As we begin our reading we have to note that this pericope does not stand on it’s own. It begins with the connecting word οὖν, “Therefore” or “Certainly.” These verses can’t be separated from the prior verses which speak of the Upside Down Kingdom. Christ died to sin so that he might live to God. If we die with Christ we will surely be raised with him. Our passage picks it up; “therefore,” because Christ has been raised to incorruption and because we should die to sin…
…because Christ has been raised to new life we should pray the sinner’s prayer?
…because Christ has been raised to new life we should mentally affirm a few propositional truths?
Not that these are necessarily wrong – there are some propositional truths we hold – but Paul says that because Christ has been raised to new life and because we have died to sin we should not let sin rear it’s ugly head in our mortal bodies. Evidently, sin is embodied, not just mental or spiritual. This is strong anti-Gnosticism. The Gnostics would have argued that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter; they’re corrupt and evil, all that matters is the spiritual. Paul has just said that Christ was resurrected to new life; a physical resurrection in bodily form.
In our not yet resurrected bodies, then, sin ought to have no dominion. For the things we follow, the principalities and powers we obey become our master.
This is an important word. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m convinced we (in the West, at least) think that my agency, my authority, my self, begins with my thinking. Joel Osteen is a pretty easy target, but his theology and writing reveals a lot of our Western pop-theology. In his preaching and his book “Think Better Live Better” Osteen argues that if you just think positive thoughts your life will get better. Thinking is the first thing… According to Osteen and a lot of our pop theology, we are thinking beings and feeling beings.
In contrast to this pop-theology I think of my grandmother’s journey to death. I barely remember Mary Ellen Lucas but as I look at my mother as a grandma I think I’m catching glimpses of my own grandmother. Mary Ellen suffered from cancer in the early 90’s and as a child in my youth some of my only memories hospital hallway wheelchair races.
As I don’t remember Mary Ellen much, I rely on stories. My mother tells us of my grandma, weak and suffering, understandably not feeling like getting out her hospital bed, thinking it would be easier to just lay there somewhat comfortable in bed, would rise from her bed, bathe herself, change out of her hospital gown into regular clothes, put on her wig, and put on some make up. This normal morning routine for so many people took so much of her strength. But after the simply practice of preparing herself, of readying her failing body, Mary Ellen would feel better and would be given strength and comfort. Words of encouragement flowed from her guests. “Mary Ellen, you’re looking strong and healthy today.”
She didn’t live too much longer, but in her last months it wasn’t her thinking that gave her life. It was her doing! It was her getting out of bed, it was her putting on her wig, it was her getting dressed that formed her thoughts that day. Maybe we can’t very easily distinguish between our being and our doing.
Perhaps part of what Paul is saying here is that the ways we live our lives in our bodies shapes the ways we think and feel and believe. Maybe our behaviors shape us more than we shape our behaviors… maybe.
I’d be a bad pastor of the Wesleyan tradition if I didn’t move us to the end of the passage where we see our favorite word! We may not agree about what it means , but we love the word. As we look at sanctification according to Romans 6, there are a few things to note. First, sanctification is is not the first thing. Sanctification is what follows the first things. The first thing is becoming a slave. *Insert Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” reference.* We might also call this consecration, a giving up of self.
The second thing to note is what become a slave to. Here we need to look at the Greek and our cultural assumptions. In English we use the word righteousness for the Greek δικαιοσύνη. At least in the North American context, righteousness has taken on this definition of personal piety. Just this week I heard a life long Christian argue against discipleship a la Wesley’s Class Meeting because “It’s me and Jesus and I don’t need to share with other people.” Righteousness is not just individualized, it’s reduced to pietistic practices.
Now, piety is vital! But dikaiosunh means so much more than just personal piety. If you were to read Romans 6 in a Spanish translation you’d find this word, “justicia.” Justice. Δικαιοσύνη means equity, justice, and right living in community.
The Christ follower, according to Paul, then, becomes a slave to Kingdom equity and justice! We becomes slaves to justice for sanctification! Sanctification is a corporate reality that follows our surrendering ourselves to God’s justice!
Finally, we see in verse 22 that when we’re freed from sin, the advantage we get (literally, the fruit we bear) is sanctification. As we saw earlier, sin is embodied. Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies. What we see, then, is that sanctification is also embodied! Sanctification, holiness, the beginning of eternal life cannot be disembodied. Not from our own bodies, nor from the bodies of our churches. As Christ was embodied in his resurrection, so must our sanctification be embodied.
 See A Century of Holiness Theology by Mark Quanstrom
About the Contributor
Pastor, Hastings Church of the Nazarene