1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do 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. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
John MacArthur has offered a nice summary of the fascinating life of John Newton.
In his early teens, John Newton ran away from England and joined the crew of a slave ship. Some years later he himself was given to the black wife of a white slave trader in Africa. He was cruelly mistreated and lived on leftovers from the woman’s meals and on wild yams he dug from the ground at night. After escaping, he lived with a group of natives for a while and eventually managed to become a sea captain himself, living the most ungodly and profligate life imaginable. But after his miraculous conversion in 1748, he returned to England and became a selfless and tireless minister of the gospel in London. He left for posterity many hymns that are still among the most popular in the world. By far the best-known and best-loved of those is “Amazing Grace.” He became the pastor of a church in England, and to this day the churchyard carries an epitaph that Newton himself wrote:
John Newton, Clerk,
Once an infidel and libertine,
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour,
Preserved, restored, pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long labored to destroy.
That is what conversion looks like: a person moving from a life of sin to a life of forgiveness and grace. Newton’s story is one expression of what that can look like. If you have come to Christ, you have your own story of what that looks like. Regardless, each story should have these basic elements: (1) a person dead in their sins and (2) a person made alive by the grace of God received through repentance and faith.
The gospel is the good news that this transformation is now possible. But it must be maintained that this is, in fact, a transformation, that coming to Christ does, in fact, mean new life. If this truth is not proclaimed, it might be assumed that the purpose of the cross is merely to punch one’s ticket for Heaven. It is true that the cross of Christ is what enables us to go to Heaven, but the point is that the cross also has radical and life-changing dynamics right here and right now.
In Romans 6, Paul is responding to a severe and tragic version of this kind of reduction. Specifically, he is referring to the notion that if a person is truly saved and forgiven, that person can now sin with impunity. This is because (the thinking goes) Christ will forgive us our sins so they do not really matter. What is more, the people to whom Paul was responding in Romans 6 were seemingly going so far as to say that their sinning actually makes God look even better because as they sin and He forgives His grace shines brighter and brighter.
Now, this is obviously a monstrous and blasphemous idea, but human beings, even those who are redeemed, can justify some pretty absurd ideas. This is one of those, and this is the idea that Paul rejects in Romans 6. He does so on the basis of the cross: what Christ did on the cross and what the cross means for believers.
Your coming to Christ through faith means a participation with Him in His death and resurrection.
Paul begins be speaking of conversion in terms of participation with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
The argument is, in a sense, simple, though it is not in any way simplistic. Paul’s argument is that a believer dare not continue in a life of sin because we have died to sin. We have died to sin because have been “baptized into Christ Jesus,” “into His death.” This is a most provocative and fascinating image, and one that needs to be unpacked. Paul continues this image of baptism:
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Now this is an interesting image that Paul uses and it raises certain important questions. The most important question it raises is whether or not Paul is teaching baptismal regeneration, the idea that the act of water baptism confers upon the person being baptized saving grace. There are Christians who believe this, but I think it is a serious misreading of what Paul is saying.
For one thing, such a notion goes utterly against Paul’s entire teaching on salvation as being by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul’s theology simply leaves no room for works to be smuggled into salvation, even important acts of obedience like baptism.
What is more, some have argued that Paul is not necessarily even talking about water baptism here at all. There are some who point out that not every reference to baptism in the New Testament applies to water baptism. For instance, James Montgomery Boice has made the point that “there are two closely related words for baptism in the Greek language and…they do not necessarily have the same meaning.” The first, bapto, means “dip” or “immerse.” The second word, baptizo, can mean that but has a wider range of meanings. To illustrate the point, Boice points to a pickle recipe from an ancient Greek, Nicander, who, around 2200 years ago, used both of these words for baptism to describe how to make pickles!
Nicander says that to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be “dipped” (bapto) into boiling water and then “baptized” (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern immersing the vegetable in a solution, but the first is temporary. The second, the act of “baptizing” the vegetable, produces a permanent change.
