for greater freedom in Christ.

Here’s a sampling of the book–the opening chapter entitled “Dying for Freedom.”

Dying for Freedom

Romans 6:1-10

Romans 6 begins with an important question for all of us who carry around sinful baggage:  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1)

The answer Paul gives to this question is both profound and perplexing: “By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live it” (6:2). 

The Bible says Christians died to sin.  That may come as breaking news to you. 

You may already know—especially if you’ve read the first five chapters of Romans—that sin looms as a major problem for all of us.  In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul makes an airtight case that everyone grows up living “under sin” (3:9).  As he famously says in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

You may also know the glorious news that God loves sinners.  Loves us so much that he sent his Son to absorb the punishment our sins deserved (3:24-25).  When we were at our worst, God did his best: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). 

Furthermore, you may know that when you respond to God’s love with genuine faith, God graciously and righteously justifies you.  He declares you righteous, forgiven of all your sins (Romans 4:5; 5:1, 9-10).

But did you know that you also died to sin? 

Paul’s affirmation of the truth in Romans 6:2 may leave you with some unanswered questions:  “If I died to sin, why is sin still so alive in me?”  “Is Paul saying Christians won’t struggle with sin anymore?”  “Since sin seems alive and well in in my life, does this mean I’m not really a Christian?”

We’ll get answers to these important questions in due time, but first we need to understand why Paul says we died to sin.  In verses 3 through 5, he lays down the theological basis for this astounding claim.  Read these verses closely and follow his reasoning.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Do you see the reason Paul declares we died to sin?  It all centers on your relationship with Jesus.  When you link your life to Jesus through faith in him, God sees you as united with Jesus in His death (verse 3), burial (verse 4), and resurrection (verse 5).  Since Jesus died to sin, you did too.  Since Jesus was buried, you were too; this burial is pictured in your baptism!  Since Jesus was raised to new life, you were too.  In short, since Jesus died to sin and since you are united to Jesus, you died to sin!

I need to add that this is only true if you are a Christian.  It’s not enough to know about Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday and resurrection from the grave on Easter Sunday.  You must do more than believe it historically; you must receive it personally. You must link your life to Jesus through sincere faith in him.  If you have, then what is true of Jesus is now true for you:  you died to sin!

At this point, you may think, “This sounds great.  But it also seems unrealistic.  The Bible may say I died to sin, but sin sure doesn’t seem dead to me!  I’m still lugging around a lot of sinful baggage.”

Here’s where we need to understand something very important about sin:  sin has two sides.  Sin has a seductive side and a slavery side.  The seductive side of sin tempts us; the slavery side traps us.  The seductive sin attracts us; the slavery side addicts us.”

Think of the sins you struggle with most.  I imagine you’d agree those sins have a seductive side. Sin markets itself quite well.  It advertises itself in an attractive way.  But, as you’ve undoubtedly found out, sin doesn’t live up to its marketing promises.  It may deliver short-term pleasure, but it always results in long-term pain.  After enticing us, it enslaves us. Attraction turns to addiction.  We no longer sin because we want to; pretty soon, we sin because we have to.

Now when Paul says we died to sin, do you think he’s talking about the seductive side or the slavery side of sin?   If you are unsure, look at verse 6 and you’ll see the answer: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).

Notice the final words in the verse: “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  The Bible teaches we died to the slavery side of sin.  We haven’t died to the seductive side of sin; Paul will make that painfully clear in chapter 7.  But we have died to the slavery side.  Since your life has become united with Christ through faith in him, God sees your “old self” as “crucified” with Christ.  In Jesus, the penalty for your sins has been paid; you are now justified before God.[1] 

Verse 6 says all this happened so the power of sin in your body might be  “brought to nothing.”  As John Stott explains, sin has not become extinct, but it has been defeated; not annihilated, but deprived of power.[2] The end result is that your body no longer needs to remain “enslaved to sin.”[3] If you are a Christian, you can confidently declare: “I died to the slavery side of sin.”

