ROMANS 6:1-4. SHALL WE CONTINUE IN SIN, THAT GRACE MAY ABOUND?
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (v. 1). Paul has established our guilt (1:18 ff.), the futility of relying on the law (2:17 ff.), and the hope that we have in the grace of God, which we appropriate by our faith (3:21—5:21). He just now said, “where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly” (5:20).
Now he sets out to deal with a potentially serious misunderstanding. If our hope is based on God’s grace, which abounds even more than our sin, does our conduct count for anything? If God’s grace covers all our sins, does it matter whether we sin a little or a lot? Is it possible that we might even render a service to God by sinning? Should we sin so that God can manifest the depth and breadth of his grace?
Paul’s approach to dealing with this issue is to ask a rhetorical question—an approach that he uses frequently in this epistle (2:21; 3:1, 8-9; 4:1, etc.). “Should we continue in sin?” He has probably been asked this question directly—or has at least has encountered this attitude.
“May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?” (v. 2). Paul’s answer to his rhetorical question will continue through the rest of chapter 6, but begins with this strong denial—”May it never be!” Paul then proceeds to the theological underpinning of his argument, based on our new identity. As Christians, we no longer live under the dominion of sin, but have moved to the kingdom of God. “Previously (we were) dead in sin (Eph. 2:1); now (we are) dead to sin” (Morris, 245—italics added).
We died to sin, so how can we continue to live in it? It is like asking someone who has been released from prison why he would want to continue occupying a cell—or asking an emancipated slave why he would want to continue submitting to an abusive master—or asking a lottery winner why she would want to continue living in an old shack. Once a person has been liberated from an unhappy situation, it makes no sense for that person to continue in that situation. We have been liberated from sin—have “died to sin”—so it makes no sense for us to continue living in it.
“Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (v. 3). In verse 2, Paul said that we have “died to sin.” Now he links that odd expression to baptism. Paul suggests that baptism has power that transcends mere symbolism, and involves more than cleansing from sin. Baptism in Paul’s day was almost certainly by immersion of adult believers (Craddock, 335; Barclay, 83-84; Morris, 246; Wright, 538; Hunsinger, 52; Harrington, 51). When we are buried in baptismal water, that act unites us with Christ in his death and burial (v. 5). Sin no longer has power over a dead person—the usual temptations no longer apply—so it makes no sense that we would give sin dominion over us after dying with Christ and being freed from sin.
“We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). If it was good news that we were buried with Christ (and there is a sense of liberation involved in death and burial), it is even better news that we have been raised from the dead with Christ (v. 5).
Earlier, Paul said that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification” (4:25). Now he tells us that, in our baptism, we shared in Jesus’ death and resurrection—that we personally experienced death and resurrection. There is a difference, of course. Jesus died and was resurrected physically, but ours was not a physical death and resurrection. We did, however, by the grace of God, gain the liberating benefit of death and resurrection—gained freedom from sin.
Our freedom from sin, however, is less than total. We are still tempted and we still sin, but we have become new creatures so that “we also might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). That is the purpose of our death and resurrection—that “we also might walk in newness of life”—that we might become a holy people suitable for life in the kingdom of God.
This “newness” began with our baptism, but the renewal process continues throughout life and will be fully realized only in the general resurrection at the end of time. However, the fact that we began that “newness” at baptism and are intended to move in the direction of even more complete “newness” makes it inconceivable that we would want to “continue in sin” (v. 1)—that we would willingly give sin dominion over our lives—that we would live life in casual disregard for the will of God.
ROMANS 6:5-7. IF WE HAVE BECOME UNITED WITH HIM IN DEATH
5For if we have become united with (Greek: sumphutoi—grown together with) him in the likeness of his death (Greek: to homoiomati tou thanatou autou—in the likeness of his death), we will also be part of his resurrection; 6knowing this, that our old man (Greek: ho palaios hemon anthropos—our old man) was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. 7For he who has died has been freed from sin.
“For if we have become united with (sumphutoi—grown together with) him in the likeness of his death” (v. 5a). Paul assumes that the condition of the “if” clause has been met—that we have, indeed, been united with Christ in the likeness of his death.
