The Manifestation of the Reign of Grace through the Increase of Righteousness

Chapter five confronts the Christian with some tightly argued theological issues that beg our attention to the divine-sovereignty/human-responsibility relationship. If God is sovereign, how are we responsible? If our spiritual status is determined by two covenant heads, Adam and Christ, is there any place for individual response? If sin is imputed, how are we responsible for our condemnation? If we are corrupt, how are we responsible for actual transgressions? If the depth and number of our transgressions magnifies divine grace and Christ’s righteousness, how does avoidance of sin glorify God? It is to these theological conundrums that Paul begins to speak in chapter 6.


I. Romans 6:1-4 – If Grace Prospers with the increase of sin, would it not make sense for us to sin?

A. Paul poses the question and immediately gives the simple answer. “How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” The rest of the chapter is an exquisite exposition of this answer. Remember throughout the chapter, this is the rhetorical question to which Paul is giving a theological expansion. [6:1,2]

B. The ordinance by which we are introduced into the Christian community (baptism) is a testimony of the commitment to righteousness implied by faith in Christ.

  1. The clarity with which the ordinance depicts the historical reality makes it to be spoken of as identical with the reality.
  • “Take, This is my body. . . . This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” [Mark 14:23, 24] “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” [1 Corinthians 11:25] “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” [1 Corinthians 11:29]. Christ gave a physical reminder of the physical reality that in his enduring of physical pain and spiritual wrath during the time and space of the cross event, forgiveness was procured, righteousness was completed, the new covenant inaugurated, and he secured reconciliation with God for his people.
  • “Baptism . . . now saves you” [1 Peter 3:21]. Baptism is an antitype to the flood. As the flood was at once a judgment and the element that lifted Noah above the judgment, so baptism stands as the physical statement of both judgment and  freedom from judgment, not in its own efficacy but through its witness to the resurrection of Christ. Our participation is the pledge, or the testimony, of a good conscience toward God. We are baptized because the completed work of Christ as manifest through his resurrection has given us peace with God and has called on us to identify through baptism the source of our cleansed conscience.
  • These are all literary metaphors, saying one thing is another. The ordinance so closely figures the historical correspondent that it is said to be, or do, that which can only in its most literal sense be said of the historical reality, not the figure.
  • When Paul says that in baptism we were baptized “into his death” he attributes to the figure that which is strictly true only of the historical substance. Look at Leviticus, “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area.” “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.” [Leviticus 16:22, 30] On the other hand the writer of Hebrews calls the practices “symbolic for the present age,” [9:9] and goes on to say “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” [10:4] The various manifestations of atonement said to cleanse the nation from sin, did so only as a predictive manifestation of the coming historical work of Christ. Even so, the ordinances given subsequent to the completed work of Christ are symbolic of that which is already accomplished and remind us of its effectuality.
  1. Baptism is one’s public manifestation of faith in the completed work of Christ as his only source and hope of redemption. One submits to baptism in order to say publicly, “I believe that Christ, the Son of God, died for sinners and was raised again from the dead. I give myself to him in his death and in his resurrection in which he has been raised above the effects of sin. I embrace his conquering of death as a testimony of my joy to be freed from the corrupting and degrading effects of sin. I will now walk in newness of life and purify myself from all that defiles as I look for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of my Lord.”
  2. As the glory of the Father (4), fully satisfied by the sinless and obedient suffering of His Son, raised him from the dead to a life in which sin and death have been conquered, so “newness of life” is to be the pledge of our baptism. Jesus was raised by the “glory of the Father,” meaning that all the moral attributes of God were satisfied by Christ’s having loved righteousness and hated wickedness. As a result, Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions (Hebrews 1:9). Our baptism likewise means that we have learned now to love righteousness and hate wickedness and look forward to entering into the joy of our Lord.



II. How does our Union with Christ in his death affect the relation of sin and grace in our lives? Romans 6:5-14

A. The argument in these verses is built on the assumption of our union with Christ in his death. This “if” can just as easily be translated “since.” Our union with the last Adam as our covenant head means that his entire experience is a precursor to ours, those for whom he died. If our covenant head has dealt with death in such a way as he has overcome it and all its effects, we shall have that same experience in Him (6:5). The following verses give these explicit details.

