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The objection Paul was about to answer here was founded upon allegations based upon a perverted understanding of justification by faith. See introduction to this chapter, above. Some of Paul's hearers and readers had concluded that as long as a Christian had faith it made no difference at all what kind of life he lived, such a position arising from a misunderstanding of justification by faith, which they had understood to be "faith only," just as some still misunderstand it. Paul's obvious reference here to Rom. 5:20 shows that no new subject is being introduced.
It was pointed out by the apostle in previous portions of the letter that the basis of man's justification is that of his being "in Christ," dead to self, and possessor of a new identity, that of Christ himself, being one with him. It was absolutely unthinkable that such a person could think of continuing the old sinful ways.
We who died to sin ...
Whatever can that mean? Clearly; it cannot mean that temptation to sin has ceased. Neither does it refer to repentance, nor to any other subjective or inward change wrought by the gospel in Christians themselves. Three times in this chapter it is stated that Christians are dead, or have died, unto sin (Romans 6:2,7,11). A careful reading of Rom. 6:11 shows what is meant:
Even so ye also reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
Christ died to pay the penalty of sin; and the person who is truly "in Christ" therefore died unto sin "in the person of Christ." This was exactly the thought expressed by Paul, thus:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Christians are thus dead to sin in exactly the same way that they are said to be dead to the law, namely, "by the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4). An old illustration that came of events in the Napoleonic wars emphasizes what is meant.
Illustration: Napoleon's war machine was impressing large numbers into the army; and a young gather was about to be inducted. His wife and children were gathered around him in as tearful a scene as can be imagined; and, in response to such a pathetic situation, one of the man's neighbors stepped forward and took his place, as the laws and customs of that era allowed. The substitute was killed in battle; and several years later the draft apparatus was again operating in that same village, and the same father was haled before the board a second time for induction. That time, however, the prospective inductee boldly stepped before the board and produced a parchment, signed by the emperor himself:
This man (name) perished upon the battlefield of Rivoli in the person of his substitute (name). SIGNED: NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
It is exactly that type of immunity which Christians enjoy through having died to sin in the person of their Lord.
Steele expressed this same conviction of what it means to be dead to sin. He wrote:
That we "died to sin" is a phrase that frequently appears in the Pauline epistles in different forms, and uniformly alludes not to an inward deliverance from sin, but to the Christian's objective relation, or to his personal standing before God in the vicarious work of Christ; it means that we are legally dead to sin in Christ. F8
That this analysis of the phrase "dead to sin" is correct is further corroborated by what Paul said of Christ, that "he died to sin once" (Romans 6:10); and that cannot possibly mean that the inclination to commit sin had died in Christ, but means rather that Christ abolished the legal penalty of sin by his death. Also, Paul said, "For he that hath died is justified from sin" (Romans 6:7). Again, from Steele:
The justification of the Christian is thus based on his co-dying with Christ; that is, we are said to have died when Christ died, and to have done what Christ did. The words undoubtedly mean a co-dying with Christ in that one corporate, representative deed; that is, they mean that we were one with Christ in his obedience unto death, as we were one with Adam in his disobedience. F9
All of this underscores the importance and absolute necessity of being "in Christ," that is, being baptized into him, being made legally a part of him, putting him on, making his identity ours, coupled with the putting away of the old man.
The grand argument of these first two verses is that justification involves the putting away of the old man and the discontinuation of the practice of sin. Greathouse put it thus:
The justified believer has been justified FROM sin (Romans 6:7). He is no longer tyrannized by the revolt that has plagued the race since Adam fell. F10
Barth expressed the thought in these words:
What is forgiveness of sins, however we understand it, if it is not directly accompanied by an actual liberation from the committal of sin? ... What is faith without obedience? F11
This verse is proof that justification by faith, as possessed by those Christians to whom Paul addressed Romans, included baptism. Not a single one of them was ever justified without it; for Paul wrote, "ALL WE who were baptized." Paul's focal purpose in this paragraph was to stress the fact that Christians who were dead to sin should not continue to live wickedly; but the manner of their being dead to sin necessarily brought the ordinance of baptism into his thoughts, with the consequence that many of the most positive teachings concerning that ceremony were included in this letter. In this verse, Paul explained HOW it is true that Christians are dead to sin, and WHEN they became so.
Baptism being the ordinance which brings people "into Christ," as stated here and in Gal. 3:26,27, and through means of the unity with Christ thus effected, the Christian actually enters the spiritual body of Christ, thus making it true that "in Christ" he is dead to sin, since Christ died. That is the thought here expressed by "baptized into his death," meaning "into the status of being dead to sin in Christ." Making the sinner dead to sin is a mighty act; and, as Wuest expressed it,
Paul now proceeds to show how this mighty cleavage was effected. He says that it was brought about by God's act of baptizing the believing sinner into Christ so that the person would share his death on the Cross, which identification of the believing sinner with Christ in his death, brought about the separation of that person from the sinful nature. F12
Wuest's view of baptism as an act of God is correct, as a comparison with John 4:1,2 proves, thus making it impossible ever to classify baptism as a work of human righteousness. It is a work of God because God commanded it and because it is administered in God's name by God's servants. Nevertheless, inasmuch as this cannot be done except with the consent and submission of the believer, there is a sense in which baptism is an act of the believer himself. When Paul himself was baptized, the believer's initiative in the act was clearly indicated in the divine command uttered by Ananias (Acts 22:16). Vine's Greek dictionary has this:
In Acts 22:16, it ([Greek: baptizo]) is used in the middle voice in the command given to Saul of Tarsus, "Arise and be baptized," the significance of the middle voice being, "get thyself baptized." F13
Again, the diligence of people to avoid the significance of baptism as a part of God's plan of redeeming people, in the sense of bringing them into a status where they may receive redemption as God's gift, is evidenced by such as the following statement:
Nevertheless, a doctrine of justification by grace through faith necessitates a distinction between initiation into the spiritual body of Christ and identification with the visible body through baptism. F14
But there is no difference! It is by the one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) that believers are baptized into the one body (1 Corinthians 12:13), into Christ (as here), into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20), into his death (as here), and into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). The false theory that one might indeed be in some mystical form of the body of Christ and not be in the visible body of his church was explicitly proved untenable by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, thus:
It is impossible to become a new man as a solitary individual. The new man means more than the individual believer. ... It means the Church, the Body of Christ; in fact it means Christ himself. F15
As the New Testament writer Luke expressed it:
And the Lord added to them (the church) day by day those that were being saved (Acts 2:47).
