Commentary on Romans 6:1-14

Notes (NET Translation)

1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?

Paul answers a series of rhetorical questions in chapters 6-7 (6:1-3, 15-16; 7:1, 13, 24) that may have arisen from his argument in chapter 5 (5:20: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”). The question in verse 1 is: “if sin is what prompts God’s outpouring of grace, then does it not follow that the more we keep sinning the more grace will abound?”1

2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Paul’s purpose in 6:1-14 is “to demonstrate that acceptance of his gospel does not lead to moral anarchy.”2 This is not merely a hypothetical question, for Paul was accused of preaching a gospel that encouraged sinful behavior (3:7-8). The following verses indicate that we die to sin at our baptism/conversion (6:3-4).

The Christian’s death “to sin” is the main point of Rom. 6. But what does this death “to sin” mean? Grammatically, the “to” probably carries the idea of “disadvantage”: the believer has died “to the detriment of sin.” And Paul uses the verb “die” because (1) it creates an immediate tie with the death of Christ, central to the believer’s own “death to sin”; and (2) it connotes a decisive and final break in one’s state of being. The idea, then, is of a decisive separation from sin. This separation could be a separation from the penalty due because of sin, but the context demonstrates that Paul is talking not about the penalty, but about the power, of sin (cf. v. 6b: “that we should no longer serve sin”; v. 14a: “sin shall no longer have lordship over you”). It is better, then, to view the separation as a separation from the “rule” or “realm” of sin, sin being personified, as throughout this chapter, as a power that rules over the person outside Christ.3

In these verses sin is a power, not merely an act of sin:

That sin is a power is clear from the way it is described. Sin enters the world through Adam and exercises its sway over all people (Rom. 5:12–19). Sin “reigns” (ἐβασίλευσεν, ebasileusen) in death (5:21). Those outside Christ are “slaves” to sin (δουλεύειν, douleuein, to serve, 6:6), but believers have been liberated from the sin that enslaved them and are now enslaved to righteousness (6:16–18, 20, 22). Believers must not let sin “reign” (βασιλευέτω, basileuetō) over them (6:12). They are not to present their bodies “to sin” (τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, tē hamartia, 6:13). Sin no longer “rules” (κυριεύσει, kyrieusei, v. 14) over them. Sin is a power from the old age that was introduced into the world through Adam. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to separate sin as a power from specific acts of sin. Sin’s reign over people leads them to commit specific acts of sin, and thus the two concepts are finally inseparable. Indeed, in 6:15 the focus is on the acts of sin when the question is posed, “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” But again such acts of sin reveal that one is still enslaved to the power of sin (cf. 6:16–23).4

3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Paul expects the Romans to already know this information. Water baptism was/is an initiatory rite undergone by a convert. Baptism functions as shorthand for the conversion experience as a whole. In Paul’s day unbaptized Christians were practically non-existent. Therefore, these verses are saying all Christians have participated in the death and burial of Christ for all Christians have received baptism. Being baptized into Christ Jesus means to be united with Christ and to come under his sphere of influence and lordship (cf. Gal 3:27). Being baptized into his death means receiving what Christ did for us vicariously in his death.

4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

“Death is not seen here as an event, as we might speak of the time of death, but rather as a state which one enters.”5 The Christian is transferred from the state of death into the state of life by the resurrection of Christ. The “glory” of the Father refers to his power.

The reference to baptism has been understood sacramentally, meaning that baptism itself communicates the power to overcome sin. Verse 3 links dying with Christ and baptism, while burial with Christ is said to occur “through baptism” (διὰ βαπτίσματος) in verse 4. A sacramental understanding is flawed because it emphasizes baptism rather than the historic and definitive death and resurrection of Christ. Paul’s main concern in this text is not baptism; it is never mentioned again after verse 4. What animates the discussion is the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection for believers. But does not Paul say that Christ’s death becomes effective for believers διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος? The issue here is how strictly one should interpret the prepositional phrase. I would suggest that later theological formulations have led many to read this phrase in a sacramental fashion. Paul’s intention in introducing baptism is not to emphasize “how we were buried with Christ, but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ”. The emphasis is not on baptism as the means of God’s activity, although this is not excluded, but on the occasion of his work. Paul probably refers to baptism because it symbolizes dying and rising with Christ. Yet to separate baptism from other dimensions of the conversion experience is mistaken. For Paul baptism, faith, reception of the Spirit, repentance, and confession of Christ are one complex of events that all occur at conversion. Paul refers to believers as baptized because unbaptized Christians would be an anomaly.6

5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.

