We have been united with Christ through our baptism. We have shared in his death and resurrection, but also that we now receive vital nutrition from Christ to go forth and walk in newness of life.
Through this lesson, students should:
Be encouraged to be baptized if they have not already done so.
Understand that they have been united with Christ through their baptism.
Understand that they are dead to sin, so they must continually present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness.
Catching up on the Story
Previously, Paul laid out for us the results of our justification or pardoned from sin. He began by stating that our relationship with the one who justifies us is more than just that of a judge to a criminal. On God’s part, there is a personal connection; God’s pardon of us cost him something personally. He’s invested in this relationship way more than your ordinary judge.
Paul goes on to say that because we have been justified through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we have been granted continued access to the presence of God. Again, this is relational in nature. We’ve been invited in and told to make ourselves comfortable and plan to stay a good while. In this great work of God, this great invitation, we were called to boast. We were invited to proclaim what God has done loudly.
Then, Paul highlights the fantastic nature of Christ’s death. Not many are willing to die for someone unrighteous, but that’s just what Jesus does. While we were, and as we said last week, continue to be sinners, Christ gave himself up for us. If Christ is willing to do that while we are terrible people, how much more will he work on our behalf now that we have been justified?
Finally, in a passage we didn’t study last week, Paul draws out the similarities between how sin entered the world through the act of one man, Adam, and how grace and salvation have entered the world, again through the act of one man, Jesus. On top of that, the Law exposed our sinfulness, increasing our sinfulness. But, thankfully, as sin grew, so did God’s grace.
Today’s passage continues with the general flow of Paul’s argument in this section. He begins with a question, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” It’s rather apparent that he’s heard this argument before that if sin made grace more abundant, then why not go on sinning? Paul expresses his disdain for that line of thinking in the strongest terms possible. There’s just no way that we should continue to sin so that we might get more of God’s grace.
Baptized into Death with Christ – Romans 6:2-4
But Paul isn’t done asking rhetorical questions. “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” If you’ve been around the church long enough, this phrase, “died to sin,” makes some sense to you. What Paul is getting at here is that something decisive has happened to us as we commit to following after Christ.
“Died” here does not mean physical death. Instead, it’s in the sense of “You’re dead to me!” Paul declares that in our conversion and baptism (we’ll get there in a moment), our disposition toward sin is becoming one of non-existence. As we grow in grace, sin begins to cease to be an issue. It’s as if it never existed. A word of warning here, this does not automatically happen, which leads to Paul’s next point.
We’re dead to sin because we have been baptized into Christ’s death! Our baptism is symbolically linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection. While Jesus’ death defeats sin, as we share in his death, we are changed and empowered. One commentator I read points out that this baptism is serious stuff. When we do baptisms, it’s a joyous occasion.
But the primary image that Paul is working within this section is death, and if we allow it, baptism as an image enforces that. The mental picture we should have here is that our old self, which was dominated by sin, being held down under the water, thrashing about until life has gone out of it. That’s the force of baptism.
To drive this point home, it’s not just that we die to that old way of life, which is dominated by sin, but we are significantly dead to be buried with Christ (6:4). You don’t bury people who you aren’t sure are dead just yet. No, burial is the end. It’s final. That’s the image Paul wants us to understand about our relationship with sin. It’s done; it’s dead to us. Or instead, we’re dead to it.
We all know that in this story, death is not the end. We celebrate this each Easter. Indeed, each Easter, sin and death have no hold on Jesus, so he is resurrected. Again, resurrected, not resuscitated. He was entirely dead. If Paul says we have died and been buried with Christ in his death, we will be resurrected in the same way. We will leave the sin behind and go on to walk in newness of life.
This resurrection works on two levels. First, it’s future-oriented. One day we will share in Christ’s bodily resurrection. We’ll be resurrected to spend eternity with the God who created and loves us. Second, and more important for this context, we have been freed from our old way of life where sin ruled over us, and we are free to take up a different life marked by love.
The Body of Sin Destroyed – Romans 6:5-11
Death to sin and resurrection to a new way of life oriented toward a love of God and neighbor is possible because we have been “united with him [Jesus] in a death like his.