Luke's statement justifies the deduction that if one has not been added to the church, neither is he saved.
Melancholy rises in the heart as one contemplates the magnitude and extent of human efforts to obscure and even deny the scriptural teaching before us in this verse. Why should people have decided that baptism has nothing to do with salvation and then have set about shouting it out of the New Testament? Why has God permitted it? Is it in order that people who do not truly love God may have some rational platform to support their rebellion? Why should not every man who believes in God and Jesus Christ accept and obey the holy teachings on this subject? Christ himself made the baptism of "all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20) to be the urgent and invariable mission of his church throughout ages; and no logic can support the view that Christ included a "non-essential" in the great commission. What human vanity it is to suppose that people have the right to take it out! Ten thousand angels swearing that baptism is not necessary to salvation could not make it so.
We are buried ...
refers to immersion as the action known as baptism in the apostolic age. The fact that baptism, as administered by people today, differs from the rite as taught and administered by the apostles of Christ, is due to the unwillingness of people to abide in the teachings of the word of God. It is futile to appeal to the testimony of lexicons and histories, for all people already know that New Testament baptism was by immersion in water, the futility deriving from this, that people have arrogantly removed the entire ordinance from having, in their views, any significant utility in the scheme of redemption. This single verse of the holy scriptures is alone sufficient to show immersion as the original Christian baptism; and no man can misunderstand it without extensive help; but, lest there be any doubt regarding the testimony available, a few typical comments are here presented:
When we sink our heads in the water, as in a tomb, the old man is buried, and going down, is wholly hid once for all.
In the early days of the church, persons, when baptized, were first plunged below, and then raised above the water.
For are you ignorant, that so many of you as have, by baptism, become Christ's disciples, have been baptized into the likeness of his death, having been buried under the water, as persons who, like Christ, have been killed by sin.
Conybeare and Howson:
This passage cannot be understood unless it is borne in mind that the primitive baptism was by immersion.
It is altogether probable that the apostle has allusions to the custom of baptism by immersion.
There is a plain allusion to the ancient mode of baptism by immersion. F16
The word "baptized" is not the translation of the Greek word here, but its transliteration, its spelling in English letters. The word is used in the classics of a smith who dips a piece of hot iron in the water. F17
Definition of [Greek: baptisma]: immersion, submersion. F18
In this century (the first) baptism was administered in convenient places, without the public assemblies; and by immersing the candidate wholly in water.
Paul here makes use of the picture suggested by the practice of baptism by immersion. F19
One hundred other concurring citations might easily be brought forward; but these are more than enough to show what is easily visible in the verse itself, that baptism in the age that knew the Lord was by immersion.
Paul's mention of the "burial" in baptism cannot refer to the interment of one already dead to sin, as affirmed by Godet, but to the action which constitutes baptism, this being true because one cannot be "dead to sin" unless and until he is in the body of Christ, which state is entered through baptism. The error of Godet and many others in this misunderstanding sprang from a failure to determine the true meaning of Paul's phrase "dead to sin" which must not be confused with being "dead in sin." The person dead in sin is yet unsaved; the person dead to sin (through being in Christ) is saved. Therefore, baptism is not merely some kind of symbolical proof of our already being dead to sin, but is the divinely imposed condition of our becoming so. The scriptures do not teach that Christians are baptized to prove that they are dead to sin, but in order to bo `in Christ," and therefore truly dead to sin "in him."
That like as Christ was raised from the dead ...
Having shown that the baptized believer, upon his being thereby united with Christ, is then dead unto sin, Paul at once went a step further by pointing out that Christ rose from the dead to a higher type of life, and appealed to this as an analogy of the Christian's rising from the watery grave of baptism to "walk in newness of life."
In newness of life ...
is a reference, not merely to the upright morality and integrity of the Christian pilgrimage, but also to an entirely new status that pertains to him following his union with Christ in baptism. The old man has been renounced, the old identity repudiated, self having been slain; and the Christian is, in a sense, no longer his old self, but "is Christ" (Galatians 2:20).
The newness of life mentioned here is such a wonderful thing as to justify the opinions of those who hold this to be the first resurrection, a view certainly permissible in the light of Jesus' teaching in John 5:25.
The newness of life is made possible by the reception of the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13), imparted after the believer's repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38f), and as a consequence thereof. Does this newness of life mean that the possessor of it cannot sin? No. The evil nature of man, his old self, is dethroned through conversion to Christ, and the rightful sovereign of the soul, who is Christ, is enthroned instead of the old man. The will of man, however, still free, can reverse the decision. As Wuest explained:
When the believer sins, the dethroned king, the evil nature mounts to the throne, with the consequent dethronement of the Lord Jesus. Such a procedure cannot go on often, nor indefinitely, for God puts a curb upon such a thing by sending suffering, chastening, and the Christian is made miserable by a guilty conscience and the indwelling Spirit who is grieved at such conduct. ... God has so adjusted things in the Christian's life that, while he remains a free moral agent capable of choosing between obeying the divine nature or the evil nature, yet the preponderance of his choices are Godward. ... Hence the impossibility of the Christian's sustaining habitually the same relationship to the evil nature which he sustained before he was saved. F20
Wuest's analysis is a good explanation of why the Christian cannot continue in sin that grace may abound. To be alive spiritually in Christ Jesus is to "walk in newness of life"; and what a difference there really is. Prior to their salvation, people are without hope or promise, alienated from God, children of wrath, walking in darkness, hateful, and hating one another; but in Christ, one is part of an utterly new creation. He is truly born again. Old things have passed away; behold all things are made new!