  1. As we were united with Christ in his death, symbolized and testified to in our baptism, the entire grip of death on us was executed in him so that it no longer has any claim on those who have endured its penalty. Our “old man,” or “old self” is the entire self as controlled in every aspect by sin. That man was crucified in its representative, Christ. The “body of sin” is sin in all of consequences that has taken residence in our whole person. The body of sin has been destroyed in that none of its consequences has prevailing power over us. Its tyranny is gone; we no longer serve it as a slave. Our life here and hereafter no longer is determined by the mastery of sin (6).
  2. If sin’s penalty has been executed, then it can demand no more. “One that has died,” that is, undergone every consequence pronounced by God himself as a judicial punishment for sin, “has been set free from sin,” that is, has nothing more to endure as the consequence of sin (7).
  3. “Now if we died with Christ:” He means “Since all that is necessary to our salvation was present in Christ when he died,” then just as surely as that has been accomplished, so all the benefits of his resurrection are ours. Christ truly represented us, was our covenant head in his death; and by his death he took our place under the judicial wrath of God for sin; we, therefore, have absolute warrant to affirm “we also live with him.” Since his death has been accepted as a full satisfaction of divine wrath, and as a result he has been raised above death and all its darkness, then we too shall experience the same elevation of life above death—physically, judicially, and spiritually (8). This affirmation is one of those deeply impressive distillations of revealed truth that Paul calls a “faithful saying.” “For if we died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
  4. The fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead. He appeared to a large number of people in a variety of situations, talked with them, ate with them, taught them, commissioned them. This is the astounding fact, Christ was crucified and in the grave and verified as dead, but there is no doubt that he rose and is alive even now at the present time. He has, therefore, though he died as a curse, risen from the dead. His date with death was consummated in the most aggravated way, but he rose again, and so has no more date with death. He bore our sin in his own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), fully dispensed with that load and all its consequences so “death no longer has dominion over him” (9).
  5. Since in his death, he gathered in one heap all the sins of his people and endured on the cross and in the grave, in his soul and body, every consequence due to them for all their sins and sin and all its aggravations, his dealing with it cannot be repeated. “Payment God cannot twice demand first at my bleeding surety’s hand and then again at mine.” [Toplady – “Whence this fear and unbelief?] This payment was made once for all. The subsequent life, now free of the burden of the curse which Christ had shouldered from the time of his incarnation until the day that the stone was rolled away, is an unending life filled with the glory of God’s presence and the consciousness of his pleasure. “The life he lives he lives to God” (10).
  6. On that account, therefore, those that have testified to their union with Christ by baptism, must see the accounts clearly written. Death is done; the internal corruption that was embedded as a punitive measure as part of the curse, is destroyed and will soon pass away. Our being “dead to sin” means not only that we are forgiven, and justified, and will be raised to a glorified body, but that the present dominance of the corrupting power of sin has been broken. It is in its death throes, but its power has been destroyed and it cannot take us down to moral oblivion and finally eternal death. In this aspect too, we are dead to sin and alive to God (11). The destruction of the presence of sin along with the corruption of heart from which it is a constant putrid flow manifests the grace and power of God far beyond the false reasoning, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Absolutely not! We shall rise above sin, and hate it with all our heart, that grace may abound.

B. Our new position in relation to sin, allows us and prompts us to work toward manifesting our freedom from sin. 6:12-14

