Verse by Verse Study of Romans 6:1-23
Sin is not something we like to talk about, or even read about in the Bible. But sin is in the Bible. It is a key topic of the Bible and understanding what sin is, how it is defined and described, is key to overcoming it. The most powerful verses, such as in Romans 6, is all about sin and how we can have freedom from it and power over it.
In Romans 5, Paul ended the chapter by telling us that as people sinned more and more, God’s grace became more abundant (Romans 5:20). That might lead some people to think that we can keep on sinning, since salvation does not come by our own effort, and it only causes God’s grace to increase. This is what Paul discusses in Romans 6. He argues that we should not keep on sinning so that we might receive God’s grace. Romans 6 tells us all about how the power that sin once had over us has been broken by Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s love defeated sin once and for all. And we can experience this victory by experiencing God’s grace.
Does Greater Sin Mean Greater Grace?
In verse 1, Paul wonders if someone might take this truth – the truth that God’s grace doesn’t run out, but only increases to cover our sin with forgiveness – to imply that it doesn’t matter if we live a life of sin, because God will always overcome greater sin with greater grace. After all, if God loves the sinner, then why worry about sin? If God gives grace to sinners, then why not sin more, and receive more grace?
In the early 20th century, a Russian monk named Gregory Rasputin taught this very concept. He believed those who continued sinning received more of God’s grace (when he momentarily repented but then returned to a life of sin). Rasputin lived in notorious sin and taught that this was the way to salvation.
This is an extreme example. But in a less extreme way, the question still confronts us: Is this plan of grace a good idea? Won’t people abuse grace? If God’s salvation and approval are given to us based on faith instead of works, won’t we just say the words “I believe” and then live any way we please? In fact, Christians are often accused of this.
Because of this many Christians don’t often teach about grace because they view grace as dangerous. Instead, they emphasize living by the law. They believe that if you teach people that God saves and accepts us apart from what we deserve they will have no motive to be obedient. But Jesus came to set us free, and Paul warns us in Galatians 5:1 not to become a slave to the law.
A Sinful Lifestyle is Still Unacceptable to God
In verse 2 Paul responds to this line of thinking with a wholehearted “NO!”. A sinful lifestyle is unacceptable because we have died to sin, through Jesus’ death, and this has changed our relationship to sin forever. Ephesians 2:5 tells us that we were dead to sin, but God gave us life when he raised Jesus from the dead. If we are now alive in Christ, we cannot continue living in deadness.
We Have Died to Sin
In verses 3-4 Paul illustrates the Christian’s death to sin through baptism. Paul is not referring to water baptism here, although water baptism symbolizes this as well. Rather, Paul is using baptism to illustrate how we are now dead to sin.
The Greek word for baptism, baptizo, means ‘to immerse or overwhelm something’. Here Paul refers to being baptized as ‘immersed or covered over’ in Christ. Just as Christ died and was buried, so did we in our spiritual deadness because of sin. And just as Jesus rose from the dead, so we are raised to new life in him. Paul’s point here is that something dramatic and life changing happens in the life of every believer. You can’t die and rise again without changing your life forever.
Verses 5-10 consider what this means for us: that our sins are dead and buried, and we are resurrected in Christ into a new life in him.
We Are United in Christ
Verse 5 says that we are united in him. The word united expresses a close union. This union is the closest kind – one which life flows from Christ into us. This is echoed in Jesus’ own words when he spoke of the vine and the branches in John 15. He is the vine, and we are the branches. If we remain in him, he will remain in us.
And this close union is in both his death and his resurrection. We can’t simply have the glory of a new life through resurrection, and not die to the slavery of sin.
We Were Slaves to Sin
Verses 6-9 tell us why we need to die to sin and that is because sin has a hold on us. We are slaves to sin. Jesus overcame the power of sin through his death, and when we have faith in God’s grace to forgive sins, we are freed from sin’s power.
And since our sinful nature, some translations use the phrase ‘the old man’, has died with Christ, we can be certain that we will also participate in his resurrection and have a new life, or have become ‘a new man’ in Christ.
Freedom From Slavery
Now verses 10-11 tell us that dying to sin is not our work to do. Jesus paid that price, dying only once, to pay the price of sin for all mankind, and we simply join him in his death by proxy. The Bible isn’t telling us that dying to sin is on us – we don’t have to try to reject and crucify sin to be saved. That death was accomplished by Jesus alone, and we only need to ‘consider ourselves to be dead to the power of sin’ and alive in Christ.
Verses 12-14 tell us how to walk in this new freedom made possible by Jesus.
Verse 12 tells us not to let sin control the way you live. The New King James Version (NKJV) uses the phrase, ‘do not let sin reign‘. This is something that can only be said to believers, to the ones who have had the old man crucified with Christ and given new life in Jesus, for only they have been set free from the power and hold of sin. Instead of being inclined to sin, we now can obey a new inclination to please and honor God. However, though we can live in freedom from sin, many Christians never experience this freedom.
How to Experience Freedom from Sin
Why do many Christians never experience the freedom from sin? Shouldn’t we all automatically experience this freedom with ease? Paul tells us in verse 13 how we can successfully walk in freedom.