This is a further allusion to Christian baptism, as Barrett noted, "the likeness of his death being baptism." F21 Most commentators refer to textual difficulties in this place, but regardless of those, the overall meaning is clear. Paul was making a comparison between the death and resurrection of Christ, on the one hand, and death to sin and rising to walk in newness of life, on the part of Christians. Brunner paraphrased the verse thus:
If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. F22
The "resurrection like his" is a reference to the wonderful new spiritual life of Christians, such being required by the argument, and not the eternal resurrection at the last day. Thus, Paul was still pressing the requirement of holy living on the part of Christians; and that fitted into his comprehensive theme of God's righteousness by refuting the proposition that the holy and righteous God would tolerate a community of his alleged children on earth living lives of sin.
For if we have been planted ...
The big word here is "if." Net all shall partake of that new life, for not all will be planted in the likeness of Christ's death, that is, not all will be baptized. This verse is a connective between two focal points of the Christian message. First, Christ died for us, having lived a perfect life of faith and obedience to God's will, and through this means creating the ground of justification for sinful people, and containing within himself after his resurrection the only perfect righteousness ever known on earth, and without which no one can be saved. God's mighty act of redemption does not consist in transferring the true righteousness of Christ to sinners, but in transferring sinners "into Christ," making them legally one with Christ; that is, causing them to be in Christ's spiritual body, and thereupon being justly entitled to claim Christ's righteousness as their very own. Paul here pointed out that, in the most appropriate manner possible, the believing sinner accepts Christ's righteousness, not through any mere assumption of it, but by a valid act of response, in kind, to what Christ did. The sinner actually participates in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord. We die to sin through the absolute denial of ourselves and renunciation of our evil nature with its pride by being baptized into Christ, that action constituting the death of our old identity, because by that action we have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). It is in that legal sense of being dead to sin through the body of Christ (since we are in him, we died with him) that Paul was speaking earlier; but at this point he spoke more of the demise of the old man, which is death to sin in a different sense. The believer is transformed through God's creative act within him, having been born again, the old man dying and being replaced by the new man in Christ. Brunner commented on this as follows:
We have been baptized into the death of Jesus. That means we enter into his death in faith, not only as a death on our behalf, but as our death. He has not only died for us, but he died in our place; his death was really valid for us, and this sentence of God executed upon him for our salvation we allow to be executed upon us. We surrender ourselves into his death; we are crucified with him; we sacrifice our old hitherto sinful life to this death, letting the old man be buried with Christ. F23
If one really wishes to know why people do not wish to be baptized and why every device ever known to human intelligence has been exercised in a fruitless effort to get baptism out of God's plan, let him read Brunner's words again.
Death to sin has a double aspect in this chapter, meaning in fact two things: (1) It is the legal death to sin, which is the status of being dead to sin "in Christ," a legal state that one enters in the act of baptism, .the baptized believer being dead to sin in the same way that he is dead to the law "by the body of Christ." (2) It means the crucifixion of the old man, the utter and final rejection of self, what Jesus called "denying" one's self, renouncing the old identity, repudiating the old system of value-judgments, mortifying the members of the fleshly body, etc. This is called the personal death to sin. The first aspect of being dead to sin is accomplished in one formal, dramatic act of conversion to Christ; but the second aspect, the personal death to sin, cannot occur in one blinding burst of light, but is a growth process, as correctly analyzed by Sanday:
If so surely as we have grown into, become CONJOINED with (this) metaphor is taken from the parasitic growth of a plant, but applied to natural growth, not "planted together with" as in KJV. The idea would correspond with the growth of a bud or graft regarded as part of the stock in which it is inserted, but without reference to the operation of budding or grafting. F24
Sanday's comment upon "if we have been planted" shows that dying to sin is a growth process (in the sense of phase 2, above). Unlike the legal death to sin which is accomplished dramatically, this is a continuing process and, in a sense never completely accomplished on earth. The glaring error often met with regarding the believer's death to sin is that of making it some kind of subjective change wrought within the believer himself prior to his becoming a Christian. Impossible. The death to sin, in the personal sense, properly begins with the repentance of the believer and his denial of himself as preliminary to his baptism; but, as every young Christian quickly finds out, the old man is far from dead at that point! The Holy Spirit's employment of the growth metaphor in this verse clearly shows the truth. Successfully crucifying the old man requires a lifetime of devotion and Christian service; and it cannot ever be done at all without the believer's first achieving a legal status of deadness to sin, through his conversion to Christ.
Both aspects of the Christian's death to sin are visible in this. It is a precious kind of knowledge that enables the Christian to do away with the body of sin, which is the old man, and that knowledge is .the consciousness that we have already been endowed with a legal status of deadness to sin through our being "in Christ" and therefore legally crucified with him. For a soul to have any success at all in living above sin, there must first be achieved a state of innocence, providing a fresh start. This is accomplished in conversion to Christ, wherein all past transgressions are forgiven, and the soul is endowed with the absolute and perfect righteousness of Christ through the heavenly mechanics of his having been, through his conversion, inducted into Christ, being part of Christ, "in him." This is the purging from "his old sins," as Peter called them (2 Peter 1:9). What an electrifying challenge, what an incentive to holy living, what a joy to the soul, what a burst of heavenly sunlight in the soul that is instantly endowed with absolute perfection "in Christ"! If such a thing cannot inspire one to honor the holiness that is expected of him as a child of God himself, rest assured that nothing can. True righteousness of our own (though ever imperfect) is the goal God has for all Christians; and the powerful incentive to its attainment was presented by Paul in this verse.
