D. Fourth Subsidiary Thesis: (6:14)
Because of their new Identity, Believers have Reason and Motivation to Withstand Sin
Exposition D (5:20-7:6):
Verses 20 and 21 of chapter 5 connect backward to 5:12-19 (continuing the contrast between the old (sin and death) versus the new (grace and life). It is important, however, to see them in their relation to chapter 6, because they are the first part of a repeated rhetorical pattern. The pattern is this:
- Paul makes an astonishing statement in relation to our redemption in Christ.
- He imagines an objection that might be put by an interlocutor.
- He answers the objection.
- He sums up in a sentence that affirms and even extends his original statement, and this statement then may become the “astonishing statement” that is defended in the next cycle of the pattern.
The following table maps the pattern as it occurs in the passage we are considering.
|| 5:20-21 – …where sin increased, grace increased …so that… (etc)||| 6:1 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?||6:2-13||| 6:14 – …you are not under the law, but under grace.|
|| 6:14 – …you are not under the law, but under grace.||| 6:15 – What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?||6:16-22||| 6:23 – …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.|
The First Rhetorical Cycle (5:20-6:14)
νόμος δὲ παρεισῆλθεν ἵνα πλεονάσῃ τὸ παράπτωμα (nomos de pareisēlthen hina pleonasē to paraptōma)–The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (5:20a, NIV).
- ⇑ This fact will become very important when we arrive at chapter 7. By increasing our awareness of our sin, the law increases the culpability of our sin. However, Paul has other issues to deal with first, which he does in chapter 6.
οὗ δὲ ἐπλεόνασεν ἡ ἁμαρτία, ὑπερεπερίσσευσεν ἡ χάρις (hou de epleonasen hē hamatia, hupereperisseusen hē charis)–But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (5:20b, NIV).
- ⇑ As stated previously, this is the “astonishing statement”.
ἵνα ὥσπερ ἐβασίλευσεν ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ, οὕτως καὶ ἡ χάρις βασιλεύσῃ διὰ δικαιοσύνης εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον (hina hōsper ebasileusen hē hamatia en tō thanatō, houtws kai hē charis basileusē dia dikaiosunēs eis zoēn aiōnion) – so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life (5:21, NIV).
- ⇑ This completes the series of contrasts that began in 5:15.
- As Paul’s exposition proceeds on into chapter 6, he would have his hearers take with them the sense of victory that the word βασιλεύω (basileuō) gives. He is not expounding a chancy salvation that might, after all, be taken from us if we fail to jump through some hoop or other. Any interpretation of chapter 6 that makes our salvation chancy is, therefore, mistaken. Our eternal life is now as certain as our death was before the work done by Jesus Christ.
ἐπιμένωμεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, ἵνα ἡ χάρις πλεονάσῃ; (epimenōmen tēi hamartia, hina hē charis pleonasē?)–Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (6:1, NIV)
- ⇑ The hypothetical adversarial question
οἵτινες ἀπεθάνομεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, πῶς ἔτι ζήσομεν ἐν αὐτῇ; (hoitenes atethanomen tēi hamartia, pōs eti zēsomen en autēi?)–we who died to sin, how can we still live in it? (6:2).
- ⇑ This is Paul’s immediate answer.
- It will have been obvious to all Paul’s hearers that they were still alive physically (!), and that sin remained a daily possibility. Therefore, they would have immediately understood that Paul’s “how can” refers to the ethical, motivational domain, not to some immediate perfection of one’s character.
ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ὅτι ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν; (hē agnoeite hoti hosoi ebaptisthēmen eis Christon Iesoun ton thatnaton autou ebaptisthēmen?)–Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (6:3, NIV)
- ⇑ Perhaps this was part of the standard teaching about baptism that all converts received; perhaps it wasn’t. Or perhaps it was just the hypothetical interlocutor who didn’t know this. Anyway, all hearing Paul know it now. Baptism effects an identification with Christ’s death.
- Actually, it’s obviously not baptism per se that effects the identification. “Baptism” is serving as a dramatic synecdoche for the whole process that starts with faith and, in ordinary circumstances, ends in baptism. Having asserted earlier that salvation is by faith, Paul is not going to insert an action here as though it were absolutely essential to salvation.
