One of the first passages of the Bible I memorized after becoming a Christian at the age of nineteen was Romans 6. I was involved in a Bible Study and wanted to commit this passage to memory because it depicts the new life I now had in Christ in radical ways. We have died and been raised with Christ. We have been freed from slavery to sin and are now slaves of righteousness.

These are glorious truths that demonstrate the power and benefits of our union with Christ. Let’s dig a little deeper into this chapter with some help from the NIV Bible Speaks Today Study Bible.

Romans 6:1-14

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, 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. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 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; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Dead to sin, alive in Christ

Paul has been painting an ideal picture of the people of God. Having been justified by faith, we are standing in grace and rejoicing in glory. But in his concentration on the secure status of believers, he has said little about growth in the Christian life or discipleship. Paul’s critics, in fact, were using that omission to attack him – shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? (1). Paul’s gospel of free grace seems to open the door to unrestrained sinning.

Paul vehemently rejects the notion that God’s grace gives us a licence to sin – by no means! (2). He then responds to his critics in a tightly packed eight-stage argument:

  1. First, we died to sin (2). When Jesus died once for all (10; Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10; 1Pe 3:18), we died with him. Sin has no more claim on us, unless we willingly yield to it (1-2).
  2. Secondly, our baptism signified our death with Christ and our death to sin (3).
  3. Thirdly, having shared in Christ’s death, God wants us also to share in his resurrection life (4-5).
  4. Fourthly, our old self was crucified with Christ (6) in order that we might be freed from sin’s slavery (6-7).
  5. Fifthly, both the death and the resurrection of Jesus were decisive events (8-10).
  6. Sixthly, we must now realise that we are what Christ is – dead to sin but alive to God (11).
  7. Seventhly, we are now called to offer our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness (12-13).
  8. Eighthly, sin is no longer our master, because our position has radically changed from being under the law to being under grace (14).

Q In what practical ways can you count yourself ‘dead to sin but alive to God’ (6:11)? Have you ever excused an act of sin with the thought that God will forgive you anyway? What might Paul (or Jesus) say about that?

Romans 6:15-23

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’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? But 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. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I 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. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But 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. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Slaves to sin or slaves to God

We think of Roman slaves as either captured in war or bought in the market-place. But there was voluntary slavery in which destitute people offered themselves as slaves in exchange for food and shelter. Voluntary slaves were still slaves, however – and it is the same with spiritual slavery. Self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery, whether we are slaves to sin (16) or slaves of God (22). Our conversion involved an exchange of masters. By birth we are in Adam, the slaves of sin; by grace and faith we are in Christ, the slaves of God.

Paul sums up the Christian experience in four stages.

  • First, you used to be slaves to sin.
  • But, secondly, you have come to obey from your heart (17). Genuine conversion involves not only trusting in Christ, but also believing and acknowledging the truth as taught by the apostles.
  • That obedience resulted in, thirdly, being set free from sin. We have been decisively rescued out of the lordship of sin into the lordship of Christ –
  • Which leads to the fourth stage: we have become slaves to righteousness (18).

Those who are in Adam serve sin, while those who are in Christ serve God willingly and joyfully. The two slaveries lead to two destinies: death (21) or eternal life (22). In addition, sin pays wages (23) (you get what you deserve), but God gives a free gift (23) (you are given what you do not deserve). No wonder Paul exclaims: thanks be to God (17)!

Q How does Paul use the picture of slavery to help us understand our life before we became a Christian and after? In what ways is that picture troubling to you? Have you experienced the four stages that Paul describes? How would you explain them to a friend?

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