IV. The Righteousness in Which We Are to Grow (6:1–8:39)
Paul began his letter to the Romans by demonstrating the need of all people for righteousness, Jew and Gentile alike (1:18–3:20). Then he established that righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21–5:21). The righteousness of which he spoke is called “imputed righteousness.” It is the work of God given freely to all who respond in faith. The doctrine is called “justification,” the establishment of a right relationship between God and humans. Beginning with chap. 6 Paul moved ahead to discuss what was to happen in people's lives after their sins have been forgiven and they are declared righteous in God's sight. This process of growth in spiritual maturity is the subject of chaps. 6–8. The doctrine is called “sanctification,” the lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ. Any justification that does not lead to sanctification is a sham. Any sanctification not founded upon justification is an exercise in legalistic futility and does not deserve the name.
1. No Longer Slaves to Sin (6:1–23)
(1) Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ (6:1–14)
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
6:1 Paul had just written (in Rom 5:20) that where there is an increase in sin there is an even greater increase in grace. So the question was bound to arise, Why not continue in sin so the greatness of God's grace may be seen more fully? The question may have arisen from antinomian sources that purposively misconstrued the doctrine of justification by faith as providing an excuse for a sinful lifestyle. Against such a perverted inference W. Barclay writes, “How despicable it would be for a son to consider himself free to sin, because he knew that his father would forgive.” Equally possible is that the question stemmed from conscientious Jews who felt that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone would encourage moral irresponsibility. Although the latter group questioned the teaching for fear of what it might do, the former embraced the doctrine for what they felt it would allow them to do.
6:2–3 The answer to the rhetorical question is a resounding “By no means!” How could it be possible for those who have died to sin to continue to live in it? Death separates. Death to sin removes the believer from the control of sin. This truth finds expression throughout Paul's writings (Rom 6:6, 11; Col 3:5; cf. 1 Pet 2:24). The text does not say that sin dies to the believer; it is the believer who has died to sin. Origen, the most influential theologian of the ante-Nicene period, described death to sin in this way: “To obey the cravings of sin is to be alive to sin; but not to obey the cravings of sin or succumb to its will, this is to die to sin.” Sin continues in force in its attempt to dominate the life and conduct of the believer. But the believer has been baptized into Christ, and that means to have been baptized into Christ's death as well. Christ's death for sin becomes our death to sin. Sin lies on the other side of the grave for those who have in Christ died to it. Paul asked incredulously, How can we who have died to sin “breathe its air again?” (Knox).
6:4 The believer has been “buried with [Christ] through baptism into death.” Burial certifies the reality of death. Baptism is the ritual act that portrays this burial. That Paul did not speak of faith at this point is immaterial. He was using the ritual act of baptism as a symbol of the complete redemptive event that finds its effectual cause in the death of Christ and its completion in the faith of those who believe.
But death and burial are not the end of the story. In God's redemptive plan burial is followed by resurrection. As Christ was raised from the dead in a manifestation of the Father's glorious power, so also are we raised to an entirely new way of living. The cross has as its ethical purpose a change in conduct. The Greek expression translated “a new life” is better rendered “a new sphere which is life.” Apart from Christ people are dead in their sins (Eph 2:1). But raised from the dead through faith in Christ, they enter an entirely new sphere of existence. They are alive in Christ. As Jesus promised, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Although contemporary use has tended to trivialize the expression “born again,” the vibrant reality of new life in Christ is still portrayed most graphically by the metaphor of spiritual birth. The lives of believers are to be as different from their preconversion days as life is from death.
6:5 If it is true that we have been united with Christ in his death —and we have—it then follows that we are also united with him in his resurrection. As he was raised victor over death, so also are we set free from the bondage of sin. Death precedes life in the realm of the Spirit. Since it is true that we are “one with Him by sharing in His death” (Weymouth), then certainly we are one with him by sharing in his resurrection life. New life in Christ follows death to sin as certainly as Christ's resurrection followed his crucifixion.
6:6–7 Our confidence in a resurrected life rests upon the fact that our old self was nailed to the cross with Jesus. We were “crucified with him” (v. 6). Believers, by definition, are those who by their union with Christ died with him on the cross. That death had a definite purpose in the spiritual life history of the believer. We were crucified in order that our sinful nature might be stripped of its power. “Might be done away with” translates a form of the Greek verb katargeō, which speaks of being “reduced to a condition of absolute impotence and inaction, as if it were dead.” Death fulfills the demands of sin. But death opens the way for resurrection. Resurrection lies beyond the control of death. It is the victor over death. With the old self rendered powerless, it is no longer necessary for a person to continue in bondage to sin. In Christ we are set free. Since sin exhausted itself in bringing about death, from that point forward it is powerless to overcome new life.
