Union with Christ (Romans 6:1-14)

Paul here described a great reversal. We who were dead through Adam lived in sin. Now we who are alive through Jesus are dead to sin.

All this flows from the fact that our union with Jesus is in fact a real (not merely symbolic) union. We were bonded to Jesus so that His death was ours, and His resurrection ours as well. In this union our "old self" died to sin. A new self was created that is "alive to God in Christ Jesus." This new self is intended to live a righteous life.

Paul calls on us Christians to acknowledge by faith the reality of our death and new life, and to "not let" sin reign. As those who have been brought from death to life, we are to offer ourselves to God "as instruments of righteousness." We who relate to God through grace rather than Law will not be mastered by sin.

These few verses in Romans 6 are pivotal in the Book of Romans and in our lives. In Romans they serve to shift our gaze from what Jesus' death means for us in our standing with God, to consider what Jesus' death means for us in our present experience. And as pivotal verses, they deserve a closer look.

Romans 6 Revisited: Romans 6:1-14

In Romans 1-5 the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of peace with God. Christ's redemption, received by faith, offers the forgiveness of sins.

Now, writing in the distinctive form of the diatribe, in which the writer inserts periodic objections which an imaginary opponent may make, and then answers them, Paul raised an important question. What shall we conclude from this promise of a salvation by faith, and an imputed righteousness? "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (Romans 6:1) That is, is the assurance of forgiveness a license to sin? Some might even go further. Since our sin seems to give God the chance to display His grace, shall we go on sinning so that even greater displays of grace might take place?

Paul responded to this idea with an exclamation: "By no means!" We might paraphrase it as an explosive, "Never!" And Paul says, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

What happened to the sin nature?

Paul's exclamation, and the verses which immediately follow, are the key to understanding the victory over sin which Christ has won for us.

Historically, there have been many different approaches to the "victorious Christian life." Each of them is related to a particular idea of what has happened to the Christian's sin nature.

* Eradication.

According to this theory, when a person becomes a Christian the sin nature itself dies. This means that the very capacity to sin is removed; whatever a Christian desires or chooses must flow from the new in him and not the old. Our common experience as well as the Bible's promise of continued forgiveness makes it plain that this theory does not fit the facts.

* Suppression.

According to this theory, when a person becomes a Christian he or she is given the power to control the sin nature. The capacity and the desire for sin are still present, but the Christian is responsible to hold down that desire.

In this approach a great deal of emphasis is placed on the Law as a tool for suppression. Guided by the Law's demands, and always aware of his own personal responsibility, the individual fights for mastery over his old self.

This grim struggle is something that Paul described in Romans 7. The apostle himself apparently once took this route—and failed.

* Self-crucifixion.

Noting that we were crucified with Christ (see Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20), this approach to the Christian life visualizes our sin nature as something that struggles to get off the cross again. It is the believer's responsibility, then, to live the "crucified life." Each temptation calls for renewed surrender to God.

At times this approach to Christian living has led individuals to see every human desire and pleasure as an indication of sin. When this happens, they have been led into a joyless life of denying themselves those very things which God gives us "richly . . . to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17, kjv).

* Penalism.

This approach views all temptations as attacks of Satan. The problem is never located within us; it's always the fault of Satan. The right response to Satan's attack is rejection. We are to resist Satan on the authority of Jesus, who at the cross won final victory over His enemy and ours, the devil.

But what Paul taught in Romans 6 is different from each of these four ideas. Paul's argument rested on a unique understanding of what did happen at the cross. And Paul taught us a unique way to respond when we sense sin's inner pull; a way that promises a freedom such as we have never known!

This way of release is based on the realization that through Christ's work on the cross our sin nature was rendered powerless. Oh, it still exists. And it still pulls us toward evil. But we do not have to respond. We are no longer slaves to sin!

Union (Romans 6:1-4)

Paul began here with the concept of identification, of our union with Christ. Paul's point was that this union with Jesus is not merely "legal" but is real. Because we who believe are now "in" Christ, His death was our death, and His resurrection was our resurrection.

Being "in Christ" is the very root and essence of the new life of the Christian. We have passed from death to life (the powers of death have no hold on us anymore). We are not "in the flesh," or "in sin" anymore. It is as if we were citizens of a new country—in Christ.

This being the case, we have a share in Christ's triumph over the forces of death and hell. As they could not hold Him in their power, they no longer hold us in their power. The Cross, irradiated with the light of Easter morning, is the fundamental fact which will determine not only the history of the cosmos but our own personal history as well.

Chart: Romans 6:1-14

What Identification Means

How We Respond to Find Victory

I. Union with Christ in His death.

I. Understand what union with Jesus means.

Sin in our bodies is rendered inoperative, robbed of its lordship.

We were crucified with Christ that the dominance over the body of our sin nature might be rendered inoperative.

