OUR UNION WITH CHRIST HAS FREED US FROM THE DOMINION OF SIN TO LIVE A NEW LIFE
God’s Grace is not a license to sin but freedom to live a new life.
The Theological Foundation and Motivation for Holy Living = Freedom from the Dominion of Sin.
Frank Thielman: God has united those who have been justified by faith with Christ’s death of atonement for sin and will fully unite them in the future with the new, immortal life that he has as a result of his resurrection from the dead. Since believers now have this new identity, they should live in a way that is consistent with it. They should consider themselves delivered from the power of sin and death and alive to God. In practical terms, this means placing their capabilities not in the service of sin with its illicit cravings and injustices but in the service of God who fights for what is just.
John Murray: The transition from one phase of teaching to another at the beginning of this chapter is quite conspicuous. In verses 12–21 of the preceding chapter the argument bearing upon justification had been brought to a climactic conclusion by instituting the parallel between Adam and Christ and on the basis of that parallel demonstrating the contrasts which the superabundance of grace brings into effective and regnant operation. The invariable combinations of sin, condemnation, and death introduced by the sin of Adam, on the one hand, and of righteousness, justification, and life emanating from the grace of God and realized through the mediation of Christ, on the other, have been set forth by way of analogy and contrast as the ruling conceptions in terms of which we are to interpret God’s dealings with men. Having brought the basic thesis of the epistle to this climactic conclusion the apostle is now prepared to unfold other elements of that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. To speak in general terms, chapter 6 deals with sanctification as the preceding chapters had dealt with justification. We are not to suppose, however, that this transition means that sanctification can be divorced either in fact or in the development of its meaning from the justification on which it rests and with which it is inseparably connected. This is evident from the reiterated references to justification in the subsequent chapters and from the way in which sanctification no less than justification springs from the efficacy of Christ’s death and the virtue of his resurrection. If the mediation of Christ is always in the forefront in justification it is likewise in sanctification.
Michael Bird: Vital for understanding the argument of Romans 6 is what Paul means by “union with Christ.” According to Constantine Campbell’s recent landmark study, Paul’s Christ-language in relation to believers — in Christ, with Christ, into Christ, etc. — is all about union, participation, identification, and incorporation into the Messiah. Paul exposits the state of our union with Christ in terms of shifting our allegiances, reshaping our identities, altering our desires, and reconfiguring our obligations, all in light of our baptism into the Messiah’s death and resurrection. As Robert Tannehill argues, union with Christ in Romans 6, at its most basic level, is about our emancipation from sin’s dominion and our entrance into the new age in Christ. In Romans 6, Paul treats union with Christ as bringing in a new exodus that releases believers from slavery to sin and puts them in service to God. . .
Paul constructs this passage around a series of exhortations that are often diatribal in form, full of comparisons, replete with rhetorical questions, and make manifold injunctions. He begins his train of thought by:
- (1) espousing the incompatibility between sin and grace (vv. 1 – 2), and
- (2) asserting that dying and rising with Christ mean freedom from sin (vv. 3 – 7);
- (3) this necessitates believers reckoning themselves to be dead to sin (vv. 8 – 11),
- (4) because believers are not under the jurisdiction of the law, but under the reign of grace (vv. 12 – 14).
I. (:1-2) PRINCIPLE OF GRACE RAISES AN OBVIOUS SHOCKING QUESTION
A. (:1) Introduction of the Obvious Shocking Question
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?”
Frank Thielman: If the Mosaic law cannot form the basis for breaking the power of sin in the believer’s life (5:20), then surely—with the law out of the picture—the believer has no basis for ethical behavior. Paul poses as a Christian interlocutor asking a hostile question in order to move the argument forward (cf. 6:15; 7:7; 9:14).
Thomas Schreiner: Paul doesn’t address any opponents specifically; the question emerges in the course of his argument. Nonetheless, the question arises because unbelieving Jews (or perhaps Jewish Christians) had often raised this objection to Paul’s gospel in the course of his ministry. The rhetorical question is included because it reflects a common complaint voiced against Paul’s gospel. The objection Paul handles here is an integral part of his argument and doesn’t represent a digression; he addresses the issue because his adversaries had often protested that his gospel led to libertinism.