Before leaving these verses where the dual aspect of the believers death to sin is in view, there needs to be cited a solid scriptural proof that the personal aspect of death to sin is a growth process going on long after the believer has become a child of God. Paul wrote the Colossian church, composed of baptized believing Christians, of course, thus:
Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. ... Put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, etc. (Colossians 3:5-8).
Thus the personal aspect of death to sin presents a constant challenge; but thank God it is indeed possible of achievement through the Christian's righteous legal status in the Lord.
Paul returned in this statement to the legal phase of justification "in Christ" (as fully discussed under preceding verses); but something new is added here. Justification, far from being accomplished by faith only, is also dependent upon the believer's death to sin, in the sense of being "in Christ."
He that died ...
is another way of saying, "He that believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and was baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins" is justified. No others need apply!
How enlightening is the fact that, after all Paul had written of faith in preceding chapters, when it comes down to speaking of the Christian's justification and his hope of living eternally with Christ above, it is not faith which is mentioned, but dying with Christ. This does not imply that faith is not required, but shows that faith consummated by baptism into the death of Christ is the determinator.
Again, Paul's tremendous "if" is hurled into the consideration of man's salvation, as also in Rom. 6:5, thus stressing the conditional nature of human redemption, one of the conditions being stressed in this verse, that of dying with Christ, in the sense of being baptized "into Christ," etc.
We shall also live with him ...
is a pledge reaching into the eternal world.
Christ's resurrection was not like that of Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus; because Christ dieth no more, the power of death having been completely broken by him. In consequence of this astounding victory, Paul hailed Jesus Christ as
The King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God (1 Timothy 1:17).
This verse is not a technical statement of the deity of Christ, but implies it. One who does not believe that Christ lives forever and "dieth no more" does not believe in Christ at all. Paul certainly believed in Christ as a supernatural being, identified with the one true and only God Almighty. Only a supernatural being could be able to procure and deliver to mortals any salvation worth having. It should never be overlooked that it is upon a supernatural basis that every valid concept of human redemption must be grounded. The predicament of humanity resulting from the fiasco in Eden is of such a pitiful and disastrous nature that only God could provide the remedy, and even God, only at such an awful cost to himself in the giving of his only begotten Son.
Christ's death unto sin was to pay the penalty due to sin, and the uniqueness of that event is expressed in the word "once," or "once for all," as it reads in the Greek (see English Revised Version (1885) margin). The Greek word is [hapax]; and for other New Testament uses of this remarkable word, see under Hebrews 7:27 in this author's commentary on that book. The finality of Christ's sacrifice for sin precludes any such thing as the daily sacrifice of the mass, or, for that matter, any kind of an offering whatever that might be proffered by people. The true sacrifice for sin is Christ, who offered himself, and that only once, the same being once for all and forever.
Unto God ...
stresses the unity of Christ with the Father. Christ is called "God" no less than ten times in the Greek New Testament, and for details on this see under Hebrews 1:8 in this series of commentaries. The New Testament conception of Christ in his present ascended and glorified state places him in heaven at God's right hand, and upon the very throne of God itself, God's throne actually being called "the throne of God and of the Lamb".
This is one of the boldest and most daring statements imaginable. Paul had already explained that by reason of the Christian's being in the spiritual body "in Christ," he was thereby a participant in God's righteousness, was legally dead to sin, having died "in Christ" when he died, and as a consequence of such a heavenly arrangement was possessed of a status of absolute innocence and justification, all of this being retrospective in regard to what Christ has already done; but in this verse, the same marvelous arrangement of the Christian's being "in Christ" and thus legally a part of Christ and justly identified with him, is projected heavenward. Christians are not merely dead to sin in him, but are upon the throne of God in him, as well! Our being "alive unto God" in this verse answers to Christ's living "unto God" in the preceding verse. What an exalted view of the Christian's Christ-identified life! It staggers the imagination itself. All of the glories and endowments of the upper and better existence into which Christ has already entered - all such things which are utterly beyond the power of human comprehension - already belong to the Christian, not in the sense of his actually possessing them in the present time, but they are all his legally "in Christ." So vast an inheritance is a legacy of such extravagant dimensions and a treasure of such surpassing value that no human description is capable of portraying the tiniest fraction of its true worth and glory. But all of that weight of glorious inheritance shall ultimately belong to the Christian only if Christ continues to reign in his heart and his identity with Christ is not effaced through sin. Is this motive enough to empower the Christian to reject the old reign of sin that ever and anon seeks to dethrone the Christ and resume it tyrannical sway over the human heart? Paul thought it was, as he immediately stated; and every Christian who has welcomed the Christ upon the throne of his heart knows that it is indeed motive enough!
The Christian has a king; that king is Christ who reigns in his heart (see quotation from Wuest under 6:4); and, in view of all that means, who could desire to dethrone him and put the monster of sin back in control of life's inner citadel; for, make no mistake, sin indulged makes sin the king instead of Christ; and the experience of every mortal should be enough to convince the most obdurate that sin is a heartless and cruel sovereign who will bind his hapless slaves to their sordid sins and pay them all with rotten death!
The encroaching power of sin must be continually thwarted; not only must sin be kept from seizing the inner monitor of life with the consequent dethronement of the true Master; but Christians themselves, through a firm and decisive assertion of the will must, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, take charge of the body particularly, commanding its members in such a manner as to preempt their service for God and to deny it to evil. From the exalted view of Christ with God on high, just mentioned, Paul evidently had in mind in this verse such a thing as the Christian's presentation of himself in acts of adoration to his true king, as seen in the words, "Present yourselves unto God," That same thought recurred to Paul at the beginning of Romans 12, where a fuller discussion of the meaning will be found.
