Romans 1-3 is Paul’s exposition of the fall of mankind into sin. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:23). But while the news is bad, there is good news that is greater than the bad news. God saves us by the work of Jesus Christ. All we must do is receive the free gift of grace. If we will accept Paul’s words of our death in Roman 1-3 and receive his words of life in Romans 4-5, we will be ready to look at the map of Romans 6 to understand where we are and how we should proceed. As it turns out, God’s grace not only justifies us, it also changes us.
20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 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.
One of the great wonders of the Christian life is reconciling who you are now in Christ with who you once were without him. We are like one who marvels as he sees his empty bank account become one with an infinite sum. Life will never be the same. For the Christian, however, our lives have not simply been enhanced as the rich man but resurrected as the dry bones of the valley (Ezekiel 37). We have passed from death into life.
John Piper says, “Romans 6 deals with the kind of life that leads to eternal life: What it is and how to live it.” When we placed our faith in Christ and trusted his finished work to set us right with God, we received his grace. What do we then do with that grace? In Romans 6, Paul points out two opposing options. We can use grace as an excuse for sin, or we can use it as a power for obedience.
There are two key words throughout this chapter: death and life. Sin leads to death, and grace leads to life. If we choose to use that grace to sin more so that grace might multiply, we have misunderstood the purpose of grace. Grace doesn’t increase because we seek sin, but because we pursue God. As we see God in light of the law, we perceive more of our sin. But we also see more grace covering our sin. That leads to more obedience to God, not less. Life in Christ is stronger than death in Adam. Grace saves us from sin and to obedience. Life is found in and lived through Jesus.
But when preached rightly, the gospel of grace leads to a charge sounding something like this. “So, you’re telling me that it doesn’t matter what I do. Jesus has paid for it all. If that’s true, then why not sin?” Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound? No way! How can we who died to sin still live in it? As Michael Bird says, “The problem with remaining in sin is the absurdity of the thought. It is kind of like asking whether one should remain stuck at the bottom of a well even while a rope has been lowered down to us. Grace is designed to get us out of that situation, not to make us feel more comfortable within it!”
Paul gives us five implications of this grace that leads us out of death and into life.
First, we are united to Christ (v. 5). If there was a theme to Paul’s writing, it might be this idea of union with Christ. The Christian doesn’t merely follow in the footsteps of Jesus; he weds Jesus. What he is, we are. What he experienced, we experienced. Since God unites us with Jesus in his death, he shall indeed unite us with him in resurrection. The boundless hope of our life is not that we will bring ourselves from death to life, but that by being joined to Christ, he will do it for us.
Second, our old self was crucified (v. 6). The cross is the center of the Christian story. Upon the cross, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. It was not merely a nice gesture or a symbolic act. It was real punishment leading to real death for real sin. On the cross, Jesus, the sinless man, had the entire weight of sin placed upon him. He paid for it all. Since we are united with him, when he was crucified, we were crucified. Sin’s reign in our life is over.
Third, we are set free (v. 7). Sin runs the course of life. David confesses he was born with it (Psalm 51:5). Sin’s reign is mighty and pervasive. It wire-taps our brain, reading our desires and offering the latest high. It infests our flesh, pushing us toward comfort and satisfaction in forbidden choices. But in the crucifixion of Christ, being united to him, we are set free from the rule of sin.
Fourth, we will live with Christ (v. 8-9). If the first event (dying with Christ) has happened, the second event (living with Christ) follows. God keeps his promises. If we have died with Christ, we will also live with him. Sin is irrevocably defeated. In Jesus’ resurrection, our relationship to sin is fractured.
Fifth, we are alive to God (v. 10-11). Once upon a time, we were alive to sin and dead to God. But now we are dead to sin and alive to God. Jesus’ once for all death lead to his resurrection life. We join him in that. We don’t have to wait for it, either. We join him right now in part as we await the fullness of what is to come. We should consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God this very moment.
