Romans (Part 21) – Life: Following God’s Essence (6:4–23)
Paul continues in the first half of chapter 6 speaking of this change in status that we have undergone by dying with Christ. Not only have we been baptized into his death, but “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life” (6:4). The basis for this understanding goes back to our image bearing and the righting of what was wrong in Adam’s fall.
God is a Trinity—three Persons in one Essence. His one essence is his truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). Each of his individual Persons thinks, believes, and acts according to his one essence—always. He made us image bearers; in other words, we also have one essence—our physical, material being (we share and interchange our matter and energy constantly)—but we are multiple in our persons (our individual spirits).
For fellowship (relationship with God), we were intended also to think, believe, and act according to God’s essence of TGB. But in the fall, as Paul tells us, we withdrew our dependence on God’s essence to place it on our own. We “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created [our essence] instead of the Creator [his essence], who is praised forever” (Romans 1:25). Of course, since love relationship was dependent on all of us thinking, believing, and acting according to God’s TGB, our sin caused separation—death from God. Jesus came as human but without sin. That means that Jesus did not “worship and serve” his physical essence but rather thought, believed, and acted according to God’s essence (as attested throughout the Gospels). Thus, his death was undeserved, and he could deliver it to us for our use in paying our debt: we have been baptized into his death.
And with that death to our old self, we may be alive (reborn) in God—now thinking, believing, and acting according to God’s TGB. And that is what Paul means by saying, “We too may walk in a new way of life” (6:4b).
Throughout this section, Paul continues to emphasize the if-then consequence that if we die with Jesus, we will then be raised with Jesus. And these consequences are not something we wait for to be realized only after we physically die and are physically resurrected. Resurrection means coming alive (into relationship with God) from death (separation from God). Therefore, this resurrection for our spirits is immediate about our trust in Christ.
The language may seem different because at times Paul uses a future tense to speak of that resurrected status (such as in 6:5). But the thrust of the passage assures us that, although there are elements of the resurrection which will be realized through the final stage of redemption at Christ’s return, we undergo this status change in spirit even now. Therefore, if “we are buried with him by baptism into death” (6:4a), we are now “raised from the dead . . . so we too may walk in a new way of life” (6:4b). If “we have been joined with him in the likeness of His death” (6:5a), we now are joined with him “in the likeness of his resurrection” (6:5b). If “we died with Christ” (6:8a), we believe we will now “also live with Him” (6:8b). And thus, if we “consider [ourselves] dead to sin” (6:11a), we now may consider ourselves “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11b).
Paul speaks of us as having been justified from sin in verse 7. Most translations render this phrase as “freed from sin.” But the root here is the same as all Paul’s other uses of justify. To justify means to declare or show righteousness. Righteousness means faithfulness to the covenant. And being faithful to the covenant means you do not sin, which is to act unfaithfully. Therefore, being justified from sin does, in fact, mean being freed from sin.
In the last three verses, 12–14, concluding Paul’s answer to his verse 1 question, he indicates we have a choice. This indication may at first seem inconsistent with his emphasis that our state has been changed, but it really is not. Yes, we have been changed moved from the reign of sin to the reign of grace, yet we live still in these bodies of death that continue to try to gain influence over us. (We should not think of things physical as only evil as the Gnostics would. Our physical being will be redeemed and freed from its chains as well upon Christ’s return.) But because of that current evil influence, Paul urges that we choose wisely, not offering (a term of sacrificial placing on the altar) our bodies to sin. Sin no longer reigns over us. Therefore, we should present our offerings, not to sin, but in worship to God.
In closing out this thought in verse 14, Paul mentions that we are not under the Law but under grace. Just as his statement in 5:20b triggered his question in 6:1, so also does this concluding verse in 6:14 trigger the question in 6:15. We must remember that Paul is speaking to those of intensely Jewish mindset. They had lived under the Law, believing it to be God’s specific message to them as to how they should live. And they were right (for that time and purpose).
And the Jews believed to ignore the Law—to try to get out from under it—was going off to live as the Gentiles, or as they referred to them, the sinners. So naturally to them, living under the Law was to be in a state of obedience, but getting out from under the Law was to be in a state of sin.
Here Paul is now telling them to get out from under the Law! The natural question that would come to their minds, then, is: Would not getting out from under the Law place us in a state of sin? In other words, if the Law—God’s commands—do not direct their lives, won’t their lives be lived, therefore, in sin? It is a legitimate question for the Jewish mindset, but Paul answers it in the next several verses by explaining again that in our new status, we don’t lose the understanding of what God wants, we gain it through his revelatory gift and our pursuit of his essence. Paul does this by introducing sin and obedience as two masters to which we as slaves will follow.
If sin (the desire of our essence—the flesh) is our master, we obey it. But if obedience (desire for God’s TGB) is our master, we obey it. (The wording is strange. Obeying obedience, taken by itself, may be confusing. But if we remember that Paul is speaking of obedience as God’s TGB, the analogy is less confusing.)
In Paul’s answer, he goes on in the analogy to say we are freed from the one master, sin, to be enslaved to the other master, righteousness. As soon as he writes this, it appears that Paul has second thoughts about this analogy. After all, simply characterizing it as moving from enslavement to one over to enslavement to another loses the heart aspect of desire to serve. So Paul apologizes in verse 19, saying that this analogy is human (not holding all necessary correlation) but used because of the weakness of your flesh (not moral weakness but just to make it simple to understand). He then goes on in verse 20 to emphasize the only part of the analogy about which he is making his point: you used to offer yourself to sin when ruled by sin, but now offer yourselves to righteousness for your greater relationship with God (sanctification).
Sanctification actually means purification, giving the connotation that we, in pursuing God’s TGB, will continue to grow in a mind/heart understanding and desire for him, which ultimately encourages the everlasting love relationship.
Paul ends the discussion with what is a familiar verse—6:23: the payment to slaves of sin is death. But the gift to slaves of God (or the other names Paul has used—obedience, TGB, righteousness, grace) is everlasting relationship in the Messiah Jesus our Lord.
Romans 7 begins a section in which Paul takes greater pains to compare the Mosaic covenant to the New Covenant in Christ. He has said they are different in previous chapters but has not given as much detail about their differences as yet.
The following lists show how the progression (or parts) of the path of Moses’s covenant parallels (or images) points of Christ’s New Covenant:
Slavery in Egypt Slavery in Sin
Red Sea Baptism into Christ
Sinai—Covenant Established New Covenant Established
Wilderness Wanderings Christian Life Led by Holy Spirit
Promised Land Eternal Life
Notice that our discussion in Romans 6 spoke of the baptism into Christ, that had been pictured by the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea, being separated from Egypt (as we are separated from sin in our baptism into Christ). Romans 8 speaks of our lives now led by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. That parallels the image of the wilderness wanderings as they were led by God who dwelt with them, shown in the cloudy and fiery pillars. Between those two events we see Sinai (the establishment of the Mosaic Covenant in the Moses progression) and its correlating New Covenant in the progression in Christ. Thus, it makes sense that Paul will tackle this subject next in Romans 7, which is sandwiched between Romans 6 and Romans 8.
But his discussion will not be to show similarities in the covenants. He has all along so far in Romans been contrasting the two covenants, and he will continue to do so in chapter 7.