Paul has shown to us that all men have been under the result of the sin of Adam since the time of his fall. What was that result? Death now reigns in all of our lives, this death that causes us to be corrupt in all our ways. Yes, our bodies are subject to a final end of decay and return to dust, but more than that even, we are living in death and corruption. We have only wickedness within and we are subject always to the ways of perverse sin. This is the reality that we find to be true in our lives. Is there any hope of salvation for us?
Yes, Paul says, and it is not in any work of obedience to the law that we can be changed from within, but rather, Christ has made a way for us to be made new unto life. He has become for us the cause of life within just as Adam was our cause of inner death. How can this be? Paul will now explain it to us plainly and at length. He will explain to us how in Christ, life and righteousness take the place of death and corruption.
The first verse of chapter 6 shows that Paul is going to be dealing with the statement he made at the close of chapter 5, as one would expect. The flow of his argument is consistent and connected. He spoke at the end of chapter 5 about the fact that the entrance of the law into the picture only caused sin to increase and abound all the more. It did not provide a remedy for sin, but only served to stir it up all the more.
Paul then asserted that where that sin abounded and increased, so also did the grace of God abound to us all the more. He now is going to explain the nature of that abounding grace, and it is not what the corrupt natural mind would expect, but it is rather a far more glorious and profound grace than we ever could have imagined.
To begin with, the foolish thought of the natural and corrupt man concerning abounding sin and grace is expressed in order to be contradicted:
What, then, will we say? “Let us abide on in sin so that grace might abound”? May it never be! We such as who died to sin, how will we yet live in it? (6:1-2)
Such a thought as Paul here voices can only come from a corrupt and perverted mind of sin and death. Such a thought as this reveals more plainly than anything else could just how desperately is needed a whole new mind, heart, and life, a wholly renewed existence. The man who thinks this way is beyond hope unless a drastic and complete change should take place.
The man who thinks this way has no conception of what Paul is talking about in these chapters. He is treating of the themes of death and life. So large and important are these, the most important things to understand in our existence, but yet the natural corrupt mind and heart do not grasp them rightly, for such a thought as this could not be voiced if there was understanding of these truths.
Paul exclaims against this idea. How could it possibly be desired that we should continue in death simply because we think we can be forgiven of it in the end by God’s grace? Such a thought is as foolish as can be! Who could desire death rather than life? Only a wholly corrupt heart could desire this.
Paul’s line of thought in response is to explain the concepts and realities of life and death as experienced by one who has faith in Jesus Christ. His first statement is to bring to the fore the fact that the one who finds the superabounding grace finds it to be a grace that puts us to death so far as sin is concerned. Be ready for a great deal of profound truth in the coming verses, for supernatural realities of amazing grace are about to be set forth to our minds by Paul.
What is he talking about when he says that we have died to sin and therefore cannot continue living in it? This is the true nature of grace, and amazing it is indeed, far surpassing our every conception, but just what is he talking about? Paul needs to explain, and he does:
Or do you not know, that we such as who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried, therefore, with Him through baptism unto death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, thus also we might walk in newness of life. For if we have become planted together with Him in the likeness of His death rather we will be also of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him,so that the body of death might be destroyed in order for us no longer to serve sin. For he who dies has been justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that also we will live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, no longer dies; death is no longer His master. For that which He died, He died to sin once for all, but that which He lives, He lives to God. Thus also you, reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus. (6:3-11)
A key thought to this passage, and indeed to the whole of the Christian life, is that we have been planted together with Christ. That is, we have become so united with Him as to share in His experiences as our own. We saw last chapter how Paul argued that Adam’s sin and punishment was parallel to Christ’s righteous obedience and reward in that in each case the one act bore fruit for all men. Now in this section, Paul is going to explain some important aspects of how the life of Christ results in a new life for us.
The idea of being “planted together” with Christ (the literal meaning of the Greek word in verse 5, though we often find a different translation in English) is especially appropriate for what Paul wishes to discuss and emphasize. According to this fitting analogy, Christ is pictured as being planted as a seed in the earth and then springing up to life from out of the ground. We know that this is an analogy that Christ Himself used about His death, and that when he did so he emphasized the fact that by such an event he would bear much fruit and no longer be but one alone.
