Romans 6 opens with a powerful and profound rhetorical question that flows out of the apostle’s exposition of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith set forth in the previous chapters (especially 3–5). Paul has argued that God justifies sinners freely by His grace apart from their obedience to the Law (3:24–28; 4; 5:1–11). This is because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers, just as the guilt of Adam was imputed to all mankind (5:12–19). Paul’s exaltation of divine grace reaches its climax in 5:20: “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Anticipating the charge of antinomianism that will be raised in response to such a statement, chapter 6 opens with “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer is an emphatic “by no means!” The reason for Paul’s emphatic tone is because those who possess faith in Jesus Christ have “died to sin.” In verses 3–4 Paul sets forth a foundational truth that he unpacks in the balance of the chapter. The basic point is that our faith brings us into union with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ — signified by baptism. Let us consider three connecting or overlapping truths about our baptism into Christ: our union with Christ, the effects of that union, and exhortations in light of the effects of our union.
In the first place, the apostle Paul makes the point that believers have died to sin because we are united to Christ in His death and in His resurrection. In verses 2–5 and 8, Paul uses various ways to repeat the fact that believers have died in or with Christ. Colossians 3:3 expresses it this way: “For you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ.” In other words, union with Christ means that He has not only died in our place but He has endured the wrath of God for us, and thus we are seen by God (through Christ) as if we had actually died on that cross and actually endured the wrath of God. In Romans 5:12–19, Paul has contrasted our union with Adam versus our union with Christ, but in chapter 6 he is concerned exclusively about our union with Christ.
After having established our union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Paul looks at the effects. In verse 4 he says, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This newness of life is a life that is not “enslaved to sin” (v. 6); rather, it is a life that “has been set free” (v. 7). While Paul certainly has our future glorification in view (vv. 5, 8), more immediately he is concerned with our sanctification. Having died with Christ means the penalty for our sins has been paid and we are reconciled with God. God’s wrath being satisfied, we have peace with Him. Being raised with Christ into “newness of life” means that we are now “alive to God” (v. 11). This is totally opposite of what we were before regeneration and reconciliation (Eph. 2:1–3). You’ll notice that Romans 6:2–10 is in the indicative mood. In other words, Paul issues no commands or conditions; rather, he simply expresses what is true for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is important because the exhortations that follow are not to be considered as conditions for the benefits of Christ’s death but rather as the consequence of sharing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
This leads us to the exhortations offered by Paul in light of our union with Christ and its effects. In verses 11–13 he says we are to “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body
. . . . Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.” Instead we are to present ourselves “to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and [our] members to God as instruments of righteousness.” The whole argument of this chapter is that our union with Christ means the penalty of sin has been paid and the bondage to sin has been broken. Those who are in Christ now have the power to say no to unrighteousness and to consciously live to the glory of God. Far from suggesting entire sanctification (see 7:7–25), Paul is simply demonstrating that God’s abundant grace through His Son does not incite licentious living. On the contrary, abundant grace is both the incentive and the empowerment to daily pursue righteousness as we “walk in the newness of life.”