Sometimes when I read Paul, there is a tendency to get a little dizzy from the way his words go in circles around a basic truth. In the middle of this chapter he repeatedly uses the antonyms slave and free to explain our relationship with sin and righteousness. In verse 18 Paul states our position, and then in verse 20 he flips the words upside-down and backward for a mirror image of the same truth. By Paul’s reasoning, slave and free are not opposing concepts, but rather two sides of the same truth. If this seems confusing, consider Chuck Swindoll’s observations: “It is possible to be a slave to something and think you are free” and also “it is possible to be free and think you are enslaved.”
So where is Paul going with his message in chapter six? Simply said, he wants to assure the reader that Christ came to change our relationship with God. In verses 21-22 he describes how this changes the “fruit” (benefit) and end result. Without Christ, all our work only leads to shame and death. With Christ we are made righteous and given life. Paul declares a summary contrast in the often quoted verse 23. Sin earns us only death, but God gives freely (grace) the (undeserved) life eternally in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is not merely an end, but a new beginning! Paul expects believers to not just accept the gospel, but also to respond with a new way of living through obedience. Douglas Moo comments:
“Interestingly, Paul suggests that our new obedience is to mirror the old obedience. If at one time we were dedicated to serving money, or striving for status, now we are to employ those same energies in serving God and righteousness.”
next: Romans 7:1-6
Few today would argue against the statement that slavery is an abhorrent practice. Nobody wants to return to the times when men, women, and children were torn away from their homes, put into chains, and forced against their will to labor under extremely harsh conditions to profit a heartless master. This dark picture can make it difficult to grasp what Paul is teaching through the illustration of slavery. We may attempt to soften his words by substituting servant for slave (both acceptable translations from the Greek); or we can explain how slavery under Rome differed from slavery in the 19th century. However, we still must try to comprehend the truth that Paul is teaching.
The most basic truth here is that everyone has a master, but we have been given freedom to choose between two masters. The corollary is that we must obey our chosen master. How that is done can be seen in the Greek word translated obey. It is a compound of the preposition “under” and the verb “to hear” (acoustic comes from this root). Hearing means more than just receiving a sound. Hearing conveys the idea of “paying attention to” or of “listening with a purpose of responding.” The addition of “under” clarifies the relationship of listener to speaker. Submit translates the same concept: accepting that our freedom (or will) is under the master. The application of Paul’s words is presented by Douglas Moo:
“At one time we were slaves of sin, but in placing our faith in Christ, we have committed ourselves to a new “pattern of teaching” – the gospel. And the gospel demands that we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and live out the implications of that lordship”
Here are some highlights from Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on this passage:
“The old master, sin, is dedicated to the destruction of those who serve it. The new master, obedience, seeks righteousness, those things which please God and give life to those who serve Him.
Something happens immediately when a person receives the grace of God through faith. He or she is instantly given a new heart, a new nature that hates sin and desires to obey its new master: righteousness.
While the illustration of slavery is powerful, it is flawed in one important respect. The truth Paul labored to teach is really a paradox. Slavery to God is the greatest freedom a human can ever know.”
next: finish chapter 6
Behavior and identity can not be easily separated. What we do affects who we are; and who we are affects what we do. God wants us not only to know we are His children, but also to behave as His children. The death and resurrection of Christ forever changed who we are, and Paul demands that this truth must change how we live. Paul’s presentation of the truth of God’s grace pivots at verse 11 from recognition to response. Understanding grace is not easy, and applying it can be quite difficult. Chuck Swindoll writes:
“Grace is not of this world. It is supernatural in origin and unfathomable to a depraved mind. So it should be no surprise that a newly emancipated spirit struggles to understand and apply something so foreign to its old nature.”