This view of the Christian's relationship to his body is instructive. The inner person has authority over the body and the mind. Although it is the body in focus here, the mind is also an "instrument" no less than members of the body; and all such instruments are used at the direction and according to the will of the true person, which, in the Christian, is the seat of the inner reign of Christ in human hearts. Deductions of the greatest concern flow out of this.
All sins come from the heart, or spirit, of man; and it is absurd in the extreme for anyone to claim, as some do, that the body of a regenerated man may sin, but his spirit remains pure and sinless. Certainly the body, being merely an instrument, is not responsible for the sin; and if the spirit of the regenerate is not responsible for the sin, it would seem that a regenerate man is not in any sense responsible for any wrong that he does! F25
That there is indeed an inner seat of control in man, the essence of the person itself, and having authority over both mind and body, is seen in the following:
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city (Proverbs 16:32).
This shows that there is an essence of the human person that has rule over the spirit; and from this it is certain that the same essence has final authority over the whole man, both in mind and body. In human creation, that essence has the shape of a throne and is so arranged that the person himself cannot sit upon it but must merely submit to the government enthroned there, there being only two candidates for that seat of control, Satan and the Lord Jesus Christ, or, as Paul has it here, Christ and sin. The great endowment of the person itself is in the ability to choose the occupant of that throne. This power of decision is life's greatest emolument, for it is the pivot upon which the destiny of every man turns to either shame and death or everlasting life.
This verse brings into view the ability of the Christian to survive inevitable lapses of a sinful nature. If his justification had been such as that available to the Jew in the keeping of the law, his would be a hopeless predicament. Sooner or later, some little sin would lay him low; and, no matter how trivial a lapse, any infraction of law would have been enough to destroy him. But thanks be to God, the new system is in operation. Justified, absolutely, through identity with Christ and being in fact "in him," the Christian's sins are truly banished forever. And what of the inadvertent slip, the occasional misstep, the conduct of one not truly himself? Even that cannot give sin its old place on the throne; "for ye are not under the law, but under grace." The forgiveness available to the child of God "in Christ" is a constant. Thus:
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
"Cleanseth" is present tense active and may be translated as the present participle, and it means that the Christian is being forgiven and justified every moment of his life! Thanks be to God that we are under grace instead of law!
In the past few verses, Paul stressed the sovereignty of the human will and the personal responsibility of the Christian; but if the Christian's endowment consisted only of will and responsibility, he would be in a bad way. Triumph over sin is simply not something which the Christian, alone, can achieve; and this verse shouts the true basis of his triumph. The Christian might lose specific battles to sin, but the war has already been won, not by the Christian but by the Lord. Gone forever are the old hopelessness and helplessness that dogged the steps of them that were under the law; now, for all who will accept it, grace has been provided. The remedy for all the sins ever committed or that ever could be committed has already been given. The Holy Spirit has been promised and will be received by them that obey the gospel (Acts 2:38ff). The Saviour himself is interceding at God's right band for the Christian; and the community of the Lord's children on earth, called the church, are daily praying for and exhorting one another. What a glorious status to have, that of being under grace instead of under law!
"Do this and live," the law commands, But gives me neither feet nor hands. A better word the gospel brings; It bids me fly and gives me wings! - Anonymous
The statement that Christians are not under law was one that Paul dared not leave dangling, but immediately gave it his full attention.
Sinning, persisted in, dethrones the Christ from the heart, as set forth under Rom. 6:4; and, far from being an encouragement to sin, grace is the most effective ground ever revealed for the discouragement of it. But Paul here dealt with a slightly different problem from the similar question confronted in Rom. 6:1. There it was a question of deliberate continuation in a state of rebellion, and here it is a question of the occasional sinful act, the isolated act of sinning even one time. Wuest translated this place:
What then? shall we sin occasionally, because we are not under law but under grace? Away with the thought! F26
Griffith Thomas spelled out the contrast between this and verse 1, thus:
The wording of the question is seen to differ. "Shall we continue in sin?" (Romans 6:1), "Shall we sin?" (Romans 6:15). ... The former deals with a permanent state; the latter with the isolated act. The apostle had already shown that the justified believer would not be able to continue the life of sin. ... He has now to show that he will not even commit a single act of sin. F27
In the last analysis, God's children are those who act righteously, and the sons of the evil one are those who act unrighteously. Thus, the CONDUCT of men is the final criterion and determinator of what they are and where they will spend eternity. All of the theories and speculations of people regarding just when or where or how the believer is declared to be justified should never be allowed to obscure or contradict this principle, which extends from the garden of Eden to the great white Throne, and, as Paul had already outlined in this letter (Romans 2:8,9), will comprise the basis of the final judgment itself. The latter half of this present chapter removes any doubt that this is true. Whomever people OBEY, whether Christ or Satan, that one whom they obey is their God. Oh, but we are justified by faith! Indeed yes; but as Dykes put it,
If free justification turns out on trial not to save a man from his sin, but to encourage him in it, then it turns out to be a cheat, like all other gospels or recipes for working deliverance which men have ever concocted or experimented with before Christ and after him! F28
Steele also gave emphatic expression to the same fundamental when he wrote:
Every man belongs to the master whom he WILLINGLY serves, whether sin or righteousness. If we are "obedient slaves" to sin, we are not saved; but if we yield ourselves "obedient slaves" to righteousness, we prove ourselves to be true believers, and therefore truly saved. If a man can live at peace with sin, he has no peace with God. He is not justified. If a man voluntarily sins, on the pretext that he is not under law but grace, it is a proof that the grace of God is not in him. F29
It would be impossible to frame in English a more dogmatic declaration that faith is not the only thing required for salvation. Paul's extensive writings hitherto in this letter, regarding salvation by faith, may in no sense, therefore, be construed as diminishing or omitting the requirement of obedience in all who hope to be redeemed. Paul's gospel is emphatically that of "the obedience of faith" (1:5; 16:26) and not, as foolishly thought by some, salvation by "faith alone"; but people are tenacious where their theories are concerned, and thus it remains to soften the impact of a sentence like this. Oh, that is not talking about justification at all, but about sanctification - so the quibble runs; but, so what? Sanctification itself, which is personal holiness, is categorically stated in tones of thunder in the word of God, to be, itself, a quality in the believer's life, "without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14)! Thus, as regards the practical question of whether a man is saved or lost, justification and sanctification may indeed be separated in theory and distinguished by this or that shade of meaning; but all such discriminations are distinctions without any difference. The man who is not sanctified to the extent of obeying God rather than Satan has not been justified either, making it an obvious fact that he is never saved without either.
