There is, of course, no literary break between Romans 5 and Romans 6; the one chapter continues the argument begun in the other. Paul is still dealing with the subject of sin rather than sins, but now he is going to show that Christ’s victory at Calvary liberates us not only from sin’s penalty but also from its power. Our security gives us no excuse to “continue in sin” (6:1). On the contrary, we who were once “dead in sin” are now “dead to sin.” Far from the doctrine of eternal security of the believer resulting in freedom to sin, it actually sets before us our freedom from sin. The expression “free from sin” occurs three times in Romans 6 (vv. 7, 18, 22).
I. Deliverance from the Domain of Death (6:1-11)
According to Paul, ignorance is a key factor in hindering a life of victory. The expression “know ye not” occurs three times in this section of the epistle (6:3, 16; 7:1) and helps us divide the section into its component parts. The expression “through Jesus Christ our Lord” is another key expression and occurs once in each of these parts (6:11, 23; 7:25). The first area of ignorance with which Paul deals has to do with the domain of death. Death, once our enemy, is now actually made to minister to the believer the benefits of Christ’s victory over the tomb.
A. The Reality of Our Death with Christ (6:1-5)
The idea that the believer has already died is so revolutionary that Paul begins by asserting (1) the truth of it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (vv. 1-2). Nothing can be more unresponsive than a person who is dead. Imagine someone trying to evoke a reaction from a corpse! It can be caressed, commanded, or kicked and no response will come, for the simple reason that it is dead to all such stimuli. God reckons the believer to be dead to the promptings of sin.
In a certain church was a narrow, bigoted old deacon, wedded to the old paths and suspicious of anything new. A dried up old die-hard was he, sitting in judgment on all who refused to be ruled by his view of Scripture, acid of temperament and barren of soul. Although that was not his real name, we shall call him Macadam. To this church came a young man with the fresh dew of God’s anointing upon him, a young man of vision, gift, charm and possessed of an unusual grasp of Scripture and a distinct measure of wisdom. This young man’s ministry was singularly blessed of God to the salvation of souls and the quickening of many of God’s people. But, inevitably perhaps, some of his views did not coincide with those of the dour old Scot who ruled the deaconate. For years the deacon did all in his power to discourage, oppose and criticize the younger man. One day another member of this church asked the younger man how he managed to put up with this deacon. “William,” was the startling reply, “I died to Macadam five years ago.” This young man had grasped the secret of the believer’s death with Christ. Let us grasp the truth of it — “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” There should be in our lives such an experience of the reality of our death with Christ that sin can evoke no response from us at all.
Next Paul asserts (2) the triumph of it; and to drive home his point, he gives two illustrations. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (vv. 3-4).
Wuest has a helpful comment on this verse. “The word ‘baptized’ is not the translation of the Greek word here, but its transliteration, its spelling in English letters. The word is used in the classics of a smith who dips a piece of hot iron in water, tempering it; also of Greek soldiers placing the points of their swords, and barbarians, the points of their spears, in a bowl of blood … The usage of the word as seen in the above examples resolves itself into the following definition of the word baptiz , ‘the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with someone else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition.’ And that is its usage in Romans 6. It refers to the act of God introducing a believing sinner into vital union with Jesus Christ, in order that the believer might have the power of his sinful nature broken and the divine nature implanted through his identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection; thus altering the condition and relationship of that sinner with regard to his previous state and environment, bringing him into a new environment, the kingdom of God.”1
In other words, in this biographical illustration, Paul refers to our baptism into Christ. This is something that happens at conversion so far as our experience is concerned. There are others who maintain, of course, that the baptism referred to here is water baptism and not Spirit baptism.2 Whichever view is adopted, the fact remains that Paul is driving home the reality of our death with Christ by pointing to a real and actual personal experience.
The second illustration follows. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (v. 5). The word “planted” here is literally “united together.” Wuest says the word could be used of Siamese twins. Sanday translates it “united by growth” and adds, “The word exactly expresses the process by which a graft becomes united with the life of a tree. So the Christian becomes ‘grafted into’ Christ.”3 We become vitally united to Him. We share His very life.