Paul makes use of this idea and pictures a Christian as being planted together with Christ and thus undergoing the very same process of death and then sprouting to life anew from out of the ground where he has been planted. This picture of being planted is connected with the act of baptism. Paul sees in baptism a picture of the believer when placed under the water as being placed in the tomb with Christ. Paul says that we were baptized into His death and were buried with Him through baptism. Then, just as Christ arose from the tomb, so the believer is raised out of the water, and he begins a new life of resurrection as did Christ. The picture of baptism, then, represents a whole spiritual process of death and life that we share with Christ. We go through this whole process together with Him. Did you see how many times this idea of together “with Him” was emphasized in this passage?
It is well worth pointing out again here that the life of Christ, just as the life of Adam, as our representative is much more than a mere matter of legal standing according to an abstract judgment that applies equally to us as to them as our representative head. I don’t mean to deny that there is such an element, but I am wanting to emphasize that there is more than this, especially in view in the argument from chapter 5 on through chapter 8. We know that we are guilty ever since Adam’s fall in a legal sense, but that guilt has meant more than just a declaration against us that one day will be brought to bear in a punishment. As terribly significant as that itself is, the reality is that we are already living in the punishment of that guilt: Death reigns over us all. This is our living experience that we are daily facing upon this earth as a result of our culpability on Adam’s behalf. We have daily to suffer the ongoing corruption and death that results from our sharing in Adam’s guilt.
This fact works in the same manner in the opposite direction for our sharing in the righteousness of Christ. Yes, it is indeed true that we reap the benefit of an initial justification, and this is hugely important, for it makes possible our reconciliation with God. Yet, it is also greatly important that we are here and now given the privilege and blessing of sharing experientially in the fruit and results of Christ’s righteous obedience. This makes possible at the present time, here and now in this life, an escape from the death we inherit in Adam and a receiving of true life as we find it in Christ. How gloriously important this is! We no longer must live in subjection to the corrupt nature of fallen man. We no longer must endure day after day of terrible perversion and death as the only reality of which we can partake. We are given the miraculous grace of a new beginning of a new life with a new nature. If there is any such thing as superabounding grace, this is certainly it!
This basic picture of sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection, beginning a new and fresh life with Him, brings us all the central truth in which we are to glory. But it is also further rewarding in a rich way to understand some of the spiritual principles of why this must take place and what exactly happens to us in this process, which principles Paul explains.
First, one might ask why it is that we must share in the death of Christ. According to the analogy and our participation in Adam’s sin, don’t we already have plenty of death that we participate in? We don’t need more death. We need only life to be given to us.
Well, Paul explains to us the reason for sharing in Christ’s death, and it is so that the old man with the body of sin might be destroyed. Our existence is corrupt and perverse; our nature is ruined. The only way to escape the enslavement of such a sinful nature is for that nature to die. We need a death. While it is a punishment to die, it is also now a necessary road for us to take if we wish to escape the nature of corruption that is ours. In Christ, that death is made possible.
Not only is that death necessary practically speaking as the way of escape from the terrible reign of the corrupt body of sin, it also is a necessary part of our justification. Paul tells us that it is the man who has died who has been justified from sin. Death was a necessary part of the punishment of sin. The grace of God does not do away with the necessity of the carrying out of that punishment, but rather provides a way for hope to spring anew despite the death that we must undergo. Once more, though sin and death abound and we must face the consequences, grace will go one step further. It does not curtail the punishment of sin unto death, but it runs beyond it and provides another, all-important chapter after that seeming end of the story. Death no longer has the final word, for there is a new life that comes after death through the resurrection that we share with Christ. And in that new life, death has no claim upon us for we have been subjected already to it. We are thus now justified, the penalty having already been endured. No more can death and sin claim rule over us, but we enjoy the liberation and freedom of a new life in Christ apart from bondage to sin and death! What grace!
This is the heart of what Paul speaks of when he says that we have died to sin. There is a very real sense in which sin and death are understood to have a claim upon us. We cannot deny it, either in theory or in practice. We experience its authority over us daily as fallen men with corrupt hearts. We know that ultimately, all of us will perish, our bodies returning to dust. But in Christ, through sharing in His death and resurrection, the claim of sin and death is satisfied, and yet we still arise anew to life again. Now we are free from sin and death. We have died to sin, that is, in accordance with its claims upon us, so that no longer do we have to give heed to what sin and death say to us.
Amazingly, we find that Paul even speaks of Christ Himself as having been under that same authority of sin and death. Paul states that Christ, having been raised from the dead, no longer dies. He then adds, “Death is no longer His master.” What a statement! For this plainly tells us that before He had died, death was indeed Christ’s master. And such is the very real case. Christ willingly put an obligation upon Himself to suffer death on our behalf. He became a debtor to sin and death. This is a part of the wonder and mystery of the incarnation. Christ became man. He took upon Himself flesh. He became sin for us. He willingly owed it to sin to die.
