Romans six has two main topics. I could, I suppose, have subverted the text to render the more traditional three topics, but I find the two to be the more natural and exegetical option. These two topics are the Motivation for Sanctification, and the Method of Sanctification.
Motivation for Sanctification
Paul deals twice with a misunderstanding of the nature of grace: a misunderstanding that leads to a misconception of how we ought to view sin. This misunderstanding is voiced in two questions, the first in verse 1, and the second in verse 15.
Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
This question comes as a response to Romans 5:20: “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The answer Paul gives helps to elaborate the misunderstanding and the ensuing difficulty: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” See, sin is <i>conquered</i> by grace, not simply negated by grace (as the Catholics teach). Grace, as is explained in 5:21 (“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”), reigns over us instead of sin. Once we understand it in that light, then sinning because grace frees us from sin makes absolutely no sense! If we sin, then we are not under grace; if we are under grace, then we do not sin: it is simple as that. (Remember that this grace that I am referring to is not the grace that saves us from the eternal penalties of sin, it is the grace that provides us the strength to avoid the bondage of the acts of sin.)
Romans 6:15 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?”
This second question came as a response to verse 14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” It again stems from the same misconception of the nature of grace. Grace is not licentiousness, by any means: it is the righteous opposite. Grace is being under the power of God and His strength, and not under the power of your fleshly sins.
Method of Sanctification
Romans 6 clearly details that there are two types of death and two types of life because there are two parts to a Christian: the Spirit and the Flesh. These two are at war, and this chapter explains to us part of the nature of this war.
There is death of the flesh: “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.” (Romans 6:6)
There is death of the Spirit: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things [is] death. ” (Romans 6:21)
There is life of the flesh (sin): “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. ” (Romans 6:12)
There is life of the Spirit: “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: ” (Romans 6:8)
These things always work together: If we are alive in the Spirit, then we are dead in the flesh; if we are alive in the flesh, then it works death in the Spirit.
Romans 6:21-23 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things [is] death.
22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is all worked out by our relation to Christ: are we in Christ or not?
Romans 6:3-11 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 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.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection:
6 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.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
As Christians we have accepted the death and resurrection of Christ in our lives, which saves us from the eternal penalties of sin. However, sanctification, the living out of that acceptance in our lives, is a process: and this is what Romans 6-8 is talking about. We need to kill the flesh, and feed the Spirit; we need to devote ourselves to Christ, and reject sin; and we need to set our minds on Heaven, not on this world. This is how we work out Romans 6’s lesson in our lives. There will be more on this in my next article, which will be on Romans 8.
With joy and peace in Christ,