Romans Chapter 6

6:1 What then shall we say (declare)? Shall we continue in sin, that grace should increase?

When we consider the immensity of what God has done for us, in completely conquering sin and completely overcoming death, by subjecting both of them to the effect of His grace in granting righteousness to all who believe Him, our response to God should be tremendous gratitude and endearment toward Him. When we consider the immensity of His goodness toward us, and the fact that He has overcome sin, we should be motivated by His goodness toward us to repudiate wickedness in every form and purpose to avoid it at all costs. Yet, some professing Christians declare that it doesn’t matter what they do because they are ‘covered with the blood of Jesus’. It is clear that these people do not appreciate the gravity of their statements, or they would think longer before saying them.

That statement would be somewhat comparable to the following: “Last week, when I was about to step onto the street into the path of an on-coming truck, a stranger raced from the curb, grabbing me back from sure impact, but himself was propelled into the path of that truck, and died on impact. I am thankful that I do not have to concern myself about becoming injured by carelessly stepping into on-coming traffic, because caring strangers will risk their lives to ensure that I am not injured by the traffic.”

We must come to understand that the fact of our sin was the necessitating impetus for God to create a means by which we could be restored from the condition of being eternally dead, but that God had no obligation to us to create such a means. Rather, as a loving and kind God and our Creator for His purpose, God chose to purchase our lives back from death. He chose to do something which we did not deserve and to which He had no obligation outside of His own desire and purpose. But while that choice was lovingly made and freely offered to us in our sinful and consigned-to-death state, without any cost to ourselves, to think that we can continue doing those things and being those things that created our need to be saved is a callous, careless, and arrogant attitude toward both the gracious gift offered and the cost to the Giver.

God’s grace is already full; there is sufficient grace to cover all sins by all men through all time. But it is not for the recipient of an undeserved gift to create a further requirement for the Giver to dispense more of the gift. Gifts are something we receive with gratitude, not something we take as for granted or demand as entitled.

Some people may wrongly believe that Christians claim we can do what we want now that Jesus has saved us, because He’s already got us covered. Paul earlier said that some people in his day were accusing him and other Christians of just such a claim. But anyone who thinks that way fails to understand the Spirit of a true Christian. Christ did not save us from the penalty of sin so we could keep on sinning!

2    May it not be. We who died to sin, how shall we, still live in it?

What does it mean to ‘die to’ something? We cease to live to it. Our life has become separate from it; we do not exist for the purposes of that thing to which we died.

When we turned from sin to the risen Christ, we left sin behind. We became as dead men to the quantity ‘sin’. When you turn from something, it means you are going away from it. It is both logically and practically impossible for someone to both turn from something and continue to be in the same thing. We have either abandoned sin – become dead to it – or we have not. If we have not, our original problem remains; we are dead in sin rather than dead to sin.[1]

However, if we are dead to sin, it must be self-evident that sin has no place in our lives. We are not to acknowledge it, to consider it, to attend to it, to participate with it. If we give sin consideration, and participate in it, we are not dead to it; we are dead in it.

Christ did not die for us so that we could go on doing what made it necessary for Him to die on our behalf. Christ did not die for Himself; as a perfect man, He had no need to be freed from death. As almighty God, His perfect man would never be submissive to sin’s call; He had no need for a Saviour because He was not and could not be lost.

It was only our sin that cost Christ His fleshly life. It was for our sin that Christ was executed as a criminal. If He endured such a painful and humiliating death for our sin, how can anyone think it is, or even could be, permissible to continue to do those things for which the Prince of life was crucified? The suggestion is preposterous. It must never be that anyone who names the name of Christ as Lord and Saviour permits themselves to descend into sin with the idea that Christ died to cover it, so we are alright. It must never be!

3    Or are you ignorant that we, as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus, into His death we were baptized?

The word ‘baptized’ has been imbued with theological meaning that it did not bear at the time that Paul wrote, and it is important that we as modern readers ensure that we avoid imposing that meaning upon the word every time we find it written in the Scripture, in order to ensure that we come to understand what was written as the writer intended it to be understood, and that we avoid being led to think about the words in accordance with theological systems or ideas that developed many centuries after the original writing.