II. Union with Christ in His resurrection.

II. Believe (count what God says as true: "reckon").

We are made alive with Christ, free to serve God.

Stop turning yourself over to sin. Trust God's promise that you no longer must sin.

III. Act on what you believe.
Present yourselves to God rather than to sin and do His will.

"Old self" (Romans 6:5-10)

This crucifixion of the "old self" (a term for the sin nature) did not eradicate the old desires or motives. They continue to betray our "place of origin," as a tell-tale accent marks our speech. The crucifixion of the "old self" did not remove the pull of temptation. Instead, what happened was that the "body of sin" (that whole package of old and warped responses) was rendered powerless or inoperative (Romans 6:6). We will still feel the temptations, but are not in their power. Our days of slavery are ended. We are now free to choose the good.

Like Jesus, you and I are now alive to God, and we can choose to live for Him.

Response to sin (Romans 6:11-14)

How is the believer who feels a temptation to sin to respond? Paul's answer is, with faith. For salvation is a matter of "faith from first to last" (Romans 1:17).

We are to consider ourselves to be dead to sin (Romans 6:11). In other words, consider what God says about the "death" of your sin nature in respect to its power over you to be true. Realize you do not have to surrender to your temptations. Then, with full trust in the life that Jesus has given us, actively yield yourself to God, surrendering all to Him for acts of righteousness. In essence, we are to step out and do what is right, confident that as we obey the Lord, He will strengthen and enable us.

Donald Grey Barnhouse used to give this analogy to explain. He told of a crew whose captain went mad and was replaced in mid-voyage by the first mate. Now the old captain had no authority; the new captain was the one to be obeyed. Yet Barnhouse suggested that the crew might very well find itself jumping to obey when the old captain shouted out his orders. What the crew had to do was to constantly remember that the old captain need no longer be obeyed, and learn to respond to the voice of the new.

It's like this with us, Barnhouse suggested. Our old natures will keep on shouting out orders. But they have been stripped of all authority over us. We can obey them, but we do not have to. What we must do is to listen for the voice of our new Captain, Jesus, and choose to obey Him. He and He alone is to be obeyed, for the sin nature no longer can rule our lives.

The truths that Paul presented here in these early verses of Romans 6 do promise us a victory and freedom of which many have only dreamed. And the practical implications of this teaching are astonishing.

The past is now powerless

One of our greatest bondages has been to our past. In a very real way, our pasts determine our futures. The habits we've developed and the tastes we've cultivated have "programmed" our personalities. Each time we surrender to a temptation, we make it harder to resist the next time. Each sin in which we have indulged has paved the way for the next.

But that whole cluster of programmed responses was dealt with on the cross! We still feel the pull. But our future choices are no longer determined by those bad decisions we made in the past. "I can't help myself" is no longer true!

We have so many ways to talk about the bondage we experienced in the past. "I can't stop myself" is a cry that expresses hopelessness. So is, "The temptation is more than I can bear." No matter how true such statements may have been once, they are no longer true. Now, at last, there is release and hope.

On the solid basis of God's own Word I am assured that the power of the past over my present has been broken by Jesus. And I choose, by faith, to act upon that good word.

The next time inner conflict comes, I will present myself to God and let His righteousness find expression in me.

Teaching Guide


Study carefully Romans 6, looking especially at the verbs in verses Romans 6:8-14. What do they tell you about our part in claiming the victory Christ won for us on the cross?


1. Put these statements on the chalkboard: "I can't help myself," and "The temptation is more than I can bear."

Ask each person to think of times when he or she has felt that way, and to identify what most likely stimulated those feelings in him or her.

Then promise that in this study you will together find a way to avoid such failures.

2. Use the "Link to Life 2" suggestion to work together toward a definition of saving faith from Romans 4.

When that definition has been determined, explain that since the believer is to live a life of faith "from first to last," faith plays a key part in the victory Christ has promised over sin in our lives.


1. You may wish to define key theological terms found in this section of Romans. You can do this in a minilecture or as a participatory activity, outlined in "Link to Life 1".

2. Or go directly to Romans 6. In a minilecture cover the four concepts of "what happens to the sin nature" discussed in the commentary. Give out copies of Chart: Romans 6:1-14. Ask each person to locate and underline in Romans 6:1-14 verses or phrases on which each item on the chart is based.

Form teams to discuss insights, and any questions individuals may have.

Conclude with a summary, using the "old captain" illustration the author includes. The main point is that we are no longer bound to sin: we are now free to choose to obey God. We can yield to temptation, but we no longer can say we "have to" or "can't help it."


Ask each person to remember the temptation each identified at the beginning of the group meeting. Ask each, without revealing the problem, to write down what he or she is going to do next time the temptation arises.

Then have several share these steps. Close in prayer, thanking God for victory and the freedom that now is ours to obey Him.

See Also

174. Who is Man? (New Testament Truths)

—Teacher's Commentary