Personal Responsibility

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about how Christians can continually live out their freedom in Christ.

Embrace Your New Identity:  Romans 6:8-11.

[8]  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9]  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

[10]  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11]  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  [ESV]

Verses 6-7 elaborated the implication of Christ’s death in relation to us, namely that our former self was crucified with Him. Now verses 8-9 elaborate the implication of His resurrection, again in relation to us, namely that we will also live with Him. Will live refers both to our sharing Christ’s life now and to our sharing His resurrection on the last day. Life is resurrection anticipated; resurrection is life consummated. The guarantee of the continuing nature of our new life, beginning now and lasting forever, is to be found in Christ’s resurrection. Christ was not resuscitated but raised to an altogether new plane of living, from which there will never be any question of return [9]. Having been delivered from its tyranny, He has passed beyond its jurisdiction forever. Although Paul implies that death and life belong together and must never be separated, he also indicates that there are radical differences between them. There is a difference of time (the past event of death, the present experience of life), of nature (He died to sin, bearing its penalty, but lives to God, seeking His glory), and of quality (the death once for all, the resurrection life continuous). These differences are of importance for our understanding not only of the work of Christ but also of our Christian discipleship, which, by our union with Christ, begins with a once-for-all death to sin and continues with an unending life of service to God. We died with Christ [6-7]; we have risen with Christ [8-9]. Our old life terminated with the judicial death it deserved; our new life began with a resurrection. We could put it in this way. If Christ’s death was a death to sin, and if His resurrection was a resurrection to God, and if by faith-baptism we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection, then we ourselves have died to sin and risen to God. We must therefore consider (reckon, regard, look upon, count) ourselves dead to sin but alive to God by reason of our union with Christ Jesus. We are to realize and remember that our former self did die with Christ, thus putting an end to its career. We are to consider what in fact we are, namely dead to sin and alive to God, like Christ. Once we grasp this, that our old life has ended, with the score settled, the debt paid and the law satisfied, we shall want to have nothing more to do with it. So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing [6] that our former self was crucified with Christ, in knowing [3] that baptism into Christ is baptism into His death and resurrection, and in considering [11] that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God. We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. Regenerate Christians should no more contemplate a return to unregenerate living than adults to their childhood, married people to their singleness or discharged prisoners to their prison cell. For our union with Jesus Christ has severed us from the old life and committed us to the new. Our baptism stands between the two like a door between two rooms, closing on the one and opening into the other. We have died, and we have risen. How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?

Fight Sin:  Romans 6:12-14.

[12]  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13]  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. [14]  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.  [ESV]

