Romans 6:1-14.
Straddling the Fence.

             Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.

When we think of America, and what it stands for, we cannot ignore the fundamental principle upon which we are constituted: freedom.  During the years when this nation was formed, there were those who fully believed that it was not appropriate that people endure persecution by their own government.  They sought freedom from the tyranny of King George and, particularly, the brutality of the Church of England.  When the drive for freedom began to sweep through the British colonies in America, people were faced with a decision, a decision that would change their lives and that of their children forever.

What is a Mugwump?  Let us be sure to walk away from this study remembering what a Mugwump is.  Originally, "Mugwump" was a Native American Algonquin name for a "Big Chief."  However, this chief held this position of authority only in his own mind: as one who wants the respect and advantages of the honor without either earning it or accepting the responsibilities that go along with the role.  Because of his inherent weakness, The Mugwump would be unable to take a stand for anything of consequence, and earned respect from no one.

Preceding and during the period of the American Revolution against England, the colonists had to make a choice of whether to honor the authority of England, or the newly burgeoning authority of the Continental Congress.  Those who favored British rule were persecuted by the colonialists.  Those who favored Colonial rule were persecuted by the British and their colonial loyalists.  In the middle were those who, observing the conflict, chose to take full advantage of the situation by making no stated choice.  By avoiding involvement they hoped to avoid political persecution and maintain their interests in both sides of the conflict.  They were hoping to find profit in conducting business on both sides of the fence by avoiding a full commitment to either side.  These people were called “Mugwumps,” stemming from a political cartoon published by a colonial paper that referred to those individuals who, sitting on the fence, place their “mug on one side and their “wump” on the other.[1] 

In the end, what happened to the Mugwumps of the American Revolution?  For the most part they were persecuted by both sides, never gaining the advantage they assumed.  By selling out to the British they were hated by the colonists.  By selling out to the colonists they were despised by the British.  The main point is this:  They became loners who were of little use to either side of the conflict.

The American Revolution involved the act of freeing the colonists from the authoritarian rule of England's King George and the repressive dictates of the Church of England.  The Revolution created a new nation, where those who chose to align their loyalties with the new nation, lived a life that was free of political persecution.  However, this choice mandated the severing of lucrative and profitable ties with the "Old World." 

The circumstances surrounding the Revolution, and the part played in it by the Mugwumps, is not dissimilar to that experienced by most Christians when they realize the freedom from the persecution of sin that is found when choosing allegiance to Christ over allegiance to the existing secular and pagan world order.  Since we are all born of this world, we start with both feet firmly planted in it, just as each colonist started with both feet planted in British soil.  However, when we accept Christ, we take a step into a new direction.  It is when, as we step into this new life in Christ, we keep one foot planted in the world that we become spiritual Mugwumps and can never fully realize the peace and joy that is offered our new life in Christ.  When we keep one foot planted in the world, we will never experience the full measure of the freedom from sin that Christ died for.  It was to these “spiritual Mugwumps,” among others, that Paul is speaking in the verses of Chapter 6 of his epistle to the Romans. 

Romans 6:1.  What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 

What does freedom mean?  Does it mean to be free to sin?  If this is a "free country" does this mean I can do anything I want?  If this were the case there would be no need for prisons, since there would be no moral standard of conduct, resulting in unrestrained anarchy and violence.  One might even argue in such a society that by committing immoral acts, people are demonstrating their freedom.

Paul never attended the Church in Rome.  This letter was intended to help guide them in correct doctrine.  Many grievous misinterpretations of the gospel were being propagated by worldly Christians (Mugwumps).  One heresy held that since we have been forgiven of our sin by God's grace, then if we sin more, we receive more grace:  the more we sin, the more grace we receive.  This idea holds that as we sin, we empower God to exercise His grace.  The conclusion is that the reward for sin is grace.  This heretical introduction into the faith may sound strange to us, but would have been quite reasonable for the ancients who had been immersed in the worship of pagan gods all of their lives.  Most of the pagan religions involved the application of practices that were designed to inspire the gods to respond.  For example, temple prostitution that was an integral part of Baal and Asherah worship was intended to inspire the gods to engage in sexual relations, and by so doing bring fertility to the land and people.  Therefore, it as a simple transference for the people to ask, "what do we have to do to receive grace?"  They wanted to do something to inspire God to respond.  They wanted to empower God to demonstrate more of His grace for them.