The English word baptism is essentially a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma, and the verb ‘to baptize’ is baptizo. The word variously means to be submerged into something, to be ‘overwhelmed’ or engulfed, or sometimes simply to be bathed. Today’s Greek recognizes ‘bathed’, in the sense of being in a bath, as contrasted to a wipe-down, a quick dunk, or a showering. This is not a quick, or temporary activity, but a thorough and complete enveloping by and into that by which one is baptized.

When Paul writes that we are ‘baptized into Christ Jesus’, we must understand that he means that we are placed entirely into Christ; our whole being and life is to be enveloped by Him and His Spirit. To be ‘in Christ’ is an all-or-nothing proposition. We cannot continue to choose to live a life of sin and accommodation of our own urges and also be united with Christ. If Christ is entirely separate from sin, we must also become separate from sin if we are to be ‘immersed into’ Christ; you cannot be joined to one thing that is separate from another thing, and continue united with that other thing as well. I cannot walk with you to the store while walking the opposite direction to the beach. It is an either/or proposition; it cannot be both/and.

If we have been brought into the community of Christ, we have been brought out of the community of sin. When we come to Christ, we leave sin behind. We repudiate sin and its wickedness; otherwise we effectively repudiate Christ’s death and His authority as the Son of God. Clearly we cannot be in communion with Christ while rebelling against Him and His atonement. It is Christ’s substitutionary death in payment of the penalty of our sin that opens to us the door of communion with God. It is the only means by which sinful men may be reconciled to God; there is no other way to approach Them, than through faith in the blood of Christ. Only by completely surrendering to His atoning death may we benefit from its work. Thus Paul says that we who are immersed into Christ have been immersed into His death; He died for sin, to take us from sin, and apart from sin we must remain.

4       We were buried together then to Him through the baptism into death, that even as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also in newness of life we should walk.

Just as Christ was raised from the dead to live anew, we are to live a new life through Him. By being immersed in His death, our sinful selves were figuratively ‘put to death’ to Him – our sin was given to Him to destroy, so that we would no longer be affected by it. Just as God the Father displayed His glory in raising the crucified Jesus from the dead, He is to be glorified in us as we who are now in Christ live a new life of holiness, separate from the sin that brought us to our graves and brought Christ to His.

In other words, Paul says, the earthly outcome of our joining to Christ is that our lives are to be lived differently now that we belong to Him.

5       For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, but [nevertheless; so] also we shall be of the resurrection,

If the first proposition is true, the second is sure. The verb of the first clause is perfect; the second verb is future. The first clause is the conditioning clause; the second is assured whenever the first is true. We shall share in His resurrection if we have shared in the ‘likeness of His death’.

If we anticipate the resurrection from physical death, why would we live life on this earth as if this earthly life is all that we have? God raised us from the dead in a literal sense at the moment of our conversion. Just as our physical death in the future was an absolute certainty at the instant of our conception, our eternal death was likewise an absolute certainty when we acquired the guilt of sin, despite being realized by us in a practical sense in the future. (n.b. Romans 5:13[2]) The fact is that, as soon as we are guilty, we are in the condition of eternally dead; judgment has been passed. (40) Apart from Christ, our doom is certain before it is experienced by us.

However, just as our physical death was certain from the moment of our conception, and our eternal doom was certain from the moment God condemned us for our own sins, the resurrection of our bodies became a present certainty the moment our ‘resurrection’ from eternal condemnation was realized. In effect, we now possess the resurrection of the dead, which we shall experience in the future, if we were ‘planted together in the likeness of [Christ’s] death.’

Knowing, then, that we are assured of the resurrection, we should live as men and women who have received the resurrection of life, the resurrection that Jesus Christ received first.

6       This knowing: that our old man (person; self) is crucified together with (Him), that the body of sin might be nullified (done away with; voided; made useless), that (it) not still enslave us to sin.

(text reads: “… the body of sin of the not still to be slaving us to the missing”. “Us” is accusative, NOT nominative, therefore the object of the clause, not the subject. “Sin” is dative following “te” dative, so “sin” cannot be the subject because the prep. phrase is “to the sin”. Rather, “to soma” – “the body” is nominative and therefore subject of the verb “enslaving”, with “of sin” modifying “the body” and “us” being what that body causes to be enslaved.)