Sin is obedience of the evil one, as contrasted with righteousness, which is obedience of Christ. It is true of all people, even saved, regenerated, Christian people, that if, through exercise of free will, they shall elect to serve the devil, they inevitably become in such transgressions de facto servants of Satan, in exactly the same manner Adam did in the beginning, only with this marked difference: whereas Adam knew of no remedy and enjoyed no hope of forgiveness, the opposite is true of the Christian. This cannot mean, however, that the indulgence of sin has lost any of its dangerous consequences for humanity; because with every sin, with every temptation yielded to, and in every transgression, the spiritual life of the child of God is weakened and eroded, with the ever-existing possibility that. through dalliance with sin, the Christian may become. "entangled therein and overcome" (2 Peter 2:20).
The KJV rendition "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin" is improved in the English Revised Version (1885); because Paul did not mean, "Thank God you were servants of sin," but "Thanks to God that ALTHOUGH you were slaves of sin, etc.," F30 as translated by Lard. What Paul did not say in this verse is also significant in another instance. He did not say, "Thank God that ... you believed," but "Thank God that ... ye became obedient," proving that whatever was said of either faith or obedience was never intended to exclude the other. Certainly, obedience mentioned here cannot be thought of as excluding faith; why then should faith ever be thought of as excluding obedience?
Two expressions in these verses are of particular interest: "from the heart" and "that form of teaching." We shall notice each.
From the heart ...
is a reminder that all obedience and submission to God's will must flow out of a believing and loving heart, truly polarized with reference to the Creator, and which, without any reservation and in utter willingness, responds to the will of God. Philip the evangelist who expounded the terms of the Christian-gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, responded to the eunuch's question thus: "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:37; 8:37 ). Though not in the text, that verse is in the margin; and there can be no doubt that it reports exactly what was said, being, in all probability, a recognized portion of the formula of confession invariably followed from the earliest Christian times, as is still the custom in churches of Christ throughout the world. The confession of faith in Christ and the believer's immediate baptism into Christ were clearly connected in Paul's mind, such being evident in this verse; and it may be assumed that this prompted his injection of the words "from the heart" into this passage.
That form of teaching ...
which Christians are said to have obeyed and which delivered them into a state of freedom from sin can be nothing if not a reference to baptism mentioned by Paul only a moment before. The great features of the Christian gospel are the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); and Paul had already shown in this chapter that by the means of believers' baptism into Christ, they were therefore dead with him, buried with him, and risen with him. This, together with the overtones of the confession in this verse, makes it a certainty that Paul here had reference to baptism. Let it be considered that the only way in which the gospel (death, burial and resurrection of Christ) can be obeyed is through obedience to some distinctive FORM of it, or PATTERN of it. People deny this implication in vain; for it is not merely in this passage, but constitutes the burden of Paul's teaching here. This conclusion is also supported by the words of Christ himself, who did not hesitate to use "baptism" and "gospel" as synonyms thus: `Go preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15,16). If baptism is not used in this passage as synonymous, in a sense, with gospel, how could Christ have commanded the gospel to be preached and something else to be obeyed? Thus, baptism indeed is a form of the gospel, and precisely "that form of teaching" Paul spoke of here.
Being then made free from sin ...
(KJV) more clearly gives the sense than the English Revised Version (1885), in being to the effect that obedience to the "form of teaching" delivers the believer out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, and that in this action (baptism) he is freed from the bondage to sin and becomes bondservant of Christ. The English Revised Version (1885) and other versions, in the omission of "then," have somewhat softened the impact of Paul's teaching in this verse; but the idea remains in the text anyway, even Phillips retaining the essential meaning thus:
Then, released from the service of sin, you entered the service of righteousness (Phillips New Testament).
Lard's exegesis on this passage is:
Here the disciples are said to have been freed from sin when they obeyed the model of teaching. F31
Justification of the believer in Christ therefore takes place THEN, when he obeys from the heart that form of teaching, that is, when he is baptized. Thus, apostolic authority has truly enlightened man as to the moment when his faith saves him, that being the exact time when his faith leads him to be baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins. Let those who deny that justification is truly in view here explain how "made free from sin" can possibly mean anything else. As Lard stated it, "To be freed from sin is to be justified." F32 Moreover, there is inherent in such an expression as "being made free from sin" a quality of meaning which indicates the formal and legal phase of justification, and not personal holiness identified as sanctification. "Being made free from sin," as used here, is a vast and comprehensive thing, and the application of it to personal holiness would make a claim for baptism that cannot be true, personal holiness not being something that is delivered in consequence of baptism; but the formal justification of the sinner as then having a new identity "in Christ" and being fully and irrevocably justified with reference to all past sins - all that is accomplished in baptism. It is in the act of baptism that the believer changes masters, kingdoms, and destinies. Adam Clarke noted that:
The Greek expression for "being made free from sin" is a term that refers to the manumission of a slave. F33
The ancient ceremony of manumission was one in which the slave's chains were actually cut by a smith, the anvil and chisel actually being brought into the church where such ceremonies were often held; and it was the slave's legal status which was thereby changed, and not his personal nature: In the light of this, Paul's use of such a word is impossible of application to the personal nature of Christians as affected in their sanctification. As noted above, to construe baptism as an ordinance related to sanctification rather than justification, is to endow the ordinance with something not in it. As a conditional act required for the legal and formal justification of a believer, it is God's appointed command; but as a deliverer of holiness in the form of a changed nature, it will disappoint all who rely upon it for any such thing. Even "the newness of life" that follows baptism, and cannot begin without it, is not a result of baptism but of the believer's new status and the indwelling of God's Spirit in his heart. One gathers the impression from many of the commentators that their reluctance to allow baptism as a bona fide and divinely imposed condition of justification is their fear that to do so would imply the efficacy of the ordinance in the production of holiness; but it is not the nature of the believer which is changed in baptism, but the all-important status.