Romans 6:2.  God forbid.  How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 

Paul uses some emphatic words here.  In the Greek, me ginomai, me gisnomai.   Me is an emphatic negative.  Ginomai, gisnomai, refers to a circumstance or happening.  Literally, Paul says, "Let this never happen! Let this never happen!" For emphasis he even repeated it.  The translators of the King James Bible tried to express the meaning by using the English idiom "God forbid." Actually, there is no reference to the words God or forbid in this text.  The writers of the King James Bible made significant use of William Tyndale's monumental English Bible translation, and this is one verse that is an example of that usage. 

This word usage illustrates why it is good to use several respected Bible translations in order to get a clearer understanding of what the scriptures say.  A good Greek interlinear Bible[2] is helpful, along with some good, reliable and proven commentaries.  A study of the history of Tyndale's Bible as well as the King James Bible is profitable for every English-speaking Christian.

The choice of life-change that leads to salvation is a choice to follow Jesus Christ as the LORD and Savior that He is.  If we still hold a desire to sin in our heart, we either never made a defining choice for salvation, or we are simply not understanding the nature of that choice.  This is where the metaphor of the Mugwump applies.  The call to faith is not a call to straddle the fence between this world and the Kingdom of God.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are to turn from (repent) the sin-nature of this world and seek the Holiness of God.  When a Christian gives his/her heart to the LORD, this desire is simply part of the nature of the Holy Spirit's working in the individual. 

However, many people follow the emotional or logical path to Christianity and never make the true decision to follow Christ, and by that error, remain lost.  To these, the secular world is still a very comfortable place, more comfortable than the church.  To these, the desire for the secular and pagan practices of this world is still the primary attraction.  It is these who have their feet firmly planted on the worldly side of the fence.  Some have a desire to follow Christ, and as part of that desire, associate with Christians by professing faith and joining the fellowship.  However, because they have not actually fully given their lives to the LORD, they still struggle with their desire for this world.  They have stepped one foot over the fence and have "tasted"[3] the joy and peace that Christians have, and may have been convinced, by doctrine or by well-meaning Christians, that they are saved.  However, these are those who refuse to lift that second foot out of this secular and pagan world and then find themselves trying to follow two masters.  Both of these groups of "Christians" still have that desire to embrace the old sin- and self-centered life, and have not yet made that defining decision to leave that life behind and follow Jesus.  Much of Jesus' teaching was focused upon those who could not make that defining decision. 

What was Paul's statement to this philosophy?  As Christians we have "died to sin," and we can no longer live a life that is willfully immersed in it.  To die is to be separated from something.  Sin no longer has authority over the Christian.  The allegiances of the Mugwump are simply choices for authority.  Satan is the prince of this secular and pagan world, and to maintain an allegiance to this world is to be submitted to satan's authority:

John 12:31-32.  "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

John 14:30.  "...  for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."

John 16:7-8,11.  "...  Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: ..  Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."

Jesus fully knew the authority of satan in this world, and made it clear that He was not only fully opposed to this evil, but that satan also had no power over Him.  In the comparison between God's authority and satan's authority, satan has no influence over God.  Satan has absolutely no power when confronted with the power of the Holy Spirit, yet we, as Christians, still allow satan to influence our lives.  The writer of the epistle of James states,

James 4:7.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Romans 6:3-4.  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

The word, "baptism" is literally the same as the word, "immerse."  To be baptized into Jesus Christ is to be fully immersed in Him, not partially introduced.  The ordinance of baptism symbolizes this immersion, and one is not immersed unless they are fully placed below the water's surface.  No part of the immersed individual remains dry.  This is an important metaphor that we may often overlook.  Just as immersion implies a complete submersion in the water, giving one's life to God is similarly complete.  No part of one’s life is to be left in the secular world.  There is no defensible place for fence-sitting.  One has either been immersed, or one has not.  One cannot be a Mugwump and be baptized into Jesus Christ. 