B. (:2) Immediate Reaction to the Absurdity of the Shocking Question
- Immediate Emotional Reaction
“May it never be!”
Frank Thielman: Paul rejects the absurdity implied in the rhetorical question with his characteristic expression, “Certainly not!” This expression usually opens the way to the topic Paul wants to discuss, in this case the movement of believers out of the sphere of sin’s power and into the sphere of Christ’s power.
Grant Osborne: Paul denies the possibility outright. The idea that someone would claim to believe the gospel while planning to continue in sin is preposterous to Paul. He knew people would think that way and would be wrong. The point of the gospel was not to find an excuse for sin, but to give freedom from sin.
David Thompson: Since we have been declared righteous, how could we ever want to go on sinning? God has an abhorrence for sin and the more we are developing in His grace the more we too will have an abhorrence for sin. God’s grace is never to be a motive for continual sin. If we are presenting the grace of God properly, the possible argument of continuing in sin is potentially there.
- Immediate Logical Reaction
“How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Looking at remaining in the state of sin in all that we were in our solidarity with Adam.
Frank Thielman: Here in Romans 6:2, then, it is likely that the believer’s death to sin is a death to a self-centered way of life, a death made possible by God’s love, displayed in the atoning death of Christ (5:6, 8).
If this is correct, then the meaning of the preposition “in” (ἐν) here becomes clear. Believers are no longer living in the sphere of sin, that is, in its power because Christ, through his atoning death, has delivered them from sin’s overwhelming power (cf. Eph 2:1–6; Col 3:3).
John Murray: Death and life cannot coexist; we cannot be dead and living with respect to the same thing at the same time.
II. (:3-4) UNION WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM PROVES THAT WE HAVE DIED TO THE DOMINION OF SIN IN ORDER TO LIVE A NEW LIFE
A. (:3-4a) Reality of Baptism into Christ’s Death and Burial
“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,”
What is involved in having “died to sin” — Different Views:
- Immunization — sin can’t touch us anymore; our experience refutes this; no need for Romans to teach us to resist sin
- Justification only — (Haldane’s position) — must be more experiential than this because of 18
- Emancipation — Yes, but in what sense? Sin is personified throughout this section (5 ff) as reigning as a tyrannical power that commands us absolutely;
We have been delivered once for all from the penalty of sin and from its authority to dominate our life and command us
Frank Thielman: The most natural way to take Paul’s phrase, then, is less as a reference to baptism (although that must be in the background) than as a metaphorical reference to the placement of the believer, at his or her conversion, into the sphere of Christ’s power.
Thomas Schreiner: The reference to baptism is introduced as a designation for those who are believers in Christ. Since unbaptized Christians were virtually nonexistent, to refer to those who were baptized is another way of describing those who are Christians, those who have put their faith in Christ. Thus Paul is saying here that all Christians have participated in the death and burial of Christ, since all Christians had received baptism. To posit that the baptism mentioned here is simply metaphorical (Dunn 1988a: 311) or baptism in the Spirit (Lloyd-Jones 1973) rather than water baptism is incorrect. D. Moo (1991: 376) rightly observes that Paul often uses the verb βαπτίζειν (baptizein, to baptize) to refer to water baptism (1 Cor. 1:13, 14, 15, 16 [2×], 17; 12:13; 15:29; Gal. 3:27). Roman Christians would have inevitably thought of water baptism, since it was the universal initiation rite for believers in Christ. Moreover, Paul probably loosely associated baptism with water and baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), since both of these occurred at conversion. Thus the attempt to distinguish between Spirit baptism and water baptism in the Pauline writings goes beyond what Paul himself wrote. . .
Those who are baptized belong to Christ and are united with him. . . Just as the first Adam affected all human beings by introducing sin and death, so too Christ is the representative figure for those who belong to him. The reference to “our old person” (ὁ παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος, ho palaios anthrōpos) in verse 6 refers to who we were in Adam, describing existence in the old era. And Χριστός throughout this text refers to Christ as the last Adam, the representative figure for the new humanity. To be baptized into Christ is to be joined with the last Adam, the one who brings salvation in the new age. . .
Scholars are virtually unanimous that burial is mentioned because it confirms and validates that death has occurred (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3–4). Burial is not mentioned to distinguish it from death as a separate entity. Death and burial together constitute a formula (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3–4) to indicate death (Fazekaš 1966: 308). . .