Moving from thought to action, Paul now spells out just what it will mean for the believer to consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God [11]. He uses two prohibitions (let not sin … do not present [12-13]) and one command (present yourselves[13]) to make his point. Let not sin therefore reign is matched by the promise at the end of this small unit of verses that sin will have no dominion over you [14]. Without this promise, which recapitulates a main emphasis of verses 1-11, the imperative would be futile. Paul urges his readers not to let sin reign in your mortal body, which refers to the whole person in terms of the person’s interaction with the world. The battle is a spiritual one, but it is fought, and won or lost, in the daily decisions the believer makes about how to use their body. In characterizing the body as mortal, Paul is reminding us that the same body that has been severed from its servitude to sin is nevertheless a body that still participates in the weakness, suffering, and dissolution of this age. Until we are fully redeemed [8:23] and put on immortality [1 Cor. 15:53], we will continue to be subject to the influences of this age; and the believer must not let these influences hold sway. The Christian is no longer body of sin [6:6] or body of death [7:24], but he or she is still mortal body. The mortal body is, then, the believer’s form of existence in this world, which still has part in this age. It is because of this that Paul can in the last clause of verse 12 relate the body so closely to sin: to make you obey its passions. Passions refers to desires that are in conflict with the will of God. These passions would include not only the physical lusts and appetites but also those desires that reside in the mind and will: the desire to have our own way, the desire to possess what other people have, the desire to have dominance over others. The imperatives of verse 13 unfold in more specific and practical terms the general command let not sin therefore reign [12]. If body in verse 12 means the person in contact with the world, then members also will mean natural capacities rather than limbs, or parts of the body. Paul’s command is that Christians not present these members as instruments for unrighteousness. Now that we understand ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God, we must constantly avoid using our abilities and resources in the service of sin. The words Paul chooses here fit well with his focus throughout this passage on the concepts of rulership and domination. Our natural capacities are weapons that we are not to offer in service to the tyrant sin. Since sin is no longer our ruler, we must stop letting it reign over us, and stop serving it as if it were our rightful sovereign. Those natural capacities and abilities that God has given us are weapons that must no longer be put in the service of the master from whom we have been freed. The renunciation of our service to sin is to be followed immediately by our enlisting in the service of a new master: God. There can be no neutral position between service of God and service of sin. By characterizing those whom he commands as those who have been brought from death to life, Paul reminds us that this presenting of ourselves to God can take place only because of the new state we find ourselves in as a result of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The bodily resurrection lies ahead, but there has already taken place a spiritual resurrection that introduces the believer into a new life in God’s service. Paul adds one last characterization of believers, completing the contrasting parallel with the first part of the verse. What we are to offer to God are your members … as instruments for righteousness. The members that were once used as weapons in the service of sin and for unrighteous purposes are now to be used as weapons in God’s service, for righteous purposes signifying behavior pleasing to God. After the imperatives of verses 11-13, this short paragraph concludes with a return to the indicative. For sin will have no dominion over you grounds the specific commands of verses 12-13 while summarizing the keynote of the chapter. Sin is again personified as power. To put a stop to the reign of sin – to stop engaging in those sins that have too often become so habitual that we cannot imagine not doing them – is a daunting responsibility. We feel that we must fail. But Paul then reminds us of just what we have become in Jesus Christ: dead to sin but alive to God. This promise is confirmed by the assurance that you are not under law but under grace. To be under the law means to be subject to the curse of the law that comes because of the inevitable failure to accomplish the law. But confining the phrase only to the notion of condemnation fails to grasp the salvation-historical contrast that Paul sets up here. As in John 1:17, law and grace contrast the old age of bondage with the new age of freedom. Under law, then, is another way of characterizing the old realm. This explains why Paul can make release from the law a reason for the Christian’s freedom from the power of sin. As he has repeatedly stated, the Mosaic law has had a definite sin-producing and sin-intensifying function: it has brought knowledge of sin [3:20], wrath [4:15], transgression [5:13-14], and an increase in the severity of sin [5:20]. The law, as Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 15:56 is the power of sin. This means, however, that there can be no final liberation from the power of sin without a corresponding liberation from the power and lordship of the law. To be under law is to be subject to the constraining and sin-strengthening regime of the old age; to be under grace is to be subject to the new age in which freedom from the power of sin is available. No longer is our relationship with God based on our obedience to the law. Instead we are now God’s children because we trust in the work of grace on the Cross.


Indicative and Imperative.  Romans 6 is the classic biblical text on the importance of relating the indicative of what God has done for us with the imperative of what we are to do. Paul stresses that we must actualize in daily experience the freedom from sin’s lordship that is ours in Christ Jesus. State is to become reality; we are to become what we are – or, with due recognition of the continuing work of God in our lives, we might say become what you are becoming. Balance on this point is essential. Indicative and imperative must be neither divided nor confused. If divided, with justification and sanctification put into separate compartments, we can forget that true holiness of life comes only as the outworking and realization of the life of Christ in us. This leads to a moralism or legalism in which the believer goes it on his own, thinking that holiness will be attained through sheer effort, or ever more elaborate programs, or ever-increasing numbers of rules. But if indicative and imperative are confused, with justification and sanctification collapsed together into one, we can neglect the fact that the outworking of the life of Christ in us is made our responsibility. This neglect leads to an unconcern with holiness of life, or to a God-does-it-all attitude in which the believer thinks to become holy through a kind of spiritual osmosis. Paul makes it clear, by the sequence in this paragraph, that we can live a holy life only as we appropriate the benefits of our union with Christ. But he also makes it clear, because there is a sequence, that living the holy life is distinct from (but not separate from) what we have attained by our union with Christ and that holiness of life can be stifled if we fail continually to appropriate and put to work the new life God has given us.

Walk in Righteousness:  Romans 6:15-18.