But once dead, and having been raised, He no longer owed anything to sin and death. He was free from it. Death and sin no longer had authority over Him. Paul states that the death that He died was a death to sin, but the life that He lives is a life to God. What does this mean? He died in obligation to sin and death as His authority. He owed it to them, and by His death He paid that debt. Now, however, in no sense does He serve any authority other than His Father. In His resurrected life, He is free from obligation to others and gladly lives His life in full service and obligation to God. The fallen life that Christ accepted was necessarily under obligation to sin and death; the new life that Christ is granted and shares with us is lived fully and freely unto God.
And such Paul says to be the reality for every true believer, for we only receive justification and life by experiencing in our hearts the same process of death to sin and resurrection to a life that is fully and freely given over to God as our only master. He tells us to understand ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. This means that we no longer live in obligation to sin, but now live in service to God. This great fact serves as the conclusion of this section of the chapter and the basis of the rest of the chapter, which is a further consideration and elaboration of this fact that we are no longer bound under duty to sin and death, but God instead is our only Lord. We now serve Him and not death.
Verse 12 opens the further discussion of this fact that we are to live as dead to sin and alive to God:
Do not, therefore, let sin reign in your mortal body in order to obey its desires. Neither present your members to be instruments of unrighteousness for sin. But rather, present yourselves to God as alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness for God. For sin is not your master. For you are not under law but under grace. (6:12-14)
The main thought here is the emphasis of the obvious conclusion that, because we are no longer under obligation to sin and death, having been justified from them through sharing in the death of Christ, we ought not obey them. Why would we, seeing that they are no longer our master? We have a new master now, and we ought to realize that and live accordingly. Sin no longer has any right over us; let’s learn that lesson well. Who has rights over us? It is the one who redeemed us from sin and gave us a new life. Surely He must be our master and we must present ourselves gladly and willingly to Him for service rather than to sin.
Another new element of the argument that enters in here and will become important before the end of chapter 8 where this large argument concludes is the concept of our “mortal body” and our “members.” Without noticing this element, we will lose a part of our understanding of the advance in thought that Paul is making and these verses will seem a bit redundant in light of what he has already said. They will still seem not entirely redundant, for he is making the implied conclusion clear of the basic matter of obedience and service, but he is especially doing so in reference to our mortal bodies and the members of those bodies.
Paul doesn’t here explain all of what he has in mind behind this emphasis; that lies ahead and will become more central in chapter 7 and especially clear in chapter 8. For now, we just want to notice the introduction of this concept and make the briefest note of what he is talking about in order to prepare us for what is ahead and help us see that it is already in mind. The mortal body is here distinguished from the inner man which is not material, that is, the soul or the heart or the will, as we might variously speak of it. All the experience of dying with Christ and being raised with Him to new life is a spiritual reality for the believer at this point, not a material one. Without trying to understand all the metaphysics of this matter, we can at least recognize what Paul here recognizes, that we still live in the same physical body as before. We have not physically been laid in the grave yet, nor have we physically been raised to a new life. In that sense, we have not yet undergone the death and resurrection with Christ that Paul speaks of.
So then, we live in a state in between. If we look at our physical reality, we see that we are not yet new. We have mortal bodies that will yet still die ahead. They are still subject to death and decay. However, Paul has made it clear that we have already died and been raised with Christ to a new life. This speaks of a spiritual renovation that has already taken place. Thus, the spiritual reality is at odds with the physical reality. Spiritually, we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. We have already undergone the great change. Physically, though, this is not the case.
Paul, therefore, urges us to allow the spiritual reality to control the physical rather than vice-versa. Having been made new, he says, don’t allow your body to continue serving sin. You are new in your heart; live that new life also in your body, though it still be subject to death. Your mortal body will have desires that are towards sin. Don’t obey them, he tells us. Instead, present your bodies as subject in service to God in the spirit of obedience that has already taken control of your inner heart and person. If you are to serve God in the substance of your being, you must present the members of your body in service to Him as well. Much more discussion of this distinction and battle between inner man and mortal body will take place ahead.
