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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Romans 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-23

Chapter 6

DYING TO LIVE (Romans 6:1-11)

6:1-11 What, then, shall we infer? Are we to persist in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we who have died to sin still live in it? Can you be unaware that all who have been baptized into Jesus Christ have been baptized into his death? We have therefore been buried with him through baptism until we died, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the father, so we, too, may live in newness of life. For, if we have become united to him in the likeness of his death, so also shall we be united to him in the likeness of his resurrection. For this we know, that our old self has been crucified with him, that our sinful body might be rendered inoperative, in order that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For a man who has died stands acquitted from sin. But, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, for we know that, after Christ was raised from the dead, he dies no more. Death has no more lordship over him. He who died, died once and for all to sin; and he who lives, lives to God. So you, too, must reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

As he has so often done in this letter, Paul is once again carrying on an argument against a kind of imaginary opponent. The argument springs from the great saying at the end of the last chapter: "Where sin abounded, grace superabounded." It runs something like this.

The Objector: You have just said that God's grace is great enough to find forgiveness for every sin.

Paul: That is so.

The Objector: You are, in fact, saying that God's grace is the most wonderful thing in all this world.

Paul: That is so.

The Objector: Well, if that is so, let us go on sinning. The more we sin, the more grace will abound. Sin does not matter, for God will forgive anyway. In fact we can go further than that and say that sin is an excellent thing, because it gives the grace of God a chance to operate. The conclusion of your argument is that sin produces grace; therefore sin is bound to be a good thing if it produces the greatest thing in the world.

Paul's first reaction is to recoil from that argument in sheer horror. "Do you suggest," he demands, "that we should go on sinning in order to give grace more chance to operate? God forbid that we should pursue so incredible a course as that."

Then, having recoiled like that, he goes on to something else.

"Have you never thought," he demands, "what happened to you when you were baptized?" Now, when we try to understand what Paul goes on to say, we must remember that baptism in his time was different from what it commonly is today.

(a) It was adult baptism. That is not to say that the New Testament is opposed to infant baptism, but infant baptism is the result of the Christian family, and the Christian family could hardly be said to have come into being as early as the time of Paul. A man came to Christ as an individual in the early Church, often leaving his family behind.

(b) Baptism in the early Church was intimately connected with confession of faith. A man was baptized when he entered the Church; and he was entering the Church direct from paganism. In baptism a man came to a decision which cut his life in two, a decision which often meant that he had to tear himself up by the roots, a decision which was so definite that it often meant nothing less than beginning life all over again.

(c) Commonly baptism was by total immersion and that practice lent itself to a symbolism to which sprinkling does not so readily lend itself. When a man descended into the water and the water closed over his head, it was like being buried. When he emerged from the water, it was like rising from the grave. Baptism was symbolically like dying and rising again. The man died to one kind of life and rose to another; he died to the old life of sin and rose to the new life of grace.

Again, if we are fully to understand this, we must remember that Paul was using language and pictures that almost anyone of his day and generation would understand, It may seem strange to us, but it was not at all strange to his contemporaries.

The Jews would understand it. When a man entered the Jewish religion from heathenism, it involved three things--sacrifice, circumcision and baptism. The Gentile entered the Jewish faith by baptism. The ritual was as follows. The person to be baptized cut his nails and hair; he undressed completely; the baptismal bath must contain at least forty seahs, that is two hogsheads, of water; every part of his body must be touched by the water. As he was in the water, he made confession of his faith before three fathers of baptism and certain exhortations and benedictions were addressed to him. The effect of this baptism was held to be complete regeneration; he was called a little child just born, the child of one day. All his sins were remitted because God could not punish sins committed before he was born. The completeness of the change was seen in the fact that certain Rabbis held that a man's child born after baptism was his first-born, even if he had older children. Theoretically it was held--although the belief was never put into practice--that a man was so completely new that he might marry his own sister or his own mother. He was not only a changed man, he was a different man. Any Jew would fully understand Paul's words about the necessity of a baptized man being completely new.

