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Romans 6:12-23

In Romans 6, we find Paul dealing with the struggle of life in the overlap between two ages, two modes of existence. Christ died and has risen: New life in a new age has begun. Yet, the old life in the old age continues. As followers of Christ, we must live in both ages at once, and often we struggle to live the new life in the old age. We struggle with temptation; we struggle with sin. In Christ, God has brought us a great distance, but we have not quite arrived. Reflections on this struggle sometimes emphasize comfort for the believer who has stumbled, perhaps repeatedly, and feels guilty or helpless. Such comfort is present in Paul’s words, but it is not where Paul’s emphasis lies. Paul emphasizes not comfort, but calling. Unwilling to allow believers to settle for a repeating pattern of sinning and celebrating forgiveness, Paul calls the Roman believers, and us, to live above sin.

When discussing Paul, one often faces the challenge of determining how far to back up in order to situate the passage at hand in the apostle’s train of thought. Here, though the passage at hand is Romans 6:12-23, backing up to the beginning of chapter 6 does not seem quite enough. At the end of chapter 5, Paul says, “20 . . . Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20b-21[1]). This statement is in mind when Paul continues in 6:1-2 with, “1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”

The importance of this question and its answer to Paul is underscored by his repeating the sequence in 6:15: “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” It may be that Paul knows of people who claim the name of Christ but twist the gospel into a justification for libertinism, saying, “God will not hold our sin against us, so let’s just sin all we want.” On the other hand, Paul may simply be using the rhetorical fo