Romans 6:1–11 is part of the lectionary readings for the third Sunday after Pentecost, which is June 21st. In 5:12–21, Paul drew a parallel between Adam and Jesus. At the dawn of history, Adam rebelled against the Creator by deliberately violating His specific command. As a result, the entire human race became alienated from God.
Whereas Adam’s transgression brought condemnation to all humanity, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice brought forgiveness and new life to all who trusted in Him. The Mosaic Law was added so that an awareness and acts of trespass might increase.
Also, where sin increased, grace increased considerably more. Similarly, the more people became conscious of their hopeless condition and their capacity to sin, the greater the opportunity for God’s grace to do its work of justification.
Apparently, Paul’s detractors reasoned that since God’s grace increased when sin was prevalent, people should deliberately plant their lives in the soil of iniquity so that His undeserved kindness could blossom even more (6:1). The apostle used a rhetorical question-and-answer technique to challenge and reject the validity of this premise.
Also, throughout this chapter, Paul personified sin as a despotic power terrorizing it victims. The apostle noted that through faith in the Messiah, believers became dead to sin and its chokehold. Due to this reality, it was unthinkable for them to adopt an immoral lifestyle.
The Greek verb translated “died” (v. 2) is in a tense indicating that believers spiritually expired at a specific point in the past, that is, when they were redeemed. Theologically speaking, when a person trusted in Jesus, he or she perished to sin at that moment.
In this context, death implied separation. For instance, spiritual death was separation from God, whereas physical death was separation of the soul from the body. Accordingly, dying to sin involved being separated from its controlling power and influence. The Father’s grace, offered in the Son, made this new reality possible.
Paul elaborated that Christians were “baptized into” (v. 3), or united with, the Messiah in His “death.” This also included being joined with Jesus in His burial and resurrection.
The apostle stated that the Father’s glorious power “raised” (v. 4) the Son “from the dead.” Previously, in 1:4, Paul disclosed that Jesus was resurrected by the Spirit’s power and shown to be the “Son of God.”
Now, as a result of Christians being united with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection, they too were literally raised to “newness of life” (6:4). Also, it was in this regenerate state that the Creator wanted them to abide and walk.
Because of the believers’ baptismal union with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection, they have died to sin’s power and have been raised to “new life.” A corresponding truth is that they are “born again” (John 3:3) or “born from above.” This refers to the Spirit recreating the repentant sinner’s fallen human nature through the “washing of rebirth” (Titus 3:5).
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead makes the regeneration of the lost possible (1 Pet 1:3). The emphasis is on a life that has a fresh, vibrant, and everlasting quality. Just as Jesus’ resurrection body had a newness never seen before, so too the new life the Creator bestows on repentant, believing sinners is one characterized by spiritual vitality.
Paul continued to build his case by providing more details on the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the destruction of sin’s power in the believer’s life. The apostle emphasized that since believers were baptismally united with Jesus in a death resembling His, they would also be joined with Him in a resurrection resembling His (Rom 6:5).
On one level, Paul was referring to the believers’ future bodily resurrection. On another level, the apostle had in mind the believers’ present baptismal union with Jesus (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12; 3:1). This emphasis is made clear in Romans 6:6, where Paul argued that the believers’ death and resurrection with Jesus was to be understood as their dying to sin and experiencing newness of life in submission to God.
Paul said that the believers’ “old self” (literally, “old man”) was crucified with Jesus. The apostle was referring to everything the progeny of Adam had been before trusting in Jesus for salvation (5:12, 17, 19).
Specifically, before their conversion, the unregenerate were enslaved to sin (3:9), irreverent (5:6), and God’s enemies (v. 10). In short, the “old self” (6:6) pointed to an individual’s fallen state under the prior regime before being born from above (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9).
As a result of the Christians’ baptismal union with the Son, their entire person was metaphysically nailed to the cross. Furthermore, this broke the rule of sin over repentant, believing sinners. Paul depicted sin as an evil taskmaster whose reign was brought to nothing, with the outcome being that believers would no longer remain under sin’s dominion.
In Romans 6:6, Paul literally made reference to the “body of sin.” It would be incorrect to conclude from this phrase that the physical human body was intrinsically evil. The apostle was simply referring to the entirety of a human being as dominated by rebellion.
In particular, the physical body became the vehicle through which iniquity was accomplished. Metaphorically speaking, the body was sin’s playground.
The above was the deplorable condition of Adam’s descendants prior to experiencing the new birth and becoming the Messiah’s followers. After the believers’ conversion and their entering the era of the new covenant, the brutal control of sin in their lives was abolished.
Verse 7 reiterates that because sin was made impotent, it ceased having any legal right to exercise its unchallenged authority in the lives of believers. By God’s grace, they could now choose to live as His freed people.
In verses 8 through 11, Paul further developed what it means to be dead to sin and alive to God. The apostle affirmed that because of the Christians’ baptismal union with Jesus in His death and resurrection, they were raised to a new quality of life (v. 8). This was a present reality that would be fully realized at Jesus’ second advent.
When the lost put their faith in the Son, they began to share in His resurrection life. Since Jesus conquered the grave, He would never die again (Acts 2:24). Also, because Jesus was forever removed from death’s sphere of influence, it no longer had any dominion over Him (Rom 6:9).
On the one hand, Jesus died to sin once and for all time (Heb 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). On the other hand, the Son now perpetually lived to bring glory to the Father (Rom 6:10).
There were profound implications to the objective, historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection. First, believers were joined with Him by faith.
Second, on the basis of the preceding truth, Jesus’ followers were to continually regard themselves as dead to the controlling power of sin. Expressed differently, they were to give no more response to the lure of sin than a deceased individual could provide. Third, the new birth Christians experienced in baptismal union with the Son was the basis for the Spirit enabling them to bring glory to the Father (v. 11).
In verses 12 through 14, Paul shifted his attention to the practical application of what he had just said. Specifically, believers were to conform their behavior to the reality of their new birth.
The apostle portrayed sin as a slave driver who exercised dominion over the “mortal body” (v. 12). Paul exhorted believers not to permit this type of control to continue over their thoughts, emotions, and actions. After all, the power of sin, though comparable to a tyrannical master, had been shattered as a result of the Christians’ baptismal union with Jesus.
When believers yielded to sin, they also surrendered to the depraved passions it spawned. These impulses were usually manifest in and through one’s physical body.
The good news is that Jesus provided all that His followers needed to resist their sinful enticements. In sum, their baptismal union with the Messiah was the basis for their victory.
Believers were not to relinquish any part of their bodies to sin’s control, which often used a person’s body like a weapon for despicable ends. Instead, Jesus’ followers were to present every aspect of their lives in service to the Creator for upright purposes (v. 13).
Put another way, rather than be slaves of evil, Christians were to be bondservants who pleased and glorified God. Doing so was in keeping with the fact that He had spiritually regenerated believers and placed them under the dominion of His “grace” (v. 14), rather than the Mosaic “law.”
God instituted the Law centuries earlier so that the awareness of trespasses might increase (Rom 5:20; 1 Cor 15:56). Now, in connection with God’s undeserved kindness, believers had the freedom to live according to a higher principle, namely, one rooted in the resurrection life of the Messiah and the new era of salvation He inaugurated.
Paul had just affirmed that believers were no longer under the authority and condemnation of the Mosaic Law (Rom 6:14). He sensed, though, that his detractors might allege they could throw off all moral restraint and act autonomously.
In response, the apostle tersely renounced the idea that God’s grace sanctioned believers to indulge in sin with impunity (v. 15). After all, they had exchanged sin as their master for righteousness (or behavior approved by God).
Paul revealed that people were “slaves” (v. 16) to whomever they served—whether it be to “sin,” which resulted in “death” (that is, eternal separation from God), or “obedience,” which resulted in “righteousness” (John 8:34–36).
In the first century a.d., Roman slaves were often devalued as individuals, as well as stripped of ordinary rights and privileges. Many times, they were considered nothing more than property owned by a master, much like cattle or horses.
Owners could name slaves, like livestock. Often slaves would carry the name of the master (some were even branded with the master’s name) and left with no identity of their own.
When the master died, however, his power and influence did as well. A slave would be set free from the owner’s control when the master died. This served as a fitting illustration of the believers’ metaphysical death and resurrection in baptismal union with the Savior.
Paul acknowledged that prior to their conversion, his readers had been enslaved to “sin” (Rom 6:17). Yet, the apostle expressed thanks to the Creator for bringing about their spiritual rebirth.
Through the proclamation of the gospel, the believers in Rome had been “entrusted” with apostolic “teaching.” In turn, they enthusiastically received these truths and heeded them. Paul’s readers were not just emulating external, ritual obedience, but demonstrating an inner, unequivocal commitment to follow the Savior’s commands and serve His followers (Rom 1:5–6; 15:18; 16:26; 1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2; Jas 2:8).
Now that Paul’s readers (along with all Christians) were unshackled from “sin” (Rom 6:18), they had become enslaved to “righteousness” (meaning they submitted to God’s holy standards). Others could see that these adherents of the new “covenant” (Jer 31:33) had God’s “law” placed deep within them and His instructions written on their “hearts.”
Paul rejected any notion of a compromising, neutral position for believers, especially since the two respective options were quite different from each other (Matt 6:24). One type of bondage was ruthless and led to eternal separation from the Creator. The other form of servitude was kind and benevolent, resulting in uprightness and reconciliation with God. One required involuntary subjection, whereas the other involved willing bondservants who obeyed because they were motivated by God’s love.
In the closing verses of Romans 6, Paul expressed regret for speaking in somewhat inadequate everyday language (v. 19). He recognized the deficiency of describing a personal relationship with a gracious God in terms of enslavement.
Yet, the apostle discerned his readers were limited in their capacity—whether it was to overcome the sinful nature or to understand a complex theological subject. For that reason, Paul affirmed the value of using the analogy of slavery.
Admittedly, believers were not in cruel bondage to God as unbelievers, who were enslaved to sin. Still, the concept of slavery was appropriate in that it reflected what people truly served, either sin or righteousness. So, Paul sought to draw a strong contrast between the lifestyles of unbelievers and those of Christians.
To emphasize his point, the apostle reiterated what he had said in verses 16 and 17. At one time, his readers (along with all believers) surrendered every aspect of their lives to moral filth. They also offered themselves to “wickedness” (v. 19), with the result that they compulsively engaged in one evil act after another.
Now that Paul’s readers were born again, they were to present themselves as slaves who sought to please God by living uprightly. The outcome literally was their “sanctification.” The underlying Greek noun refers to a progressive growth in moral purity.
At the moment of salvation, Christians became holy in a legal sense, for they were declared righteous in God’s eyes. That event was called justification.
Then, throughout their lives, the Spirit worked to bring the believers’ moral condition into conformity with their legal status. He helped to make them actually holy. This process was called sanctification.
By way of analogy, if justification was the root of the believers’ salvation, then sanctification was the fruit. Or, if justification symbolized the pool in which Christians swam, sanctification represented their effort to do so in the Spirit’s power.
On one level, sanctification was a settled truth that God produced (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 1 Thess 5:23; Heb 2:11). On another level, believers were to submit to the Creator’s will to become increasingly holy (Phil 2:12–13; 1 Thess 4:3).
Being dedicated entirely to God had implications for the conduct of believers. For instance, they were to keep away from all forms of iniquity, injustice, and immorality.
When God declared repentant, believing sinners to be righteous, His intent was not only to save them from His wrath, but also to make it possible for them to live in a way that brought Him honor. As Paul explained in Galatians 2:20, because of the Christians’ baptismal union with the Savior, their old sinful state was “crucified,” and now they shared in Jesus’ resurrection power.
The above truth did not mean the believers’ old nature was completely eradicated. Yet, it did mean that by continuing to trust in the Messiah, they could limit the power of sin and even experience victory over it (1 John 5:4–5). So, rather than lead to increased iniquity, the Christians’ baptismal union with the Son enabled them to live in a holy manner.
In Romans 6:20, Paul once more indicated that slavery to sin and to righteousness were mutually exclusive options. One could not simultaneously operate in both domains (vv. 13, 16).
How much better it was, then, to be solely enslaved to God and committed to His upright moral standards (vv. 20–22). After all, bondage to sin marred one’s earthly sojourn with disgrace and resulted in death.
In contrast, believers were forgiven by God and committed to do what was right. The final outcome was “eternal life” with the Creator.
“Wages” (v. 23) translates a Greek noun that refers to the money paid for the services a laborer or soldier performed. With respect to “sin,” the compensation it disbursed was eternal separation from God in a place of great suffering (Luke 16:24–25). In contrast, the Father offered “eternal life” (Rom 3:23) as His abundant “gift” to those who were baptismally united to the Son by faith and operated in the power of the Spirit.
Key ideas to contemplate
There are three aspects of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that Paul seized upon to teach his readers in Rome. Perhaps it would be beneficial if we, too, seized upon the apostle’s teaching and retraced the steps in which we are justified by grace through faith.
1. Baptism to death. Paul pointed out that Christians were baptized into Jesus’ death (Rom 6:3). We are united with Him in His death and burial so that we may also be united with Him in His resurrection, which is the key to our new life (v. 4). In other words, believers have metaphysically died to sin and have been raised to newness of life.
Paul went on to say, “consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). The transforming power of the Father’s grace will help us to think about our old, sinful way of life as dead and buried. We can treat the wayward yearnings and temptations of the old nature as being dead.
2. Walk in newness of life. Paul explained that “as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Since we no longer live under sin’s power, and are no longer slaves to our sinful nature, we can now choose to live for Jesus as His regenerate followers.
Because we have been baptismally united with the Son by faith in His resurrection life, we have an unbroken relationship with the Father, one that brings us love, joy, and peace. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, we live a fresh, new way of life in union with the Son.
3. Resurrection like that of Jesus. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so believers are raised to newness of life. In fact, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection give believers a picture of their old self dying, being buried, and resurrected to new life.