Paul continued in these words to plead for personal righteousness on the part of every person who had named the name of Christ, the last clause of this passage being a commandment for the disciple to proceed toward that personal holiness without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). This personal holiness is what is usually meant by sanctification. The basis upon which Paul dared to lay down such an assignment had just been explained. It was the legal justification of the believer which took place upon his baptism into Christ. Paul was a little apologetic here for introducing such an illustration as that of manumission of a slave, but he justified it on the basis that the weakness of people required such a dramatic and familiar comparison. Just as it was unthinkable that a manumitted slave would keep on working for his old master, so it is unthinkable that a Christian would go on serving Satan after being delivered from the bondage of sin through his faith and obedience of the gospel.
To paraphrase this verse, without metaphor, Paul was simply telling the disciples that just as they once used all their time and resources in committing impure and lawless deeds, now they should use all their energies in doing the things that honor God and bless humanity. "Iniquity unto uniquity ..." means more and more iniquity.
as used in this chapter actually means "bondservant" or "slave," but the translators have wisely softened the impact of it, due to the repugnance of the term "slave." Yet it should never be forgotten that Christians are indeed "slaves" of Christ in the absolute sense of the word, having been purchased by him when they were sold unto death under sin; he redeemed them, and they owe him absolute and total obedience; they may not demur at anything Christ commands.
This is a reason predicated upon what people themselves recognize as proper and correct, to the effect that the servant of one master is not expected to obey the commands of another. Whereas the disciples were formerly slaves of sin, and were at that time regarded as free of performing any righteous duty; just so, now the disciple is a slave of a new master, Christ; and it would be an incongruous thing, wholly abhorrent and repugnant to a sense of what is right and proper, for the Christian to serve the old master through commital of sin.
Here is another inducement for the disciples to proceed in the development of holy lives (a growing see under Romans 6:5). Think of sin objectively, what good is it anyway? What fruit comes of impiety and licentiousness, except death? The so-called "pleasures" of sin; what are they except the fever of passion-torn souls? The prior behavior of the Christians while still in sin was such as they were then ashamed of, and this is testimony enough to the fact that becoming a Christian involves a reversal of the life-style. It is this dramatic fact that has been edited out of current editions of Christianity. In addition to the essential worthlessness, shame, and profitlessness of sinful living, there is the final and overwhelming consideration of "death," God's sentence against sin. Thus Paul continued his plea for Christians to live like Christians are supposed to live.
Now being made free from sin ...
refers to the justification of the believers which was accomplished by God upon the condition of their believing and being baptized into Christ; but there is also another sense in which the Christian must be "free from sin," namely in this, that he shall also be free from the practice and pursuit of sin, which is "sanctification" as Paul defined it here. And how does that come about?
Your fruit ...
meaning the holy and righteous deeds of Christians, is unto sanctification, meaning that it ends in sanctification, or produces sanctification, the true end, of course, as Paul stated, being "eternal life."
The view of Christian baptism that would dissociate it from justification and connect it with sanctification does violence to the whole corpus of the word of God. The ordinance of baptism has nothing to do with sanctification, because no ceremony, however sincerely complied with, can change human nature. Millions of baptized believers will testify that holiness in their lives was no automatic result of their submission to this holy commandment. How then does baptism save? Only in this, that it is a divinely imposed condition of the primary justification involved in the sinner's transfer out of Satan's dominion into that of Christ. Therefore, baptism connects with sanctification only in the fact that without it, justification does not exist, and sanctification cannot even begin. The preposterous notion that justification is accomplished through faith ALONE, and that baptism has something to do with sanctification, is unsupported either in the sacred text or in the experience of believers.
But isn't baptism the new birth? Yes, of course, in the sense of its being necessary thereunto, and an integral part of it, being specifically that "water" of which people must be born (John 3:5); but the new birth is not of water only, but "of the Spirit" as well. These dual elements in the new birth relate justification and sanctification as follows: (1) The WATER of the new birth (baptism) is the condition upon which justification is dependent; and the SPIRIT (the Holy Spirit of promise) is the instrument of God in the believer's heart which leads to his sanctification. The fruit of the Spirit is given in Gal. 5:2,23, and such fruit constitutes sanctification, being in fact exactly the same "fruit" Paul mentioned in this verse. The differentiation being made here is that the baptismal element of the new birth is retrospective, looking to the washing away of past sins (and having nothing whatever to do with producing holiness in the nature of the Christian afterward), and that the Holy Spirit element in the new birth is prospective, looking to the fruits of sanctification unto eternal life, as here.
(2) This is not to say that there are two new births, there being only one, but to note that it was not being born "of the water" alone that Jesus made prerequisite to entering his kingdom, but also being born "of the Spirit." The two elements are so closely joined that it is proper to speak of both as constituting the new birth, the reception of the Holy Spirit in Christians' hearts being itself conditional upon their baptism (Ephesians 1:13; Acts 2:38f,; 2:38f, ). But, when baptism as an isolated element of the new birth is considered, the retrospective nature of it must always be understood. On the other hand, when baptism is mentioned as a synecdoche standing for the new birth, it also has a prospective function in that it leads to the impartation of the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).
The wages of sin ...