The Greek would understand. At this time the only real Greek religion was found in the mystery religions. They were wonderful things. They offered men release from the cares and sorrows and fears of this earth; and the release was by union with some god. All the mysteries were passion plays. They were based on the story of some god who suffered and died and rose again. The story was played out as a drama. Before a man could see the drama he had to be initiated. He had to undergo a long course of instruction on the inner meaning of the drama. He had to undergo a course of ascetic discipline. He was carefully prepared. The drama was played out with all the resources of music and lighting, and incense and mystery. As it was played out, the man underwent an emotional experience of identification with the god. Before he entered on this he was initiated. Initiation was always regarded as a death followed by a new birth, by which the man was renatus in aeternum, reborn for eternity. One who went through the initiation tells us that he underwent "a voluntary death." We know that in one of the mysteries the man to be initiated was called moriturus, the one who is to die, and that he was buried up to the head in a trench. When he had been initiated, he was addressed as a little child and fed with milk, as one newly born. In another of the mysteries the person to be initiated prayed: "Enter thou into my spirit, my thought, my whole life; for thou art I and I am thou." Any Greek who had been through this would have no difficulty in understanding what Paul meant by dying and rising again in baptism, and, in so doing, becoming one with Christ.

We are not for one moment saying that Paul borrowed either his ideas or his words from such Jewish or pagan practices; what we do say is that he was using words and pictures that both Jew and Gentile would recognize and understand.

In this passage lie three great permanent truths.

(i) It is a terrible thing to seek to trade on the mercy of God and to make it an excuse for sinning. Think of it in human terms. How despicable it would be for a son to consider himself free to sin, because he knew that his father would forgive. That would be taking advantage of love to break love's heart.

(ii) The man who enters upon the Christian way is committed to a different kind of life. He has died to one kind of life and been born to another. In modern times we may have tended to stress the fact that acceptance of the Christian way need not make so very much difference in a man's life. Paul would have said that it ought to make all the difference in the world.

(iii) But there is more than a mere ethical change in a man's life when he accepts Christ. There is a real identification with Christ. It is, in fact, the simple truth that the ethical change is not possible without that union. A man is in Christ. A great scholar has suggested this analogy for that phrase. We cannot live our physical life unless we are in the air and the air is in us; unless we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, we cannot live the life of God.

THE PRACTICE OF THE FAITH (Romans 6:12-14)

6:12-14 Let not sin reign in your mortal body to make you obey the body's desires. Do not go on yielding your members to sin as weapons of evil; but yield yourselves once and for all to God, as those who were dead and are now alive, and yield your members to God as weapons of righteousness. For sin will not lord it over you. You are not under law but under grace.

There is no more typical transition in Paul than that between this passage and the preceding one. The passage which went before was the writing of a mystic. It spoke of the mystical union between the Christian and Christ which came in baptism. It spoke of the way in which a Christian should live so close to Christ that all his life can be said to be lived in him. And now, after the mystical experience, comes the practical demand. Christianity is not an emotional experience; it is a way of life. The Christian is not meant to luxuriate in an experience however wonderful; he is meant to go out and live a certain kind of life in the teeth of the world's attacks and problems. It is common in the world of religious life to sit in church and feel a wave of feeling sweep over us. It is a not uncommon experience, when we sit alone, to feel Christ very near. But the Christianity which has stopped there, has stopped half-way. That emotion must be translated into action. Christianity can never be only an experience of the inner being; it must be a life in the marketplace.

When a man goes out into the world, he is confronted with an awesome situation. As Paul thinks of it, both God and sin are looking for weapons to use. God cannot work without men. If he wants a word spoken, he has to get a man to speak it. If he wants a deed done, he has to get a man to do it. If he wants a person encouraged, he has to get a man to do the lifting up. It is the same with sin; every man has to be given the push into it. Sin is looking for men who will by their words or example seduce others into sinning. It is as if Paul was saying: "In this world there is an eternal battle between sin and God; choose your side." We are faced with the tremendous alternative of making ourselves weapons in the hand of God or weapons in the hand of sin.

