N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 54 (living under the reign of King Jesus)

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N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Romans 6:1-7

In his commentary on Romans, Wright argues that “continue in sin” is, in the Greek, “continue under the domination of Sin.” Hence,

(Rom. 6:1-2 NET)  What shall we say then? Are we to remain [under Sin’s rule] so that grace may increase?  2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to [the reign of Sin] still live in it? 

Obviously, Paul intends that his readers not sin, but his first point is that returning to Sin would be to return to the part of the cosmos ruled by Sin. It would be like Israel returning to Egypt to be slaves of Pharaoh, despite having been freed from slavery.

(Rom. 6:3-7 NET)  3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.  5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.  6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to [Sin].  7 (For someone who has died has been freed from [Sin].) 

Wright disagrees with the traditional Zwinglian/Baptist interpretation that baptism accomplishes nothing in itself —

We have no reason to suppose that baptism was ever a merely arbitrary entry rite, with a purpose (to mark out those who belonged) but without any meaning of its own.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 537.

The Messiah’s resurrection means that those who are “in the Messiah” now stand, and must walk, on resurrection ground. … The whole point of the argument is that Christians no longer belong in the world of death; Paul does not here suppose that one should wait until the final bodily resurrection (8:11) before beginning to “walk in newness of life,” and this “walk” is based on a present status, not merely anticipating the future reality. The argument of these verses is not simply that one has died to sin and hence must not live in it anymore, but that one is already “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11) and must now live accordingly. 

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 538.

In other words, baptism brings our future resurrection to the present — not in its fullness but enough so that we must live as resurrected people live — in full submission to God and Jesus.

In v. 6, Paul references our “old man” or “former self.” The Greek is “man” or anthropos, the same word used repeatedly in chapter 5 to refer to Adam. Hence, it’s our Adamic nature — our propensity to sin, our mortal natures — that is co-crucified with Jesus.

The “old self,” whole and entire, is put to death once and for all. This does not mean that the Christian cannot sin; but Paul’s sharp point should be felt before caveats and nuances are allowed to dull it. In baptism the whole person leaves the Adam-world for good, leaves it by death, a final one-way journey.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 539.

The world of Adam is one characterized by Sin and death (the loss of immortality), but for the baptized, we’ve left the rule of Sin and so left the world of the mortal to enter the world of the immortal.

And so a modified translation —

(Rom. 6:3-7 NET)  3 Or do you not know that as many as were immersed into King Jesus were immersed into his death?  4 Therefore we Christians have been buried with him through immersion into his death, in order that just as our King was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new, immortal life.  5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.  6 We know that our old Adamic nature — a nature controlled by Sin and merely mortal — was crucified with our King so that Sin would no longer reign over us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to Sin.  7 (For someone who has died has been freed from the reign of Sin.) 

So Paul’s argument isn’t merely that, having been baptized, we should stop sinning. Rather, he’s announcing that our baptism frees us from the domination of Sin and Death — and therefore we should live, not as our old Pharaoh commands — as slaves — but as our new King commands.

And read this way, the analogy to Exodus becomes very plain.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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