“Our old man”, or “our old person” is an interesting phrase for Paul to use. The old person is what we used to be. What we used to be was crucified together with Christ, nailed to His cross with Him. Christ on the cross represented us in our sinful condition as though we ourselves were nailed in place. When Christ’s death is described as ‘vicarious’, it means that He died as in our place, as though He were we ourselves. We as guilty criminals against the universal Regent subject to capital punishment for treason, were covered by Christ in His execution as a criminal against the state of Rome.

As Paul said in vv 2 to 4, the person we were is dead; gone. We are not the ‘same old me’. That ‘same old self’ is dead – if we are in Christ Jesus. That ‘old self’ filled with sin had to be changed in order to be united with Christ, because Christ as God cannot be united with sin.

The next clause is also interesting. Paul used the phrase ‘the body of sin’. This could be understood one of two ways: “the body of sin” may refer to the sum of all of what is quantified as “sin”. The passage would then be telling us that the sum of all of what is quantified as sin in our lives would be destroyed when the old self-interested, self-directed ‘me’ was crucified with Christ on His cross. God told Israel that when He would truly save them, that He would remove their ‘stony heart’, replacing it with a ‘heart of flesh’, that He would write His law upon their hearts, that He would pour His Spirit into them, and make them new.[3] The sinful, wicked ‘self’ of each one would have to make way for the new ‘creation’, born from the Spirit, which is the faithful saint of God.[4] In doing away with the old, sinful ‘self’, and being made new by the Holy Spirit, that mass of sin that belongs to each one of us is destroyed, done away with, and gone. If it is gone, it has no more power over us, and cannot drag or draw us into sinfulness anymore, nor does it have ownership over the ultimate destiny of our soul.

The more common understanding of the phrase “the body of sin” is that the physical body is the vehicle of sin, and therefore is that agent which brings us down. For this understanding to be correct, Paul would be saying that our old self is crucified with Christ so that our sinful physical body may be done away with, destroyed, and gone. While it is true that our physical body will die, and that it is in our body that we perform the deeds that oppose God, we cannot ‘blame’ our sins on our body or the fact that we are physical beings. It has urges, and abilities, but our decisions come from our minds, which is the essence of who we are.

Because of the first rebellion, the physical bodies of all men are already subject to death, as Paul explained earlier in the letter; crucifying of self does not cause the destruction of our bodies, so such an understanding is inconsistent with Scripture, and really makes no sense.

It would be reasonable though, to consider Paul’s statement to mean that the crucifixion of self results in the physical body, along with our drives and weaknesses, losing its power to drive or control our choices and that those drives and urges are no longer as tempting to us. If we are made new in Christ, even if we experience urges to do something contrary to God – temptations – we are both free and empowered by His Spirit to live other than in subjection to those urges. Our ‘new man’, filled with the Holy Spirit, is free from sin, and there is no reason for our temptations to place us back into subjection.

Either this latter or the first meanings are reasonable; they are consistent with the text, and they are consistent with the body of clear teaching in Scripture that addresses either matter. In either case, what Paul wants his readers to understand is that what we were when we were in sin has passed away through Christ’s death on our behalf, and we are no longer to live as though we are still lost to God and alive to sin.

7       For the one who has died has been justified from the sin. (literally reads: for the one dead has been justified (dedikaiotai) from the sin; usually translated ‘freed from’.)

Once we have died, we commit no more sin. We know that we come to judgment upon death; Paul told the Corinthians that we know that when we – referring to Christians – are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord. Neither the unsaved nor the saved will continue to sin after dying; the lost will be unable, and the saints will have no impetus to do so. Neither temptation, nor weakness, nor devils or other enemies, will have any place in our world when we leave our flesh. It is the flesh that dies; the flesh with its needs, desires, urges, and sensations will stop functioning, and we will lose the motivating influence to sin that the flesh provides. We will be brought into the community of God in heaven to await our resurrection, and in heaven there is nothing unclean. Nothing will lure, or influence us to do wrong, and being in a certain way more directly in God’s presence will eliminate any residue of desire to wrong that might possibly have continued in us as deceased human souls.

So when we are dead, we will be free from sin’s draw, free from performance of it, free from the effects of it, and free from its consequences.