Salvation from sin is a gift of God that is given by Him to those who are fully immersed in Him.  Jesus' death on the cross paid the required penalty for sin for those who place their complete faith and trust in Him.  Consequently, just as Jesus is raised to new life, so will those who place their trust in Him.  To be baptized into Jesus Christ is to accept Him as LORD, rejecting the lordship of the authorities of this secular and pagan world that reject God.

As a citizen of the new nation of America, it would be ridiculous for us to look to King George and the Church of England for our allegiance.  If our allegiance is to them, we are not truly citizens of the new nation.  Christians are under the authority of a new King, and in this case, a King who has sealed our faith with His Holy Spirit, protecting us from the condemnation of the earthly prince forever.  We are not called to be Mugwumps.  We are called to be fully immersed in the new kingdom.

Romans 6:5-7.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  7For he that is dead is freed from sin.

What does it mean to serve sin, or for sin to be our master?  Before we knew Christ our entire perspective was worldly.  We lived in death, separated from God by the very gulf of sin that stood between us.  In that way, sin had dominion over us.  We could not, in our own power, bridge the separation that the sin in our lives created.  We had no power: the sin had all the power.  This is the error of much of the world's religions:  these are methods, designed by man, to bridge that gap.  However we try, we cannot bridge that gap on our own because every attempt to come to God still brings us to him while we are still slaves to sin.

Therefore, what did sin have the power to do before we place our faith in Christ?  Sin simply separates us from God.  It was only through God's initiative, in His grace, that the gulf of sin has been bridged.  When Jesus, both fully man, yet fully the Messiah, the Eternal God and Creator, died on the cross He paid the final sacrifice for the sins of those who place their faith and trust in Him.  Though Christians still struggle with sin, that sin no longer has the power to separate them from God.  Salvation is simply salvation:  secure and eternal.  God does not save us from the ravages of the storm of sin simply to throw us back overboard because sin is always evident in our lives:

John 10:27-30.  "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.  I and my Father are one."

There is no power in all of creation or all of heaven that is greater than that of God, and God holds you in His hand.  Therefore, coming to the end of this long drawn-out logic: If sin no longer condemns us, God will never again have to repeat this act of grace.  This is also one of the strongest arguments for eternal security.  Plain and simple: Sin no longer has the authority to condemn us.  We are sealed by the power (Dunamis, dunamis) of the Holy Spirit.  Paul states a very similar argument in the next few verses:

Romans 6:8-11.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  10For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our LORD.

Paul makes yet a stronger argument by stating that since Christ is raised from the dead, He cannot die again because death no longer has mastery over Him.  How many times is Jesus to die?  He was to die only once.  And what sin did He die for?  Christ died for the sins of all of those who place their trust in him, and all is inclusive of those both before and after the event of the cross.[4]   We sometimes miss one very important truth when it comes to forgiveness:  Christ did not die to forgive you of the individual sins you committed and will still continue to commit: He died, forgiving you of sin, period.  It is not just your sins that no longer have power.  It is Sin that no longer has power.  The penalty for the sin that cursed Adam and every human since has been paid.

Therefore, the action of sin in our lives does not have dominion over the faithful Christian: it cannot affect the salvation that God gave by grace through the atoning death of Jesus.  One can understand how the Romans might have felt free to sin.  However, sin still has ravaging consequences.  Sin still has the full capability of destroying health and relationships.  Sin still keeps one from enjoying the full opportunity of peace and joy that comes from faith in Christ.  Sin still encumbers the Mugwump.

