The change that occurred at our conversion makes it incongruous for us to keep living in sin. That’s my summation of Paul’s proclamation in Romans 6:1-14.
In 6:2 he tells us we died to sin. In 6:3 that we were baptized into Christ’s death. In 6:4 that we were buried with Christ by baptism into death. And in 6:4 he explains God’s purpose in our death to sin with Christ: that we might walk in newness of life.
This change at our conversion (“baptism”) makes it incongruous (inappropriate, inconsistent, not in harmony with our new character) for us to keep practicing sin.
But how can Christ’s death 2000 years ago change our relationship to the power of sin now? It’s a mystery that Paul explains (though it remains a mystery) . . .
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5).
“United” is the NSV’s translation of sumphotai, used of being closely associated with someone in a similar experience. For instance, two robbers were crucified together with Christ (Matthew 27:44). They physically died with him. We died with him spiritually to the power of sin we were under (“ . . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin”—3:9).
Furthermore,“if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Why does Paul use the future tense? Why not “we are united with him in a resurrection like his”? Because we have to apply our union with him in his resurrection, as we’ll see later in Paul’s exhortations. For now, more explanations about our death to sin with Christ . . .
“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).
“ . . . our old self” (literally, “our old man”) refers to our whole being connected to Adam (5:12-21)—the person we were apart from Christ. Then we were “enslaved to [the power of] sin.”
In his speech before he was martyred, Stephen told how God spoke in his covenant with Abraham and said, “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years” (Acts 7:6; Genesis 15:13). As Abraham’s descendants were enslaved to Pharaoh, so, before Christ, we were slaves to sin.
But no longer. Paul says not only that we died with Christ, but that “our old self was crucified.” Just as the two robbers’ lives ended in crucifixion with Christ, so did our enslavement to sin’s power.
What does Paul mean by “ . . . the body of sin”? Not the totality of sins added together, but our physical body through which temptation to sin comes and through which we commit sin.
But Paul writes that “ . . . our old self was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed”. The NRS translation, in my view, is unfortunate. The Greek katargaysthay is translated “the rulers of this age . . . . are doomed to perish” in 1 Corinthians 2:16. But Paul also uses it of a married woman who ”is released from the law of marriage” if her husband dies (Romans 7:2). The latter sense seems favorable here. By our connection with Christ in his death our physical body is released from the controlling power of sin. We are no longer enslaved to it.
Paul states the obvious . . .
“For whoever has died is freed from sin” (6:7).
Sin has no power over a dead man! While Paul is speaking of a mysterious spiritual death in union with Christ, not of a physical death, we mustn’t dismiss this as spiritual symbolism or arcane theological talk. Paul is writing of reality. Not only were we justified by faith, the old Adam-connected person we were died. I don’t understand how. I can’t explain how. But there are spiritual realities we can explain naturally. This is one.
“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (6:8-10).
Why does Paul say, “we believe that we will also live with [Christ}? We face the same question as we did in verse 5. I don’t want to get in the exegetical “weeds”, but I think both there and here Paul is glancing ahead to bodily resurrection with Christ at his coming. And that full-body resurrection “reaches back” into the present, so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk (now) in newness of life (6:4).
So what should we do with all this theology? Here’s Paul’s practical take-away—for the church at Rome and for us . . .
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).
By “So” Paul means in the same way Christ died to sin and died to death by being raised “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.”
Armed with all this theological truth (6:1-10) we must make an objective evaluation of ourselves and think: “I am dead to the power of sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Say I’m a guy who wants to pay back someone who wrongs me. I might do it by verbal abuse or silent withdrawal. But something in me craves revenge. Paul teaches me to think of myself as dead to that “something in me” (I don’t have to follow that craving, because I’m dead to its power with Christ). And Paul teaches me to think of myself as “alive to God”. That means I should think of myself as sensitive and responsive to God.
“Alive to God”. I picture myself intentionally hurt by my hostile neighbor. I’m thinking I’ll just have nothing to do with him ever again. But a presence is awakening me to the possibility of forgiving him, of praying for him and of doing something good for him.
“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).
By “Therefore” Paul means for the reason that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and you are thoughtfully considering yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God, act.
First, don’t let sin dominate you, to make you obey the passions of your mortal bodies. Sin’s intention is domination. But don’t let it. In my illustration above, don’t withdraw in pay-back to your hostile neighbor.
Second, stop putting your head, hands and heart at sin’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of wrongdoing. You can do this, because you’re dead to sin’s power.
Third, put your head, hands and heart at God’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of right-doing. You can do this, because “you have been brought from death to life”! In other words, you once were “dead” to God and you were made “dead” to the power of sin. But you’ve been made alive to God. So present yourself to him to do what he says is right.
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (6:14).
This is the apostle’s promise to us: sin will no longer dominate us. Why? “ . . . since you are not under law”. We are not left to “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” as justified believers in Christ. We now live “under grace” where we’re dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
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Some of us are care-less about sin. It’s just a non-issue in our busy lives. Besides (we presume), God’s grace is always greater. Others of us are triumphant over sin–even commanding it, “Be gone!” But many of us (maybe most) struggle in the trenches with a besetting sin or even a whole array of what God calls “evil”.
To us, Paul’s words offer encouragement. Not just that we have Holy Spirit power to withstand, but that by baptism in Christ’s name we really have been changed. If a surgeon slices us open, he won’t find the evidence. But, united with the crucified Christ, we really did die to sin’s power. When it flaunts itself before us, we can thoughtfully consider that we’re corpses to its enticements. Even more, we can thoughtfully consider that we really are alive to God. In our innermost being, an awareness of him breathes and a right response to him fairly pulses inside.
Then we can simply refuse to give ourselves to sin. We can refuse to let our head, our hands, our hearts–any part of us–become a weapon of wrongdoing. And we can courageously give our head, hands, hearts–any part of us–to the living God within us, so that our “members” become weapons of sin-slaying righteousness.
The trio is singing a beautiful song. But the alto is out of tune. That’s us if we “continue in sin”.