The same dynamic is at play in the New Testament. Not every use of “baptized” means water baptism. For instance, Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 10:
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
Clearly Paul is using “baptized into Moses” here to mean that the Israelites in the exodus were radically united with Moses in his calling and ministry and work of liberation. In the exodus, they truly were one. This is almost certainly the way that Paul is using the image in our text. When Paul writes references “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus” he is speaking of our radical identification with Christ through salvation. The same must be said of the idea of us being baptized “into His death.” We are caught up with Christ in His saving work for us. We have been crucified with Him and buried with Him and will rise with Him.
It should be noted, however, that Paul’s reference to baptism here could very well be speaking of water baptism without it meaning anything like baptismal regeneration. This is possible, though as Boice has pointed out, it is not utterly clear that it is so. But it could be that Paul is speaking of water baptism as the sign and symbol of the fact that we have been united with Christ through saving faith. For instance, the Greek scholar A.T. Robertson rejected the idea “that baptism makes one dead to sin and alive to God” and sees in Paul’s words instead “a plea to live up to the ideal of the baptized life.” New Testament scholar Douglas Moo believes that “baptism…is Pauline shorthand in this text for the conversion experience” and that what we see in these verses is “the Old Testament/Jewish notion of corporate solidarity” that is “judicial or forensic.”
However precisely you understand this, it is absolutely clear that the New Testament presents conversion as something that marks a profound break with our old lives and an entry into new life, and it marks this by saying that we stand in solidarity with Christ and His saving work on the cross and in and through the empty tomb.
Your participation with Christ in His death and resurrection means that sin no longer has overpowering force in your life.
This participation in the death and resurrection of Christ on the part of the believer means that sin no longer has overpowering force in the life of the believer.
6 We 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
These phrases are most telling: “the body of sin might be brought to nothing,” “no longer be enslaved to sin,” “set free from sin,” “the death he died he died to sin.”
When we come to Christ and are born again, we are no longer bound in servitude to sin. We are now free to walk in the victory that Christ has won for us. Our old self was enslaved to sin and had to do what sin demanded, but that old self is now dead, it was crucified and buried with Christ. The new self is the self that has risen with Christ and will rise with Christ, the resurrected self, the new creation that Christ has made and is making in us.
This constitutes a legal change of status. Craig Keener has illustrated this by pointing out that “when a Gentile slave escaped from a Jewish owner and converted to Judaism by baptism, in Jewish legal theory his or her new personhood made the slave free from the former owner.” In other words, the new convert could no longer be treated as the old slave because the convert was now a new person by virtue of his baptism and conversion into Judaism. The same is true for us when we come to Christ: we are no longer what we were!
It must be understood that this does not mean that sin no longer harasses us or that sin no longer tempts us. It also does not mean that Christians will never again sin as if being born again means we will never again desire to sin. Christians still struggle and battle. Even so, Christians now struggle and battle with sin from the vantage point of being in the One who has conquered sin, death, and hell! We now struggle, when we do, from the winning side!
This is vitally, crucially important.
Grant Osborne put it well when he wrote that sin “no longer is an internal force controlling us. Christ is the internal power in our lives, and sin is now an external power trying to defeat us.” Furthermore, in commenting on the phrase “that the body of sin might be brought to nothing,” Osborne notes that “[w]hile the verb can mean that the sinful nature has been ‘annihilated’ or ‘destroyed’…it more likely means ‘rendered ineffective.’” This is quite helpful!
To return to John Newton, he captured well the reality of what Paul is arguing when he said:
I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon, I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan. And I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”
Yes, we still feel the pull of sin, and, tragically, we sometimes even fall into it, but we are now set free from sin, we now no longer have to sin, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have been set free. We have been redeemed and forgiven. Sin may harass, but it no longer controls. Sin may tempt, but it can no longer overpower.
The reality of what has happened to you in Christ should now set you free to live in the victory He has won for you.
Accepting the reality of what Christ has done for us is utterly crucial to being able to walk in victory. For this reason, Paul calls upon us to think rightly about these matters and live in and into the fullness of the victory we have in Christ.
11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do 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. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Here again, Paul’s phraseology is profound. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.” We are to “consider” or “reckon” our old lives as gone and our new lives in Christ as the reality in which we can and should walk. As a result of this reorientation in our thinking, we will refuse to let sin “reign” in our bodies or to do what it tempts us to do. Nor will we use our bodies for wickedness, but rather in righteous service of our holy God. This is because sin has lost its “dominion,” it no longer gets the final say over us.
James Montgomery Boice has offered some quite helpful advice on this point.
A holy life comes from knowing – I stress that word – knowing that you can’t go back, that you have died to sin and been made alive to God. Stott says, “A born-again Christian should no more think of going back to the old life than an adult to his childhood, a married man to his bachelorhood, or a discharged prisoner to his prison cell.”
Part of the problem is that many Christians seem to think that they are still stuck in the old place of sin. Many Christians cannot accept that they are where Christ says they really are through Him.
I have an uncle, my Uncle Billy, who is a big motorcycle guy. He loves to ride and, in particular, he loves to ride with his best friend. He is close to his best friend though, by his own admission, his friend is probably the most bull-headed and stubborn guy in the world. He says that his buddy simply will not admit when he is wrong.
My Uncle Billy was telling my father that he and his friend were riding in Pennsylvania when they became lost. They had no idea where they were. Finally, after, I am sure, waiting way too long to do so, they pulled over at a little store and asked the guy behind the counter where they were.
The gentleman behind the counter was a local guy so he was in a good position to tell them where they were. So he pulled out a map and turned it around so that my uncle and his buddy could see it, pointed at their location at that moment and began, “Now, you guys are right here…”
“No we’re not,” my uncle’s friend responded to the gentleman.
“What?” he responded.
“That’s not where we are.”
“Yes,” the gentleman rejoined, “it is. You are currently, right now, right here.” And he pointed at the map.
My uncle’s friend refused to give. “No. That’s not where we’re at.”
The man behind the counter, growing irritated, said, “Yes. You are. We are standing right here.” And again he jabbed at a point on the map.
“We can’t be there. You’re mistaken.”
My uncle reported that by this time my uncle was growing increasingly embarrassed by his friend’s behavior. The man behind the counter, exasperated at the other’s stubbornness, persisted: “Listen. I live here. I’ve lived here all of my life. You’re not from here. You’re lost. Believe me, this is where we are.”
To which my uncle’s friend shook his head and said, “No. That’s not where we’re at.”
At this, my uncle walked outside while the two men commenced arguing.
The gentleman behind the counter was, of course, correct. He knew what he was talking about. My uncle’s friend did not. That is what makes the story so maddening and also so very funny. If there was an Olympics for defiant stubbornness, my uncle’s friend would have won gold that day.
As humorous and frustrating as my Uncle’s friend was being with this old gentleman, do we not do the very same with Christ? Is Christ not trying to tell us that if we are in Him we are no longer there in the land of sin and death and judgment but we are rather here in the land of mercy and forgiveness and obedience and new life? And do we not, with infuriating stubbornness, protest to Christ that while we are indeed saved we in fact are not where He says we are but are rather still there in the land of sin and its dominion? Do we not frequently refuse to accept what Christ says about us? Do we not deny that we are where He says we are: in the land of peace and new creation?
Christ is calling to us. He is telling us that we are now in a place we cannot imagine, a place of freedom from sin, a place of abundant life in and through Him, a place of joy and peace. But we feel the call of our former home, our former land. We must not go back there! We must not think we still live there! We have been called out from that place. That is a land of darkness, but Christ has called us and placed us in the light of the Kingdom.
Do not believe the lie that you must continue to be and do what you were and did before Christ set you free. He is telling you where you are. Believe Him! Believe Him and live!
 John MacArthur, Jr., Romans 1-8. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1991), p.311-312.
 James Montgomery Boice, Romans. Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), p.659.
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p.363.
 Clinton Ed. Arnold, ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.35.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.425.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol. 6 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.150,154.
 Quoted in John Whitecross, The Shorter Catechism Illustrated (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), question 35. quoted in The Christian Pioneer (1856) edited by Joseph Foulkes Winks, p. 84. Also in The Christian Spectator, vol. 3 (1821), p.186.
 James Montgomery Boice, p.656.