The other interesting element that calls for notice in these verses is the returning presence of the law in Paul’s language. Remember, the law was importantly present in Paul’s mind in the final half of chapter 5. It also was one of the main focuses of the final verses of the chapter that led to the discussion we are presently following in chapter 6 and which extends on through chapter 8. However, the focus on it in the final verses of chapter 5 could almost seem hard to understand in one sense because Paul doesn’t really talk about the law much in chapter 6 after all. We are not too amazed that the focus on the law there in chapter 5 is not given much treatment by the commentators as an important part of the thought of chapter 6, because Paul does not explicitly make it prominent.
Nonetheless, the reference to the law appears again here in verse 14, and also in verse 15 that follows:
What then? Will we sin because we are not under law but rather under grace? May it never be! (6:15)
It is interesting and valuable to try to understand Paul’s thought at this point. “Why the reintroduction of the law to the argument?” one might ask. “What has made him think of it again? What is he going to tell us about it now?”
Well, in actuality, all of those questions are slightly misguided, though hopefully helpful in getting us to a better understanding of the matter. I hope, though, that by this point we have already been learning enough to grasp the situation.
Let’s look at the last part of this question, as it is easiest to observe: What is Paul about to tell us concerning the law now that he has brought it back up again? The answer? Nothing. That is, not explicitly. The rest of this chapter contains no mention of the law unless it be seen in the fact that Paul speaks of sin as “lawlessness” in verse 19. Rather, he continues speaking in the terms he has already introduced of obedience to sin and death or obedience to righteousness and God and the life or death connected with those. The references to the law that appear in verses 14 and 15 seem to disappear entirely, and one might be excused for wondering just why Paul even mentioned the law at this point.
However, when we come to chapter 7, Paul will once again focus on the law, and that explicitly for a long time. It will take center stage for Paul for the whole of that chapter. And if we look at how the law arises in the discussion at that point, we might again be struggling to understand just where the connection is.
So just what is going on in Paul’s way of thinking so far as the law is concerned? Well, I think that once again we need to remember that Paul is always thinking in terms of the Jew, the Jewish law, and what the gospel has to say about them. Here in chapter 6 is a great example of it. While in one sense, Paul is simply discussing great spiritual truths that are at the heart of the gospel no matter how you approach it and in what context you speak of it, on the other hand he is framing his whole discussion in terms that are perfectly appropriate and fitting to the discussion of the law that he has in mind. His whole argument of chapter 6 was introduced by the matter of the law’s giving rise to increased sin and the need for greater grace to overcome it. Even though he is not explicitly naming the law throughout the whole of chapter 6, he still has it in his mind. The connection between these concepts in chapter 6 and what is dealt with in chapter 7 are very intimate indeed; in fact, they really are one and the same. It is no surprise that the language of the law peeps out in the middle of chapter 6 as it does. When Paul talks about obedience and bondage, sin and freedom, life and death, corruption and the glory of God, he is laying a good basis for discussing the matter of the Jew’s thought about these things, and the law is central to the Jew’s thinking. One of Paul’s main objectives is to explain these concepts in connection with the Jew and his mindset in order to demonstrate the gospel’s universality for both Jew and Gentile alike.
So, then, these references to the law in the middle of the chapter are not really a “reintroduction” of the concept; it has been lying just barely under the surface the whole time. Paul, though, is not really quite yet ready to turn to an explicit discussion of the law, which does not come until chapter 7. Despite what most English versions suggest (by either their paragraph divisions or section subtitles), verse 15 does not really form the transition point of the chapter. The transition took place in verse 12, as we have seen, and the language for the rest of the chapter will continue to talk about the same things already introduced there (obedience, slavery, flesh, presenting members of your body for obedience, etc.), not the language of the law as introduced in verse 15. Rather, these references to law in verses 14 and 15 are simply Paul’s underlying thoughts rising to the surface and revealing where he is going in his argument; but he has to finish a few more thoughts before he really comes to his full discussion of the law. He is laying the basis for that discussion still in the rest of the chapter.
The particular reason that Paul thinks of the law at this point is that the theme he has just introduced and is about to discuss is so intimately tied to the law. We will see how that is in the following chapter. For now, let us just look at the theme that takes central place in the rest of Paul’s thought for this chapter, namely obedience and slavery:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as slaves unto obedience, slaves you are to whom you obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness? But grace be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from the heart unto which type of teaching you were given. But having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. I speak humanly because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to uncleanness and to lawlessness unto lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness unto sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free to righteousness. What fruit, therefore, did you have then, upon which things you are now ashamed, for their end is death? But now, having been set free from sin, but enslaved to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, but the end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:16-23)
We have already seen the concept of being a slave to sin as Paul expressed it in verse 7, but now it is the focal point of the passage. The fundamental truth that Paul works from in his reasoning here is his first statement that we are slaves of whom we obey. If we are always obeying what someone says, then we are in fact that person’s slaves whether we think of ourselves that way or not.