First, Paul says that we should not let any part of our body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. What does he mean by this? The first key to walking in the freedom that Jesus won for us, is to not let a any part of our body become enticed by sin: our eyes, ears, lips, hands, mind and so forth. A good example of this is a saying my mom always told us when we were kids: ‘Garbage in, garbage out’. Whatever we watch, listen to, read, take part in, that is not good and not good for us, will eventually come out. If we surround ourselves with things that are God-honoring, we are less likely to fall into sin.
We Must Deny Ourselves
And the second key that Paul gives us here in verse 13 is to ‘use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for God’s glory‘. It’s not enough to take away the temptations of sin, we must also enlist ourselves for his service in righteousness. To put it simply we must serve him. A good way to do this is to join a church community and find ways to serve there.
In verse 14 Paul says that sin is no longer our master, because we no longer live under the requirements of the law. He says, ‘instead live under the freedom of God’s grace‘.
But if we were freed from sin, why might we still desire to sin?
Why the Christian Continues to Desire Sin
This desire to continue sinning comes from what the Bible calls ‘our flesh‘ which is distinct from our sinful nature (or the old man) that died with Christ. It’s hard to describe exactly what our flesh is, but to try to put it into words, it is our inner being that has desires, impulses, and passions and these play out in our mind, in our will, and in our emotions. Our flesh is the problem in our battle against sin because it has been expertly trained in sinful habits by three sources:
1. The old man, our old sinful nature, trained and imprinted itself on our flesh. You know the saying, ‘Old habits die hard’.
2. The world, in its spirit of rebellion against God, can continue to have a strong influence on our flesh.
3. The devil seeks to tempt and influence our flesh towards sin. Though he can not have victory over us, he still wants to do whatever he can to weaken our efforts for God.
Galatians 5:16 and 24, tell us to resist our fleshly desires, to crucify them, and walk in the Spirit, which is in freedom. And this is something we need to do day by day.
Should We Worry About the Occasional Sin?
We know that we shouldn’t choose a life of habitual sin, but what about the occasional sin, since we are not under the law but under grace? Paul asks this question in verse 15. The Greek word used for sin in this verse is aorist which indicates ‘dabbling’ in sin, not continual habitual sin as described as verse 1.
Before Paul begins answering the question however, he presents us with some spiritual principles needed to answer the questions.
In verse 16 Paul is telling us that whatever we choose to obey, we become a slave to. We have two choices: we can be slaves to sin that leads to death, or we can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
Leave the Past Behind
And in verse 17-18, Paul reminds us that being a slave to sin was in our past because we have been freed from our slavery by faith. We have chosen to obey God and have become slaves of righteousness.
So why shouldn’t we occasionally sin? Because sin is not our master anymore. We no longer serve it! This is not saying we must be perfect from now on and never sin! But it is saying that we should not approve of the occasional sin or justify our sin. Instead, we need to hate it! We will still sin, but God’s grace covers us, and his Spirit empowers us to not only resist sin, but to despise it.
The Importance of Avoiding Sin
In verses 19-23, Paul tells us why we need to avoid being enslaved to sin.
In verse 19, Paul explains why he used slavery as an illustration of our nature to sin, and that was because it best described the weakness of our human nature. Just as a slave must obey his master, so we are compelled to sin, before accepting God’s gift of salvation through faith.
In verse 20 Paul makes a point which is almost humorous. He says that when we were slaves to sin, we did have freedom, but it was freedom to not do what is right!
And verse 21 tells us what the result of this kind of freedom was: it only brought us shame because our lives and lifestyles could only lead to eternal doom.
Verse 22 reminds us again, that we are free from the power of sin. We can choose to walk away. We can choose to do those things which lead to holiness and results in eternal life.
A Change of Ownership
Verse 23 is a well-known verse. ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This is Paul’s final answer on whether we should continue sinning. As believers we have had a change of ownership. The Christian must fight against even the occasional sin because we now work for a new Master. It isn’t right for us to work for our old master. All we could get as wages from our old master was death. But our new Master gives us eternal life!
You may not yet be a follower of Christ, or you may be brand new to the Christian faith and may not be fully aware of the sin in your life. Even seasoned Christians still struggle with the flesh and the temptation of sin.
Let me encourage you with two important facts:
First, rest assured that Jesus has paid our debt by dying for us! We are fully covered by God’s grace and that promise of eternal life is ours.
Second, as we abide in him and actively die to our flesh day by day, we will find it easier and easier to resist sin and even come to despise it. It will stop looking good to us!
How to Abide in Christ
How do we abide in Christ? By simply staying close to him. Reading the Bible, devotionals and other books that can help you understand the Bible. Praying. Listening to worship music. And just thinking about Godly things!
How do we die to our flesh? By doing all the above, and removing yourself from situations that cause you, or tempt you, to sin.
As my mom always said, “Garbage in, garbage out“!
Embraced: 100 Devotions to Know God is Holding You by Lysa TerKeurst– God doesn’t pull back from your sharp edges. He pulls you close. This devotional resonates in all stages of life and gives you a godly perspective on the issues you face everyday.
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