  1. The practical reality is that sin displays its hostility to God’s holiness in the very practical issues of how we use our bodies. If we make progress in sanctification it will be shown in a variety of ways involving self-discipline. The most obvious perversion of the use of our bodies is in the issue of sexual passion; The presence of the Spirit of God and the freedom from corruption brought by the work of Christ will give a determination to live with purity before God. The passions still wage war, but the operations of the Spirit will bring about plain old effort in overcoming the illicit use of desire. “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts” (12).
  2. Paul insists that Christ’s death has an immediate impact on the way we use the members of our bodies. We no longer are to present our members as instruments of unrighteousness in pursuit of personal and immediate pleasure, or self-interest at the expense of the well-being of others, but we now have both power and motivation to present our members as instruments of righteousness. In breaking the hold that sin had on our affections and passions, Christ has given us a resurrection from death to life. No longer captive to the corrupting power of sin and death, we may now move toward the goal of perfect purity to be consummated when the Lord returns (13).
  3. Paul’s confidence abides within the revealed fact that in those who have died with Christ, with Him as their covenant head, sin shall not lord it over them. That hold, already broken at the time of our vital union with Christ by faith, will more and more lose the tenacity of its lingering grip. We are enabled, and motivated, more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. This is not an admonition or exhortation, though one is implied in it, but a statement of absolute certainty because of the purpose and power of God. The Law by itself would have no power to give either motivation or strength in this journey, but grace gives both (14). The Law as a moral standard is to be obeyed, for it still is the revelation of a comprehensive righteousness before God. It is no longer, however, the way of righteousness unto justification before God. All who remain under it as their covenant of works have not escaped condemnation, since all that are under the Law are under a curse. Its curse no longer applies to those that are in Christ.


What have we now and e’er abides?

‘Tis faith, the grace of God provides.

A freedom from the claim of sin

And peace in Christ that never ends.

He died for us to conquer death.

He rose for us to give us breath,

He bore our sin and claimed our hearts.

And one with Him, we’ll never part.

Our Father now has stayed His hand;

No more He holds us bound in sin.

Free of the curse that Adam gained,

Since once for all He broke the chains.

With Christ we died; In Christ we live.

The Spirit here, is now our seal.

Always our brother, friend and head,

And one with Christ by grace we’re led.

Sylvia Dickson


III. Grace breaks the fetters of our slavery to sin and its consequences to give us righteousness and its consequences. Romans 6:15-23.

A. 6:15 – The caricature that his opponents make of Paul’s position—“Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace?”—twists the vocabulary and the concepts unmercifully by ignoring the substance of Paul’s argument. They are diffuse concerning the nature of sin, and its concomitant death juxtaposed to righteousness, and its concomitant life. Paul’s strong response, “May it never be,” has often been translated, “God forbid.” That is appropriate for it builds off the reality that nothing can have existence unless God gives it existence. The very idea that grace encourages sin is a complete fabrication having no reality in the nature of things, for God has not so ordered the operation of his grace.

B. 6:16 – Paul uses an example of slaves and masters, something all could understand.

  1. The slave follows the dictates of the master. One does not serve one person as a slave and do the bidding of another master at odds with his own. So when one follows sin as his master, the reward that he reaps is death, in all the forms previously discussed.
  2. The other master juxtaposed to sin is at this point of the discussion, not righteousness, but “obedience.” This obedience is that which is implied in obedience to Christ whose servants we are if we have been embraced by his grace. The fruit of this obedience is righteousness. In one sense, obedience is our master, for we see that only by obedience in the earthly human life of Christ was grace obtained for us.
  3. To be called by grace is to be indentured to obedience. This obedience then has the fruit of righteousness, that is, a life lived in a sober and righteous manner. To this end has Christ redeemed a people. Grace, therefore, does not produce either a license or desire to continue in sin, but a love for the duty of obedience.

C. 6:17 – To those that were slaves to sin, God has given the effectual power of his grace to bring them to obedience. “Thanks be to God.”

  1. If we were slaves, our release came, not from any power that we had but from an emancipation wrought by God Himself.
  2. Our slavery to sin, and thus disobedience, has now given way to obedience. This obedience is “from the heart,” meaning that we now have a changed heart, with a joyful willingness to live in compliance with the content of the gospel. This is the obedience of faith, meaning that the truth is received because it is from God, showing our dependence on him, and not from carnal reasoning. John Gill says, “Not a bare hearing of the doctrines of it [the gospel], and giving an assent unto them; but an embracing of them by faith for themselves, so as to lay hold on Christ in them, submit to his righteousness therein revealed, and be willing to be saved by him, and him alone, in his own way; and this is the obedience of faith.”
  3. “That standard of teaching” or “that form of doctrine.” This refers to a specific form. They were taught the gospel and their obedience consisted of their cordial reception of it. The word “standard” or “form” is the word for “type,” or symbol. Paul seems to refer back to the original argument from baptism, that is, that the teaching involved in the symbol of baptism, a sign placed upon them by their voluntary submission (“from the heart”). You were slaves, but now have died and so have newness of life by this resurrection.