Paul’s language here is very vivid, though it may not seem like that. We aren’t united with Jesus in the same way that citizens of a country are joined together to defeat a common enemy or to face a particular ecological disaster. We aren’t united in the sense that a sports team is united together.
We are united together with Christ in a much more significant and complete way. Two images could be helpful here.
First, the word Paul uses can be understood in biological ways. Let’s say you slice your finger open so badly that you need stitches. You go to the doctor, and they stitch you up, and in a few weeks, you’re as good as new, save for a scar. Your body has been at work, uniting the two halves of your severed flesh. The two sides have become one again, and the union is more durable than before. We have been united with Christ.
The second image is similar, except that it is horticultural in nature. I have a friend who likes to garden. He grows all sorts of things. In his front yard are several different fruit trees. On some of those trees, branches have grafted on that are not native to it. So, on an apple tree, you’ll find a branch that’s growing pears. We have been united with Christ like a branch is grafted into a tree.
With these images, we get a sense that both the once-severed flesh and the grafted branch have become inseparable from the part to which they are connected. Essential to their union is the sharing of life-giving sources of nutrition. The once severed flesh now shares a common bloodstream, and the ingrafted branch now shares fully in the tree sap. Because they share this common source of sustenance, both the flesh and the branch can flourish in their environment, doing what each was created to do.
This is how it is with you and me. We’re like a branch that used to belong to the tree of sin and wickedness. But Christ has come along, removed us from that tree, and grafted us onto his trunk. And we now share the life-giving, sin-resisting nutrition of the Holy Spirit. That is our resurrection, to share fully in the life-giving nature of Christ here and now.
In negative terms, our “body of sin” has been destroyed. Here “body of sin” means not our earthly bodies but that old way of life characterized not by a love of God and neighbor but by sin and selfishness. We are no longer slaves to that way of life. We have a new master, one who gives us life.
Weapons of Wickedness – Romans 6:12-14
That’s great, you might say, but that doesn’t jive with my lived experience. Some people have taken this passage, believing that our baptism makes it impossible for us to sin. But this doesn’t at all fit the context of the letter. Why would Paul need to encourage and instruct his friends in Rome if they were now finally and fully without sin?
I think Paul is trying to say that we no longer need to live in sin through our following Jesus and baptism through God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. I think Paul is saying that we need not sin, at least not intentionally. The life-giving blood and sap to which we now have access because we have been united with Christ allow us to look at sin and say, “You’re dead to me!”
That’s why in verses 12-13, Paul says, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God…as instruments of righteousness.
It seems that even though we have been united with Christ, we continue to have a choice in how we live. Will we go back to our old way of life? Or will we continue to reject sin, growing more and more into the image of Christ? Will you be a “weapon of wickedness” (that’s the literal translation of “instruments”)? Or, will you be a weapon of righteousness? Paul says we can be used for righteousness because we are under God’s grace (6:14).
Again, you might say that this doesn’t square with your lived experience. It all just sounds so very simple. As I said earlier, we have a choice in this matter, in how we live, and choice always requires effort. If, for whatever reason, the branch doesn’t want to be grafted into the tree, well, then it will rot and fall off. If it rejects the life-giving sap, then it will eventually die.
But that doesn’t change the significance of what has happened. What Paul is doing here amounts to cheering his friends on to accept that life-giving sap, to do the hard work of uniting with Christ daily.
See, baptism is the beginning of our death to sin and our uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection. We don’t need to be re-baptized, but we do need to choose, as Paul encourages us to use this life for righteousness’ sake. And it starts each new day as we rise from our beds and ask God to strengthen us so that we might bear good fruit as the grafted branches we are.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why would Paul ask, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?
How have you been taught to understand your baptism?
What does it mean to be “baptized into his [Jesus’] death?”
Paul states that we’ve also been resurrected with Jesus as well. To what have we been resurrected?
When something has been united, what does that look like? What might be good examples of something or someone being united with something else?
The image Paul is working within the original language is the kind of uniting that happens when two sides of a cut heal together or when a branch is grafted into a tree. Do those images change how you understand being united with Christ?
Paul says we have “died to sin.” What does he mean? Does this mean we won’t have to deal with sin anymore? If so, why would Paul urge us to “no longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness?”
What kind of ramifications might presenting yourselves (your members) to God as instruments of righteousness have for your day-to-day life?