6:8 The reader will notice how often Paul repeated himself in this section. As a good teacher he knew that truth once stated is not necessarily absorbed. Remember that the book we are studying is first of all a letter written by the apostle to Christian believers in Rome. Paul stressed certain truths basic to an understanding of what it means to be united with Christ and living the new life of the Spirit. So in v. 8 he again stated the basic proposition that those who have died with Christ will also live with him. This is not a promise of life after death with Christ in heaven but of a life to be lived out here and now. Death, far from being simply a negative concept, is in fact the gateway to life. Elsewhere Paul paradoxically stated, “I have been crucified with Christ … but … I live by faith” (Gal 2:20). Put simply, to live one must die.
6:9–10 Paul now appealed to a point of common knowledge among God's people. Having been raised from the dead, Christ cannot die again. His resurrection was unlike that of Lazarus, who had to meet death once again. But Christ's resurrection broke forever the tyranny of death. That cruel master can no longer exercise any power over him. The cross was sin's final move; the resurrection was God's checkmate. The game is over. Sin is forever in defeat. Christ the victor died to sin “once for all” and lives now in unbroken fellowship with God.
Many of the ancient cathedrals in the old world portray in their statuary a dead or dying Christ. But Christ crucified (if no more were said) is not the gospel. The church needs a renewed awareness of Christ as victorious over death and the grave. It is the resurrection that makes the news good news. Rising triumphant over Satan's ultimate show of force, Jesus Christ is forever crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Join the triumphal parade! Celebrate the defeat of Satan, that rebel whose fate is now forever sealed.
6:11 Christ is our example. By his death he ended once for all his relationship to sin. Now he lives forever in unbroken fellowship with God. “In the same way,” wrote Paul, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). When Christ died for sin, he also died to sin. Now we are to take our place with him and regard sin as something to which we also have died. Paul was not suggesting that we imitate Christ. He was speaking of a reality that took place when we by faith were incorporated into Christ. Our responsibility is to take with all seriousness the fact that in Christ we have died to sin. Fitzmyer writes: “Ontologically united with Christ through faith and baptism, Christians must deepen their faith continually to become more and more psychologically aware of that union.” We are to consider ourselves “dead to the appeal and power of sin” (Phillips) and alive to God through our union with Christ Jesus. The very idea of responding positively to sin's invitation should strike the believer as morbid. For the Christian to choose to sin is the spiritual equivalent of digging up a corpse for fellowship. A genuine death to sin means that the entire perspective of the believer has been radically altered.
6:12 With this verse we move from a discussion of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection (vv. 1–11) to the practical implications that flow from that relationship (vv. 12–14). We move from the “indicative” to the “imperative.” The relationship between the two must neither be broken nor fused into a single unity. Sanctification separated from justification encourages legalism, while sanctification fused with justification assumes that God will do it all. The imperative challenges us to become what we are. In Christ we have died to sin and are alive to God. So we should base our daily lives on that truth and live out our days from that perspective. It follows, then, that we are no longer to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (v. 12). Sin is personified as a sovereign ruler who would make us obey the cravings of our bodies that are destined for death. But in Christ we have died to sin. Sin no longer has the authority to enforce its demands. Death has severed the relationship.
6:13 Paul spelled out in practical terms what it means to transfer our obedience from sin to God. We are no longer to place any part of our bodies at the disposal of sin to be used as an instrument of unrighteousness. If the metaphor is military, Paul was saying, “Don't let sin take command of any part of your body and use it as a weapon for evil purposes.” Instead, we are to present ourselves to God once for all as those who have been brought from death to life. Alive with Christ, we are now to put ourselves at the disposal of God. Our bodies are to be devoted to him as instruments of righteousness. “We are faced with the tremendous alternative,” writes Barclay, “of making ourselves weapons in the hand of God or weapons in the hand of sin.”
6:14 Paul brought this section to an end with the promise that sin will not rule over believers because they are not “under law, but under grace.” They are not “under law” in the sense that they have been removed from the old era in which law served to intensify sin (3:20; 4:15; 5:20). Now they are “under grace” in that they have entered the new era in which the power to overcome sin is readily attainable. For those in Adam law brings condemnation, not freedom. For those in Christ grace frees from the condemnation brought by failure to keep the law. Believers no longer live under the condemnation of the law but with the realization that God by his grace has placed them in a totally new relationship to himself.
(2) Slaves to Righteousness (6:15–23)
15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey— whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
6:15 At the beginning of the chapter we encountered the question, Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (v. 1). Now we meet a second and similar rhetorical question, Shall we sin because we are under grace rather than law? The first draws from 5:20 the mistaken inference that since law was added to increase the trespass, we ought to continue sinning so as to make grace increase all the more. The second mistakenly assumes that if we are not under law it does not really matter if we sin. The answer to both questions is a resounding, “By no means!” Grace does not free us to do anything we want. It does not provide the opportunity to live apart from all restrictions. Freedom is not the exercise of unlimited spontaneity. It means to be set free from the bondage of sin in order to live in a way that reflects the nature and character of God. The rhetorical question probably arose among Jews who felt that to be released from the jurisdiction of law would encourage the removal of all moral restraint. The answer to that fearful expectation is, By no means!