“we will also be (future tense) part of his resurrection“ (v. 5b). In verse 4, Paul suggests that we experience the “newness of life” associated with Christ’s resurrection in the here-and-now. Since the issue with which he is wrestling in these verses is appropriate Christian conduct, it seems obvious that there should be a here-and-now impact of the resurrection (Christ’s and ours) on our day-to-day behavior. However, in verse 5, the verb is future tense—we “we will also be part of his resurrection.” Taking these two verses together, it seems clear that we are experiencing “newness of life” already as a result of uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection, but that we also look forward to completing our resurrection experience in the future.
“knowing this, that our old man (ho palaios hemon anthropos—our old man) was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin“(v. 6). In chapter 5, Paul contrasted Adam and Christ (5:12-21), referring to both of them as “one man.” He tells us that sin and death came into the world by one man, by which he means Adam (5:12)—but the free gift of grace also came into the world by one man, Jesus (5:15). While Paul does not label Adam as the old man and Christ as the new man in v. 6, he strongly implies as much.
ROMANS 6:8-11. IF WE HAVE DIED WITH HIM, WE WILL ALSO LIVE WITH HIM
8But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; 9knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! 10For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. 11Thus consider (Greek: logizesthe—reckon or count) yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (v. 8). In the Gospel of John, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, (Greek: anothen) he can’t see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Anothen can mean either “from above” or “again,” and in that context clearly means both. It is from that verse that we get the phrase “born again” Christians, a phrase that has negative connotations for many people today because of the fundamentalist mindset of those who most often identify themselves as “born again.” We should be careful, however, not to throw out the baby with the bath water, because Jesus said “unless one is born anothen he can’t see the Kingdom of God.” He clearly intends that all of his disciples should be “born anothen“—born again and born from above.
In Romans 6:8, Paul tells us how that happens. In baptism, we die with Christ—die to our old person, so that we might live the resurrection life with Christ. If we “died (aorist tense, indicating a past action) with Christ, …that we will also live (future tense) with him.” We live betwixt and between—having died and been resurrected with Christ in baptism, but awaiting the full experience of the resurrection life at the general resurrection.
“knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him” (v. 9). Jesus’ resurrection was unlike those of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43), the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), or Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Those people were raised from the dead with ordinary bodies that would die again. Jesus was raised with a body that exhibited certain normal physical characteristics. It was possible for Thomas to touch him and to examine his wounds (John 20:27). It was possible for him to eat breakfast (John 21:9-14), and to break bread with the disciples (Luke 24:30).
But it was also possible for to pass through a locked door (John 20:19) and to vanish from sight (Luke 24:31) and to ascend into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:6-11). We must conclude that Jesus’ resurrection body was like our bodies in some ways but not in others. Paul assures us that, unlike others who were raised from the dead, Jesus “dies no more” (v. 9). “Death no more has dominion over him” (v. 9), because his resurrection defeated death.
“For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God” (v. 10). Jesus, by his death, shut the door on sin once and for all. By his resurrection, he enjoys a new life devoted solely to God.
“Thus consider (logizesthe) yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord“ (v. 11). This word, logizesthe, is a bookkeeping term. Even though we are still subject to human frailty, God has made an entry in the eternal books that renders us “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). Given our human frailty, it is sometimes difficult to accept that we are, in fact “dead to sin, but alive to God,” but Paul calls us to keep that reality ever before us—to accept that God has, indeed, rendered us “dead to sin, but alive to God.”
It is God’s work, not ours, that renders us “dead to sin, but alive to God.” If it were our work, we could accept it more easily—we could take pride in our accomplishment—but it cannot be our work. We do not have it in us to accomplish for ourselves what only Christ can accomplish for us. It therefore becomes, to some extent, an act of will for us to logizesthe (to consider or to reckon) ourselves as “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul calls us to do just that—to accept that God has “cooked the books” in our favor—to accept the reality that we are now, by the grace of God, “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible: The Letter to the Romans (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1975)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8, Vol. 38A (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Gaventa, Beverly R. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Hunsinger, George, in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)
Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Copyright 2008, 2011, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan