For all articles in this Gospel Scope series (Romans 6-8), click here.
Have you ever had a dream where you could breathe underwater? It is a violation of the senses because it goes beyond our everyday experience. In Romans 6:5-11, Paul will take his readers to a place even more counterintuitive than underwater breathing. He will teach us we are dead to sin and alive to God, right now.
Here is where Paul will take us in this chapter: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
This truth is a game changer. I repeat this concept to myself a hundred times a day. Paul wants to get us here, for the gospel reaches into life now. Our unity with Christ is so complete that we can consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God right now! Today. Here. Currently.
But before a person can honestly say and do Romans 6:11 they must know and believe Romans 6:5-10. In other words, I cannot consider myself dead to sin and alive to God until I see the truth behind it. Paul introduced us to this theme in our last chapter, but he expands on it here.
Freedom From Sin
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
Jesus brought us into a death and resurrection like his. Not exactly like his, for we atoned for no one, but we were united with him in his death, and his resurrection.
We can make the bold declaration that we are dead to sin because of Jesus. In other words, our relationship with Jesus is what changes our relationship to sin. When I experience temptation, I must recall the fact that I died and rose with Jesus, for my identification with him changes the power of sin over me. I have a new relationship with sin, one in which I am dead to it. I am alive to God instead, all because of my unification with Jesus.
The word Paul uses is beautiful: united. You were joined with Jesus, knit together with him. You’ve become one with him, identified with him.
This unity with Jesus is both the ground and goal of our sanctification or growth. How can I even find the power to grow? Because I was united with Jesus. What am I trying to grow into? Towards unity and likeness with Jesus. I can be sanctified because of him, and my sanctification takes me toward him. Unity with him is my launching pad. Solidarity with him is my destination.
So we have been fused together with Jesus. We are so strongly united with, tied to, Him. Do you know this? This truth is vital and must be embraced by every believer. Your unity with Christ is your precious possession.
Stating this, Paul goes on.
“We know that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
The goal here is simple: no longer enslaved to sin. This is where our unity to Jesus can take us. Freedom. But how do we get to this place?
Observe the verse. There is a process mentioned there. Something has already happened — "our old self was crucified with Him." Something needs to happen — "in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing." And freedom is the result — "no longer enslaved to sin."
So there is the process. The first step is our crucifixion with Jesus. The next step is bringing our bodies of sin to a state of nothingness. Then, finally, we experience freedom from sin.
We see this in the Old Testament departure from Egypt and entrance into Canaan. The exodus happened. They had been set free. This is like our crucifixion with Christ.
Eventually, they fought in Canaan, the promised land. Those wars were a gaining of the ground God had given them. This is like our bringing the body of sin to a state of nothingness.
Finally, after the victories, they experienced freedom. This is like our experience of finding liberty over a particular area of sin or brokenness.
This process is an important one, so let’s investigate more deeply how it works. Again, we will never confidently say we are dead to sin and alive to God until we understand and live this process, so we must understand it.
First, our old self was crucified with Jesus. This is something Jesus did, appropriated by faith. He did the hard work, and we believed. At that moment, our old self was killed with Jesus. We are done with Adam. We are new.
Now, the old self was all bad. He was under sin, weak and ungodly, a sinner, and an enemy of God. But “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Do you believe this? Something radical occurred in you. To bring the body to a state of nothingness is much more potent than a “try hard not to sin message.” The gospel isn’t an example designed to encourage you to stop sinning, or even a reason to stop sinning, but it has changed you! The gospel recreates you. When you sin, you aren't you.
Believing our death to sin occurred with Jesus is one of the more difficult elements of the Christian life. The attention to it is constant. William Newell, in his commentary on Romans, said it well: "It is a stupendous thing, this matter of taking note and keeping in mind what goes so completely against consciousness, - that our old man was crucified. Emotions, feelings, deny them. To reason, they are foolishness. But ah, what stormy seas have faith walked over! What mountains have faith cast into the seas! How many impossible things have faith done! To believe my old man died with Christ is often contrary to my experience and the feeling that I am alive to sin because my old nature seems vibrant, very much alive.