We died with Christ in baptism in that we are united with him in his once-for-all death. Because we are incorporated into Christ, his death becomes ours. At baptism (i.e., conversion) the death of Christ becomes ours because we share the benefits of his death by virtue of our incorporation into him. Paul’s argument, then, is that grace cannot possibly lead believers to sin more because by dying with Christ the power of sin has been definitively broken.
John Murray: (1) The appeal to baptism certifies that the readers of the epistle were aware of the place and importance of baptism in the Christian profession. It was the sign and seal of membership in the body of Christ, and the apostle assumes that the believers at Rome did not call in question the necessity and privilege of this seal of their status as Christians, an index of the fact that baptism was reckoned to be a note of the Christian church. This was a tenet beyond controversy. (2) Baptism “into Christ Jesus” means baptism into union with Christ. To be baptized “into Moses” (I Cor. 10:2) is to be baptized into the discipleship of Moses or into the participation of the privileges which the Mosaic economy entailed. To be baptized “into the name of Paul” (I Cor. 1:13) is to be baptized into the discipleship of Paul, a suggestion which Paul violently rejects. To be baptized “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19) is to be baptized into the fellowship of the three persons of the Godhead.
Hence baptism into Christ signifies simply union with him and participation of all the privileges which he as Christ Jesus embodies.
B. (:4b) Reality of Baptism into Christ’s Resurrection and Newness of Life
“in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Frank Thielman: The term “newness” (καινότης) connotes startling freshness, a quality in something that makes it unlike anything else of its type. This term could describe the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, the beauty of Pericles’s speeches, or the strategic cleverness of the siege engine (2 Kgs 8:53 LXX; Plutarch, Per. 13.3; 27:3). Paul’s focus, then, lies on the qualitative break between the believer’s old life under the reign of death and sin (Rom 5:17, 21) and the new life of union with Christ (cf. Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:15; 4:24).
Thomas Schreiner: The reference to newness betokens an eschatological reality, for Paul speaks of a new covenant (1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), a new humanity (Eph. 2:15; 4:24), and newness of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6).
John Murray: Death to sin is not of itself an adequate characterization of the believer’s identity; it is basic and it is the fundamental premise of the argument. But death to sin is but the precondition of that life which is the final issue of grace (cf. 5:15, 17, 18, 21). And baptism as signifying union with Christ (vs. 3) must mean also union with Christ in his resurrection and therefore in his resurrection life. This explains the purpose which burial with Christ is represented as fulfilling. We cannot be partakers of Christ’s resurrection life unless we are partakers of his death, and death is certified and confirmed in burial.
III. (:5-10) UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH GUARANTEES OUR NEW LIFE
A. (:5-7) Because We Have Been Freed from the Dominion of Sin
- (:5) Union with Christ Extends to His Resurrection
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death,
certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,”
Frank Thielman: The perfect-tense indicative verb translated “we are” (γεγόναμεν) emphasizes the continuing effects of the past decision of Paul’s readers to believe the gospel. They continue to be united to the likeness of Jesus’s death in the present.
Thomas Schreiner: here Christ’s resurrection as an eschatological event penetrates and affects the present lives of believers. Thus those who are baptized (i.e., converted) experience the impact of Christ’s death and resurrection in their present existence. Believers are enabled to walk in newness of life because the power of Christ’s resurrection has become theirs by virtue of their union with Christ. Through Christ’s resurrection the power of the eschaton has entered the present evil age. This does not mean that believers have fully experienced the age to come, for they still await the resurrection of the body (Rom. 8:10–11, 23–25). Hence, there is significant eschatological reservation here. Nonetheless, the glorious power of the resurrection (6:4) has grasped those who belong to Christ, enabling them to walk in a new way.
John Murray: Grace reigns only through the mediation of Christ and this mediation is operative for us through union with him in the efficacy of his death and the virtue of his resurrection.