Of course, Paul is using this fact as the analogy that, if our ‘old man’ has died with Christ, then we are also now free from sin. It has no affect on us except what we permit. We are no longer subject to its consequences, because although our bodies will die, Christ will raise them up ‘in the last day’. Death may touch us, but it will not hold us, as it did not hold Christ. If death has no power, then we are free. “If the Son make you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:32)

8    Yet if we died together to (with?) Christ, we believe that also we shall live together to (with) Him,

We believe – that is the key. As Paul writes later in this same letter, if we believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, then we shall be saved. Christ has done all the work that must be done to save mankind from death and condemnation. The only thing that remains is for each one of us to believe. Paul affirms that he is confident that who has died together to Christ will also live together to Him.

Some translations render the sentence “with Christ … with Him.”  The dative case of the nouns permits either rendering, and in either case the statement is true. Our death to sin is as to Christ, and our lives are to be lived to Him thereafter. It is equally correct to say that we died with Christ to sin, and we shall live forever together with Him. In either case, it is certain that we shall live with Christ if we have died with Him.

9      knowing that Christ being raised from the dead, no longer dies; death of Him no longer (not still) lords. (death no longer masters (over Him) – as meaning that the death He died has no more mastery / power/ control over Him.)

Death could not hold Him Who holds the keys to death and hell. How could death exercise dominion over One Who is able to create all material existence with only a word. He Who raised others from the dead could certainly never be over-powered by death. God transcends material existence; although the body of Christ did certainly and truly die, God Who gave life to that body did not and cannot die. Although He subjected Himself to the death of the body for the life of the world, it was completely impossible for Him to be truly subject to death.

Everlasting life was God’s eternal purpose for humanity. Having paid the penalty of sin through death of His body, He broke the bands of death by raising that body back to life, an un-ending life that can never be interrupted again. His death no longer held Him. Because He died only because He submitted Himself to death, He shall never again die, for death has no power over God; rather death is subject to God. Apart from God’s permission, death cannot occur.

10     For in that He died to sin, He died once for all; but in that He lives, He lives to God. (wording: “for in that He died to the sin he died once for all yet in that …” may be read: “… he died to sin, he died once for all”, or “in that he died, to sin He died once for all …” Meaning doesn’t change by a change in the sentence structure.)

Paul is simply repeating that Christ’s death was experienced by Him ‘for all’, but He lives to God. He died to sin, in the past, but He lives in the present to God. His death was a ‘one-of’, single event that was effected and completed, but His life is an on-going, continual fact forever. He is finished with death as He has finished with sin; for all eternity He lives, and lives entirely and only to God.

11  Thus also you reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the same way that Christ died to sin once and now lives to God eternally, we are likewise to consider ourselves being dead to sin and completely finished with it, and as living eternally to God. We have been freed from death by Christ in order to live a life entirely devoted, submitted, and committed to our God by the power and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

12     Then let not sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in the desires of it.  (“it” is feminine, as is “harmartia”, but “its” is neuter as is “soma”. So the prepositional phrase is “…to obey [sin] in the desires of [the body]”)

“Let not” – we have a choice, and that choice is in our power to exercise. Paul instructs his readers that they are not to permit sin to have the rule in their ‘mortal body’. It is not for the Christian to permit ourselves to follow sin in the desires of our flesh; we are responsible and expected to resist sinful desires and thereby take the rule over sin in our lives.[5]

It is far easier in this life to live according to our urges and wants; the needs and longings of the flesh are a powerful influence on our mind. We want what we want when we want it, and while not everything we want is necessarily wrong on its own merits, to live our lives based on what we want is wrong because self-will is by definition opposed to God. As long as we live to please ourselves, God is not Lord in our life; rather self is our king. When our human desires are wrong, we are to avoid them. And when they are not inherently wrong, we are to seek God’s will and purpose rather than simply following our “I want’s”.

Notice that Paul said to not let sin reign in “your mortal body.” He is saying that the body is going to die. If our bodies are going to die, which we know that they are, what is the point in living a life dedicated to pleasing that dying organism when we can live a life dedicated to glorifying God? There is no benefit but pleasure to pleasing the physical flesh; there is no benefit to making ourselves personally or emotionally comfortable; none of these choices will change the outcome of death. The Christian has been given life from death; we are not to live life in our flesh as though our flesh is the reason for our existence.

13     Nor yet (Neither) present your members (as) instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves unto God, as living out of dead, and your members (as) instruments of righteousness unto God.

