“What, then, shall we say?” This relates to Paul’s comments about gaining an approved standing with God by his unmerited favor and serves to introduce the next question that counters a wrong view, “Shall we continue in sin so that [unearned] favor may increase?” (6:1)
Paul’s teaching about divine favor, as he mentioned previously (3:8), had been misrepresented as promoting lawlessness. Once again, the apostle emphatically rejected the idea that forgiveness on the basis of faith in Christ promotes moral corruption, saying, “Never may it be!” Believers died to sin; how then could they still continue living in it? For them to be dead to sin would mean that it no longer had any power or dominion over them. (6:2)
Paul then explained how believers died to sin. By means of a question, he reminded them that, at the time of their baptism, they were baptized into Christ and, therefore, into his death. Jesus Christ is the head of the body of believers. At the time of their baptism, the individual believers are united to him, becoming members of one community or corporate whole of which he is the head. Thus they are baptized “into” Christ Jesus, entering into a relationship of oneness with him. The body shares in the experiences of the head. Accordingly, being baptized into Christ would also mean being baptized into his death. (6:3)
For believers to be baptized into Christ’s death would involve being buried with him. Then, just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead “through the glory of the Father,” all who are baptized into Christ’s death are raised to a newness of life. This is a life as persons forgiven of their sins or as approved children of God who, from then onward, should be walking or conducting themselves in keeping with their new identity. In the case of Jesus Christ, Paul attributed the resurrection to the “glory of the Father,” probably meaning the glorious or unparalleled great power the Father displayed when raising his Son from the dead. (6:4; compare Colossians 2:12.)
Being participants in the likeness of Jesus’ death, believers would also come to be sharers in his resurrection. In the context of baptism, they are raised to a newness of life, ceasing to be dead in trespasses and sins. (6:5; compare John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-7.)
For believers, the “old man” of their former life is dead, having been crucified with Christ. From the standpoint of sharing in the likeness of Jesus’ death (which came about through crucifixion), believers would look upon their “body of sin” as having been killed, obligating them no longer to be slaves to sin. (6:6)
Confirming that death ends the reign or dominion of sin, Paul added, “For [the one] having died has been justified from sin.” No longer does sin have any claim on the individual. Those who are “justified from sin” do not have to answer to it as if they were still its slaves. (6:7)
While believers enjoy a newness of life, they look forward to the time when they will be united with Christ as sinless persons, enjoying the ultimate glory. With apparent reference to the future, Paul confidently spoke of the resurrection, “If, then, we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (6:8) This sure hope of being with Christ should be evident from the purity of life that is lived in imitation of him.
To show how what happened to Christ should effect the lives of believers, Paul called attention to what they already knew. Now that Christ has been resurrected from the dead, he does not die again, and death has no dominion or power over him. (6:9) When he died, “he died to sin once for all,” but now that “he lives, he lives to God.” (6:10) Although Jesus was sinless, he died to sin in the sense that his death ended his relation to it as one who bore the sins of humanity. Never again will he die for sinners, and so he lives fully to his Father without having to deal with sin as a sin bearer.
In harmony with what Paul set forth concerning the Son of God, believers should consider themselves to be “dead to sin but living to God in Christ Jesus.” (6:11) They should not allow sin to have any power over them. Their living to God would mean conducting themselves as his obedient children. Believers are “in Christ” or at one with him as members of his body. Therefore, their living to God “in Christ” is dependent upon their remaining at one with Jesus Christ and continuing to rely on his aid and guidance.
“Therefore (because of “living to God in Christ Jesus”), believers cannot permit sin to reign or exercise dominion over their mortal bodies, obeying or yielding to the wrong desires originating from their sinful human nature. Although pardoned of their sins and enjoying an approved standing before God, believers are not sinless but are subject to wrong desires that must be resisted with divine help. (6:12)
The apostle urged believers not to make their body “members” or “parts” available for wrongdoing. Besides designating literal body members that would be involved in the sinful acts, “members” could also include abilities and capacities that would be misused. The Greek term hóplon can mean “weapon.” In this context, the word appears to have the more general sense of “tool” or “instrument.” Accordingly, the body members are not to function as “tools for wickedness” in the service of sin. Instead, believers should be placing themselves at God’s disposal as persons raised to life from the dead (the dead state of condemned sinners) and their body members as “tools of righteousness” for him. (6:13)
The thought of the next verse is linked with the conjunction gár (“for”) and includes the future tense of the verb kyrieúo, meaning “lord over,” “rule over,” “dominate,” or “exercise authority over.” A literal rendering of the verse would be, “For sin will not dominate you, for you are not under law but under [unmerited] favor.” (6:14)
The apostle’s thought appears to be that, if believers place themselves at God’s disposal and employ their body members as instruments in doing what is righteous or right, sin will not be exercising lordship over them. This is because believers are not under law. In view of their being unable to observe the law faultlessly, humans would not be liberated from sin’s dominion or control. The law condemns sinners, exposing them as being the subjects of sin and deserving of punishment. Through God’s unmerited favor or kindness, on the other hand, believers are reckoned as righteous on the basis of their faith in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. No longer are they counted as condemned sinners or the subjects of sin.
