Romans 6: Baptism--A Clean Break with Slavery to Sin

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Reading: Romans 6

What should we say, then? Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Of course not! How can we who died as far as sin is concerned go on living in it? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into union with the Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, through baptism we were buried with him into his death so that, just as the Messiah was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, we too may live an entirely new life. For if we have become united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old natures were crucified with him so that our sin-laden bodies might be rendered powerless and we might no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we have died with the Messiah, we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that the Messiah, who was raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has mastery over him. For when he died, he died once and for all as far as sin is concerned. But now that he is alive, he lives for God. In the same way, you too must continually consider yourselves dead as far as sin is concerned, but living for God through the Messiah Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin rule your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. Stop offering the parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. Instead, offer yourselves to God as people who have been brought from death to life and the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have mastery over you, because you are not under Law but under grace. What, then, does this mean? Should we go on sinning because we are not under Law but under grace? Of course not! (Romans 6:1-15)

Thinking and Reflecting
The parenthesis is easy to miss (v. 1 and v. 15 are parallel). (Another option is that Paul uses parallel thoughts to introduce two separate paragraphs.) Regardless, this chapter is a single argument. Having been initiated into a life of grace by baptism, it is unthinkable for Paul that anyone would want to revert to the old nature instead of newness of life, to death instead of life, to slavery instead of freedom.
Some have mistakenly argued that the death of the old person occurs prior to baptism ("we bury dead people"), but it seems better to understand Paul as saying that our death to sin occurs in our baptism and that newness of life results from our baptism, not before (vv. 1-4). Our participation in Christ's death through baptism is the basis of our certainty of participating with him in resurrection.
The argument of vv. 8-14 is complex but the conclusion is clear. Only grace can free us from the mastery of sin--law cannot. Law demands wages, but free gifts (v. 23) are freely given and freely received, even though the result is commitment (slavery) to God (v. 22). Paul apologizes for such a strong and imperfect illustration (v. 19). The process set in motion by the free gift (grace) freely given and received is slavery to God, holiness, and eternal life.

How many times does Paul refer to death (verb or noun) in this chapter? How would your understanding of this chapter change if you understood the overall topic or theme to be death?

Father God, thank you for freeing us from the death that sin brings and for the free gift of eternal life, in Jesus' name we say thank you, Amen.

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Last updated July 27, 2011