Romans Chapter 6

We already died to sin. Old self already crucified with Christ. Died through Christ, now live through Christ. Sin is powerless because you’re not under law, but under grace.

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Before we get too theological about this, at first glance, the typical interpretation is, "remain in sin" means to keep sinning, or keep falling into certain temptations, or conversely "die to sin" means to have conquered sin, or to no longer be affected by it. We all know this cannot be true. Because of your sinful nature, you are in sin even though you may not have ever committed a transgression known to man. And if sin is the things that you do, according to this interpretation, the only way you "die to sin" is you are literally physically dead, or in other words you sin as long as you're still alive.

“Remain in sin” literally means “remain unsaved,” because the soul that sin it shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). Some Bible expositor attempts to show this only applies to those who have a general outlook with a sinful lifestyle. But according to James 2:10 failing in one point of the law is no different from sinning against the entire law; a sinner is a sinner, no matter how much or how little. Interpreting the Scriptures like this is like straining at gnats while swalling the whole camel, like trying to point out sins while ignoring the sinful nature.

When Paul raised the question: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He’s not asking why you’re still sinning, but he’s stating a new law that comes into effect: once you died to sin—this is a given, a status attributed to you as a believer in Christ—, you no longer live in it, because sin is a state of universal condemnation to all sinful men (verse 2). How can we say that? We can because Paul declared in verse 4 that “we have been buried with him through baptism into death.” Paul assumed we knew this already when he asked in verse 3: “Or do you not know …”, the basic truth that all Christians should know: We have been buried with Christ, ransom is paid, sin(s) forgiven, righteousness restored. So how can a dead man be under sin? Paul is not asking why, he’s pointing out facts based on our relationship with Christ, that we HAVE BEEN DELIVERED FROM SIN. No more struggling out from under sin, because you are already set free from it. We should do well to differentiate this: the sin nature, and the transgressions that are products of the sin nature.

The gospel is not about sins, but about SIN which is a state of falling short of God’s glory, a state of a condemned sinner waiting for the day of judgement. I hope and pray that those who are given the glorious task of proclaiming the gospel labor to show their congregation the truth set forth in this passage, that they indeed have been delivered from sin. Let the Holy Spirit of God deal with the “sins” (plural), but be steadfast in pointing folks toward Him who can deliver them from their SIN (singular).

That is how you “die to sin,” or not “remain in sin,” because you can exclaim like Paul “thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25) In concluding this section, if you look to die to sin or to try not remain in sin by battling temptations (the sins-plural), you’re fighting in vain, you’re wrestling with a shadow, but if you faithfully trust in God’s promise of your union with Christ, His death is yours, and His life, too, is yours.

Our old self is already crucified with Christ

5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

How do you understand “we would no longer be enslaved to sin?” Chances are you may never have learned it through sermons or Sunday School, but you most likely must have already formed an idea of it. Virtually without anyone telling us, we readily assume that to no longer be enslaved to sin means to no longer succumb to certain temptation or disobey certain law of God. But we all know that this assumption is not true of anyone who is made of flesh and blood. And if no one is completely able to resist all temptations, all must not yet be crucified with Christ. But Paul said that our old self was crucified with Christ.

Therefore Paul must not be talking about transgressions, but about our fallen condition, that though we’re still very capable of sinning, we’re no longer held under condemnation reservered for sinners anymore.

Verse 7 explains that the being set free from sin is neither a goal, nor an effort to achieve it, but an inevitable consequence of you being dead, not a physical death, but a “death certificate” given us as a gift, a reward, of our trust in Christ; his death is counted as our death, and thanks to us being dead, sin no longer has dominion over us: “For one who has died has been set free from sin”.