D. 6:18 – Their being committed to the particular truths revealed in the gospel and taught by baptism have given them a union with Christ in his finished saving work. They are therefore set free from sin. First, they are set free from the condemnation of sin. And, second, they are set free from the tyranny of the sinful dispositions that reign in the unregenerate heart, and they are set free from the increasing corrupting powers of sin. They are slaves to righteousness. Righteousness has become their master. They are completely dependent on the righteousness of Christ for their justification before God. He alone has been a faithful doer of the Law, he alone has righteousness, he is the head of his people, and thus his righteousness is accounted as theirs. As a result, righteousness now guides the mind and affections.

E. 6:19 – Paul gives an extended explanation built on the analogy of slavery and the perspective it produces depending on the will and goodness of the master.

  1. When Paul said that he speaks in human terms (19), he refers to slavery as a common every day phenomenon that all of them have observed. Thus, he likens the bondage over our souls exerted by sin’s power to the slavery they observe each day all around them. A slave’s time, energy, power, and strength are not his own but his master’s.
  2. Even so in our unregenerate state, all of our faculties of body and mind were given over to the service of sin (impurity and lawlessness, two manifestations of the directions that sin takes us) which led to even more of the same.
  3. The rescue of our lives by grace from the bondage of sin means that our new master constantly points us to righteousness. He requires that all our mental, spiritual and physical faculties be oriented and active in that direction. This bondage to righteousness is sanctification. (19).

F. Verses 6:20-23 – We have no option of neutrality in this matter. The human will never operates in a state of perfect equilibrium, but always is disposed one way or the other.

  1. Verse 20 – If disposed to sin, we are its slaves and are “free” from the upward call of righteousness. The result of that bondage is not freedom and joy and delight, but death. Is it a blessing to be so disposed to sin and death that righteousness has no hold on us? Is it desirable to be free from righteousness?
  2. 21 – Paul assumes if they have been brought to righteousness, they now are ashamed of that former bondage to sin and the consequent use of the members of their bodies for its purposes. The fruit of this bondage was destruction, ugliness, envy, hatred, and abuse of all the things that God originally pronounced “good.”
  3. 22 – Servanthood to sin and all that that includes in its wake has been broken by God’s call to the grace of Christ. A slave of God is no longer in bondage to sin and death and lawlessness. He has one master who will conform the slave to his image and give him an inheritance. The end result, the rich fruit, of this happy bondage is sanctification. That original state of fellowship with God in a growing knowledge of his glory, the practice of true righteousness out of a foundation of holiness becomes the dominant direction of life here and is the path that culminates in eternal life.
  4. Now Paul summarizes his argument throughout this chapter in answer to the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
  • That is like asking are we to continue under the mastery of the very thing that leads to death in order to manifest that we have life? Are we to continue in a graceless state in order to magnify grace? How absurd.
  • The entire gospel, that “form of teaching to which you were committed,” the message that engulfed you, to which “you were delivered” (NKJV), you preached when you were baptized. The emblem of entrance into the finished work of Christ by which one is introduced into his visible body on earth shows the absurdity of the antinomian path to holiness.
  • “The wages of sin is death,” so we can in no way expect life if we indeed continue in sin. ‘Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:5, 6 NKJV).
  • But “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As Paul wrote in Galatians, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (3:27). The gospel that Christ embodies by his death, burial, and resurrection as a free gift is eternal life. We earn death by sin; we are granted eternal life that comes to us as the most exquisitely excellent gift, the Son of God. The Father gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16), indeed, “sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4); the Son “gave himself for our sins” (Galatians 1:4). “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do your will, O God. . . . By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10: 7, 10). Eternal life comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, and his way of righteousness.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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