“Present yourselves” – again Paul’s instruction clearly indicates that each individual has the choice to perform what is good or bad, and the power to make the choice. There are groups in the professing church that claim that no one can help sinning because we are sinners. They say that although Christians are ‘new creations in Christ’, that the ‘old man’ is still in there trying to be in charge. This might sound like an acceptable explanation for why professing Christians continue to sin, but it contradicts the body of New Testament teaching. Paul clearly believes that the Christians in Rome are capable of recognizing sin, selecting to do what is right, and performing those things which are righteous before God. Not only does he believe these things to be true, he requires it of his readers; his words are not written in the voice of a helpful suggestion, but with the authority of a dictum – “do it this way”.

When we do something wrong, we have shown up and offered ourselves for the purpose of sin. Nobody makes us do it; we do it ourselves. The implication of what Paul has written here is that we volunteer our selves either to do what is right or to do what is wrong; we are not following irresistible impulses when we follow unrighteousness, and it is obligatory that we exercise both our choices and our power to do what is right: “present yourselves to God, as living from dead, and your members (meaning the parts of the body) as tools of righteousness to God.”

The inconvenient truth of this instruction is that we have absolutely no excuse; we can blame no one and nothing other than ourselves when we find ourselves doing what is wrong. We choose, we act. We are called to choose and act righteousness, performed to God and not just for ourselves.

14  For sin shall not be lord of you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

Sin shall not be your master. Paul did not write “ought not”; he wrote “shall not”. It is not to happen. If it is not to happen, it is possible to cause it to not happen. In every possible way, Paul repeatedly informs his readers that we are capable of recognizing and making a choice, and that Christians of all men, are to live apart from sin.

Remembering that Paul’s words presently focussed on national Jews, we must remember the context of people who believed themselves to possess a written form they were to follow in order to be approved by God, but Paul has thoroughly repudiated that error. He now tells the Jewish believers that they are “not under law” but “under grace”. There is no list of rules to follow, “do’s” and “don’t’s” to observe, no sacrifices to offer to atone for sins and appease a wrathful God. In Christ, they are not under any law, but rather have received from God what they do not deserve – His forgiveness of wrongs based on Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. Because they are “under grace”, because they have received everlasting life based on God’s unmerited kindness in Christ’s covering sacrifice, they are not to be under the ‘master’ of sin. Of course, they should be under their Master, YHWH, Who redeemed them from their slave-master, sin and his henchman, death.

15  What then? Shall we sin, since we are not under law, but under grace? It may not be. (let it not be)

The conclusion some might draw from Paul’s statement that they no longer had a Law to follow, but had received justification freely from God for no price to themselves, was that they could therefore live in any manner they pleased; it was ‘ok’ to sin, because there was no longer a penalty since Christ had paid it, and they would be saved from punishment because they were ‘under God’s grace’. Paul wanted them to be very clear that God’s grace – His saving of them as rebellious sinners, without merit of theirs or cost to themselves, and forgiving their sins – was not a license to sin. He had not saved them to sin; He saved them from sin, and from sin is how they were to proceed through the rest of their lives. To continue in sin after being saved from it was compared by Christ to a dog returning to its own vomit. We recoil at the perverseness of that foolish animal’s behaviour; we should be as disgusted by the proposal that we could continue in the behaviour that brought our loving Saviour to the cross because His cross, after all, had released us from the consequence of our behaviour. When we consider it this way, we are able to respond with Paul’s emphasis: Let it not be!

16     Are you not aware that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obedience, you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience into righteousness?”

To whom we present ourselves, whether to sin or to obedience, we make ourselves its slave. According to Etymology On Line[6], the English word slave means one who is owned. The significance of this cannot be overstated. If we present ourselves to either sin or righteousness, we volunteer ourselves to ownership by whichever we present ourselves to. If we serve sin, sin owns us. If we serve obedience, righteousness owns us. As it pertains to service, ownership of us is then entirely dependant upon us. By our choice, we determine what owns us. Notice that the contrast is not between Satan and God, but between two inanimate qualities: sin and obedience.

Notice that Paul says that we present ourselves to obey as slaves either to sin or to obedience? This reaffirms that each individual makes a choice and acts on that choice, in regards to whether we follow Christ or follow sin. If I offer my ‘service’ to sin, I am its slave; if I offer myself to obedience to God, I am the ‘slave’ of Christ, but in either case, I have chosen to whom I will submit as master. The Calvinist would argue that this refutes the sovereignty of God, but the argument is absurd. The term ‘sovereign’ means the highest authority, answerable to none. Whatever terms God chooses to establish for His creation are absolute terms because God is sovereign. God has enabled men to either obey or disobey in any situation, permitted us to make the choice for ourselves, and receive the consequences of that choice. It was God’s sovereign choice to establish these terms; for anyone to deny that He may do so is to deny His absolute sovereignty, and to impose a moral standard above whatever God may choose to establish.