If 6:1-11 tells us what is true, 6:12-14 tells us what to do with that truth. We are not under the rule of sin anymore. It can allure us, tempt us, call out to us from the streets, but it has no power to make us obey. Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace, and that grace leads us away from sin and into obedience. We can say no to sin and yes to Jesus. We can do this (and succeed in doing it) because the words of 6:1-11 are true.
The question that remains is not “will we receive grace?” but rather “what will we do with the grace we received?” There are two options before us. We can use grace as an excuse to sin or we can use grace as power to obey. Paul urges us to present ourselves to God (v. 13). Sin has no dominion over us. We are under grace. That means the grace we need to grow in holiness is the grace that comes from our union with Christ. We must never stop drinking from this fountain. Let’s present ourselves to God and let his grace rule.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
Romans 6:1 asks, “Should we sin to gain more grace?” Romans 6:15 asks, “Should we sin because of grace?” The answer to both is an emphatic “No!” We have come to Christ with all our need and placed it at his feet. We have pleaded with him to forgive our sins, and he has shown on the cross that he paid the penalty. More than that, he has granted new life with him. The grace he gives comes at the cost of his finished work. How could we treat it as a poker chip to be gambled?
Tom Schreiner says, “One is either God’s slave or sin’s slave. Those who think that freedom is attained by jettisoning obedience to God opt for sin as their lord.” Real freedom is not the absence of all rule. It is the presence of right rule. We cannot be free by throwing off all lordship. To do so is to be under the lordship of sin. You find the escape hatch by becoming a slave to God. True freedom is found living under the lordship of Christ.
We are slaves to the one whom we obey, and we all obey someone or something. Our lives are thousands of little decisions to obey either sin or God. One leads to death, the other to righteousness. Before coming to Christ, our master, Sin, led us to death. Every act of sin brought us closer to the grave and further from the Father. But after coming to Christ, our Master, Jesus, has so thoroughly cleansed and changed our heart that we no longer desire to obey sin. We desire to obey Jesus.
Paul says we have become “obedient from the heart” (v. 17). Heart obedience is different from behavioral obedience. To obey from the heart is to obey out of your deepest self. We have not done this on our own, finding our way to God like a pilgrim stumbling upon the New World. We have come to these blissful shores by the blood-stained path of Jesus. God brought us here. He emancipated our soul. He purchased our life. He became our Lord. Our former master beat us daily, slowly killing us. Our new master heals us moment by moment until we look like him.
We have the ability now to love God because of the great love with which he loved us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The man who loves because he has been made free by God is the most revolutionary man on earth. He changes all values. He is the most explosive material of human society.” In an age where sin still enslaves, the man saved by God and following God in righteous is the most revolutionary man in town. If we will be open to God and follow him, letting him change us moment by moment, he will use us to spread this gospel of grace.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Verse 23 is the summation of all that Paul has been saying throughout the chapter. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We earn death, but God gives life. That is the message of the gospel in seven words. The simplicity of it should not deceive us. There are depths here that we will never fully plumb. At the cross, we died. In the resurrection, we rose.
N.T. Wright says, “The Messiah’s resurrection means that those who are ‘in the Messiah’ now stand, and must walk, on resurrection ground.” When we see the miracle of the grace we have received, we stop thinking it as cheap and start seeing it as precious. We look and see the golden path to follow. The free gift is free because Jesus paid the ultimate price. It is free because he bore the wrath of God on our behalf. If we ever begin to think we earned grace, we have misunderstood it. If we ever begin to use grace as an excuse for sin, we have misappropriated it. If we ever start to grow tired of grace, we have lost the marvel of it.
Grace for the Christian brings a new power to obey. Jesus gave us life in exchange for death. The greatest treasures in the world stacked on top of one another and handed to us with a golden certificate of authentication would not be worth one ounce of grace dripping from the throne room of God. If we have one dew drop of the grace of God, we have enough treasure to fill the oceans a thousand times over. Would we ever think of wasting earthly treasures on rusty experiences and worthless thrills? How then could we think of spending God’s grace any differently?