3. United with Christ, Free from Sin's Slavery (Romans 6:1-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (28:58)

Andea Mantegna (1431-1506), 'The Lamentation over the Dead Christ' (c. 1490)
Christ's death is our death! Andea Mantegna (Early Renaissance Italian painter, 1431-1506) painted a powerful depiction of "The Lamentation over the Dead Christ" (c. 1490), tempera on canvas, 68 x 81 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. Larger image.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11)

 

Big Concept 3. The truth is that we have become so united with Christ, that the "old us" died when Christ died and the power of our "flesh" or sinful nature was broken. What's more, we now share the power of Christ's life in our lives. We must believe this enough to live our lives accordingly.

One of the reasons why we may be continually defeated in our struggle with sin is because we are trying to understand spiritual matters through worldly eyes. When we begin to see spiritual realities clearly -- and act on their truth -- we'll see more victories in living the Christian life.

We touched on this passage in the previous lesson to make the point that we are joined to a new Head -- Christ -- so profoundly that his death has become our death. Now we need to go deeper and see how both his death and his life affect our everyday Christian lives.

In the course of our lesson we come squarely upon Paul's teaching on baptism. I don't want to avoid this just because it is controversial. But so that a thorough discussion of baptism doesn't get in the way of us following Paul's train of thought, I've included most of the baptism material in an "Excursus: Baptism by Immersion" (Romans 6:3-4). First we need to get Paul's main point. Then we'll tackle baptism.

Unbridled Sin is Incompatible with Christian Life (6:1)

Verse 1 is a transition:

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (6:1)

What does the "then" refer to? Paul has been talking in 5:20 about how grace has overpowered sin.

"But where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (5:20b)

So he begins this next section with a rhetorical question that launches him into a discussion of present-day sin:

"Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (6:1b)

The key idea that Paul introduces is to "continue74 in sin" (KJV, NRSV), to persist in our old lifestyle of sinning.75

We Died to Sin! (6:2)

Paul's answer to this rhetorical question is emphatic:

"By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (6:2)

In the previous lesson we noted that the word "died" is in the Greek Aorist tense, referring to a past event that took place at a single historical point, a particular time in the past. So what does Paul mean when he says you "have died." The answer lies in baptism.

Baptism Both Symbolizes Truth and Unites us to Christ (6:3-4)

What follows is one of the key passages about baptism in the entire New Testament:

3 "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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." (6:3-4)

As I mentioned, we'll save a more thorough discussion for the Excursus at the end of this lesson. But let me highlight several of Paul's points here:

1. We are baptized into Christ's death, not our own (6:3)

Sometimes we think of baptism as an enactment of the burial of our old way of life. And so it may be. But Paul's point is not death to our sinful lifestyle, but being united with Christ's own death on Calvary. Remember that we are joined to Christ our Head, so that his death becomes our death.

2. Baptism involves incorporation into Christ (6:3)

Verse 3 reads in part:

"All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death..."

The preposition eis, "into, toward," here has the idea of incorporation.76 The New English Bible emphasizes this with the translation "we were baptized into union with him."77 We see a similar use of eis as "incorporation into" in 1 Corinthians:

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)

What we learn from Romans 6:3 is that there is a sense in which baptism unites us with Christ. In baptism we become one with him.

3. Baptism by immersion symbolizes burial and resurrection (6:4)

"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." (6:4)

As I'll explain in the Excursus, by affirming that Paul is referring to baptism by immersion here doesn't necessarily invalidate other forms of baptism. But you can see how a person going down into the water and being covered by it symbolizes death and burial. Rising out of the water symbolizes resurrection. Baptism by immersion is a powerful visual expression of a spiritual truth.

4. Coming up from the water symbolizes living a new life (6:4b)

Beyond typifying Christ's burial and resurrection, Paul indicates that rising up out of the water is symbolic of us rising from the grave to a new life.

5. Baptism symbolizes our 'mystical union' with Christ (6:5)

Verse 5 carries this idea of baptism and union with Christ one step further:

"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (6:5)

Paul asserts that baptism has united us with Christ in his death. What is the nature of this union? The Greek is enlightening. English "united" (NIV, NRSV, NASB) or "planted together" (KJV) translates an interesting word, sumphutos, a compound verbal adjective formed from sun-, "together, with" + phutos, from phuō, "to grow with" (rather than from phuteō, "to plant").78 The union suggests that Christ's nature has grown alongside our nature and become fused with it. While sumphutos is not the technical term for a graft, it is appropriate to describe a graft (Romans 11:17-19; cf. John 15:1-5).

The construction of this phrase implies a process: The actual verb in this clause is ginomai, "to become." Here it is in the Greek Perfect tense, suggesting an event in the past whose influence still continues in effect at the present. Vincent refers to it as "an intimate and progressive union; coalescence."79,80 Goodspeed translates this verse, "For if we have grown into union with him by undergoing a death like his...."