Humanity bearing the ‘image’ of God was God’s sovereign choice. Humanity with the ability to disbelieve God, to rebel, and to sin was a necessary outcome of God’s sovereign decision to create man with God’s image. God did not desire that man sin, but in His sovereignty, He made the creature, man, in such a manner that sin was a possible event because of man’s ability to consider, reason, desire, and choose, coupled with man’s flesh with its urges, needs, and desires. Man has always been able to understand the essence of good, and has always known that his correct choice would always be the good. But God gave Adam (and Eve) a choice in the Garden of Eden, whether to obey His prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – the choice was a real choice, evidenced by the fact that they both chose to violate the prohibition. They could freely choose to obey or choose to disobey, but disobedience had predetermined consequences.

Just as Adam had the free choice to obey or disobey God’s voice regarding the eating of the tree, and gaining the knowledge of evil along with his innate knowledge of good, we continue to have that same choice, with the same consequences. If we choose to serve sin, we are slaves to sin, and we reap death. If we choose to serve righteousness, which by definition means that we serve God Who is righteousness, we are slaves to God, and we receive everlasting life. In either case, we are not enslaved, but make ourselves slaves to whichever we choose to serve.

17     But thanks to the God, that you were slaves of the sin, yet you obeyed from the heart the manner of teaching into which you were delivered.

Previously, his readers had presented themselves as servants of sin, but now was different. “You obeyed from the heart”; there was a change in these men and women to whom Paul wrote, and that change was neither superficial, as performing tasks because they ‘had to’, or following rules in order to gain approval. Rather, the saints of Rome, as all saints afterward, were those who responded to the message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ by repenting of their sin and receiving Jesus Christ, trusting that His death on the cross covered their sin, and released them from death into everlasting life with the sovereign LORD God. They “presented themselves as slaves to obedience”. This change was a life change; they embraced what they had learned, and made it their own, not through any compulsion, fear, or manipulation, but because they desired to know and love God and accept Them, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

18  Being freed then from sin, you are enslaved to the righteousness.

Paul’s statement is interesting; he did not suggest that the saints in Rome were free from everything and only free. “Then being freed from sin, you are enslaved…” It would appear that, according to Paul, one is ‘enslaved’ to one or the other: enslaved to sin or enslaved to righteousness. But how can this be true, since Jesus clearly declared that “If you abide in My word, you are indeed my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free,” and a moment later affirmed that, “…if the Son should free you, really free you shall be.” (John 8:32-34) The word “really” – translated as ‘indeed’ in the KJV and others – is the Greek word ontos, the root of which pertains to existing or coming into existence, or the quality of being real.  Jesus has declared that anyone who lives in His word, becomes, and is really free. The freedom which they enter is a ‘real’ freedom. So how, if we are ‘really free’ in Christ, do we transition from being ‘enslaved to sin’ to being ‘enslaved to righteousness’?

We tend to assign a negative connotation to the word ‘slavery’, but if ‘slave’ means we are owned, and if we are ultimately owned by one or the other, and we are owned by whichever we serve, being a slave to that which is right, which is what ‘righteousness’ means, is hardly a negative statement. God is the sum of all that is right; everything in and of God is right, and God is wholly right. If we are truly ‘slaves to righteousness’, then we are by definition ‘slaves to God’; what better ownership could we possibly possess or desire? And how could being owned by One Who loves us to such a degree that He was willing to ‘humble Himself’ to take on human flesh, come to earth in the same form as sinful human beings, patiently teach and heal those who would meet Him including His opponents, and ultimately volunteer Himself for a lengthy and excruciating execution endured with public defamation and humiliation, in order to win back life for we who rebelled against Him, be anything other than excellent? There can be no negative implication to being owned by the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Life, the Lamb of God, and our beloved Saviour. We are already God’s by authority[7]; how much greater privilege and blessing to belong to God through adoption, becoming not only God’s ‘possession’ as a servant, but His adoptive child, and a friend of Christ the Son.[8]

