Romans 6:1–14 (ESV)✞: Dead to Sin, Alive to God
At this point in Paul’s letter to the Romans he’s been talking about God’s Grace for a few passages. He’s demonstrated the fact that we are not saved by our own actions (that is “works”), we’re saved by God’s Grace – in fact, even after we’re saved, God doesn’t make our continued salvation contingent on obedience. He has done all of the work, so it’s not up to me.
Do I want to obey? If I’m really saved, I really do! And the Holy Spirit will help me to do so, more and more over time. But God doesn’t mandate it in the sense that failing to obey Him (or obey Him enough) would disqualify me and I’d lose my salvation. (When Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” in John 14:15✞ it wasn’t a command, it was a statement of fact.
But there’s another way humans could respond to Grace, and Paul is one step ahead of us here:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
I think we can all guess what Paul’s answer to his rhetorical question will be, but for once let me not skip ahead. Paul is anticipating a question his readers might be asking: if Grace is such a good thing, and it display’s God’s righteousness and His holiness and His love and compassion all at the same time, then… that means more sin equals more Grace, so the more I sin the better God looks!
Which is not necessarily how I’d respond to the idea of Grace (see below for how I’d be worse), but the ESV Study Bible posits that maybe Paul isn’t really asking his readers this rhetorical question so much as responding to Jewish opponents Paul had been facing:
Rom. 6:1 Paul is likely responding to a question posed regularly by his Jewish opponents. They did not raise this question so that they would have an excuse to sin, though in every age some have wrongly interpreted and applied Paul’s gospel of grace to rationalize sin. Instead, Paul’s opponents argued that his gospel must be mistaken since, in their view, it led people to continue in sin. Paul will now show why their interpretation of his gospel is mistaken.
ESV Study Bible
When I say I wouldn’t respond the way Paul is suggesting, what I mean is that my sinful heart would respond more in the way these Jewish opponents may have been responding to Paul. That is, my sinful heart might have just used Grace as an excuse to continue in sin! I don’t have to worry about the consequence of my actions because there are no consequences to my actions! At least… not for me.
And that last part shows why the Christian wouldn’t hold this kind of attitude in their hearts for long: no, there aren’t consequences to me when I sin, but there are consequences to Jesus. Every new sin I commit is another sin He has to pay for!
Which brings us to Paul’s answer to his rhetorical question.
To the great surprise of nobody, Paul doesn’t believe this is how the Christian should react to Grace:
2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
When I accepted God’s free gift of Grace, I died to sin. How, as Paul asks, could I continue to live in it?
But notice that Paul doesn’t say “how can we who died to sin ‘still sin’” – obviously we’re going to continue to sin. You can’t spend more than a day with another Christian without realising that Christians are sinful just like everyone else. We should be less sinful, with the Holy Spirit working in our lives, but we’re still sinful even with His help.
No, Paul asks how we can still live in sin; he’s referring to a deeper state of sinfulness, the type he talked about in 1:18–3:20. As a Christian I’m not like that anymore; I still sin, but I’m not defined by my sinfulness or ruled by sin in the same way I once was. So, given that, my response to salvation could never be, “let me keep on sinning so that God’s Grace would abound.”
Paul then gets metaphorical, though not as much as you might expect:
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.
Firstly, it’s important to note that Paul is not disambiguating Christians who have been baptised and Christians who haven’t been; “all of us who have been baptised” means “all of us Christians.” In Paul’s day baptism for the Christian was the similar to circumcision for male Jews in that it always happened: if you were a Jewish boy you got circumcised, and if you were a Christian you got baptised. There was no such thing as an uncircumcised Jew or an unbaptised Christian.
That being said, Paul brings up baptism for a specific reason, because it’s a sign of exactly what Paul is talking about here: our “old self” has died—has joined Jesus in dying is maybe a better way of saying it—which baptism symbolises by us going under the water1, but we have been raised into newness of life—again, we’re joining Jesus—which is symbolised in baptism by coming back out of the water.
So what’s the point? It’s still the same point: given that I’ve died to my sinful nature and am raised in newness of life, accomplished by Jesus and symbolised in my baptism, how could my desire be to continue sinning? Again (and I might say this a few more times), there will be individual occasions—lots of them!—when I choose sin over Christ, but my overall life is characterised by living in the Spirit.
Baptism is the symbol of what has happened, but Paul now goes deeper into the underlying reality:
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.
If my sinful nature has died, then I will also join Jesus in the resurrection. For Paul, this isn’t a question of “if” or of “probabilities,” it’s certain.