In these two illustrations, the one biographical and theological and the other biological, Paul is seeking to convey the remarkable truth that Christ’s death was our death; His burial was our burial; His resurrection was our resurrection. He not only died for me; He died as me! So far as God is concerned, we are already on the resurrection side of the grave and it but remains for us to realize this truth and appropriate it, and victory is assured.
B. The Reason for Our Death with Christ (6:6-7)
Through our identification with Christ in this unique and wonderful way, God has broken (1) sin’s stronghold in the life. “Knowing this,” says Paul, “that our old man is crucified with him” (v. 6a). The expression “the old man” occurs in Ephesians 4:22 and in Colossians 3:9, as well as here, “and always means the man of the old, corrupt human nature, the inborn tendency to evil in all men. In Romans 6:6 it is the natural man himself; in Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:9 his ways. Positionally, in the reckoning of God, the old man is crucified, and the believer is exhorted to make this good in experience, reckoning it to be so by definitely ‘putting off’ the old man and ‘putting on’ the new.”4
The old man, then, is the man of old, the man we used to be before our conversion. There is something we should know about this old man: he is now dead! He has been crucified with Christ. The figure of crucifixion is very striking, for no man can crucify himself. In death by crucifixion the execution is of necessity at the hands of another. At Calvary, God has dealt with the question of self as well as the question of sin by putting us to death with Christ. This is something we need to know, for without this knowledge we can never hope to experience deliverance from all that we are by natural birth.
Through our identification with Christ, furthermore, God has broken (2) sin’s stranglehold on the life. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin” (vv. 6-7). “The body of sin” has been defined as “the instrument for carrying out sin’s orders.” W. E. Vine says that the word s ma “denotes the body as the organic instrument of natural life; it is used here figuratively with that as its essential significance … In the phrase, ‘the body of sin,’ then, sin is regarded as an organized power, acting through the members of the body, though the seat of sin is in the will.”5 The believer is to regard his body as dead so far as being an instrument through which sin can work, is concerned.
Now, of course the body does not feel dead to sin, but that is quite beside the point; God says it is. A sinner seeking salvation must learn that salvation does not depend upon feelings but upon certain facts related to the work of Christ and the Word of God. These facts must be believed, and Christ must be received by faith. Then, on the authority of God’s Word, the sinner can know his sins are forgiven no matter how he may feel in this regard. Just so with the saint. He must accept the fact that at Calvary God dealt with “the body of sin” and he must believe that God means what He says in Romans 6:6. Feelings are quite secondary and incidental.
A certain man was accustomed to rising at six o’clock to catch a train each morning at seven. His wife usually saw him off to work; but one night the little ones had been particularly restless and his wife was just settling down to a deep sleep when the alarm clock went off. “Oh, dear,” she groaned, “is that six o’clock?” When her husband told her it was, she said, “It doesn’t feel like six o’clock.” Now here’s the point. It didn’t feel like six o’clock but the sun, the moon, and the stars, the earth on its orbit, and the whole machinery of the heavens declared that it was six o’clock. But it didn’t feel like six o’clock! It is the same with this great biblical truth that the believer is dead with Christ. He may not feel very dead, but that is beside the point. God says that he is, and the whole machinery of redemption declares it to be a fact.
How slow we are to believe this great, basic fact which opens for us the door to victorious Christian living! The story is told of two Irishmen, Pat and Mike, who found a most unusual turtle. The animal’s head had been completely severed from its body, but the turtle was still running around as though nothing had happened. Pat maintained that it was dead, but Mike denied it stoutly and the argument waxed louder and louder until presently along came O’Brien. They decided that O’Brien should arbitrate the matter and that his verdict would be final. O’Brien took one look at this remarkable turtle and said, “It’s dead-but it don’t believe it!” That is exactly the problem with many Christians: they are dead but they do not believe it. This is a tragedy, for it is the truth of this verse fully and unreservedly believed that breaks sin’s stranglehold in the life once it is believed.