- (:6) No Longer Slaves to Sin’s Power
“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him,
that our body of sin might be done away with,
that we should no longer be slaves to sin;”
Frank Thielman: The “body of sin” (Tyndale, KJV, NASB, ESV, NET) then, is not “the sinful body” (Luther, RSV, NAB) if one takes that to mean an existence that is sinful precisely because it is embodied. It is instead the body in its susceptibility to sin, “the self which belonged to sin,” in the rendering of the NJB. God has “rendered” this self “powerless” for believers through their crucifixion with Christ and so broken their bondage to sin.
Thomas Schreiner: the word σῶμα (body) is used because the body is the means by which sin is concretely accomplished (cf. 6:12–13). The purpose is not to say that the body is intrinsically evil or that sin exists because of physical bodies. Against this latter notion is the emphasis on Christ being raised from the dead. Rather, the body is the emblem of sin that has dominated those who are in Adam (7:24; 8:10). Believers have died with Christ so that the sinful body would no longer exercise mastery (6:6).
- (:7) Freed from the Dominion of Sin
“for he who has died is freed from sin.”
Frank Thielman: The principle that physical death puts people beyond the reach of sin’s power demonstrates the principle in effect in the union of the believer with Christ’s death. This union, too, breaks sin’s power over believers.
Thomas Schreiner: believers will not experience perfect deliverance from sin in this age so that they never sin at all. What has been shattered is not the presence of sin but its mastery over believers. As Thiselton (2016: 143) says, “Paul does not say that Christians cannot in fact sin, but that sin cannot (logical cannot) be a ruling principle for Christians.”
Paul uses a number of expressions to show that he is speaking of sin’s dominion being broken instead of perfect sinlessness. As sons and daughters of Adam, we were slaves to sin, but now we are free from its tyranny (Rom. 6:6). Death no longer “rules” (κυριεύει, kyrieuei, v. 9) over Christ. Believers must not “let sin reign” (βασιλευέτω, basileuetō, v. 12). There is the assurance that sin “will not rule” (κυριεύσει, kyrieusei, v. 14) over those in Christ. Believers were previously “slaves” (δοῦλοι, douloi) to sin (v. 16), but now they are “free” from its slavery (v. 18; cf. vv. 20, 22). From all of this we can conclude that Rom. 6 teaches that believers are not free from the presence of sin, but they are free from its power, tyranny, mastery, and dominion. The already-but-not-yet character of Paul’s eschatology shows that believers have already been liberated from the mastery of sin, but they have not yet reached the eschaton. They still battle the presence of sin until the day of redemption.
John Murray: The decisive breach with the reigning power of sin is viewed after the analogy of the kind of dismissal which a judge gives when an arraigned person is justified. Sin has no further claim upon the person who is thus vindicated. This judicial aspect from which deliverance from the power of sin is to be viewed needs to be appreciated. It shows that the forensic is present not only in justification but also in that which lies at the basis of sanctification. A judgment is executed upon the power of sin in the death of Christ (cf. John 12:31) and deliverance from this power on the part of the believer arises from the efficacy of this judgment.
B. (:8-10) Because There Is No Possibility of Double Jeopardy
- (:8) Our Connection with Both Christ’s Death and Resurrection
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,”
John Murray: Dying with Christ is assumed and the inference is drawn that we shall also live with him. Two features of this inference are worthy of note.
- (1) The certitude of faith in this result is indicated in “we believe”. It is an article of faith, not of conjecture, that the life of Jesus’ resurrection belongs to those who have been united with Christ in his death.
- (2) The future tense, “we shall live” does not refer exclusively to the future resurrection state but, as found above (cf. vs. 5), points to the certainty of participation in the resurrection life of Christ here and now; it is the life of Spiritual, mystical union. No doubt the resurrection of the body is the ultimate fruition of this union. But we may not restrict the thought to that hope.
- (:9) Christ’s Ultimate Triumph over Death
“knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.”
Thomas Schreiner: His resurrection signaled his triumph over sin and death, and those in Christ share that victory with him. Never again will death reign over Christ, since his resurrection demonstrates that he has defeated death forever.
John Murray: This verse expresses the ground upon which the assurance of living together with Christ is entertained. There can be suspension or interruption of participation in Christ’s resurrection life or reversion to death in sin no more than can the fact of Jesus’ resurrection be negated or repeated. . . The finality of the resurrection of Christ, emphasized here in the strongest terms, certifies again the decisiveness of the breach with the power of sin which is the burden of this passage. The believer is not regarded as dying and rising with Christ again and again. Undoubtedly there is process and progression in the believer’s life and this may properly be understood as progressive realization of the implications and claims of having died and risen with Christ. But the dying and rising with Christ are not viewed as process but as definitive and decisive event and can no more be construed as continuous process than can the death and resurrection of Christ himself.