The Christian is united with Christ in the likeness of his death. Colin Kruse says this “probably means that Paul has in mind people being identified with Christ’s death at baptism.”7 Some understand this verse to be saying that believers share Christ’s resurrection life now while others understand it to be saying that believers will share Christ’s resurrection life on the last day. Schreiner states that the latter option is the most natural way to take the verb (cf. 6:8).

If believers are united with Christ’s resurrection only in the future, then how can his resurrection affect their behavior now? The best solution to this difficulty is to realize that the death and resurrection of Christ as eschatological events transcend time. This is not to deny that they were historical events rooted in time and history. Nonetheless, as eschatological events they penetrate and affect the present lives of believers. Thus those who are baptized (i.e., converted) experience the impact of Christ’s death and resurrection in their present existence. Believers are enabled to walk in newness of life because the power of Christ’s resurrection has become theirs by virtue of their union with Christ. Through Christ’s resurrection the power of the eschaton has entered the present evil age. This does not mean that believers have experienced fully the age to come, for they still await the resurrection of the body (Rom. 8:10–11, 23–25). Nonetheless, the glorious power of the resurrection (6:4) has grasped those who belong to Christ, enabling them to walk in the newness of the eschaton. Here is a prime example of the already–not yet tension that permeates Paul’s eschatology.8

6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Our “old man/self” is who we were prior to conversion, when we were in solidarity with Adam.

“Our old man” is not our Adamic, or sin “nature” that is judged and dethroned on the cross, and to which is added in the believer another “nature,” “the new man.” Rather, the “old man” is what we were “in Adam”–the “man” of the old age, who lives under the tyranny of sin and death. As J. R. W. Stott puts it, “what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.”9

The old self was under God’s condemnation and died in God’s sight in Christ’s death by crucifixion. “‘Body of death’ or ‘body of sin,’ as the earlier reference to the desires of the flesh makes evident, is a reference to the body insofar as it is affected by sin and its punishment–death.”10 We are free not to sin, though the possibility of sinning still exists.

If believers have died to sin by being baptized into Christ, if our old person has been killed at the cross, and the body of sin has been destroyed, then how is it possible for believers to sin at all? Does not the metaphor of death suggest that sin is impossible for believers, just as it is impossible for a corpse? Some would appeal to the exhortations against letting sin reign (cf. vv. 12–14) to demonstrate that sin is still possible for believers. But the real key is to discern the already-but-not-yet character of Paul’s thought. Then we can discern what Paul intends in saying that believers have died with Christ, the old person has been crucified, and the body of sin has been destroyed. Believers are enabled to walk in newness of life now because of Christ’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the resurrection for them is still future (6:5, 8). Since the resurrection is still impending, believers are not liberated in every respect from the present evil age (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20–28). They will still experience death, which is the consequence of the sin introduced by the first Adam. But they are guaranteed victory over death because they are incorporated into the second Adam. So too, believers will not experience perfect deliverance from sin in this age, so that they never sin at all. What has been shattered is not the presence of sin but the mastery of sin over believers. Paul uses a number of expressions to show that he is speaking of sin’s dominion being broken instead of perfect sinlessness. As sons and daughters of Adam we were slaves to sin, but now we are free from its tyranny (v. 6). Death no longer “rules” (κυριεύει, kyrieuei, v. 9) over Christ. Believers must not “let sin reign” (βασιλευέτω, basileuetō, v. 12). There is the assurance that sin will not “rule” (κυριεύσει, kyrieusei, v. 14) over those in Christ. Believers were previously “slaves” (δοῦλοι, douloi) to sin (v. 16), but now they are “free” from its slavery (v. 18; cf. vv. 20, 22). From this we can conclude that Rom. 6 teaches that believers are not free from the presence of sin, but they are free from its power, tyranny, mastery, and dominion. The already–not yet character of Paul’s eschatology shows that believers have already been liberated from the mastery of sin, but they have not yet reached the eschaton. They still battle the presence of sin until the day of redemption.11