An additional thought concerning the fact of our old self being already crucified with Christ. Because if, and indeed, it was ALREADY crucified with Christ, the idea of daily self crucifying is contradictory to what Paul has been saying, because it would mean it’s not ready dead, so you keep trying; the self would die one day, then come back to life the next, then you’d have to put it to death again. Sounds like some eastern religion? But Christ died once for all; one death, one sacrifice, is enough for all of mankind forever. And neither is it your death, but Christ’s, and He counted it toward you.

Died through Christ, now live through Christ

8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11)

The death of Christ has given us many benefits, it starts with his death being counted toward us as a payment for our sinful nature. With this gift of being dead with Christ, we’re no longer under sin’s dominion, and now Paul is going to lead us to the second benefit: life in Christ.

Jesus said that “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24). Jesus died on the cross, and Paul confirmed that we also died with Him. His death was given as a payment for sin once for all, the only way through which man is reconciled to God.

This is the point where it might be beneficial to remind ourselves that it is Jesus’ death, not ours, that God will ever accept. Adam and Eve made a fig-leaf covering, God gave them an animal skin, a foreshadow of Christ, Abraham offered his own son, God gave him an animal, the law requires that sinners must die, Jesus died for us instead. Once God gave man His only begotton Son, all other methods of redemptions must cease. And so it is with Christ’s death, once for all. Hebrews 10:18 says once Christ offered himself on the cross, there are to be no more sacrifices. Those that profess faith in Christ, must do so to its fullest extent, to rely on His sacrifice only and not their own, because God will not accept filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

It’s of utmost importance that we learn how to die in Christ, or in other words to rest in him. Because eternal life begins after death.

To be free from sin’s dominion: know that you are under grace

12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)

The epistle is now taking an interesting turn. What exactly is Paul talking about? How can you not let sin reign in your mortal body? Most would interpret it as try your best to not fall into temptations, to put your body into submission. But in verse Romans 7:15, Paul expressed his inability to do what he appears to be saying here. And according to 1 Corinthians 15:54, we won’t put on the incorruptible until Christ comes again, until then, we’ll still be housed in this corruptible flesh which is practically still under sin’s dominion. Looking down through the ages, who among men were able to escape sin’s dominion? God gave the Jews a system of sacrifices as a temporary solution because they kept sinning, and in the New Testament, 1 John 1:8-9 shows the reality of sin’s dominion for everyone.

You who tell others to not let sin reign in your mortal body, to avoid all manner of sinful practices, have you succeeded in doing it for yourself? Just as a physical mass cannot avoid being pulled down by gravity, an animal cannot become a man, an inanimate object cannot become a living thing, how can you sinful flesh overcome what you are? Isn’t it for this impossibility that Christ had to come down to save us? Ah but God does give us a way.

The only way for sin to lose its dominion over your fleshly body is if it is dead, your fleshly body that is. I hope you see what I’m alluding to here. Our members are as physically alive as ever, therefore since it is still in its corruptible state, it is under sin’s dominion. But Paul did show us how we can escape sin’s dominion in verses Romans 6:6-7, and it is through our faith in Christ, our union with Him, not through rigorous self restraint or discipline.

Only through our faith in Christ that we’re given the gift of death and burial with Christ, and it is this death that sets us free from sin’s dominion, and check this out: God gives us this consideration that you partake of Christ’s death and burial, but He will not take away our capability for sinning until Christ comes again. This is the only way that we can truly present our members as instruments for righteousness. No other means, be it circumcision, going back to the law, good deeds, self sacrifices, or a million other good things we can do, can give us this gift of being set free from sin’s dominion, except our union with Christ through faith in Him.

Then Paul re-asserted in verse 14 the reality of our freedom from sin, that it is based on God’s grace, and not on the observance of the law which would make it impossible for anyone to be free from sin; your continued failure to meet the requirements of the law make you a slave to what you’re trying to get out from under in the first place.

Without a correct understanding of the meaning of these verses, many Christians will spend the rest of their lives battling against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). O Christians, be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2) to understand this great truth that sets you free.