- Romans 6 is not about baptism. The mention of baptism serves the main point, but is incidental to it.
συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη Χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν … οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν. Εἰ γὰρ σύμφυτοι γεγόναμεν τῷ ὁμοιώματι τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως ἐσόμεθα–We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his (6:4,5 NIV).
- ⇑ We are not identified with Christ in his death but also in his resurrection.
- Our immediate resurrection is to a new kind of life…
- but it will ultimately fully match that of Christ.
τοῦτο γινώσκοντες ὅτι ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος συνεσταυρώθη, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (tōuto ginōskontes hoti ho palaios hēmōn anthrōpos sunestaurōthē, hina katargēthē to sōma tēs hamartian)–Knowing this, that our old man was with-crucified [with Christ], in order that the body of sin might be stripped of its power (6:6a, my paraphrase).
- Remember, Paul expected what he was saying would be intelligible to his Roman hearers.
- Therefore,whatever “body of sin” refers to, katargēthē must not be translated as do the KJV and RSV, “destroyed”. Our physical bodies certainly have not been destroyed, nor has our inner susceptibility to temptation.
- This is not the place to summarise scholarly studies on the meaning of kartageō. It’s sufficient to say that the ESV’s “brought to nothing”, or my “stripped of power” convey the correct sense.
- Paul has not yet used “flesh” with a connotation of propensity to sin. (He used the word in 1:3 and 4:1, but with no such implication). Therefore, it is not likely that the Romans would have supplied that meaning for “body of sin”.
- However, just a few sentences previously, Paul was talking by implication about a corporate body to which all of his hearers had belonged–that of the sin-plagued, death-deserving descendants of Adam.
- The “body of sin”, therefore, which was in Paul’s own mind, and the one he expected to be in the minds of his hearers, was the whole Adamic system with its power to entice people to sin and so lead them to their death.
- It is that “body” which has been stripped of its power by our incorporation into Christ, in his death and resurrection.
τοῦ μηκέτι δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (tōu mēketi douleuein hēmas tēi hamatia)–that we should no longer be slaves to sin (6:6b, NIV). ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (ho gar apothanōn dedikaiōtai apo tēs hamatian)–for the one who has died has been justified from sin (6:7, my translation)
- Remember, Paul is explaining why it is unconscionable that we should continue in sin, but not saying that it is impossible.
- dedikaiōtai literally means “has been justified”. Many translations skate around this, but there is no need to. In an ironic way, it is even true of those outside of Christ that, when they die, they have been justified from sin. If the penalty for sin is death, and you die, the penalty has been discharged. There is no double jeopardy. And, of course, death releases everyone from the power of the old, sin-bound system.
- Our death with Christ has brought us into a space where, though we are still alive bodily, we are judicially delivered from the consequences of our sin, and where, also, the old system has no authority or power any longer to compel us to continue in its ways.
In verses 8-10, Paul then points out what is already absolutely true concerning Christ’s life now, after his resurrection, concluding with “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (verse 10, NIV).
Paul then urges that those facts about Jesus should transform our own thinking about ourselves. All the quotations below are from the NIV:
- “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11)
- “…do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (6:12)
- “…offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (6:13).
If it was not clear before, it should be by now, that Paul is not saying that it is impossible for us to go on sinning. If it were impossible, his exhortations would be redundant. What he is showing us in this passage is that the way forward to practical holiness of life, subsequent to our initial coming to faith. Is by reorienting our thinking so it is centred on our new identity in Christ.
This leads to the statement in verse 14 that reaffirms the grace that he had proclaimed in 5:20-21, and which shows that the interlocutor’s concern is unwarranted: “ For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
- Here, Paul states it as a matter of fact, not of exhortation: “sin shall no longer be your master”.
- However, the preceding context has shown that he is not teaching some kind of instant Christian perfectionism. It will have been clear to his Roman hearers, as it should be to us, that work is required on our part, commencing with a fundamental transformation of our thinking.
- Nevertheless, Paul has made it clear that the way forward is grace-based. He has closed the door against any legalistic approach to sanctification, and anyone who applies the exhortations in Romans 6 in a legalistic way has badly missed the point.
Image attribution: Jonas Rogowski [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons