We sometimes hear preachers speak of “dying to sin.” Usually this statement is made in the context of conversion to Christ. The penitent believer is told that he must “die to sin” and then be baptized in order to have his sins washed away. This formula has been repeated so often and for so long, that we hardly think about it when we hear it or say it. While this principle is certainly biblical, the scriptures do not describe it in the same way as many do today.
In Rom. 6:1, 2 Paul said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” In the previous chapter of Romans Paul discussed how the multiplying of man’s awareness of sin because of the Law of Moses led to the increased grace that came from God to forgive sin. Anticipating the conclusion that some might draw from his argument Paul asked the questions in Rom. 6:1, 2. His point was that Christians have died to sin, and therefore are not to continue in it. Then, in vs. 3-7 he told them at what point they died to sin. He said, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
Rom. 6:3-7 is the beautiful imagery of baptism as uniting us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, so that our old body of sin might be done away with (v. 6), and we are freed from sin (v. 7). This is the point at which one dies to sin, and not before, because it is in baptism that our sins are removed (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, et al). When we are baptized, we are released from our sins by the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5). In baptism we are separated from our sins.
This is what death is. It is separation. When a person physically dies, his soul is separated from his body. When one is spiritually dead, his soul is separated from God. Isa. 59:2 tells us that our sins separate us from God. Thus, we are spiritually dead in reference to Him. If we stand before Him at judgment in this condition, we will be separated from Him forever and ever in the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14, 15).
In a similar manner, to be dead to sin means that one is separated from sin. This separation only occurs when our sins have been washed away by our obedience to the gospel. The preacher Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Since it is the blood of Christ that separates us from sin, we cannot die to sin until we have been washed in His blood.
This does not mean that we make no change in our disposition toward sin before baptism. On the contrary, we must have a change of heart regarding sin before we are immersed into Christ. This change of heart is called repentance. In Lk. 13:3 Jesus said that unless we repent, we will perish. In Acts 17:30 Paul said that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent.
To repent means to change one’s mind toward something. In this case it means to change our mind about sin. We make the choice to turn away from sin and to turn to Christ. We decide that we will no longer serve sin, but will serve our Lord. When we repent of our sins, we are ready to submit to baptism for the forgiveness of our sins, so we will from that day forward be dead to sin. One who is dead to sin no longer continues in sin, but walks in the Light so the blood of Jesus continually cleanses him (1 Jn. 1:7-10).