Paul teaches that ownership of the Christian has changed. “Before” when anyone served sin, he had presented himself for ownership to sin. But now that any have come to serve righteousness, they are under new ownership; they are possessed by God. As all souls belong to God as a possession of right because God created everything and all is under His sovereign rule, so now all saints belong to God as a possession of sanctification, having been set apart from sin to God, and having been ‘bought with the blood of Christ.’ When we have been bought with Christ’s blood into ownership by God, and sealed with the Holy Spirit for our eternal home, our future is secure. Christ’s blood is not a trifling matter to God; what He has purchased cannot be returned. When we become a possession of God by immersion into the death of Christ, we are confirmed under God’s authority, power, jurisdiction – we become His children by adoption, a legal transaction that cannot be undone. We cannot lose eternity once we have been truly saved, because we are possessions of God, and God’s treasury cannot be plundered by any enemy. Jesus Christ assured that no one can snatch the Christian from the hand of the Saviour nor can we be snatched from the hand of the Father. [9] No one can draw us away, pull us away, steal us away, entice us to abandon our Lord, or assist us to run on our own. Once we are under God’s protective Spirit, we are finally safe from the assault of death. Our confidence is in God to preserve us as He promised, not in our human nature to keep us from harm.[10]

19     I speak humanly (in a human manner) because of the infirmity of your flesh: for even as you presented your members slaves to uncleanness and to lawlessness into the lawlessness, thus now present your members slaves to righteousness into holiness.

Because his audience were struggling, Paul was bound to explain matters in detail and at length, urging them to enter into the right way of thinking about the entire matter at hand. Remembering that he had directed these comments particularly to the Jews, we can consider that the Jews had now a history of several centuries of being unable to fulfill the requirements of the Law given to Moses and of failing to believe and trust the God they claimed to follow, while seeking desperately to have the approval and recognition for the approval of the God for Which they existed as a people at all. They had wanted honour, but existed in almost perpetual dishonour because of sin and unbelief. They had now received the anticipated Saviour, the anointed Messenger of God, Who had called them not to more rules, but to a living faith in a living God, and the cleansing of their sins through that faith because of the death of that same Saviour, Who was also God come to earth in flesh. They struggled to understand that none of the rules they had been conditioned to follow – albeit without success – had any power to make them right before God. They struggled with the idea that ‘those people’ from outside of Israel, who by culture and history had been open rejecters of the only True God, were being welcomed by God into the same forgiveness of sin and the same eternal life as the Jews through the same mechanism of faith in the blood of Christ shed for their sin. And they struggled with the idea that these gentiles, having been welcomed into the fold, would not have to perform any of the requirements of the Law under which Israel had laboured for 1000+ years. God had indeed done a ‘new thing’ and aspects of it were still causing them some misunderstandings.[11]

Because his audience was struggling, Paul sought to make his explanations both thorough and clear, so they would be able to understand him and come to appreciate the nature and fullness of the grace God had offered to not only the people of national Israel, but to the whole world.

The flesh is weak by nature; our flesh has desires, needs, and cravings that never stop. They have a powerful draw on our thinking and behaviour, so that most people live by their flesh as the natural response to those desires. Paul is urging his audience to choose to present their bodies – ‘your members’ refers to the various parts of their bodies – as slaves – under ownership – to righteousness in the same way that they had previously presented them to uncleanness and lawlessness. In presenting themselves under ownership to righteousness, they would be setting themselves apart from unrighteousness, which is the meaning of holiness.

20  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.

We can only have one owner. If we belong to sin, we are set apart from what is not sin.

21  Then what fruit had you then of that which now you are ashamed? For the end (telos) of those is death.

Paul asks the Romans to consider what the product of their lives was when they belonged to sin. “Fruit” is what is produced; when they lived in sin, what was the outcome? Regardless of what pleasure or apparent benefit may have come at the time, the long-range outcome – the telos – of a life of sin is death. Whatever may be ‘gained’ with the pursuit of wickedness can’t be much of an advantage if we will only lose it all to death. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul? And what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Every outcome, however pleasurable at the time, is a total waste, because the man himself is wholly lost.

22  But now being freed from the sin, and being enslaved to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end (telos = fulfillment), everlasting life.