7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

This verse explains the connection between death (“crucified with Christ”) and freedom from sin (“no longer serve sin”) that is the main point of v. 6. Precisely how it does so is, however, debated. On one view, “he who dies” is “the one who has died [with Christ]” and “has been justified” has its usual Pauline sense, “acquit from the penalty of sin.” On this, the “theological” interpretation, Paul is pointing to justification through participation in Christ’s death as the basis for the freedom from sin enjoyed by the believer. But there are difficulties in taking “justify” in this sense here. Paul does not connect our dying with our justification anywhere else. To avoid this problem, it has been suggested that “the one who dies” is Christ, who through his death secured justification for himself and others. But this introduces a shift in subject for which the context has not prepared us. For these reasons, it is likely that “justified from sin” means “set free from [the power of] sin.” “The one who dies” could still refer to “the one who has died with Christ,” but this would make v. 7 virtually repeat v. 6. It is more likely, then, that Paul is citing a general maxim, to the effect that “death severs the hold of sin on a person.” Paul’s readers may have been familiar with similar sayings, known to us from the rabbinic writings. His purpose, then, is not to prove v. 6 but to illustrate his theological point by reference to a general truth.12

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

In saying we believe we will also live with him, Paul seems to have the resurrection on the last day in mind instead of the present life in Christ. “But this future life of resurrection casts its shadow into the believer’s present experience, and it is clear from the sequel that Paul wants us to see the present implications of this promise of future resurrection life.”13

9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

The Gospels and Acts report some individuals being raised from the dead (Mk 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk 7:11-17; 8:40-42, 49-56; Jn 11:1-44; Acts 9:36-42), but all of these people would die again. Christ’s resurrection is different. It is resurrection to eternal life and so he will never die again. Those who belong to Christ will share in his resurrection.

But Paul’s focus in this verse is on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for Christ himself. Christ’s resurrection means that he “no longer” dies; “death no longer has lordship over him.” This language shows again that Paul is viewing matters from the perspective of the two ages of salvation history. Christ, in coming to earth incarnate, came under the influence of the powers of the old age: sin (cf. v. 10), the law (cf. Gal. 4:4), and death. Because of this Paul can say that Christ is no longer under the lordship of death. Just as the general resurrection will bring “death” to an end (Rev. 20:11–15), so Christ’s resurrection ends the power of death over himself, as well as anticipating the defeat of death in all those who belong to him.14

10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Christ “died to sin once for all” by being an atoning sacrifice for human sin. His death “once” was sufficient to deal with human sin for all time.

Thomas Schreiner notes:

By saying that Jesus died to sin Paul does not imply that Jesus was himself sinful. Instead, as the second Adam he voluntarily experienced death as the consequence of sin, so that he might break sin’s dominion.15

Douglas Moo adds some important additional points:

While, however, it is true that Christ did not need to be freed from sin’s power in the same way that we need to be, a close parallel between the situation of Christ and of the Christian can be maintained if we remember that Paul is continuing to speak of sin as a “ruling power.” Just as death once had “authority” over Christ because of his full identification with sinful people in the “old age,” so that other ruling power of the old age, sin, could be said to have had “authority” over Christ. As a “man of the old age,” he was subject to the power of sin–with the critical difference that he never succumbed to its power and actually sinned. When these salvation-historical perspectives are given their due place, we are able to give “die to sin” the same meaning here as it had in v. 2: a separation or freedom from the rule of sin. And this transfer into a new state was for Christ final and definitive: “once for all.” The finality of Christ’s separation from the power of sin shows why death can no longer rule over him–for is not death the product of sin (Rom. 6:23, etc.)?16

Colin Kruse understands the phrase “but the life he lives, he lives to God” to mean that the relationship between the Father and the Son that was broken at the crucifixion was restored at the resurrection so that Christ lives again to God, as he did before the crucifixion. Douglas Moo understands the phrase to mean that Christ’s resurrection has given him new power to carry out God’s will.

11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s meaning, then, appears to be something like this: As Christ died for our sins once for all, so we ought now to count ourselves dead to sin in the sense that we are released from its tyranny as a result of what Christ has done (cf. 6:14); and as Christ now lives in a restored relationship with God following his death on the cross, so we are to count ourselves ‘alive’ (lit. ‘living’) to God in Christ.17

Why should the believer need to reckon himself or herself dead to sin, if in fact the old person has already been crucified, is dead and buried? The answer is of course that the believer still lives in a mortal body which is not immune to sin and temptation. Even if the control center of the personality has been changed and is being renewed, the external part of who one is has not yet been renovated, a change which will not happen until the resurrection of believers. The inner-outer tension still exists. Furthermore, people may become so habituated to sin that they find it hard to believe that they are actually free now. Therefore, there must be a conscious effort to continually reckon oneself dead to sin, no longer subject to its enticement. This in no way denies the inward change Paul has already spoken of. Indeed, it is precisely because of the inward change that the believer is able, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s grace, to reckon self dead to sin, despite still living in a vulnerable body. The physical body is indeed the weak chink in the Christian’s armor, which is why it is that Paul spends so much time exhorting his converts about the sins of the flesh.18

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

Verse 12 makes it clear that believers are not immune to temptation or incapable of sinning. The “mortal body” is our present body that is subject to death. It probably refers to the whole person, not the body as distinct from the mind/soul.

