Romans 6:1–19comment (0)
July 21, 2011
By James R. Strange
Related Scripture: Romans 6:1–19
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
Paul could use many models to talk about justification (being in the state of right relationship with God). In Romans, he presented two of his best-known models. One is legal, drawing a rough analogy between justification and what happens in courts. According to this model, human beings are to keep the God-given law but do not. Since all sins are capital offenses, all people are deserving of death. God regards all as guilty, yet He treated the only truly innocent one (Jesus Christ) as guilty on humanity’s behalf. God raised Christ from the dead and so indicated that He accepted this payment. People can access this payment by trusting that God has accepted it. Although they are undeserving, they are pardoned and thus are justified.
The model we are looking at this week is somewhat different from the first; some call it a participationist model. In this model, sin is a power that enslaves human beings and alienates them from God. A related power, death, also enslaves and alienates. (So death does not refer to the death of the body so much as living apart from God.) God provided the solution through Christ’s death and resurrection, which demonstrated that He is no longer under the power of death and hence no longer under the related power of sin. People can access God’s solution by participating with Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism. By being unified with Christ, people also escape these powers and live instead in submission to God and His righteousness.
Paul’s use of differing models can be confusing if we focus too closely on the model itself rather than on what he used the model to represent. Both of these models point to Christ as God’s saving act on behalf of a sinful humanity and show that human transformation is the result.
Embrace Your New Identity (1–11)
Some translations read, “if we have been united with Him in a death like this” (5) and “if we have died with Christ” (8). “If” really means “since.” Paul was making the point that whoever has been baptized (“We have been united with Him in death”; “we have died with Christ”) has undergone a transformation. The “old self was crucified,” “the body [i.e., person] of sin” was destroyed; hence we are “no longer enslaved to sin;” rather we are “freed from sin.”
Paul was not talking about committing individual sins here. That continues to happen sometimes, but what has changed is that we are no longer under the inescapable power of sin that alienates us from God. Instead “we walk in newness of life,” “we will certainly be united with Him in resurrection,” “we will also live with Him” and we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Notice how the language is both future and present. The resurrection has not yet occurred, but we walk (that is live) in newness of life now and are alive to (that is no longer alienated from) God.
Fight Sin (12–14)
Remember sin here is a power rather than a particular transgression. Like many of his contemporary philosophers, Paul likened living morally to doing battle. However, Paul did not say we should fight sin directly (remember we cannot free ourselves from the power of sin) but that we present our “members” (selves) to God. It is God who uses us as “weapons of righteousness,” that is as those who are able to live righteously in the world because of our unity with Christ. This is what it means to “have been brought from death to life.”
Walk in Righteousness (15–19)
Sanctification in verse 19 refers to the process of living a holy life. Justification happens through Christ’s death and resurrection, whereas sanctification is ongoing, as we live enslaved no longer to sin but to God, to righteousness. Salvation is something that we hope for, having been justified and living as those who are being sanctified and trusting in God’s promises.
One can see that for Paul, justification was to result, not in complacency but, in a transformed life lived in service to the One who is making us holy.