From The Grace New Testament Commentary (Revised Edition)
By Zane Hodges
Our Union with Christ in His Death and Resurrection (6:1-11)
6:1-2. Paul dismisses a false conclusion. Should we continue in sin so that grace may become greater? Far from it! Such a conclusion is unthinkable precisely because Christians have died to sin. Significantly, the concept of dying to sin is here introduced for the first time in Romans. It will be elaborated in the material that immediately follows.
It is evident from Paul’s following discussion that our death to sin does not make it impossible for us to commit sin. Paul uses the metaphor for death, not to indicate that all sin has been eliminated from our lives, but (as we shall see) that we are no longer in bondage to it.
On the other hand, Paul will go on to teach that if we do continue in sin, it will not be an experience of life but rather of death (see 8:13 and the discussion there).
The words How shall we who have died to sin still live in it, convey the thought of something that is totally inappropriate for a Christian person. It is much as we might say, “How can loyal Americans cheat on their taxes?”
It is utterly unsuitable that believers in Jesus Christ should go on living their lives in sin.
6:3. Many interpreters see water baptism here. But we know that baptism by the Holy Spirit was a doctrine profoundly significant to Paul. It is what forms the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Thus our spiritual union with Jesus Christ is affected by the Holy Spirit’s baptism, and it is precisely to our union with Him that the following verses in Romans appeal.
Moreover, in no NT passage is water baptism unambiguously referred to as baptism into Christ Jesus (= baptism into the Body of Christ Jesus). Where water baptism is linked explicitly to Jesus Christ, it is always in His name (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 1 Cor 1:13, 15 [by inference]).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit means that believers have been baptized into His death. This union with Christ in His death is in fact the key to a new life experience.
6:4. Our spiritual union involves “immersion” into Christ’s death. Immersion into His death effectively “purifies” the inner man from sin, rendering him dead to it (see vv 5-11; also Titus 3:4-7).
The Christian has been united with Christ in His death so that he may also share in His resurrected life (walk in newness of life).
As Paul will go on to point out, especially in 8:1-13, this glorious resurrection power is precisely what will enable the believer to surmount the impediment of his sinful body.
The issue before Paul’s mind, both here and up to 8:13, is how those who are alive from the dead can live like it. In other words, how can such people walk in newness of life?
6:5-6. Paul is not discussing our future resurrection from the dead. On the contrary, he is discussing walking “in newness of life” (v 4).
Inasmuch as we are united with Christ in the likeness of His death by means of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, it follows that we can also expect a similar union with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection.
We know, Paul affirms, that our old man has been crucified with Him. The reference to our old man can only be a reference to the inner self, which “lived” inside our physical bodies prior to our union with Jesus Christ. This “old self” has died.
This truth implies that a “new man” (that is, a “new inner self”) has replaced this old man (cf. 7:22, “my inward man”). The “old man/new man” terminology also occurs in Eph 4:20-24, where the idea is that Christians should not “wear” their old self, but their new self.
When we speak of regeneration and of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are talking about spiritual events that radically alter the inward reality of our being. When we believe in Christ for eternal life, the inward man is reborn with that life. And when we are baptized at that same moment by the Holy Spirit, we are united with the spiritual Body of Christ and thus are also united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Paul’s point here is this. Our union with Christ in His death has as its purpose that this body of sin might be nullified, so that we might no longer serve sin. The body of sin (and by extension, the physical body itself) has lost its unbreakable dominion over us. Now this slavery no longer exists.
6:7. Paul here uses the verb for justify (dikaioō) to describe our relationship to sin (justified from sin). He has already used this verb ten times in the forensic sense of the divine act of ascribing righteousness to men (2:13; 3:20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9) and once of the vindication of God (3:4). For Rom 6:7, BDAG offers the translation, “the one who died is freed from sin” (italics added).
Paul’s point is that sin has no claim on the person who has been united with Christ in His death. Death has freed us from the dominion of sin.
6:8-9. If, as Paul has affirmed, we have died with Christ, we conclude (we believe) as well that we shall also live with Him.
For Paul, we who will live together with Him in the future (cf. 1 Thess 5:10) can live together with Him in the present by the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit (see 8:11).
Thus the truth Paul is beginning to expound about our victory over sin is part of the same basic truth, namely that death with Him leads to life with Him (cf. 1:17). Living with Him is the true portion and destiny of the justified person, both here and hereafter.