Paul did not say the wages of great sins, or of some sins, but the wages of "sin" is death. Such unsatisfactory wages of sin, it seems, should make sin a very unprofitable employer, and long ago have resulted in the cessation of all sin; but not so. True, if the full account of sin's wages should be posted and paid at the end of every day, there would doubtless be far less sinning. It is the "buy now, pay later" aspect of the penalty of sin which commends it as an attractive employment for many; but this verse is a warning that payment is certain, and that "death" is the quid pro quo of sin. "This for that!"
Such a word as "wages" also carries the information that the sinner will work for what he gets, that he therefore deserves it, and that the "wages" finally paid are exactly what he undertook to receive by his indulgence of sin. This conception of sin as the sale of one's self is found also in the Old Testament, where is recorded the charge of Elijah against Ahab,
Thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord (1 Kings 21:20).
Thus, every man who consents to the practice of sin is selling himself, not for anything valuable or beautiful, but for the rottenness of death.
Illustration: The late Grover Cleveland Brewer often preached from this text and illustrated the wages of sin thus: Some young men were watching the Tennessee river rising above flood stage when their attention was arrested by a little rabbit trapped on a diminishing little island in the raging flood. They decided to rescue it, but could find no way to do it. The group, all in their early teens, were strong and vigorous, and fully accustomed to outdoor activities. All knew the danger of the mighty river, especially at flood, and their parents had warned them again that very day to stay out of the river; but there was the problem of that trapped rabbit! One of the boys, stronger than the others and a powerful swimmer, decided to attempt the rescue. He made it to the little island, thrust the trembling little creature into the bosom of his overalls, and plunged in for the return swim. The end of a log riding the crest of the flood hit him in the temple; and four days later, they dredged his body up from the flood far downstream. The boys who had witnesses the tragedy were present for the recovery of the body; and one of them found the remains of the rabbit in his bosom and held it up a moment and then said, "This is what he gave his life for!" What people labor to receive through sin, they get!
as used here means far more than physical death, though it includes that also. Spiritual death is part of the wages of sin, but even that is not the final payment. Beyond the present sphere of time, there looms the mystery of the "second death," described in Scripture with words so dark and dreadful that the mind draws back from contemplating them. Mortal man is not capable of knowing fully what the ultimate fate of the wicked will be; but every man should heed the warnings of it revealed by the Holy Spirit.
The free gift of God ...
comes from the translation of a word CHARISMA, which indicates the type of gift in which there can be no thought of the merit of the recipient. Thus, it is not merely the gift, but the free gift of God. If God had imposed a million conditions of salvation, and if man fully complied with them all, his obedience could not place God in the position of a debtor regarding the free gift of that salvation. Still, this glorious truth should never be confused with the error that salvation is unconditional, for it is not. "Free" indeed it is; "unconditional" indeed it is not. How is this true? Jesus explained thus:
When ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do (Luke 17:10).
Macknight saw in the use of the expression "free gift" a reference to such a thing as
A donative; because being freely bestowed, it may be compared to the donatives the Roman generals, of their own good will, bestowed on their soldiers, as a mark of their favor. F34
This view of Macknight's is especially appropriate in the fact that such donatives were indeed "free gifts," but in no wise unconditional, the generals not bestowing such favors upon any except "their soldiers." Thus, although the soldier did not earn the donative, he qualified as a recipient through his faithful service as a soldier of the general giving the gift
Eternal life ...
is so magnificent a conception of so wonderful and comprehensive a gift as to be in its ultimate glorious essence something that lies beyond the perimeter of finite understanding. So unspeakably beyond all powers of fully knowing it, this is the end of all God's gracious designs for his beloved human children. Eternal life will have the quality of possessing all that is best and joyous in the present life, with none of the impediments, and will be the ultimate reality of which the present life is only a type or shadow. Far more than could be imagined by any intelligence, however, will compose that final existence to which .the saints of God are invited.
In Christ Jesus our Lord ...
To miss the significance of these words is to miss everything Paul was teaching. At the end of each chapter (Rom. 5-8), Paul returned to this expression, suggesting the recurrence of the mighty theme of a symphony, the intention of the apostle plainly being that of preventing the Christian's forgetfulness, either of the source of such blessings, or the personal status of the believer "in Christ" which alone makes him eligible to receive them. Just think of what this being "in Christ" really is. "In Christ" the Christian is dead to sin, alive unto God, justified, redeemed servant of righteousness, and has the hope of eternal life. In this commentary, repeated emphasis on the importance of being in Christ has been due solely to the frequency of Paul's stressing it in this letter, where the fact is reiterated over and over again in different contexts, suggesting the comparison with a jeweler who turns a beautiful gem over and over to view its luster from many angles.
The apostle John said:
And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5:11).
Supplementing what has already been written concerning how people come into Christ, the following exegesis of Moses E. Lard is pertinent:
It is proper here to add that immersion is not the only means of transition into him. We believe into Christ, as well as are immersed into him, and the former just as certainly as the latter. "He that believes into the Son has everlasting life" (John 3:36). To be immersed and to believe are similar verb forms, with identical significations. Neither excludes the other, and both are alike essential to the end. We do not pass into Christ by immersion alone, nor by belief alone. We pass into him by the two jointly, and by neither separately. F35
Thus, there should be no marvel that Jesus declared that "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16; Lard's exegesis has been included here, not from any perfect agreement with it, but for the purpose of showing that even if faith may be translated, it could not negate the obvious truth that faith and baptism are both prerequisite to justification, or being "in Christ," which is the equivalent of The weakness of Lard's position is seen in the fact that no translation this writer has ever seen translates the Greek New As a matter of practical fact, how could it be possible for any person to believe himself into One certainly cannot believe himself into the Masonic Lodge, or the Democratic and, therefore, it would truly be something marvelous under the sun, if one could believe himself into Christ!
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.