Romans 6:12.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  

A Mugwump is one with split-allegiances.  A Christian Mugwump is one who professes to have accepted Christ, yet still gives authority to the things of this world.  The secular and pagan sin that so characterizes this world still has an attraction to the Christian Mugwump.  Note that Paul describes this change of allegiance as a simple choice.  Christians are encouraged by Paul to choose to no longer follow the path of sinful attitudes and actions and to reject the power over us that they would otherwise have.  Getting off of the fence and placing both feet in the kingdom is a choice, one that any person can make.  Note that Paul also clearly identifies that sin’s influence remains in the “mortal body.”  Again, though sin will not condemn one at the final judgment, it serves to ravage the experience of an individual during this mortal life.

Romans 6:13-14.  Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  14For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Why did we sin before we accepted Christ as LORD?  We did so by choice, a choice that was normal and natural.  It was the only choice we knew. 

Why do we sin since we accepted Christ as LORD?  We still do so by choice, but now it is a choice that is not consistent with the nature of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Sin in the life of a Christian will always bring conflict.  Serving God as a spiritual Mugwump will always dampen our joy and hold us back from serving Him as He would have us serve as we compromise our obedience to Him by a continued allegiance to this pagan world.

So, as a Christian, we still have a choice whether to engage in sinful thoughts and practices.  Can sin reign in our mortal bodies?  Paul admonishes us to not let sin "reign."  Though there is no escape from the experience of sin, the Christian does not need to give allegiance to sin, or submit to the authority of sin, any longer.  If we allow satan into our lives, it is simply by our choice, and ours alone.  The Holy Spirit inspires every Christian to choose righteousness, so sin does not have dominion over our mortal selves; It is by God's power and His power alone that we can choose to reject evil.  What happens when a Christian steps back over the fence, placing his feet in the world?  The individual's usefulness to the Master is diminished, and often the work of God's Kingdom is severely damaged.  What happens when a well-known Christian leader is exposed for sinful worldliness?  Many people may come to distrust all Christians, and many will never listen to the gospel message.

Sin can still have mastery over a Christian, but will still not serve to condemn them or separate them, eternally, from God.  We are instructed to not let sin be our master, but to choose a path of righteousness.  Before we knew Christ, we had no effectual resource to draw on in the battle against the sin that destroys us.  What resource does the faithful Christian have?  Possibly one of the greatest sources of instruction pertaining to the power Christians have to stand against the destructive power of sin is written by Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians where, in chapter six, he uses the metaphor of Roman armor to describe the individual “tools” that God gives to every Christian to empower them to stand firm against sin.  These include salvation (helmet), a lifestyle of integrity (breastplate), an in-depth knowledge of the word of God (sword), etc. 

When one comes to God in faith, it is the beginning of a journey that involves a lifestyle of prayer and discipleship.  In this lifestyle, putting on the "full armor" that Paul speaks of, we can be prepared to stand against the power of sin when it raises its ugly head:

Are you a Mugwump?  Are you trying to live the Christian life, but have not yet let go of some of the sin and worldliness that God would have you completely shed?   Is your time spent immersed in the secular, pagan, and violent world that is so graphically illustrated in television and film entertainment, or is your time spent immersed in God’s Word?  Would your rather spend an hour with television entertainment or an hour with God in prayer and Bible study?  Are you holding on to ungodly attitudes and desires, or even ungodly practices and experiencing the conflict that the conviction of the Holy Spirit brings?

Christians have been delivered from sin and given a gift of eternal life in fellowship with God.  It may be time that we get off the fence and plunge in with both feet on the side of the Kingdom of Christ and be willing to experience the shock waves it will create in the world around us.  Let's not miss the joy that God has for us by obliterating it with worldly living.

[1] This concept gained great political momentum in the early nineteenth century in the political commentaries of Thomas Nast and others, and it later became the name of an American political party.

[2] C.f. The Greek Interlinear New Testament by George Ricker Berry

[3] Hebrews 8:4.

[4] Hebrews, Chapter 11.