This conviction (that we shall also live with Him) is accompanied by the knowledge (knowing) that since Christ was raised from the dead, He no longer dies. Therefore, the life we experience when we…live with Him is nothing less than eternal life. Precisely this is what we obtained when we received “the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness” so that we might “reign in life” (5:17), for in fact eternal life is God’s gift to us “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23). It is this life that we experience through our union with Him.
Since, then, Christ will no longer die, it follows that death no longer has authority over Him. Thus the life we also share with Him is not under the authority of death either. As Paul has just said (v 7), we are “justified (freed) from sin”; that is, sin and death have no claim on us since we have died with Him.
The tyrant, death, has lost its temporary power over Jesus. Death no longer has authority over Him. The “rulership” conferred on death by the sin of the first Adam, has been broken by the Second.
6:10-11. The death that He died was a once for all encounter with sin in which sin was fully atoned for. He died to sin permanently. Now that this sacrificial work has been accomplished and He has risen from the dead, He lives to God. From now on, in His resurrection life, the life that He lives is fully oriented to God.
The relationship of Christ, both to sin and to God, is precisely the way believers should relate to sin and to God. They should, in fact, consider themselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here then is the bottom line of the identification truth that Paul introduced at 6:3. Believers have been spiritually united with Christ in His death and resurrection. The first step to walking “in newness of life” is to consider this to be so.
The word rendered consider is the same verb that in chap. 4 Paul has used repeatedly of God “imputing” righteousness to the believer (4:3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). Thus, the person whom God considers righteous by faith should consider himself to be now alive to God. Thus, at a fundamental level, “the one who is righteous by faith” already lives (cf. 1:17), and he should consider that to be his fundamental status.
Acting on Our Union with Christ (6:12-23)
6:12-14. In view of the spiritual reality expressed in the previous verse (v 11), believers should not only consider themselves to be “alive to God,” they should actively reorient their behavior in the light of that truth. Whereas formerly, in their unregenerate days, they had allowed sin to reign in their mortal body so that they obeyed it with its lusts, they are to do so no longer.
This previous obedience to sin’s lusts had been put into effect by their turning over their body’s members as instruments for doing unrighteousness. The body’s members—its eyes, arms, legs, etc.—had been used in the pursuit and enjoyment of sinful aims and activities. This kind of behavior should now cease.
The new lifestyle is to be marked by conscious commitment to God and to His will. Now they are to turn themselves over to God as people who are alive from the dead. They are not to think of themselves any longer as subjects reigned over by sin and death. Instead they should see themselves as people who have been raised from the dead to walk in newness of life (see 6:4).
The attitude expressed when they turn themselves over to God should be followed by appropriate actions. They are to turn over the members of their body to Him as instruments for righteousness. That means that they are to employ their eyes, arms, legs, hands, and all their other members for the will of God. They are to use them as instruments for righteousness. When both the attitude and the actions cohere, Christian living is experienced.
In addition, both the new attitude and the new behavior are appropriate and possible precisely because sin has lost its capacity to have authority over them.
Paul insists, you are not under the law but under grace. With these words Paul introduces the dominant theme of the discussion to follow (6:15–8:13). Although grace was referred to in 6:1, it has not been directly mentioned since then, and the law has not been referred to in this chapter at all. The ineffectual nature of the law figures prominently in the discussion that follows.
Contrary to the opinion held even by many Christians in Paul’s day (see Acts 15:5), the Mosaic law was no more an effective instrument for Christian living than it was an instrument for justification (see 3:19-20). Those who lived under it could not truly escape the authority of sin in their lives. In contrast to this, freedom from sin’s authority can be experienced by Christian people precisely because they are not under the law but under grace.
6:15-16. The fact that we are not under the law but under grace does not give us a license to sin (far from it).
The question “shall we sin?” was functionally equivalent to asking whether we should be the slaves of sin. Thus, after dismissing the suggestion categorically, he asks rhetorically, Don’t you know…you are slaves of the one you obey? “Don’t you realize,” he says, “that sinning entails slavery to your sinful practices?”
The fact was that to whomever they might turn themselves over as slaves in obedience, they were slaves of the one they obeyed. They could therefore either become slaves to sin or to its opposite, righteousness (cf. v 18).