But even before that happens I’m already out from under my former slavery to sin:
6 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
I have an ability now that I didn’t have before I was saved: through the Holy Spirit, I can actually be righteous! Like Christ? Yes, like Christ! Fully like Christ? No, not even close. I’m still very much tainted by sin. I’m only like Christ a little bit (by my reckoning). But I am like Him in the sense that I’m not ruled by sin as I once was; I can actually live for God; I can do the right things for the right reasons.
And I can trust in this salvation from Christ, because He rose again:
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
This is one reason it’s important that we remember that Jesus is God. He wasn’t just a good man, or even an angel, but God. If Jesus were a man, or an angel, He would only be alive as long as God sustains Him; since He is God, however, He sustains Himself. He was raised from the dead, He’s alive, and He will never die again—death no longer has dominion over Him—because He is God.
In verse 10 Paul confirms yet again that Jesus’ one act was sufficient to cover all sin, so now that sin is taken care of Jesus doesn’t need to worry about it anymore – He can live his life to God.
Which is what we also should do:
11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
After all that Paul has written about the fact that we’re saved by faith and not by works, and that even after we are saved God doesn’t make our salvation contingent on our works, if we weren’t paying attention we might assume Paul doesn’t care about Christians living good lives. Nothing could be further from the truth! We need to separate what Paul teaches about the mechanics of how salvation works and what Paul teaches about the Christian life; I may not be saved through my own actions—it’s all God—but if I’m truly saved, I will be a better person, more and more as time goes on and as the Holy Spirit works in me.
So Paul has no problem whatsoever writing five chapters’ worth of explanation as to how we’re not saved by our own works, and then, in light of that, giving us an instruction as to how we should live. Given all that Paul has written so far, I must consider myself dead to sin and alive in Christ.
Firstly because… well, because it’s true! But also because it will help me to be a better Christian; if I keep this truth in mind, it better enables me to resist the pull of temptation that I still face. Which is what Paul is going to address next.
Let us never assume that all of this talk about Grace means the Christian can simply be passive; we may no longer be enslaved to sin, but that doesn’t mean sin doesn’t still seem very attractive to us!
In fact, perhaps we could directly compare this to the period of time in which the Jews were wandering in the desert after being freed from their slavery in Egypt. They had been literal slaves, they were freed from that slavery, and yet there were numerous occasions when they grumbled to Moses, saying they would have prefered to be back in Egypt as slaves rather than being “free” like this.
As a Christian I’m no longer a slave to sin, but there are lots of times when sin looks so good to me. If I’m not careful, there are moments when I can even doubt God, just like Eve did in the Garden of Eden: is it really better to obey God and avoid this sin?
Paul knows we’re like this, and he instructs us to fight this temptation:
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
As a Christian, as one who has been saved by faith, sin can only reign in my mortal body if I let it. Therefore, Paul instructs me to fight that temptation. A light reading of Romans might lead some to be confused; “Is Paul against works or isn’t he?!? How can he preach Grace and then promote works, too?” But not only is it not a contradiction, verse 14 takes it even further: Paul can give us instructions on how to live a good life because we are under Grace!
Think about it: much of Paul’s letter to the Romans thus far has shown why we weren’t able to save ourselves; we were never capable of living the kinds of lives that would be required by God. (That is: sinlessly perfect, from the moment of birth to the moment of death, unmarred by a single unrighteous act, only ever behaving in every single circumstance in the way that God Himself would behave, were He in that situation.) We simply aren’t capable of the kind of righteousness that is required by God, which is why His Grace is required to save us.
But now that we are under that Grace, and now that we’re no longer ruled by sin, we actually can live good lives. Still not perfect, God’s Grace continues to cover sins that I continue to commit, but through my faith in the work Christ did, once and for all, I’m no longer ruled by sin, so I can obey God. If God had left it all up to me, Paul could have saved his breath trying to tell me how to live; I never would have or could have obeyed. But because I’m saved by Grace, Paul actually can instruct me how to live, because I’m actually capable—through the Holy Spirit—of listening and carrying it out!
And when I fail, and don’t live up to the standards Paul has set for me, God is faithful and just to forgive. I’ll learn from my mistakes, come back to the Scriptures and read Romans and other books to remind myself how I should live, and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, try again.
- For the sake of this post I’m assuming the kind of baptism where you are submerged under the water and then come back out of it since that’s the imagery Paul is using, but I’m not at all interested in having a conversation about how baptism is “supposed” to be done. ↩