In characterizing the body as “mortal,” Paul is reminding us that the same body that has been severed from its servitude to sin (6:6) is nevertheless a body that still participates in the weakness, suffering, and dissolution of this age. Until we are fully “redeemed” (8:23) and “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53), we will continue to be subject to the influences of this age; and the believer must not let these influences hold sway. The Christian is no longer “body of sin” (6:6) or “body of death” (7:24), but he or she is still “mortal body.”19

In verse 12 the “desires” are those desires in conflict with the will of God. The “members” in verse 13 refer to any human capacities, not just the limbs or parts of the body. Paul exhorts the reader to continually choose righteousness over unrighteousness.

14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

The phrases ὑπὸ νόμον [under law] and ὑπὸ χάριν (hypo charin, under grace) are best understood in a salvation-historical sense. They refer to different eras in God’s redemptive historical plan. The term ὑπὸ νόμον designates the Mosaic era as a whole, while ὑπὸ χάριν describes the new age inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The logic of verse 14 is as follows: If you were still under the era of law, then sin would rule over you; since you are under the age of grace, sin cannot have dominion over you. I conclude from this that Paul is saying that to live under the Mosaic covenant was to live under the power of sin. I have remarked several times that the history of Israel would suggest this thought to Paul. Israel was sent into exile during the Mosaic era because it did not obey the law. Indeed, Paul would have seen that the promises remained unfulfilled since Israel was still under Roman domination. The prophets themselves acknowledged that Israel had not kept the law in the Mosaic age and needed a new covenant (e.g., Jer. 31:31–34). That living under the law was living under the power of sin is also apparent from other ὑπό phrases in Paul. Those who rely on works of the law are “under a curse” (Gal. 3:10). Galatians 3:21–25 suggests that those who are “under sin” are also those under the law, “under the pedagogue.” Those “under law” needed to be redeemed from their slavery by the death of Christ (Gal. 4:3–5). Those who are led by the Spirit “are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18), and thus those who are under the law are apparently not led by the Spirit but subjugated to the power of sin. First Corinthians 9:20 is no exception, for Paul makes plain that he is “not under law,” although he agrees to live under the law in some situations for the salvation of fellow Jews. So too, that Jesus was “born under law” (Gal. 4:4) is the exception that proves the rule. He had to be born under the law in order to redeem those in slavery.

In Rom. 6:14 Paul connects liberation from sin with liberation from the Mosaic era because these were inseparable in his theology. The Mosaic era was the age in which sin dominated. Now this does not mean that there was no grace in the Mosaic era, nor does it imply that all Israelites lived under the power of sin. Paul was well aware of the OT remnant that included prophets and godly people such as Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and Daniel. What we have here is a generalization. Paul describes what was generally the case in the OT economy, not what was invariably the case. What struck him was how signally Israel failed, not the small numbers who kept the law. The promises to the nation as a whole were unfulfilled because Israel did not keep the law. Moreover, because Paul is speaking in a redemptive-historical fashion, it would be an error to conclude that believers need not obey any commands since they are under grace. Paul’s point is that Israel did not keep the law as long as they were under the law (i.e., the Mosaic covenant). Now that believers are under the power of grace they are enabled to keep the moral norms of the law by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4). This is precisely what both Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31–34) and Ezekiel (11:19–20; 36:26–27) foresaw occurring when the new covenant became a reality.20

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Witherington III 2004, 156 
  2. Kruse 2012, 258 
  3. Moo 1996, 357 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6195-6205 
  5. Witherington III 2004, 158 
  6. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6306-6318 
  7. Kruse 2012, 262 
  8. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6362-6371 
  9. Moo 1996, 373–374 
  10. Witherington III 2004, 160 
  11. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6452-6470 
  12. Moo 1996, 376–377 
  13. Moo 1996, 377 
  14. Moo 1996, 378 
  15. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6535-6536 
  16. Moo 1996, 379 
  17. Kruse 2012, 266-267 
  18. Witherington III 2004, 162 
  19. Moo 1996, 383 
  20. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6643-6667 
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