[15]  What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

[16]  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? [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.  [ESV]

[15-16]  Verse 15 is clearly parallel to verse 1. Substantially the same question is being asked in both verses, namely whether grace sanctions sin, and even encourages it. And in both cases it calls forth from the apostle the same vehement protest: By no means! Paul makes two significant shifts of emphasis in the two sections. First, although he develops the same argument that freedom to sin is fundamentally incompatible with our Christian reality, he describes this in terms of our being united to Christ in verses 3-14 and of our being enslaved to God in verses 16-23. It is not only the figure of speech which is different, however, namely dead to sin and alive to God [11] and free from sin and … slaves of God [22]. It is also and secondly how these radical changes came about. The emphasis of the former is on what was done to us (we were united to Christ), while the emphasis of the latter is on what we did (we offered ourselves to God to obey Him). The passive statement alludes to our baptism (we were baptized), whereas the active is properly called conversion (we turned from sin to God), although of course only grace enabled us to do it. What Paul does in the second half of Romans 6 is to draw out the logic of our conversion, as in the first half he has drawn out the logic of our baptism. In both cases his argument begins with the same astonished question, Do you not know? [3,16], and continues by probing our understanding of our Christian beginnings. Since through baptism we were united to Christ, and in consequence are dead to sin and alive to God, how can we possibly live in sin? Since through conversion we offered ourselves to God to be His slaves, and in consequence are committed to obedience, how can we possibly claim freedom to sin? Verse 16 presents Paul’s basic question to his readers. His point is that those who thus offered themselves invariably had their offer accepted. They could not expect to give themselves to a slave-master and simultaneously retain their freedom. It is the same with spiritual slavery. Self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery, whether we thus become slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness. The notion of slavery to sin is readily intelligible [see John 8:34], and so is the fact that it leads to death (separation from God both here and hereafter), since at the end of the chapter Paul will refer to death as the wages which sin pays [23]. It is less easy, however, to understand his apparently inexact parallels. As the alternative to being slaves to sin one might have expected slaves to Christ, rather than slaves to obedience, and as the alternative to death the expectation would be life rather than righteousness. Yet the idea of being obedient to obedience is a dramatic way of emphasizing that obedience is the very essence of slavery, and righteousness in the sense of justification is almost a synonym of life. At least Paul’s general meaning is beyond doubt. Conversion is an act of self-surrender; self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery; and slavery demands a total, radical, exclusive obedience. For no one can be the slave of two masters. So, once we have offered ourselves to Christ as His slaves, we are permanently and unconditionally at His disposal. There is no possibility of going back on this. Having chosen our master, we have no further choice but to obey him.

[17-18]  Having laid down the principle that surrender leads to slavery, Paul applies it to his Roman readers, reminding them that their conversion involved an exchange of slaveries. Indeed, so complete is the change which has taken place in their lives that he breaks out into a spontaneous doxology: But thanks be to God. He then sums up their experience in four stages, which concern what they used to be (slaves to sin), what they did (obedient from the heart), what happened to them (set free from sin) and what they had become (slaves of righteousness). First, you were once slaves of sin. Paul does not mince his words. All human beings are slaves, and there are only two slaveries, to sin and to God. Conversion is a transfer from the one to the other. Secondly, you have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. This is a most unusual description of conversion. Here it is not God or Christ whom they are said to have obeyed, but a certain standard of teaching. This must have been a pattern of sound teaching, or structure of apostolic instruction, which probably included both elementary gospel doctrine and elementary personal ethics. Paul evidently sees conversion not only as trusting in Christ but as believing and acknowledging the truth. Moreover, Paul writes not that this teaching was committed to them, but that they were committed to it. Thirdly, the Romans have been set free from sin, emancipated from its slavery. Not that they have become perfect, for they are still capable of sinning, but rather that they have been decisively rescued out of the lordship of sin into the lordship of God, out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. In consequence, fourthly, they have become slaves of righteousness. So decisive is this transfer by the grace and power of God from the slavery of sin to the slavery of righteousness that Paul cannot restrain himself from thankfulness to God for this great conversion.


Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God?

2.         How do we put our being dead to sin and alive to God into practice in our daily Christian walk?

3.         What role does the promise in 6:14 play in enabling believers to obey the commands of 6:13? How does faith in the promise strengthen us in our battle against our sinful passions?

4.         Paul presents his basic question in 6:16: To whom are you a slave: sin or obedience? Christ has redeemed all believers out of slavery to sin. But now we are to live as slaves of righteousness. How are we to do this? What have we learned from 6:8-14 that shows us how to live in light of our becoming obedient from the heart?


The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, ECNT, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

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