We kind of started on Romans 6 but found it inscrutable without a background in the Spirit. You can say the words, but you can’t really understand phrases like “die to sin” without an understanding of the Spirit’s power.
(Rom 6:1-2 ESV) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
When did we die to sin? When we were baptized. Did we promise to try harder? Absolutely. Is that enough to die to sin? Not even close.
No, we don’t die to sin except by having our hearts circumcised by the Spirit. It’s only when God puts new flesh on these dry bones, waters a thirsty land, and “renews a right spirit within me” that any sort of real victory has been won over sin. We just, plain can’t do it alone.
We receive the Spirit at baptism. Paul doesn’t explicitly say this, but it’s an obvious conclusion from Romans 6, read with Romans 8:9-11. And it’s obvious if you’re listening closely to what Paul says in Romans 6.
(Rom 6:6-7 ESV) 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Yes, there is a mystical joining of the Christian into Christ’s crucifixion that redeems us, but it’s much more than a legal transaction. We’re forgiven, but we also die. We participate in the death of Jesus.
What on earth does that mean other than that we’re forgiven and promise to try harder (circumcise our own hearts)? It means that God is active in our baptism to change us. It is God — through the Spirit — who removes our slavery to sin.
Paul uses the imagery of slavery — and death will indeed free you from slavery! But it’s a metaphor for a changed heart.
(Rom 6:14 ESV) 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Really? I won’t sin? No, I’ll sin, but it won’t own me. I won’t be its slave because I’ll be able to say “no” — well enough. Not perfectly, but my heart will be changed — by God, through his Spirit.
(Rom 6:15 ESV) 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Again! Paul keeps asking this question, realizing that he’s struggling to make his point — in part because we’ve not yet gotten to chapter 8, which deals more explicitly with the Spirit. Here, Paul’s emphasis is on grace and the work of Jesus.
(Rom 6:17-18 ESV) 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
“Obedient from the heart” is a plain allusion to Jeremiah 31:33 and Deuteronomy 30:10 (which follows Deu. 30:6, of course).
(Rom 6:19a ESV) 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.
Exactly. Paul is not yet ready to explicitly return to the Spirit’s work, because this presentation is based on baptism and the metaphor of slavery. He’ll offer another explanation soon.
(Rom 7:4-6 ESV) 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Again, Paul uses the metaphor of dying (in baptism) and becoming owned by (enslaved to) Jesus. He says that before our baptisms, we were bearing fruit for death. It’s Ezekiel — except death comes from the law — because we cannot sufficiently obey it to be saved (v. 6). Indeed, both Paul’s and Ezekiel’s points are that disobedience kills and only God can give life — and only through the Spirit.
What releases us from the law? Baptism? Co-crucifixion with Jesus? Enslavement to Jesus? Yes, but now Paul introduces: “we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
Our resurrection with Jesus, our enslavement to Jesus, our new life is all about a “new way” of service in the Spirit. Which means what? Well, obedience, but an obedience empowered by God’s transforming work in our hearts.
The new contrast — which is not different from what he said before but which deepens the thought, making it less human and less limited — is the Spirit vs. the law as “written code.”
In 7:6, Paul sneaks a peak ahead to chapter 8. He then looks back — at the problem of how to obey when we fail to obey despite our best intentions —
(Rom 7:20-24 ESV) 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
This is the problem of self-circumcision of the heart. As much as we might want to get our hearts right on our own, we just can’t.