In the middle of chapter six Paul calls us to a “reckoning” of who we are. He uses the Greek word logizomai which can be translated consider, count, number, estimate. The word carries the idea of a mathematical assessment or bookkeeping procedure, and has the sense figuratively of evaluating the facts. Paul wants the reader to contemplate what it means to know you are dead to sin, and living to God. He wants us to understand that we are no longer slaves to sin, and therefore we are freed to live in Christ.
The response for Paul is not complicated. Make a choice. Exchange death for a resurrected life. Choose to serve righteousness, not unrighteousness. He calls us (verse 13) to “present” (give, offer) ourselves to God. This Greek word paristemi has the connotation to dedicate in service to a king. We are asked to freely surrender our lives to God. D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“If we give our lives to God, He will give them back to us. He is never in debt to any of His children. Anything that we have ever done for Him has been reimbursed to us a thousand times over. If we surrender our lives to Christ, any thing which we give to Him we shall get back, perhaps not in the form in which we surrendered it, but in a return so pefect that we shall be content forevermore that our Lord has arranged life for us.”
next: complete Chapter 6:15-23
The widely held view of death considers it to be the end of life. The struggles of living are finally over at death. It is the point beyond which nobody can return. There is a definite finality to death. For better or for worse, what is done can no longer be undone. Paul does not disagree with this concept in his discussion of the death of Jesus Christ. With the full authority of the Son of God, from the cross Jesus declared: “It is finished.” The gospel, however, turns everything upside-down, and the lowest moment of history becomes the ultimate victory. The cross and the tomb do not mark the end of life, but rather the death of death for all who are united with Christ! D.G. Barnhouse explains:
“But the outstanding truth of our text is that God looked down into time from His eternal vantage point and saw us in Christ – grown into Him, one plant with Him. We had come from the root of Adam. Christ, by becoming sin for us, grew into us, so that our death became His death, and His death became the death of our death. He died only because we were spiritually dead, and thus He brought us to spiritual life. There was no other way.
When we comprehend this truth, we see the effect that it has upon our position. You can say, “So far as God is concerned, when Jesus Christ died, I died, and His death paid for all my sin forever.” God looks upon the believer as judicially dead to sin forever.”
Paul, therefore, can declare confidently that the power of sin has been destroyed and we should no longer serve sin (verse 6). We are truly set free from the tyranny of sin. The gospel message provides a twist on the finality of death. Through the cross of Christ we are irreversibly changed. Sin and death can no longer rule our lives. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved what was humanly impossible. He is alive; He is risen! Now united with Him in resurrection, we can truly walk in newness of life forever.
next: continue with Romans 6:8-14
Paul introduces a word into his discussion in verse three that we should all be familiar with today. Indeed baptism was a practice that both his Jewish and Gentile readers should have known. And yet he still challenges us to think about what it means to be baptized. Our English word ignorant comes from the Greek word Paul suggests for those who misunderstand his message, but this doesn’t imply lacking knowledge of the facts. Paul is asking if we understand or comprehend the significance of our baptism. He is asking: “Do we really get it?” Chuck Swindoll explains:
“The word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek term baptizo which means “to immerse” or “to submerge.” To be baptized into something is to be completely enveloped by it. Furthermore, the primary significance of baptism is identity. New converts to Judaism were baptized into God’s covenant with Abraham, so that they became identified with natural-born Jews and became heir to all God has promised Abraham’s Hebrew descendants.
When we place our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin, we are said to be enveloped by Him in a spiritual sense. In a very real way, our identity becomes united with His, such that His experience becomes ours.”
Baptism can be viewed as a metaphor of our identification with Christ. Paul continues then (verses 3-7) to elaborate on the significant consequences of our identification with Christ Jesus. Paul begins with how we have died to sin, but the emphasis is on how resurrection makes possible our new life.
