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Sin and Righteousness – Romans 6

Read the Passage: Romans 6

Dead to Sin (6:1–14)

Having explained the doctrine of justification in Rom. 3:21–5:21, beginning in Rom. 6:1 Paul unfolds the doctrine of sanctification as he explores the impact of the gospel upon the life of a believer. In Rom. 6:1–2 Paul anticipates his critics’ objection to his teaching on salvation by faith alone as he asks two rhetorical questions. The main objection here, which Paul had first mentioned at Rom. 3:5–8, is the idea that if salvation is not by good works, then Christians are free to sin (and perhaps ought to sin), for sin highlights God’s grace. Paul’s response to this shallow objection is the same as he had given earlier, “Certainly not!” (Rom. 3:6; 6:2). Next, in Rom. 6:3–4 Paul explains why this objection is invalid—namely, if we are “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3), then we share in His death to sin and in His newness of life. Indeed, we must remember that salvation is not an imaginary reckoning but an actual reality.

We understand that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Yet, we must also embrace the biblical teaching that salvation is not just a spiritual accounting maneuver; rather it entails an essential change, including being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:15–18; Rom. 8:11; 1 John 2:27). Moreover, we have the resources of the Word of God as well as the Body of Christ to aid us in sanctification. In Rom. 6:5–11 Paul writes that we have been united both in Jesus’ death and in His resurrection. In this challenging passage Paul notes that our old sinful nature has been crucified, that we have died with Jesus, that we are no longer slaves of sin, and that we shall live with Christ. The problem, as Paul will explain in Rom. 6:12–14, is that we still possess an as-yet unglorified mortal body of flesh.

At the moment of justification believers receive a new nature and are indwelt by a new Spirit. However, we must wait for the coming resurrection in order to receive a new physical body. In 1 Cor. 15:35–58 Paul explorers some of the details about the future resurrection body; however, here in Rom. 6:12–14 Paul does not give details about the new resurrection body; rather he warns about the dangers of the old mortal body. Paul’s exhortation here is to “not let sin reign in your moral body . . . [nor] present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin” (Rom. 6:12–13). The flesh, which includes the brain and one’s thinking processes, will continually tempt us to sin (cf. Rom. 7:14–21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1–3). Yet, in Christ, we now have the resources to resist temptation. Of course, from experience, we all know that we will sin; yet, forgiveness is offered (cf. 1 John 1:9).

Slaves of God (6:15–19)

In Rom. 6:15 Paul again asks the same rhetorical question he had posed in Rom. 3:8; 6:1, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” It is not surprising that Paul gives the same answer as he had given earlier, “Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:15). Observe in teaching that believers are not under law, Paul is referring to the moral law—not to the ceremonial law or to the civil law. Furthermore, in appealing to the moral law here, Paul is specifically referencing its convictional use, as he does elsewhere in this epistle (cf. Rom. 3:19–21; 4:15; 5:20). In this passage, then, Paul teaches that the moral law no longer functions in the life of believers in order to convict them of their lost condition. Thus, believers are no longer under the convictional use of the moral law, for in Christ they have received grace. However, the moral law still functions pedagogically for all believers (cf. Rom. 3:31; 7:22; 8:1–4).

Fruit of Righteousness (6:20–23)

Rom. 6:20 says, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Here Paul is not teaching that the lost have no duty to be righteous. Rather, he is teaching that the lost have no capacity to be righteous. The NIV rendering of this verse is helpful, as it translates, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” In other words, in his lost estate, man cannot not sin; moreover, lost man wants to sin, which is why he does sin. Yet, in Rom. 6:21–22 Paul observes that sin is not ultimately fulfilling for any man, lost or saved. This is because mankind was not created to sin, but to be in a relationship with God. To make matters worse, writes Paul, is the fact that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). In sum, because lost man freely chooses to sin, not only will he be miserable, but ultimately, he will be justly condemned by God.

Application Questions:

  1. Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and yet never grow in Christ-likeness (cf. Matt. 7:15–20)? Is sanctification voluntary or forced?
  2. How can we best deal with those who claim to be Christians, yet who abuse the gospel by asserting that grace affords them liberty to engage in sin?
  3. If our sinful nature has been crucified, we are no longer slaves of sin, and we shall one day live with Christ, why do we still sin?
  4. What does Paul mean in declaring to the believers in Rome that they “are not under law but under grace?” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 3:21).
  5. What changed in your own life to move you from the enjoyment of sin, to the admission of your guilt and need for salvation in Christ alone?
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