Paul is saying: It is a fact that we were united with Christ in his death and have continued to grow together with him in his death. Sanday and Headlam call this "the doctrine of mystical union with Christ."81 Our union with Christ is obviously spiritual rather than physical, but that doesn't make it unreal. Paul speaks of our union with Christ's death as a spiritual reality, not just a figure, analogy, metaphor, or symbol for something else.

6. Baptism looks forward to our own resurrection on the Last Day (6:5)

"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (6:5)

Since baptism by immersion symbolizes Christ's resurrection, Paul sees in baptism the promise of our own resurrection on the Last Day, the point in the future when we will be united with him, in that now we too will have resurrection bodies like his (1 Corinthians 15:35-57).

Remember, be kind and loving to those who disagree with you.

Q1. (Romans 6:3-5) In what sense does baptism bring about our union with Christ? In what sense does baptism symbolize our union with Christ?
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Q2. (Romans 6:3-4) In Paul's reference to baptism in 6:3-4, what does "buried" (6:4a) correspond to in the act of baptism? What does "Christ was raised from the dead" (6:4b) correspond to in baptism?
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Alive in Christ, Dead to Sin

Let me illustrate this concept another way. When a person becomes a Christian, two spiritual realities come into being for a person. He or she is:

Alive in Christ. Born again (John 3:3, 7), that is, born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8), what theologians call being "regenerated" or created by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9-10; Titus 3:5), begotten by God (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1). These descriptions are all referring to the same spiritual state.

Dead to sin. Something has happened at the very root of a person that severs him or her from the power of the old life. Oh, the momentum of the old life may carry forward some of the behaviors for a time, but (to use an analogy) the umbilical cord has been cut. Paul uses various terms to describe this.

Paul uses the concept of being buried with Christ in baptism in his letter to the Colossians, where he compares "putting off of the sinful nature" to a kind of spiritual circumcision done by Christ,

"... Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12)

Dying and Rising in Paul

Paul often uses the idea of death and dying when he is talking about sin. He uses such terms as "die," "crucify," and "put to death" (or "mortify"). What makes it confusing is that across his many letters he uses these terms in different ways -- even in Romans. Trying to force upon Paul a uniform usage of this idea of dying or death will only make us more confused.

We must seek to understand with some precision what he means in our passages and not try to "average" his meaning with all his other uses of death and dying to sin. Here Paul has something startling and powerful to say, but we must persist long enough to grasp it and make it our own.

So far Paul has said:

"We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (verse 2b)

"... All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death...." (verse 3b-4a)

"We have been united with him like this in his death...." (verse 5)

When Paul says, "We died to sin," in verse 2b, he is not using the term figuratively to say that "we stopped sinning when we became a Christian" or anything of the kind. Nor is he talking about our death to our old life -- not just yet. He is saying that -- and I paraphrase --

When we came to faith in Christ and were baptized into union with Christ, we were united with him in his death on Golgotha, in his burial in the garden tomb, and in his resurrection on the Third Day.

Paul is not talking here about our personal death to sin. He is saying that in faith and baptism we became connected to Christ's own death entered into for the purpose of crushing sin and bringing atonement in the cross.

Q3. (Romans 6:1-7) Is Paul referring to a figurative "death" to sin, or to a kind of historical, actual death? Whose death is he talking about? How does this death become our own? To what degree is this just theological mumbo-jumbo or does it have some basis in reality?
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The Old Self and Body of Sin (6:6)

Now let's continue as Paul discusses this concept further in verse 6:

"6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." (6:6-7)

Notice the two terms "old self" and "body of sin." Stott rightly observes that they must have different meanings; else the sentence would have no meaning.82

"Old self" (NIV, NRSV) or "old man" (KJV) uses the generic term for human being (anthrōpos) along with the adjective "old" (palaios), "pertaining to that which is obsolete or inferior because of being old," often with the connotation of being antiquated or outworn.83 So "old self" here refers not to our lower, unregenerate self so much as to our former self, the person we used to be before Christ.

"Body of sin," on the other hand, does seem to refer to our sinful, unregenerate self, used synonymously here with Paul's figurative use of the word "flesh" (sarx). The reference here is probably to the physical body characterized by sin, the physical body which so easily responds to sinful impulses.84 Barrett captures the idea in his translation as "our sin-dominated body."85,86

So our old self, our sinful, unregenerate self is under attack by Christ's work.