This time of year we remember the events of “Holy week;” the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection. Jesus came to take away our guilt and give us grace. Now we have the privilege to identify with Him and live that new life! So as baptized believers in Jesus Christ “we may walk in newness of life” (verse 4).
next week: continue Romans 6:1-14
Paul begins chapter six by correcting a false conclusion from his statements in chapter five. He strongly denounces the idea that we should continue to sin in order that grace may increase. Verse two is not saying that it is now literally impossible for believers to continue to sin. However, It does point out the moral incongruity of our continued sin. There clearly is a problem when we, who have been saved from sin, continue to behave as if we are still slaves to sin. So what does Paul’s declaration that we have “died to sin” mean?
John Stott argues: “Paul is referring not to a death to the power of sin, but to a death to its guilt,” and thus we are justified and freed from the penalty of sin. This begins to make more clear Paul’s logic in discussing (verses 3-5) baptism into Christ. Stott writes:
“The basic theme of the first half of Romans 6 is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not only historical facts and significant doctrines, but also personal experiences, since through faith-baptism we have come to share in them ourselves.”
“We deserved to die for our sins. And in fact we did die, though not in our own person, but in the person of Jesus Christ our substitute, who died in our place, and with whom we have been united by faith and baptism. And by union with the same Christ we have risen again. So the old life of sin is finished, because we died to it, and the new life of justified sinners has begun.”
We have been freed from the penalty of sin, and justified to a new life. Shouldn’t the way we live show evidence of this truth? We have been legally declared not guilty. Our new life must demonstrate our position in Christ. Chuck Swindoll recalls the history of slavery and emancipation in 19th century America to help illustrate Paul’s message:
“The question, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” highlights the fact that believers no longer serve their old master. We had been enslaved to sin because our old nature found it irresistible. But death freed us from that bondage. Emancipation legally releases a person from involuntary bondage, but it doesn’t guarantee that he or she will experience freedom. The person must first know that he or she has been released. How tragic it would be if an emancipated slave continued to suffer the pain of mistreatment and the degradation of servitude when he or she could run free!”
next month: (no class 3/26 due to Spring Bible Study) continue Romans 6: 1-14
After several parallel assertions contrasting and comparing Adam with Christ, Paul again introduces the law (verse 20) into his discussion. This flows logically from verse 19 where he compares the judicial consequences of disobedience and obedience, but his statement appears at first surprising. How can introduction of law lead to increased sin? We agree with the Jews that the law is good, and yet our problem with sin gets worse. The law makes us aware of our sin, but could it also push many away from God? Further reflection about human nature proves Paul’s statement to be true. What child doesn’t become more interested in the thing they are told not to touch? And our rebellious nature becomes more obvious when we know right from wrong.
Thankfully the grace of God is the more than adequate answer to our problem. Indeed, verse 20 states that sin may increase, but grace increases even more. God allows finite limits to how much sin may abound, but God’s abundant grace is eternal. Although sin may increase measurably, God’s grace is immeasurable. The word grace is used too often without full comprehension. D. G. Barnhouse writes:
“I believe that even orthodox and evangelical teachers distort the doctrine of grace in small ways; they make grace to be less than it is, ….. God has never forgiven a sinner because of any of the reasons which move men to act in what is commonly and mistakenly called grace. To teach that God forgives sin because of great-heartedness is to pervert the doctrine of grace. To teach that God exercises clemency as a governor issues a pardon is likewise a perversion. For such teaching detracts from the work of Jesus Christ. God forgives sin because Christ, the divine Substitute, carried our sins and paid their full penalty. The saving of a sinner is not merely an act of grace but a judicial action flowing out of the historical act of grace which put Jesus Christ to death….. Too frequently grace is diluted by some form of works; it is perverted to be less than what it is – the freedom of God to forgive any sin with absolute righteousness because it has been paid for in full.”
Grace is often described as the free gift of God’s immeasurable love. It is freely given, but it is not free. The price was paid for by Christ at the cross. We do not deserve this gift, and there is no way it can be earned. This wonderful truth is only a beginning. (verse 21) Where the rule of sin could only lead to death, the rule of grace brings us through righteousness to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
next week: begin Romans 6