C. The Results of Our Death with Christ (6:8-11)
God has made death to work on our behalf. It swings open for us now the door to victory, just as later, if the Lord has not come, it will swing open for us the door to glory, The resurrection of Christ from the dead is a liberating truth. We must learn to (1) appreciate the victory of Christ. “Now if we be (lead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him” (vv. 8-9). Paul wants us to grasp the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It stands to reason, he argues, that if we are identified with Christ in His death, then likewise we are identified with Him in His resurrection. The two go together. The same mighty power which raised up Christ from the dead (1:4) is at work in the believer’s life today. This statement does not refer primarily to the coming resurrection at the last trump, but has immediate application to the present power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who ministers to us the blessings and the benefits of Christ’s resurrection. Paul returns to this theme in Romans 8.
Paul wants us to grasp not only the significance of Christ’s resurrection but also its magnificence. “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” One of the great shortcomings of some churches lies in their inadequate concept of Christ. They present Christ either as an infant in the arms of His mother, or as still on the cross. But Christ is no longer in the cradle, in the arms of the Virgin, on the cross, or in the tomb. He is alive from the dead and forever beyond the power of death. The fact that death has no more dominion over Christ is the basis for Paul’s argument that sin has no more dominion over us. “He died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (v. 10). If we are to enjoy victory we must first appreciate the victory of Christ.
Then we must (2) appropriate the victory of Christ. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 11). It is one thing “to know” (v. 9) ; it is something else “to reckon.” Many people have a general knowledge of the truths of these chapters but never enter into the good of them because they fail to reckon them true in experience. The word “reckon” is “to count, compute, to take into account.” To recognize it as an accounting term will help us understand what Paul is saying.
Suppose a businessman were to say to his accountant, “What is the total sum needed to meet this month’s payroll?” After some calculation his bookkeeper says, “Twenty thousand dollars, sir; but there’s a balance of only five thousand dollars in the bank right now.” “Make out the checks,” the businessman might say, “but do not give them to the men until you receive further word from me.” Then the businessman pays a call on his banker, arranges for a loan of thirty thousand dollars, and calls his accountant and says, “You can now pass out the checks. The bank has more than covered the payroll.” Presently the first employee calls at the office for his paycheck. “I’m sorry,” says the accountant, “I cannot let you have this check right now. The total payroll is twenty thousand dollars and there’s only five thousand in the bank. Here, you can look at the ledger and see for yourself.” What would that accountant be failing to do? He would be failing to reckon, failing to take into account the fact that adequate provision had been -made for far more than the needs of the payroll. And, of course, by failing to reckon, be would be dishonoring his employer and would be putting himself in a false position.
At Calvary God made adequate provision for the sinner. He dealt fully and forever with all aspects of the question of sin. We have to reckon this to be so. We have to take this into account in the moment of temptation. God says that the believer has died to sin. He assures us that adequate provision has been made in the death of Christ and in our identification with Him for any temptation that might arise. Thus, through Jesus Christ our Lord we have been delivered from the domain of death, and as Paul is now going to demonstrate, with that we have also been delivered from the dominion of sin.
John Phillips received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary. He served as assistant director of the Moody Correspondence School as well as director of the Emmaus Correspondence School, one of the world’s largest Bible correspondence ministries. He also taught in the Moody Evening School and on Moody Broadcasting radio network. Now retired, Dr. Phillips remains active in his writing and preaching.
Excerpted from Exploring Romans: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. Copyright 2002. Used with permission.
1 Kenneth S. Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), pp. 96-97. Used by permission.
2 William R. Newell for example in Romans Verse by Verse strongly maintains that water baptism is in view in Romans 6. Those who practice the baptism of believers by immersion maintain that water baptism is “the outward expression of an inward experience.” It typifies that which has already been done in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Baptism by immersion does indeed afford a striking illustration of the believer’s death, burial and resurrection with Christ. First, the believer takes his stand in water — an element foreign to his nature and which spells death to him as a natural man. Then he is immersed in this element of death, put right out of sight, buried. Finally, he is brought up from this watery grave by the power of another’s arm. Then he lives on, publicly identified with Christ through this act of obedience. Baptism thus complements the Lord’s Table. The one ordinance sets forth the believer’s death with Christ; the other sets forth Christ’s death for the believer.
3 W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), p. 157.
4 C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), p. 1198.
5 W. E. Vine, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1948), p. 89.