Crucified, Destroyed, and Set Free (6:6)

The effect of Christ's attacks on our old self is spelled out in the verbs in this sentence:

"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." (6:6)

"Crucified with" here is in the Aorist tense. That means that it happened at a particular point in the past. Paul is not talking here about a continual dying to sin as the Bible does elsewhere (Luke 9:23; 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 4:11). He is referring to the death of crucifixion on Calvary's cross that we share with Christ. Also notice that this is in the passive voice. That means that the crucifixion was done to us; we didn't initiate it.  Paul uses "crucified" in a similar -- though not identical -- sense in Galatians 2:19-20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...."87

"Done away with" (NIV, NASB) or "destroyed" (NRSV, KJV) is the verb katargeō, a favorite word for Paul. It can mean: "(1) to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless." Some believe that here it carries the additional idea, "(2) to cause something to come to an end or be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside something."88 Here, definition 1 seems to make the most sense to me. This verb is also in the Aorist tense, with the idea of past action at a particular point in time. Like "crucified with," this verb in the passive voice means that the doing away with the body of sin isn't caused by our action, but by another's action -- God's power.

Because we have been crucified with Christ -- shared his crucifixion on the cross since we are united with him -- our flesh or sinful nature has been struck a mortal blow. Though it still exists, it has lost power. It has been weakened by our identification with Christ's crucifixion so that we are no longer compelled to be dominated by it.

"Be slaves" (NIV, NASB), "be enslaved" (NRSV), "serve" (KJV) is the verb douleuō, "be a slave, be subjected," then "to act or conduct oneself as one in total service to another, perform the duties of a slave, serve, obey."89 We were once slaves of our flesh, our sinful nature. But, according to God's word, we don't have to be slaves any longer!

Purpose: To Free Us from Slavery (6:6b-7)

This is the purpose of Christ's work in us:

"6 ... So that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed90 from sin." (6:6c-7)

Listen to these truths with your spirit! Christ died in order to:

  1. Make powerless our "flesh," our sinful, unregenerate self ("body of sin"), and thus
  2. Free us from slavery to sin, that is, from the compulsion to obey sin, to blindly follow the whims of our old nature.

Dead People Aren't Slaves (6:7)

Further, Paul gives a reason for this freedom in verse 7:

"A dead person is no longer a slave."

Before we were united with Jesus in his death, we were slaves to sin -- that is, we ended up obeying our whims and passions. We could not escape. We had no choice but to sin. We had no power to do otherwise. In spite of our best efforts we would fail.

Now, Paul says, we have been set free from sin, like slaves who have been emancipated. How have we been freed from sin's bondage? By being united with Christ and thus being part of his death on the cross. Christ's literal death to sin is ours, too. Christ's death on the cross broke the power, the bondage of sin. Since we are united with his death through baptism, we are part of that death and of that victory!

Q4. (Romans 6:6-7) In what way has our "body of sin," our "flesh," our old nature been made powerless because of our crucifixion with Christ? In what way have we been freed from slavery? What difference does this understanding make in our struggles against temptation?
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Alive to Christ (6:8)

Now Paul turns to the implications of this death for us:

"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." (6:8)

Paul has taken considerable pains to establish our personal connection and union with Christ's death. Now he extends that union to living with Christ eternally. Though in other letters Paul points to our everyday life with Christ (Galatians 2:20), here his focus is future tense: "We believe that we will also live with him."

Summing Up (6:9-10)

In verses 9 and 10, Paul sums up the lessons he has taught in the previous verses:

9 "For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." (6:9-10)

Paul reiterates the ways in which Christ's death deals with death and sin once and for all. Death will no longer have the final word, it no longer "has mastery" over Christ -- or us. The verb is kurieuō, "to be lord/master of." In Romans 6-7, the verb is used three times in the sense of "be master of, dominate," of things that take control of a person.91

"Death no longer has mastery over him (Christ)." (6:9)

"For sin shall not be your master." (6:14)

"The law has authority over a man only as long as he lives." (7:1)

Sin and death have mastered us heretofore, but no longer. In Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, we have died, and our life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

This phrase "once for all" in verse 10 sort of sums up the idea that Paul has been working at throughout the first 11 verses --  ephapax, "taking place once and to the exclusion of any further occurrence, once for all, once and never again."92 Jesus Christ died once and once only, not many times over. And we died with him in this once-for-all death and burial. Just as Jesus did not repeat his death to sin again and again, neither must we.

Count Yourself Dead to Sin (6:11a)

For the first 10 verses, Paul has been laying the groundwork of our union with Christ's death. Now, based on what we "know" (verse 6 and 9), we must take a step of faith concerning our own relationship to sin. Paul commands:

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6: 11)

"Count" (NIV), "consider" (NRSV, NASB), "reckon" (KJV) is the verb logizomai, which is primarily a mathematical and accounting term, then used of cognitive processes. The basic meaning is "to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate." Paul often uses the term in a transferred sense: as a result of a calculation, "evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider."93

Paul's logic is as follows:

IF it is indeed true that Christ died and was buried once-for-all for sin,

AND IF you have been united to him and to his death and burial by baptism,

THEN you must now consider yourselves to be dead to sin in the same way.

Does this mean that we are immune to sin's temptations? No. Nor are we strong in ourselves. But we believe that the essential power of sin has been broken in our lives by the cross and thus we are no longer compelled to be habitual sinners.

Either we believe Satan's lie that we are compelled to a life of slavery to sins, that we are weak and we can't escape. Or we believe the truth that Christ has broken the power of sin and the flesh, and that we can step out of slavery into freedom.

We are to believe and act on the truth: that we are dead to sin in the same way that Christ is now dead to sin. When we "reckon" Christ's victory to be the truth, then and only then can we move towards victory over sin in our own lives.

Q5. (Romans 6:11) What does it mean to "reckon, consider, count" in verse 11? Does this actually mean that we are convincing ourselves of something that isn't really true? What will be the effect in our lives if we actually do consider it to be true that we died with Christ's death with regard to sin?
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You Are Alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11b)

Though in our lesson we have emphasized what may seem to be the negative side -- our union with Christ's death --  Paul's point here climaxes with a powerful positive:

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6: 11)

Throughout these verses Paul stresses not only our union with Christ's death, but also with Christ's life and resurrection:

"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." (6:4)

"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (6:5)

"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." (6:8)

"The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." (6:10)

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6: 11)


The study is available as an e-book or printed book

We are not dead to sin and on our own. We are dead to sin, but more than that, we are united to Christ's resurrection life and power. We can live our lives with a negative bent looking back at sin's pull and struggle. Or we can look forward to our present life in Christ's power and to our eventual resurrection with him at the end of the age.

We are united to him. We share in his victory over sin as well as his fullness of life -- both spiritual (communion with the Source of Life now) and physical (victory over physical death and an eternal resurrection body that will never die). Hallelujah!

Dear friends, what we have just studied in some detail are some of the most profound truths of our Christian faith. They may not sink in immediately, so give them time. Think about them, meditate on them, and pray that God will give you the revelation that can cause you to "consider" or "count" these things true for yourself.

Prayer

Father, we do pray for your revelation of truth to our minds and hearts. We have been battered by sin so much -- and so often needlessly. Help us to understand our death with Christ as well as the power of our shared life with him. Teach us in our heart of hearts. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Big Concept

The truth is that we have become so united with Christ, that the "old us" died when Christ died and the power of our "flesh" or sinful nature was broken. What's more, we now share the power of Christ's life in our lives. We must believe this enough to live our lives accordingly.

Key Verses

"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." (Romans 6:4)

"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." (Romans 6:6)

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)

References

74. Epimenō, "stay, remain," here, "to continue in an activity or state, continue, persist (in), persevere" (BDAG 375-376, 2).
75. The word for "sin" used here is harmartia, the New Testament's most common term for sin, literally "missing the mark," "a departure from ... divine standards of uprightness." In some verses, it might be seen in almost personal terms, as "a destructive evil power" (BDAG 50-51).
76. Morris, Romans, p. 247.
77. Today's English Version: "We were baptized into union with his death." Goodspeed: "... All of us who have been baptized into union with Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death."
78. Vincent, Word Studies. So also Morris, Romans, p. 249, fn. 27.
79. Vincent, Word Studies.
80. The KJV literally translates the phrase "likeness (homoiōma) of his death," which here seems to amount to an "equality or identity with" his death, so that modern translations leave out this noun for clarity (see Thayer 445, b).
81. Sanday and Headlam, Romans, pp. 162-166.
82. Stott, Romans, p. 176.
83. Palaios, BDAG 751, 2.
84. Morris, Romans, pp. 251-252.
85. Barrett, Romans, pp. 120, 124.
86. Paul uses the term "old self" two other times, which is "put off" (Ephesians 4:22) and "taken off" (Colossians 3:9), as one might take off a garment. But here the old self is crucified with Christ.
87. In Galatians 2:20, "have been crucified" is in the Greek perfect tense, which carries the idea of an action that took place in the past but is still in effect.
88. Katargeō, BDAG 525-526, meanings 2 and 3.
89. Douleuō, BDAG 259, 2.b.
90. "Freed" or "acquitted" (NASB margin) in verse 7 is the verb dikaioō, "to justify," used extensively in Paul's letters to explain God's pardon for our sins. Here it has a technical sense: "to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, to make free/pure" (BDAG 249, 3).
91. Kurieuō, BDAG 576, 2.
92. Ephapax, BDAG 417, 2. The word is also found three times in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; and 10:10, emphasizing Jesus' once-for-all death for sin.
93. Logizomai, BDAG 597, 1.b. It is used this way in Romans 2:26; 6:11; 8:36; and 9:8. Also Acts 19:27; Mark 15:28 (alternate reading); Luke 22:37 ("numbered with" = "counted, considered with"); 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 10:2b.


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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