“But now” – the immediate and present condition of those to whom Paul speaks is that they are freed from sin. They “now” have been freed; the event is complete, the outcome accomplished, as they “now” belong to God. Belonging to God is a permanent condition; no one is able to “snatch from [the] hand” of God that which belongs to Them. The status is ‘now’, present tense. Because the definition of belonging to God necessarily means one cannot be stolen away, the saint of God can be assured of their continuance as God’s possession throughout eternity.

“Now” under God’s ownership, what is produced in our lives is righteousness, which sets us apart from sin, just as sin had set us apart from God. Being set apart from sin, we are kept unto the ultimate telos – goal – of everlasting life.

Ownership by sin brings death; ownership by God brings everlasting life. Freedom from righteousness is freedom to die. Freedom from sin is freedom to live. Why exactly would men choose sin over righteousness, and think they are being kept from something desirable when they are kept from sin? Because they are deceived!

23  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord

Perhaps one of the most famous verses of Paul’s letter: the wages of sin is death. Wages are earnings. Sin earns death; we get exactly what we deserve.

But a gift is something presented to us. The Greek word translated to “gift” is charisma, which has the sense of something given without deserving or merit – a gift of grace.  A gift is initiated by the giver; while the recipient may ask for it, only the giver has the power over its being offered or presented. God initiated the process of salvation and His plan for salvation long before humanity came to need to be saved. God knew we could never merit salvation – or we wouldn’t need it at all – so the only way we could ever be saved is through a gift from God’s hand.

Eternal life comes from Jesus, but more than that, eternal life is in Jesus. As Paul will clarify a little further on, only when we are in Christ are we the beneficiaries of eternal life. Jesus told His disciples that, as the branches must remain in the vine, so also His disciples (followers) must remain in Him. Just as the branches live by drawing life from the vine, so also Christ’s followers live because we are in Him drawing our life from Him, Who is the source of life.

But as Paul already pointed out, everyone who ever lives is guilty of sin. That means every one of us has earned death; we deserve to die condemned and separated from God. However, God Who loves us have offered the gift – the gracious presentation – of everlasting life in His presence, with all of the benefits that come from enjoying God’s favour, to everyone who is in Christ. We earn eternal peril, but we gain eternal life and peace and joy and blessing through the Lord Jesus.

[1] John 8:20-24

[2] It is for this reason that we believe that children who die are received by Christ. Also John 9:41 – “if you were blind you would have no sin…” A child is incapable of perceiving the concepts of wickedness and righteousness. While that child may do those things which are  wrong, including disobeying a spoken ‘law’, as an infant, the child cannot receive a law, and sin is not imputed, and as an immature mind, the child cannot ‘see’ the aspect of evil, and again has no sin. Without sin, there is no guilt, and without guilt, eternal condemnation is not awarded. The scripture teaches that God condemns the guilty to eternity in hell; if a child cannot materially comprehend wickedness, or is incapable of receiving either the ‘letter’ of the law, or its implication, and is therefore not guilty, we also believe that God does not consign a child to eternal hell if that child dies.

The significance of Jesus’ statement that ‘the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ is that children, given instruction in the knowledge of God, and of goodness, tend to receive the truth willingly and without duplicity, to embrace God and Christ without hesitation, to recognize themselves to have done things unworthy of God and worthy of punishment, and to become sorry for doing those wrongs. Children tend to simply receive both the message, and the Lord of the message without hesitation or double-mindedness, if given the opportunity to do so. Consequently, when a child dies and his spirit encounters the risen Christ, it is reasonable to anticipate that the child will receive Christ as a child, acknowledging the true God, receiving Christ, and believing the gospel concerning their own wrongdoing. The passages reference indicate to the author that the dead child is not held guilty of sin, and knowing that everyone meets Christ upon death, the child would promptly receive the message of reconciliation to God for his faults, granting him entrance into the kingdom of God. This privilege does not apply to adults, or to those considered by God to be competent to understand and see what is true and right, and the implications of wickedness and righteousness.

[3] Deut 30:6; 1 Sam 16:7; Jer 31:31-; Ezek 11:18-; 36; 39:21-; Hos 13:14; Joel 2

[4] 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; John 3; 2 Cor 4:16; Col 3:10

[5] Genesis 4:7

[7] Ezekiel 18:4

[8] Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; John 15:15

[9] John 10:28-29

[10] Proverbs 3:26; Isaiah 30:15;

[11] Isaiah 43:19