He lays out for us, then, the two possibilities: Either we are slaves of sin or we are slaves of God. It is as simple as asking the question of whom we obey. Do we obey sin? Then we are its slaves. Do we obey God? Then we are His slaves. And again we see the fact that he connects this explicitly with the fact of presenting our “members” to sin or to God. There is no room for the idea that inwardly we are slaves of God though in our members (that is, in the body, in the actual physicality of what we do and say) we serve sin.
A repeated point concerning this matter of whom we obey is the two-part idea, “having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” There are a couple of important ideas here. First, as we have already seen, we all start as slaves of sin in our depravity inherited from Adam. We need a liberation from this bondage to sin. Christ provides that.
Second, and that which is somewhat new here, we should recognize the important implication that once we have been set free from sin, our freedom is not such as that we become our own master. Rather, we are set free from one master, sin, so that we might serve another, God. This is essential to grasp in the message of salvation as we find it in Paul’s gospel. The point of our liberation from sin is so that we might have the privilege of serving God. Paul rejoices in his privilege to be a slave of Jesus Christ, and this is the privilege granted to every Christian. Paul cannot conceive of a salvation that does not bring us into glad service to God. In fact, as you remember, the initial point of the gospel was the tragedy that men had been in rebellion against God and not honored Him, served Him, and given Him thanks. Anything that wishes to be known as salvation must remedy that greatest of evils and bring us back to where we can and do serve God. Salvation is as Paul describes it: We were slaves of sin, but now we obey God and His truth from our hearts.
This great change is worthy of the title of salvation because of its inherent value first of all, but also because of the fruits of this change, which is what Paul here emphasizes to us. He contrasts the fruit of obeying sin with the fruit of obeying God and righteousness. This is repeated throughout the section. On the one hand, if we obey sin, this is “unto death,” “unto lawlessness,” fruit that we are now ashamed of, having an end of death, and with wages of death. On the other hand, if we are obedient unto God, this is “unto righteousness,” “unto sanctification,” having an end of eternal life, and a gift of eternal life. So the choice between the two options is important enough to merit the title of salvation, for if we serve righteousness, we will obtain to righteousness, sanctification, and eternal life, avoiding a miserable existence of lawlessness and death. Certainly a choice between death and eternal life, an obtaining of life over death, is well worthy to be called salvation.
And again we would emphasize briefly that the whole of the context here and Paul’s use of the language of life and death throughout these chapters teaches us that he is here speaking not only of an eternal destiny but of a present experience of reality. We are born under the bondage of death, which is corruption and perversion in all things. We labor under that curse. Notice how Paul can describe the fruit of obeying sin either as death or as lawlessness unto more lawlessness. Remembering the main point here of slavery to whom we obey, we realize that Paul is describing a life of bondage to lawlessness and sin as a life of misery and death. But a life, on the other hand, where we submit ourselves gladly in obedience to God and then find that the fruit of this is a life full of righteousness and sanctification throughout, this is a life that is worthy to be called eternal life, such as the Bible describes, a life that is full and good and rich in the knowledge of God, whom to know is indeed eternal life. Let us move beyond thinking merely in terms of an eternal destiny that lies out far ahead in the future (this is very important to understand as well, of course, but simply is not the whole picture here) and see what Paul wishes to teach us in this section of Romans: Your choice of whom to obey will lead you either to a life of misery in bondage to sin or to a life that is fulfilling and good as you find joy in righteousness and sanctification before God.
We all must serve a master. We will all obey someone. Who will it be, then? Will we present ourselves as slaves to the desires of our members and thus be forever in bondage to sin? Or will we instead gladly obey God from the heart and reap eternal life? We cannot serve two masters. We must die to sin with Christ and rise with Him also to a new life in service to God as our only Lord. Thus is the experience of true salvation for a Christian.
It is now time for Paul to open the discussion back directly to the question of the Jewish law in relationship with all of these concepts. He has already been eager to do so, as we have seen. The basic principles of obedience and bondage, life and death, have now been laid down, and Paul is ready to see these truths in application to the law in which the Jews trusted and placed their confidence. Let’s see what he has to say about it.