Studies in the Epistles of Paul
Slaves to Righteousness
In Romans 5, Paul says that Christ saved us even while we were sinners. We are saved by grace, not by keeping the law. He ends that chapter by saying, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). God’s grace is always larger than our sin.
In chapter 6, Paul deals with a possible objection: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1). If grace is so easy, should we bother to change our ways? Whenever the gospel is clearly presented, this question comes up. If all our sins are so easily forgiven, why worry about sin? Should we continue to sin?
“By no means!” Paul exclaims. We should avoid sin, even though our salvation does not depend on our success in quitting sin. Obedience has a different purpose. If faith in Christ led to automatic victory over all sin, then the question would not come up. But sin continues to be a reality we must deal with in our lives — a reality we must resist.
Death of the sinful self
In verse 2, Paul says: “We died to sin. How can we live in it any longer?” If we want to escape death, then we should also want to escape the cause of death — sin. But more importantly, when we believe in Christ, we become new people. In the language of Romans 5, we are no longer people of Adam, but now we are people of Christ Jesus. We are to live in him, to live in that mode rather than the way that Adam did it.
Paul explains this in verse 3: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” We are baptized not just into the name of Christ — we are baptized into him and united with him. When we are identified with Adam, we get the death that Adam brought. When we are identified with Christ, we get the righteousness and life that he brought. When he died, we died, and when he was buried we were buried, and when he rose we also rose. We were with him, because he represented all of us.
We don’t tend to think of many people being “in” one person, but this is the way Paul is describing our salvation. All humanity was “in Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22); now we are in Christ. And because we are united with Christ, his death counts as ours.
Paul draws this conclusion in verse 4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…” Baptism pictures not only a sharing in Jesus’ death, but also a sharing in his burial. But why is that significant for the question about sin?
Paul explains the purpose in the last part of verse 4: “…in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In the same way that we died with Christ, we also rise with Christ into a new life, and this implies that we should live in a different way than we used to.
Although baptism symbolizes this burial and new life, Paul’s point does not depend on symbolism — it depends on our union with Jesus Christ. Not only does baptism unite us with Jesus in his death and burial, it also unites us with his resurrection and his life. The old self is dead, and yet we live — we have a new life, and that means a new approach to life.
Paul explains more in verse 5: “For if we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” Our union with Christ brings not only justification, the benefit of sharing in his death — it also brings the benefit of eternal life, of sharing in his resurrection. This affects the way we live. We are to live in a way that reflects our future life with Christ.
Paul seems to be saying something like this: Why would anyone want to be joined to sin on the one hand, and joined to Christ on the other? Why would anyone want to live forever with righteousness, if they want to live in sin right now?
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with” (verse 6). Our old self was a descendant of Adam, a body under the power of sin, and that died on the cross. Our former identification with Adam is dead; we are no longer his, but we belong to Christ.
Here’s why we were killed: “…that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (verses 6-7). In the death of Christ, pictured in our baptism, our former selves were given the penalty of sin — death. Since the penalty has been paid, sin has no authority over us.
Paul is introducing new metaphors: slavery and freedom. Sin is not just something we do — it is a power that works against us, a power that enslaves us, a power we must be freed from. When we die with Christ, we are liberated from this evil slavemaster. We do not go on serving it, but we live a new way of life. We do not do it perfectly, but this is what the Christian life is for.
Alive to God
Paul now starts to emphasize life. “If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (verse 8). We will live with him in the resurrection, but the question in this chapter is about life right now. So what is Paul’s point?
“For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all” (verses 9-10). Jesus was not brought back to mortal life, as Lazarus was. Rather, Jesus was raised to immortal, imperishable life. Death had mastery over him for a short time, just as sin once had mastery over us. But Jesus has been freed from that power, and as we are united with Christ, we are freed from those powers, too.
Paul mentions the example of Jesus in the last part of verse 10: “but the life he lives, he lives to God.” So we are to model our lives after Christ: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (verse 11). This is the choice set before us. We can serve sin, or we can serve God.
When sin offers us something tempting, we are to answer: No, that’s the old way, and I am supposed to die to that. That is not the kind of life that I want. If we believe we will live with Christ in the future, we should also believe that he has overcome the power of sin and death, and he liberates us from these powers in this life. We still sin, but it does not have the final authority in our lives. It cannot force us to sin. We are no longer slaves of sin.
This is not automatic, or Paul wouldn’t have to tell us to do it. We must remind ourselves of who we are: children of the Savior, not children of the sinner. Just as Christ died to sin, we are to resist sin day by day, and this is the new life we are to live.
But the Christian life is not simply a matter of refusing sin, of playing dead. We are supposed to be alive — alive to God, because we are in Christ Jesus. Our desire to live for him should be very much alive!