- (:10) Christ’s Once-for-all Death to Sin Yielding Continual Living to God
“For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all;
but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”
Thomas Schreiner: By saying that Jesus died to sin, Paul does not imply that Jesus was himself sinful. Instead, as the last Adam he voluntarily experienced death as the consequence of sin in order to break sin’s dominion. Now that the twin powers of sin and death have been defeated, Christ lives his life unto God. He has been raised from the dead and lives for the glory of God. The thrust of Paul’s argument, then, is that since believers are incorporated into Christ (Thüsing 1965: 72–75), they will certainly live together with him in resurrection power. They can be assured of this because by dying to sin Christ defeated both sin and death. His resurrection was the seal of his victory and the promise of life for believers.
John Murray: It was by his own dying that he destroyed the power of sin, and in his resurrection he entered upon a state that was not conditioned by sin. There is good reason to believe that it is this victory over sin as power that the apostle has in view when he says that Christ “died to sin once”. And it is because Christ triumphed over the power of sin in his death that those united to him in his death die to the power of sin and become dead to sin (vss. 2, 11).
IV. (:11) APPLICATION: BELIEVE IT!
A. Believe You Are Dead to the Dominion of Sin
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin,”
Frank Thielman: The union of believers with Christ has applied Christ’s atoning death and defeat of sin to them, but their minds and hearts need constantly to attend to this truth so that they might live in a way that is consistent with it.
Grant Osborne: A New Start
Count yourselves dead to sin means that we should regard our old sinful nature as dead and unresponsive to sin. Because of our union and identification with Christ, we are no longer obligated to follow through with those old motives, desires, and goals. So let us consider ourselves to be what God has, in fact, made us. We have a new start, and the Holy Spirit will help us become what Christ has declared us to be.
John Schultz: If we count ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God, we are not following a figment of our imagination, we are aligning our mind to reality. The words “do not let sin reign in your mortal body” imply that we have the authority to refuse sin entrance into life. We are not only under no obligation to obey our sinful tendencies, but we have been given the power in our fellowship with God to deny sin any access.
B. Believe You Are Alive to God
- Living a New Life to God
“but alive to God”
Bob Deffinbaugh: Our identification with Christ does not end in death to sin; it extends to our participation in His resurrection to a new kind of life. Not only does sin have no claim on us, but in our union with Christ we have been raised to a newness of life. Sin no longer has dominion over us and we now have a new kind of life, a life which is capable of manifesting the righteousness of Christ. Positionally, we are dead to sin and alive to God. Practically we dare not fall back under the dominion of sin, but must manifest a newness of life (cf. Colossians 3:1-13).
On the basis of our position in Christ, Paul can not only cast aside any talk of continuing in sin, but can exhort us to demonstrate our position by the practice of personal righteousness. . .
- All Accomplished Through Our Union with Christ
“in Christ Jesus.”
Right Thinking is the Theological Fouundation and Motivation for Holy Living –
- not trying to persuade yourself that it is true; it IS true!
John Murray: This verse is hortatory. “Reckon yourselves” is imperative rather than indicative. What is commanded needs to be carefully noted. We are not commanded to become dead to sin and alive to God; these are presupposed. And it is not by reckoning these to be facts that they become facts. The force of the imperative is that we are to reckon with and appreciate the facts which already obtain by virtue of union with Christ. The expression “dead unto sin” implies an abiding state or condition resultant upon the once-for-all decisive event of having died to sin by union with Christ in the efficacy of his death. And the complementation of “dead unto sin” and “alive unto God,” as parallel to Christ’s death to sin and life to God (vs. 10), implies that the life to God is of abiding continuance just as being dead to sin is. The security and permanence of this life to God are insured by the fact that it is “in Christ Jesus” the life is maintained.
John Owens used to say a pastor has only 2 problems:
- persuading unbelievers they are under the dominion of sin
- persuading believers they are not under the dominion of sin