Romans Part 8: Death to Sin

March 14, 2007

In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul begins a line of argument to prove that righteousness through faith leads us, not into more sin, but towards holiness.

Remember that the overall thrust of the letter is to address the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Rome (see this earlier post on the background to the letter). In the latter part of chapter 5, Paul explained that the justification provided through Jesus extended far beyond those under the Law, to include all those who died prior to Moses, in fact being offered to every person. And he affirmed that the grace provided through Jesus increases as necessary to cover the sin of all those who receive the righteousness through faith.

The natural Jewish objection was that this kind of justification encourages sin. If grace is going to cover us, why not go ahead and sin? It is not as if the Jews would have accepted that line of thinking. Instead they would have pointed to that as a logical end result of righteousness through faith, and therefore rejected the whole idea.

Rom 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

Those Jews would have known that Paul was accused of teaching this. And undoubtedly there were Gentiles who would have been glad enough to take this teaching and run with it. It even may be a precursor to the Gnostic heresies that came along later, in which it was taught that flesh is inherently evil, so that there was no point in trying to live a righteous life in the flesh.

In chapters 6-7, Paul destroys that argument. He does so by four counter arguments:

1) Baptism shows that we died to sin, and were raised to a new life.
2) We were released from slavery to sin, and became servants of righteousness.
3) Slavery to sin results in death, but slavery to righteousness results in eternal life
4) As in marriage, the death to sin set us free from the law.

Note that Paul was not primarily teaching about baptism in chapter 6. Instead he was using baptism to illustrate the point that we died to sin. We can learn some things about baptism from this passage (baptism is a burial; associated with death to sin; raised to a new life), but the primary message concerns death to sin.

Death to sin” and “new life” form a strong metaphor for conversion. Baptism marks the point of exit from the old life of sin, and entrance into the new life of righteousness. Sin is associated with the old life, which terminates at the point of baptism (“buried with him through baptism into death.”) Righteousness is associated with the new life we began as we were raised from the water. Paul was making the point that it makes no sense to carry sin over from the old life to the new. The whole point of the process was to leave the sin behind, along with its consequences.

Conversion is meant to break the addiction to sin. In the new life, we are no longer slaves to sin. But we still face the possibility of returning to that slavery and addiction. Paul’s point is, “Why would you want to do that?” Our past experience with sin, its consequences and penalties should be enough to warn us away from it. The blessings and advantges of remaining righteous are additional incentive to be holy. The decision really is between life and death:

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[2] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul then turned his attention to the effect that this death had on the relationship of the Jew to the Law. Using the illustration of marriage, he taught that the death to sin set the Jewish Christians free from the Law. The Law was insufficient to control the sinful urges of a life enslaved to sin. With the death to sin, a new life began under a new covenant, in the new way of the Spirit:

Rom 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Next time: the struggle with sin, and life in the Spirit.


  1. Romans 6 is my favorite scripture on baptism, but I appreciate your point that this isn’t really about baptism. It’s about death to sin and what that means. I still treasure this passage for the direct and profound words about what baptism does, but it’s good to be reminded of the context.

  2. Thanks for the great series on Romans. I look forward to reading more.

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