A figurative slavery to righteousness

15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18)

At this point, Paul is no longer defending his position on grace, but he goes on to show just as a man who is under the law, hence also under sin, is compelled to slave toward unrighteousness, a man under grace, hence free from sin, is compelled to ‘slave’ toward righteousness. At the very beginning of this letter, Paul introduced himself as a slave of Christ. Please visit Romans Chapter 1 for a thorough discussion on this topic of slavery to righteousness.

At the risk of being over-repetitive, I’d like to remind the reader that freedom from sin is exactly what it is, it is not a trying to get out from under it, nor does it require sweat, blood, and tears to battle against it, it is a freedom purchased for you by the blood of Christ. It’s “you have been set free,” you no longer need to try with all your might to wiggle yourself out of it. It’s a gift, an undeserved favor. If you believe this pattern of teaching (v 17b), and obey it, not rudimentary obedience, but an obedience of faith, of not trying to get out from under sin, but of fully believing through Christ you have been set free from sin, you have become a slave to righteousness. This is the kind of obedience that God is pleased, it made Christ’s death on the cross worthwhile.

Eternal life is a gift of God

19I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:19-23)

Paul uses slavery as a daily life example to demonstrate the shift in allegiance from one to another, from law/sin to grace-faith/freedom-from-sin. Verse 16 above states that you are slaves of the one you obey, before you knew Christ, you were compelled obey sinful urges, however if you, as stated in verse 17, obey from the heart “the standard of teaching to which you were committed,” you will become slave of a new master: Christ, or righteousness.

The key point to note, which is missed by 99.99% of those that profess Christ, is all the good things you will do in God’s name, is not, and cannot be, initiated by you or your flesh, but by God himself so no one can boast, which is easy to understand if you know you are slaves to Christ. Jesus alluded to this truth in his parable of the master and servant, in which he reminds folks to remember where they came from: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (Luke 17:10). In Christian circles, we tend to put some folks on pedestals for their great deeds in the name of God, but so many Scriptures say the opposite, that they’re but slaves of God, that it is by God’s grace that they seemed to be assigned glorious tasks, but before God, all are treated as equals as God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11).

Conclusion: Being dead and buried with Christ is the beginning. Understanding Slavery.

Understanding this death and being buried with Christ is the key to understanding the gospel. As quoted earlier what Jesus said about life that only begins after a seed falls to the ground and dies, so it is with us, and the death certificate is given to us when we believe in Christ. This death cannot be achieved through self deprivation, discipline, sacrifice, or denial. The only folks Jesus told to deny themselves were the lawkeepers of his time; they thought by the keeping of the law they could become righteous, and they took pride in their law observances. Jesus told them to let go of the fig leaves and put on Christ, let go of their familiar burnt offerings, and rely on the cross as means to their salvation.

Another key thing about this passage is the concept of slavery, the exchange of slavery to sin for slavery to righteousness. Slavery to sin is easy to understand, you are compelled to do the things you don’t want to do, and you are unable to do the good things you want to do. But slavery to righteousness is more difficult to comprehend. This second kind of slavery though sound negative, but an amazing relief to anyone who longs to serve God, to lead a victorious life but doesn’t know how. From this point on let’s talk about this slavery to righteousness.

It’s like you’re strapped to a hang glider and soar high in the clouds, exhilerating, like you have mounted up with wings like eagles. Bound to the glider, you’re like a slave, forced to experience something incredible, and yet you do not have to exert a single muscle, you simply rest and enjoy the ride. This is what Paul is talking about. Your slave to righteousness, or slave to God, like that. All the good things, noble things, kingdom works, testimonies, ministries, and countless other things, are like that hang gliding experience, because it is the Holy Spirit who initiates and empower you for whatever He has in store for you. You simply rest.

Can a slave tell his master “do this,” or “do that?” Or can he even tell his master “I want to do this,” or “I want to do that?” No, because the Lord said: trust in me and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Be a slave to righteousness. It’s ok to wait upon him (Isaiah 30:18).

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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