October 22, 2014

Romans 6

Notes from a small group study
Sources: MacArthur Study Bible, NIV
Romans Verse-by-Verse, by William R. Newell
The Grace of God: A Journey of Discovery in Romans, by Alan Perkins

In the opening verses of chapter 6, Paul is anticipating his readers’ reaction to his teaching in chapter 5.

The readers’ question may be something like, “If it is true that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more,’ then why not go on sinning and let God’s grace increase?” Those who favored holding to the law as the means of gaining favor with God used this argument to discredit the idea of that God saves and sustains the Christian through His grace alone. If God’s favor is by grace, the argument went, then there would be no reason not to sin.

Paul responded to these arguments in 6:1-2: “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?” A continuing lifestyle of unrestrained sin is not consistent with the Christian’s identity as a believer and a child of God. Note that Paul does not deny that more sin results in more grace. He does hold, however, that sinning more to cause grace to increase is not an acceptable way to live for and glorify God.

V.2—The reason we must not continue in a lifestyle of sin is that we have died…the person who previously was under control of sin has died and a new birth has occurred. Paul’s reference to our conversion experience as death emphasizes the complete change that has taken place within us. It is not consistent with his or her new identity in Christ for the Christian to live as though the change had not taken place.

Vv.3-4: “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.”

Baptism is a picture or enactment of what takes place for the Christian at his or her conversion. Its purpose is to help us to understand what has happened in our conversion: the old person, a servant of sin, died, and a new person, the servant of righteousness, has taken his or her place.

The picture that baptism paints for us is illustrative. First, we died: being submerged in baptism is a symbol of our identification with Christ in His death and burial. By being “baptized into Christ,” we were spiritually united with Him—that is, the old person died with Him.

Second, we were born again or resurrected, symbolized by our emergence from the water of baptism…we identified with Christ in His resurrection through the reenactment. Just as Jesus rose in newness of life, a new life now belongs to the Christian also: he or she is a new being, the old sinful self having been buried with Him and the new spiritual self having risen. Therefore, the Christian is intended to live according to the principles of this new birth into communion with God and the righteousness it affords. Baptism therefore represents what has taken place spiritually within us.

Vv. 5-7: “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.”

The Christian’s life in Christ has both a present and a future aspect. Spiritually, in the present, we are united with Christ and share in His life; the Holy Spirit literally dwells in us. But our physical resurrection takes place in the future. If through faith we have become united with Him in His death, then it is certain that we will live with Him through our future resurrection.

…our old self was crucified with Him”—The “old self” is how Paul refers to the person each of us was before our salvation experience—a person under the control of sinful impulses. Paul’s point is that that person has died with Christ, the result being that “the body ruled by sin”—that is, the physical body seen as sin’s instrument—has been rendered powerless by the rebirth. The Christian no longer is a servant of sin, and sin has lost its absolute power to use the Christian’s physical body to do evil. As a result, the Christian has been freed from sin. Just as a servant, when he or she dies, is freed from his or her master’s authority, so the Christian, having died in Christ, is freed from sin’s authority over his or her life.

Vv. 8-11: “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. 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.”
Death was victorious over Jesus in His crucifixion, but death’s ultimate defeat came when its power was broken in the resurrection. Christians likewise share in Jesus’ victory over death. Christ’s death paid for our sin; just as His death defeated sin, so the death of our old self releases us from sin’s bondage. The power sin had over us was broken by Christ, and therefore we are called on to live in accordance to the defeat of sin’s power—to become righteous in fact just as we are seen as righteous in our position before God in His sight.
Vv. 12-13: “12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 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.”
The Christian has a choice now because of Christ’s victory over sin and death. The Christian can continue to let sin control him or her, even though he or she is no longer a servant of sin, or the Christian can choose to offer his or her body to God for Him to use “as an instrument of righteousness.” To continue to live in sin, however, would be analogous to a servant, having been freed from bondage to a wicked master, voluntarily returning to service to that master. Paul states it plainly: “14  .”
Vv. 15-16: “15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 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?
Paul is arguing in a manner similar to verse 1. In verse 1, the question involved whether the Christian should go on sinning in order to experience more of God’s grace. But here in verse 15, the question is whether or not sin matters. It is as though Paul is asking, “If we are no longer under the law, then why be concerned about sin at all? Let’s go on living the way we always have lived and not worry about it.” Paul rejects this idea in very strong terms. In verse 6:1 and here in verse 15, he is posing possible attitudes the legalist Christian may have. The legalists in the Roman church seemed to be charging that it was a sin not to live under the law and that without the law there was only sinful behavior.
It was possible in Paul’s day for someone to voluntarily indenture himself or herself as a servant in order to pay off debts or just have his or her everyday needs for food and shelter met. By choosing to follow Christ, the
Christian has chosen voluntarily to serve and obey Him as master. The master/servant relationship often is used to show the relationship between Christ and the believer.
A servant is obligated to serve his or her master completely. Therefore, a life of compromise between sin and obedience is not an option for the Christian. No one can faithfully serve two masters (see Luke 16:13). The believer being a servant of Christ and the unbeliever being in bondage to sin demonstrates that complete independence is not an option. Therefore, the only option for the human being is which master to serve.
Vv. 17-18: “17 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. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
Paul now brings these ideas to a personal level by applying them to his readers, the Christians in the church at Rome. They had formerly been servants to sin, but through Christ had been set free from sin to become servants of righteousness instead.
Vv. 19-23: “19 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. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!22 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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“…because of your human limitations…” An alternate translation is “…because you are weak in your natural selves…”  Our present human existence provides a hindrance to our ability to fully grasp spiritual truth, so Paul repeats his point again: “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.” The Christian’s devotion to righteousness and obedience to Christ should be just as strong and complete as was his or her former devotion to sin.

Before coming to Christ, our sense of right and wrong was skewed. We felt no consistent obligation to do what is right or righteous according to an accurate and constant definition of righteousness. We did the right thing with it suited us and otherwise made our own choices, right or wrong, according to an inaccurate and inconstant sense good and evil. While we felt “free,” in reality our freedom was actually bondage to our slippery standards of behavior.

Paul asks his readers to reflect on their former way of life. Was there any real benefits from their former way of life? The expected response is no, there was not real benefit; and, in fact, the only result is shame. Paul is speaking of shame in the present, not in the past, now that they are aware of and dedicated to the standards of righteousness in Christ: the grace of God and their present position of righteousness enables them to see their past sin for the shameful thing that it was.

Throughout the passage, Paul contrasts the results of sin and obedience. Sin leads to death (vv. 16, 21, 23) and obedience leads to righteousness, holiness, and eternal life (vv. 16, 19, 22, 23). Paul is not here laying out for us a doctrine of salvation. He is contrasting two kinds of lives—the life lived in bondage to tin and the life lived in bondage to God and His righteousness. The life of sin—that is, the life of the unbeliever—is death. Death here denotes eternal separation from God. The result of for the believer, however, is not something that is earned, but the gift from God of eternal life—that is, a life in His presence for eternity.

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