A man may well say: "Such a choice is too much for me. I am bound to fail." Paul's answer is: "Don't be discouraged and don't be despairing; sin will not lord it over you." Why? Because we are no longer under law but under grace. Why should that make all the difference? Because we are no longer trying to satisfy the demands of law but are trying to be worthy of the gifts of love. We are no longer regarding God as the stern judge; we are regarding him as the lover of the souls of men. There is no inspiration in all the world like love. Who ever went out from the presence of his loved one without the burning desire to be a better person? The Christian life is no longer a burden to be borne; it is a privilege to be lived up to. As Denney put it: "It is not restraint but inspiration which liberates from sin; not Mount Sinai but Mount Calvary which makes saints." Many a man has been saved from sin, not because of the regulations of the law, but because he could not bear to hurt or grieve or disappoint someone whom he loved and someone who, he knew, loved him. At best, the law restrains a man through fear; but love redeems him by inspiring him to be better than his best. The inspiration of the Christian comes, not from the fear of what God will do to him, but from the inspiration of what God has done for him.

THE EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION (Romans 6:15-23)

6:15-23 What then? Are we to go on sinning because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid! Are you not aware that if you yield yourselves to anyone as slaves, in order to obey them, you are the slaves of the person whom you have chosen to obey--in this case, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness. But, thank God, you, who used to be slaves of sin, have come to a spontaneous decision to obey the pattern of teaching to which you were committed, and, since you have been liberated from sin, you have become the slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms, because unaided human nature cannot understand any others. Just as you yielded your members as slaves to uncleanness and lawlessness which issues in still more lawlessness, so now you have yielded your members as slaves to righteousness and have started on the road that leads to holiness. When you were slaves of sin, you were free as regards righteousness; but then what fruit did you have? All you had was things of which you are now heartily ashamed, for the end of these things is death. But now. since you have been liberated from sin, and since you have become the slaves of God, the fruit you enjoy is designed to lead you on the road to holiness and its end is eternal life. For sin's pay is death, but God's free gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To a certain type of mind the doctrine of free grace is always a temptation to say, "If forgiveness is as easy and as inevitable as all that, if God's one desire is to forgive men and if his grace is wide enough to cover every spot and stain, why worry about sin? Why not do as we like? It will be all the same in the end."

Paul counters this argument by using a vivid picture. He says: "Once you gave yourselves to sin as its slave; when you did that, righteousness had no claim over you. But now you have given yourselves to God as the slave of righteousness; and so sin has no claim over you."

To understand this, we must understand the status of the slave. When we think of a servant, in our sense of the word, we think of a man who gives a certain agreed part of his time to his master and who receives a certain agreed wage for doing so. Within that agreed time he is at the disposal and in the command of his master. But, when that time ends, he is free to do as he likes. During his working hours he belongs to his master, but in his free time he belongs to himself. But, in Paul's time, the status of the slave was quite different. Literally he had no time which belonged to himself; every single moment belonged to his master. He was his master's absolutely exclusive possession. That is the picture that is in Paul's mind. He says: "At one time you were the slave of sin. Sin had exclusive possession of you. At that time you could not talk of anything else but sinning. But now you have taken God as your master and he has exclusive possession of you. Now you cannot even talk about sinning; you must talk about nothing but holiness."

Paul actually apologizes for using this picture. He says: "I am only using a human analogy so that your human minds can understand it." He apologized because he did not like to compare the Christian life to any kind of slavery. But the one thing that this picture does show is that the Christian can have no master but God. He cannot give a part of his life to God, and another part to the world. With God it is all--or nothing. So long as man keeps some part of his life without God, he is not really a Christian. A Christian is a man who has given complete control of his life to Christ, holding nothing back. No man who has done that can ever think of using grace as an excuse for sin.