It is at this point step two comes in. We believe we were crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be brought to nothing. This is sanctification. I am left with a body that knows how to sin. Because it can sin, and I am left with it, the only way forward for me is to allow Christ to bring those sinful desires to a place of nothingness.
My body is not sinful in itself, but it can be used for sin, for it has not yet tasted full redemption. It has tasted what sin is like. I battle it. I want to bring its passions to nothing. My old self was crucified with Jesus, and now I continue to crucify my sinful desires. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24).
This is God’s destination for my body of sin: nothingness. To this, the believer understands there is always more to pursue, more to destroy, more to bring into submission to Christ. Paul hasn’t told us much of how at this point, but we see the goal. After believing I have been crucified with Christ, I set out on the destination God has for me, that my body of sin would be brought to nothing. Remember, this is newness of life we’re talking about. We want to live in it, run in it, drink it. Paul is showing us the way.
The final step in the Romans 6:6 process is simple: ”you are no longer enslaved to sin.” This is where God is taking us. Out of slavery. We are positionally free because of the cross, but God wants us to daily experience that freedom.
“For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:7)
God has already done this to us. He has already set us free. He has already justified and declared us righteous. Paul isn’t describing a prison break kind of freedom, but freedom through death. It is one thing for a prisoner to leave the prison via escape, but quite another to simply die. Through Jesus we have died, so we’ve been set free.
Paul seems to state this as a simple reminder. Our progressive freedom, what we’are talking about in this book, is based on our positional freedom. You will never experience the freedom Christ gives until you receive the victory He won for you on the cross.
Life To God
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” (Romans 6:8-10)
This life of freedom is a life we live to God. How is this possible? What does this mean?
Paul believed we could currently live with Jesus, that we could appropriate his victory into our daily experience in the here and now. All of this obliterates so many timeliness.
Paul wants us to consider our connection to Jesus. Jesus died, and we died with Him. This seems impossible to us, but it is so. Think of it this way. The Bible teaches that when Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. You weren’t there, but you were. When you believe in Jesus, you join in with his righteous act instead of Adam’s act of rebellion. You died with Jesus. You might not have experienced the pain, but from God’s perspective, it is so. This obliterates the timeline of our experience, but that’s what Paul is trying to do, break the timeline!
We often look to the future, to eternity, as the time of sanctification, growth, or change. But Paul, though he didn’t teach the possibility of sinless perfection during this life, wanted to break that timeline. He wanted us to expect life with Christ right now.
Our unity with Jesus is strong. Jesus died to death, for it no longer has dominion over him. Jesus died to sin, once for all. Jesus lives to God, for the resurrection meant he left this sinful world, now enjoying uninterrupted fellowship with the Father God. He lives singly devoted to God and his glory.
The point Paul makes is that we are connected to that. Jesus died to death. Jesus died to sin. Jesus lives to God. You, as a believer, are connected to Him. You died to death. You died to sin. You live to God.
Consider It True
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
After six chapters in Romans, Paul finally gives us something to do. We are to consider something to be so. We are to consider this all to be true. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
What does it mean to consider? Various translations give us a well-rounded look at the concept. We are to reckon, regard, look upon, recognize, count, or see ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God.
This reckoning involves the will; it requires thought. Even in the face of contrary experiences, we must believe it to be so that we are dead to sin and alive to God.
Additionally, this consideration is something we must continuously do. It is not a one-time event, but continual. I go through this process a hundred times a day. If you haven’t realized how thoughtful and introspective the Christian life is by now, hopefully, you’re beginning to see. Christianity is a thinking person's religion.
So, I am to constantly consider something to be true. But what? Well, there are two parts to this consideration process. First, I must know I am dead to sin. Secondly, I must know I am alive to God.
Consideration 1 — I Am Dead To Sin
So I must continually regard myself as dead to sin. I am commanded to remember that sin does not have the same influence on me it used to have. Every time I stumble, I must remember. Every time I am tempted, I must remember. Sin no longer has the same imprisoning power over me. I am not destined to go there. I am clean. I died with Jesus, and he died to death and sin. Sin is not as effectual as it once was. I am free not to sin. I have died to it.
Think of someone who had temporary authority in your life, like a high school vice-principal. When you walked the halls as a student, they had jurisdiction over you. But after graduation, you are set free from their power. If you see them in town, your relationship is different because they no longer have that same authority over your life.
So it is with sin. I have to consider this to be true. The relationship has changed. God will make it an experiential reality, in time, through this consideration and prayer.
I think of the leper laws in the book of Leviticus. If a leper was healed, there was an elaborate cleansing process for them to go through in the Levitical ceremonial laws. After passing through various sacrifices, inspections, and wait times, the leper was declared clean by the priest. He could come back into the camp, back into fellowship and community. But leprosy isn’t a condition one is cleansed from without a miracle. Healing was rare. I imagine every itch and every rash from that time forward would send the ex-leper into a panic: "Has leprosy returned? Was I never truly healed? Have I been truly changed?"
That leper's paranoia is often the way it seems to go with us and sin. We still sin. We still feel temptation. In a sense, we feel very much alive to sin. It is active in us. So to believe we are dead to sin, that our proverbial leprosy has been cleansed, is difficult. But that’s why we are told to consider this to be so continually. We have to go through the consideration process because it is so contrary to our nature.
Believers would do well to remind themselves of this reality. We need to tell each other of our powerful position in Christ. It is hard to consider ourselves dead to sin. Let us help each other by reminding each other of this truth.
Consideration 2 — I Am Alive To God
But that is not the whole of the consideration process. I am also to consider myself alive to God. Not only have I died to sin with Jesus, but I am alive to God with Jesus. This is an integral part of the consideration process. I must know how alive I am to God.
What does this mean, to be alive to God? Well, think about Jesus. How is He dead to sin? He died on the cross, was buried, rose, and then ascended. He left the sin of this planet behind. He exists in His eternal home of sinless perfection. Sin has no claim to him. He is dead to it. How is he, then, alive to God? Same answer. He ascended. He is in unbroken fellowship with the Father. He and the Father are one.
I must regard myself as just as alive to God as Jesus. I am commanded to remember that I am now awake to God and responsive to God. We sing, “the Father turned His face away,” speaking of the way in which the Father poured His wrath onto Jesus when on the cross. The fellowship between Father and Son was broken as Jesus atoned for the sin of the world. Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” But after the cross, their fellowship would never again be broken. Jesus is alive to God, and I am alive to God with Him.
To put it another way, Jesus would never have a moment where he felt far from God. No, he is in unbroken and deep communion with God. Since I’m in Christ, I also am in that kind of unbroken fellowship with God.
This grates against my feelings and experience, for I often feel far from God. But this is not reality. Reality is that I am alive to God. Again, the very reason this must be our consideration is that we are in these bodies still, but our experience is not our reality. No, we are alive to God, very much so. No matter how far I feel from God, I am in Christ, and I must know my feelings are untrue. I am just as alive to God as Jesus is.
This is unlike what I was in Adam. In Adam I was in death and separation. Sin was very alive to me, and I was alive to it. It had a power over me. My relationship to God was one of alienation. We were separated from each other. My sin kept me from his holy presence.
This has all changed. The gospel is God’s power to save me. He has made a way to remove my sin from me. It came through death. I died with Jesus, so I have died to sin. It no longer has the same power over me. I am also alive to God.
A married person can live as if they aren’t married, but they must remember their relationship and reality, and return to acting like a married person. Likewise, you can live as if you are alive to sin and dead to God, but you must remember. Know who you are. Know you are dead to sin and alive to God. Reckon this to be so, constantly. At every turn of your day, think on this reality and truth.