6:16–17 People obviously are the slaves of the one to whom they offer themselves to obey (v. 17). Paul set forth two masters: one is sin, and the other is obedience [to God]. There is no possibility of living without an allegiance to one or the other. “There is no absolute independence for man,” writes J. Denney; “our nature requires us to serve some master.” Unbelievers may think they are free and would have to give up that freedom should they accept Christ. Such is not the case. They are servants of sin right now. In coming to Christ they simply exchange one master for another. Servitude to sin is replaced with servitude to God. The master we obey is clear evidence of whose slaves we really are. There is no room for compromise. As Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). We also are reminded of Joshua's challenge to the Israelites at Shechem, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15).
There is a dramatic difference in the outcomes of choosing one or the other of these masters. To choose sin as a master leads to death. To choose obedience to God as master leads to righteousness (v. 16). The contrast in v. 16 is between sin and obedience. From this we may rightly infer that the essence of sin is disobedience. Sin is not simply something that we can't help doing but something we choose to do in direct violation of the will of God. It may be forgiven but it is not something that is excusable due to extenuating circumstances. The righteousness to which obedience leads is the righteousness of personal growth in spiritual maturity.
Paul gave thanks that although the believers in Rome had at one time been slaves to sin (all outside of Christ are), they had broken free from that master. They now pledged undivided allegiance to the body of teaching to which they were entrusted (v. 17). Paul may have been referring to a summary of the ethical teaching of Jesus drawn up for instructing new converts. Later in his ministry he wrote that his message should serve as “the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim 1:13). To obey “whole-heartedly” requires a willing abandonment to the truth of the message. Christian obedience is never coercive; it is always voluntary. The teaching was not entrusted to the converts but the converts to the teaching. Barrett points out that unlike the rabbis, Christians are not masters of a tradition; “they are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it.” The gospel message with all its ethical implications represents an existing body of truth into which new believers are brought by faith. The message is not brought to the converts but vice versa.
6:18 If Paul seems to have been repetitive, it is only because what he was teaching is so important. Once again in v. 18 the apostle reminded his readers in Rome that they had broken free from the slavery of sin and become the willing servants of righteousness. The freedom brought by grace does not provide carte blanche to continue in sin. On the contrary, grace places the believer under obligation to holiness and growth in righteousness.
6:19–22 Since v. 6 Paul had been personifying sin as an illegitimate slave master, one whose authority over the believer has been removed by the death of Christ. Beginning with v. 15 he expanded the analogy by contrasting the old master, sin, with the new master, righteousness. Analogies, by definition, are less than perfect. So Paul reminded his readers that he was putting the argument in human terms because of the inherent difficulties in understanding spiritual truth.
Prior to their coming to Christ, the believers at Rome had sold their bodies in slavery to impurity and “ever-increasing wickedness.” But now another transaction was in order. They were to surrender their bodies again, but this time to righteousness. Freedom is not a question of whether or not we would like to serve but the choice of which master we will serve. Righteousness leads to holiness; sin as a master promotes wickedness. Righteousness reverses the moral direction taken by sin and leads to sanctification. In both cases a process is under way. Christians who entertain sin find themselves in an ethical tug-of-war they are bound to lose. The answer to this conflict is practical; surrender your body to those activities that are good and pure rather than to those that defile.
When sin was our master, we were free from the control of righteousness (v. 20). And what benefit did we reap from that lifestyle (v. 21)? (We are now ashamed of how we lived.) We received no benefit at all, unless of course we consider the negative reward of death! But now we are set free from sin's bondage (v. 22). We have become slaves of God. And is there benefit in this? Most certainly! The reward for serving God is growth in holiness and, in the end, eternal life. In fact, apart from holiness there is no eternal life. The author to Hebrews counseled a holy life because “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Slavery to sin results in death. Slavery to righteousness leads to eternal fellowship with God. Or, in the words of Jesus, the broad road (the path of sin) leads to destruction, but the narrow road (the way of righteousness) leads to life (Matt 7:13–14).
6:23 It all comes down to this: the wages paid by sin are death, but the gift God gives is eternal life (v. 23). Not only is the contrast between death and life but also between earning and giving. Sinners earn what they receive. By obeying the impulses of sin, they are storing up the reward for sinning. Their severance check is death—eternal separation from God, who alone is life. By yielding to the impulses of righteousness, believers do not earn anything. They do, however, receive a gift—the gift of eternal life, which comes by faith through Jesus Christ their Lord.
—New American Commentary