But Paul has something more to say, "You took a spontaneous decision to obey the pattern of the teaching to which you were committed." In other words, he is saving, "You knew what you were doing, and you did it of your own free will." This is interesting. Remember that this passage has arisen from a discussion of baptism. This therefore means that baptism was instructed baptism. Now we have already seen that baptism in the early Church was adult baptism and confession of faith. It is, then, quite clear that no man was ever allowed into the Christian Church on a moment of emotion. He was instructed; he had to know what he was doing; he was shown what Christ offered and demanded. Then, and then only, could he take the decision to come in.

When a man wishes to become a member of the great Benedictine order of monks he is accepted for a year on probation. During all that time the clothes which he wore in the world hang in his cell. At any time he can put off his monk's habit, put on his worldly clothes, and walk out, and no one will think any the worse of him. Only at the end of the year are his clothes finally taken away. It is with open eyes and a full appreciation of what he is doing that he must enter the order.

It is so with Christianity. Jesus does not want followers who have not stopped to count the cost. He does not want a man to express an impermanent loyalty on the crest of a wave of emotion. The Church has a duty to present the faith in all the riches of its offer and the heights of its demands to those who wish to become its members.

Paul draws a distinction between the old life and the new. The old life was characterized by uncleanness and lawlessness. The pagan world was an unclean world; it did not know the meaning of chastity. Justin Martyr has a terrible jibe when talking about the exposure of infants. In Rome unwanted children, especially girls, were literally, thrown away. Every night numbers of them were left lying in the forum. Some of them were collected by dreadful characters who ran brothels, and brought up to be prostitutes to stock the brothels. So Justin turns on his heathen opponents and tells them that, in their immorality, they had every chance of going into a city brothel. and. all unknown, having intercourse with their own child.

The pagan world was lawless in the sense that men's lusts were their only flaws; and that lawlessness produced more lawlessness. That, indeed. is the law of sin. Sin begets sin. The first time we do a wrong thing, you may do it with hesitation and a tremor and a shudder. The second time we do it, it is easier; and if we go on doing it, it becomes effortless; sin loses its terror. The first time we allow ourselves some indulgence, we may be satisfied with very little of it; but the time comes when we need more and more of it to produce the same thrill. Sin leads on to sin; lawlessness produces lawlessness. To start on the path of sin is to go on to more and more.

The new life is different; it is life which is righteous. Now the Greeks defined righteousness as giving to man and to God their due. The Christian life is one which gives God his proper place and which respects the rights of human personality. The Christian will never disobey God nor ever use a human being to gratify his desire for pleasure. That life leads to what the Revised Standard Version calls sanctification. The word in Greek is hagiasmos (Greek #38). All Greek nouns which end in -asmos describe, not a completed state, but a process. Sanctification is the road to holiness. When a man gives his life to Christ, he does not then become a perfect man; the struggle is by no means over. But Christianity has always regarded the direction in which a man is facing as more important than the particular stage he has reached. Once he is Christ's he has started on the process of sanctification, the road to holiness.

"Leaving every day behind

Something which might hinder;

Running swifter every day;

Growing purer, kinder."

Robert Louis Stevenson said: "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." What is true is that it is a great thing to set out to a great goal, even if we never get the whole way.

Paul finishes with a great saying that contains a double metaphor. "Sin's pay is death," he says, "but God's free gift is eternal life." Paul uses two military words. For pay he uses opsonia (Greek #3800). Opsonia was the soldier's pay, something that he earned with the risk of his body and the sweat of his brow, something that was due to him and could not be taken from him. For gift he uses charisma (Greek #5486). The charisma or, in Latin, the donativum, was a totally unearned gift which the army sometimes received. On special occasions, for instance on his birthday, or on his accession to the throne, or the anniversary of it, an emperor handed out a free gift of money to the army. It had not been earned; it was a gift of the emperor's kindness and grace. So Paul says: "If we got the pay we had earned it would be death; but out of his grace God has given us life."

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Romans 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/romans-6.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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