The one who turns himself over to sin is on the path that produces death (whether of sin producing death). But the one who turns himself over to obedience is on the path that produces righteousness (obedience producing righteousness). Stated this way, the only reasonable choice was the obedience that produced righteousness, since who would wish to produce death?
6:17-18. Paul is grateful to God for the Christian experience of the Roman believers. In their unconverted days they had been slaves of sin, but after their conversion they had obeyed from the heart (i.e., sincerely) the form of teaching in which they had been instructed. That is to say, they had responded obediently to the Christian teaching they had received.
Paul is no doubt thinking of the general format in which Christian instruction was usually given to converts to Christianity.
The Roman Christians were not total strangers to Paul (see 16:1-20) and he even states that their “obedience” has become widely known (16:19). Since they had obeyed the Christian teaching in which they were instructed, their personal experience had been one of being liberated from sin and of being enslaved to righteousness. In other words, they had turned away from sin to do what was right in God’s sight. Their servitude was now to Him and not to sin.
6:19. Paul is not altogether comfortable with describing their Christian obedience as being “enslaved to righteousness” (v 18). He does so due to the weakness of their flesh.
A more abstract description would have failed due to their human limitations. Paul is working with an analogy, moving from the familiar (slavery to sin) to the unfamiliar (slavery to righteousness).
Formerly they had turned over their body’s members as slaves to uncleanness and to wickedness. The result of this servitude to sinful practices was simply wickedness.
The Roman Christians are now to turn over their body’s members as slaves to righteousness. The result of this new form of active obedience will be the production of holiness. Thus the evil result of the former servitude can be replaced by the good result of a new servitude.
6:20-21. Paul expands his analogy between the old servitude and the new one. As slaves of sin they had been free from righteousness. Righteousness had been “powerless” in their lives. It had no control over what they did. It was not their “master.”
There could be no positive outcome from such a life. It was a life that now made them feel ashamed. The rhetorical question, So what fruit did you have then…? assumes that there was none at all. How could there be, since the result of those things could only be death?
In speaking of death here, Paul no doubt had physical death in mind, but his concept of death is much broader (cf. 7:18-23; 8:6-13). For Paul, death is also an experience that is qualitatively distinct from true life.
As Paul puts it in Eph 4:18, the unregenerate are “alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them.” But as he will show clearly in the following two chapters, such “alienation” from God’s life is experienced also by the Christian when he submits to the desires of his spiritually-dead physical body.
6:22-23. Despite their unproductive past, the Roman Christians are now able to bear fruit that produces holiness. Their union with Christ has resulted in their being freed from sin and enslaved to God (cf. 6:7).
A new lifestyle is made possible in which the believer can “walk in newness of life” (6:4). This “newness of life” is eternal life. The believer’s “walk” in this new life is the outcome of possessing that life in Christ. Thus the end result of producing holiness is nothing less than an experience of eternal life itself.
Paul can now wrap up the fundamental truths on which the entire unit (6:1-23) is based. On the one hand, death in all its aspects is the “pay-off” (wages) of sin. Obviously, a statement like this is deliberately broad enough to embrace all the various aspects in which death is the “compensation” for sin. In other words, it states a principle and should not be narrowed to an exclusive reference to the “second death,” or the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). Paul will later say to these believers that “if you live in relation to the flesh, you will die” (Rom 8:13) and that concept is one specific aspect of the principle he states here.
With sin, therefore, one receives what one has earned (wages). But eternal life is an unearned experience because at its core eternal life is the gift of God that is given in Christ Jesus our Lord. By virtue of our being in Christ (see 6:3-4), we possess this gift. When we produce holiness, we are living out the gift that God gave us when we were justified by faith.
The word used here for gift (charisma) is picked up from 5:15-16 where its occurrences are the first ones in the body of Paul’s argument. As is clear from 5:12-21, for Paul righteousness and life are part of one and the same gift (cf. 5:17-18).
The closing words of v 23, in Christ Jesus our Lord, are identical in Greek to the words that close v 11. Thus, they form an inclusio with v 11 and mark the present sub-unit (vv 12-23) as complete. The repeated words also serve to emphasize the truth that the eternal life which is given to us as a gift (by virtue of which we are “alive” [v 11]) is our possession in union with the Savior in whom we died and in whom we have been raised to walk in God’s paths.
Zane Hodges was a Bible teacher and Professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was promoted to glory in 2008.