“What then” is the consequence of not being under law? “Should we sin because we are not under law but under [unmerited] favor?” Paul emphatically answered this question, saying, “Never may it be!” (6:15) Having one’s sins forgiven in expression of God’s unearned kindness provides no excuse for living in sin. This would be contrary to the very purpose for which Jesus died, namely, to liberate humans from sin and its death-dealing effect.
Individuals who put themselves at the disposal of another to obey that one are slaves. It is their obedience that makes them such. By means of his question, Paul reminded believers that, by obeying sin, they would be slaves of sin, with resultant death. (6:16)
The apostle contrasted “obedience” with being a slave to sin but did not include an object for “obedience.” (6:16) Elsewhere in this letter, he referred to “obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26), obeying the evangel (10:16), and obedience to “type of teaching” (6:17). Obedient response to the message about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by his death could be included. Verse 13, however, indicates that God is the one to whom obedience is owing, and so the reference may be understood as applying to obedience to him. A number of translations make this significance explicit. “You can be slaves to sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him.” (CEV) “You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him.” (NCV) “You belong to the power which you choose to obey, whether you choose sin, whose reward is death, or God, obedience to whom means the reward of righteousness.” (J. B. Phillips)
The righteousness resulting from obedience may mean the approved standing those enjoy who are forgiven of sins on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and what his death accomplished. The other possibility is that it applies to the righteousness believers will come to possess upon being completely freed from sin or becoming sinless persons. When death is regarded as the ultimate consequence for sin, the righteousness to which obedience leads (if intended as a contrasting parallel) would denote the future righteous or sinless state.
In the case of believers, Paul thanked God that, though they had been slaves to sin, they became obedient from the heart (their inmost selves) to the “type of teaching” to which they were “handed over.” The “type of teaching” could refer to teaching relating to Christ rather than Jewish teaching (with its focus on the law). Another possible meaning is teaching that provided a pattern for believers to follow and so teaching to which they became subject. If God is regarded as the one who handed believers over to this “type of teaching,” the purpose for his doing so could be so that they would learn it and live by it. (6:17)
Freed from sin, believers became slaves to righteousness, subjecting themselves to the doing of what is just and right. (6:18)
When speaking of this change in masters from “sin” to “righteousness,” Paul was merely drawing an illustration from the then-existing institution of slavery, wanting those whom he addressed to understand their new relationship and its associated responsibilities. The apostle chose to speak in human terms because of the “weakness of [their] flesh.” (6:19) This suggests that he recognized their limitations in being able to comprehend the totality of their obligations, their full accountability, and the complete extent to which they were owned on account of having been purchased with Christ’s blood. Because they were well-acquainted with everything that slavery entailed, believers had a frame of reference for the aspects of the slave status that would fit their new relationship to God and Christ.
It was incumbent upon believers to put their whole being, all the members of their body, at the disposal of the service of righteousness, subjecting themselves as would slaves to the doing of what is right. In the past, before becoming believers, they did not conduct themselves commendably. They presented their body members as slaves to uncleanness, impurity, or indecency and to lawlessness or conduct that violated the natural sense of uprightness, fairness, and propriety. In relation to the enslavement of their body members, Paul wrote, “to lawlessness into lawlessness.” (6:19) This may mean that, in their former state, believers had used their body members as slaves to lawlessness for the purpose of committing ever-greater lawlessness or moral corruption. Translators have variously rendered the words, “to greater and greater lawlessness” (HCSB), “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (ESV), “wickedness, for the purpose of becoming wicked” (J. B. Phillips), and “lawlessness, making for moral anarchy” (REB).
When, on the other hand, believers used their body members in the service of righteousness, the result would be “holiness.” Their life as believers would be pure or blameless. Formerly, while they had been “slaves of sin,” they were “free” in relation to righteousness, for they did not subject themselves to the doing of what was right, just, or fair. (6:19, 20)
No good came from their former enslavement to sin. The point Paul made regarding this may be punctuated in two different ways. (1) “So what were you having then [as] fruit of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” (2) “So what were you having then [as] fruit? Things of which you are now ashamed, for the end of those things is death.” They could only look upon their former corrupt way of life and actions (comparable to rotten fruit) as something of which they were ashamed. Their sinful practices had death as the ultimate end. (6:21)
As persons liberated from sin, believers are slaves of God. No longer would they be producing rotten fruit. Their new way of life would be productive of “holiness” or purity in attitude, word, and deed, with the end being eternal life. In its culmination, eternal life is an enduring relationship with God and his Son as sinless persons. (6:22)
This is the very opposite of the results from a sinful life, for death is the wages of sin. Death terminates all relationships, and the dead cannot do anything to attain an approved relationship with God and Christ. (6:23)
Eternal life is not dependent on having lived flawlessly according to the law. It is God’s gracious gift “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This can be understood to mean that eternal life is only possible through Christ Jesus because of what he accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially or that a person can only be in possession of eternal life by being “in” or at one with him as a member of his body. All who are members of his body or the community of believers recognize Jesus Christ as their Lord, which is evident from their faithfully following his example and teaching. (6:23)