The Railroad to Freedom

Some years ago, our family visited the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The museum sits on the banks of the Ohio river. That’s significant because the river forms the boundary line between the states of Kentucky and Ohio.  Back in the mid-19th century, before Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Declaration, Kentucky was a slave state and Ohio was free.  For that reason, many African American slaves risked their lives to cross the river and get to freedom.  They often continued north on what was called the “underground railroad”, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up to help slaves escape to the northern United States or into Canada.

When our family toured the museum, we heard a plaintive, emotive Negro spiritual called Oh Freedom.  The lyrics to the song say,
            Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom over me. 
            And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave
            And go home to my Lord and be free.

Since slavery was so oppressive and dehumanizing, many risked their lives to find freedom.  They would rather risk death than remain slaves.

If you have experienced an oppressive, dehumanizing enslavement to some area of sin, you have probably had moments when you’ve echoed the sentiment in the Freedom song:  You say, “I’d rather die than stay enslaved to this temper of mine that explodes and drives people away.”  “I’d rather die than stay a slave to a sexual bondage that keeps me ashamed and in the shadows.”  “I’d rather die than remain trapped by a hard-driving selfish ambition that ruins my relationships.”

If you’ve felt that way, Romans 6 has good news for you.  You have already died to the slavery side of sin.  Old Slave Master Sin is no longer your slave master.  You now belong to Christ.

What We Must Know

According to Romans 6, your first step towards freedom as a Christian involves knowing this truth in a deeply personal way.[5]  Notice how verse 6 begins with the words “We know.”  To find freedom you must take this truth to heart; you must know it to the core of your soul:  you died to the slavery side of sin.

It’s crucial to embrace the truth God’s Word tells you about yourself.  Here’s why.  Old Slave Master Sin will try and trick you into thinking you still belong to him.  Sin wants to deceive you into thinking you remain trapped and in bondage.

Imagine yourself as one of the slaves who followed the Underground Railroad up to Canada in order to find freedom.  One day, you spot your old slaver master and realize he’s come looking for you. What’s worse, he sees you and heads your way.  With an angry, authoritative voice he shouts, “Where have you been?  I’ve got work for you to do.  Now, get back where you belong.”

Let me ask you: how much authority does your old slave master have over you now that you’ve made it safely to Canada?  The answer is none.  You’ve made it to freedom and no longer are a slave.  However, on a practical level, the answer is:  your old slave master has as much authority over you as you give him.  If you believe his lies about how you still belong to him, you will return to being a slave—even though you are now free.

The same principle holds true for you as a Christian.  Your old slaver master Sin no longer has any authority over you.  From Romans 6, you can know your life now belongs to Christ.  God sees Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as your death to your old life and your resurrection to a new life.  But unless you know this—really know it on a heart level—you will be tempted to revert to being a slave again to sin.  Even though you died to the slavery side to sin.

The first stop on your spiritual road to freedom begins at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus.  God wants you to know something monumental happened when you linked your life to Christ through faith in his death and resurrection.  Whether your feel it or not, you have been set free from slavery to sin.

While there is still much more in Romans 6-8 you need to discover to live out your freedom from sin, the starting place is knowing what God says is true:  you died to the slavery side of sin. 

Once you personalize this amazing truth, you are ready to take the next steps towards losing your luggage.  In the next chapter, you’ll discover three life-changing steps you are now ready take on your journey to freedom!

[1] The Greek verb dikaioo, translated “set free from sin” in Romans 6:7, literally means to be “justified.”

[2] John Stott.  Men Made New.  An Exposition of Romans 6-8.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1978, page 44.

[3] As John Murray notes, “The body of the believer is no longer a body conditioned and controlled by sin.  The body that is his now is one conditioned and controlled by what has come to be the ruling principle of the believer in his totality, namely, ‘obedience unto righteousness’ (vs. 16).”  John Murray, Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 221.

[4] The background and lyrics of Oh Freedom can be found at https://balladofamerica.org/oh-freedom/.  Accessed December 16, 2021.

[5] The Greek verb translated “know” in verse 6 (ginosko) often carries the idea of an experiential “heart” knowledge, not simply a cognitive “head” knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: