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Freedom From Sin
Spring Quarter: God Frees and Redeems
Unit 3: Liberating Letters
Sunday school lesson for the week of May 1, 2022
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Romans 6:1-14
Key Verse: Romans 6:5
- State the result of dying with Christ.
- Compare and contrast the old self with the new self.
- Share a plan of becoming a more effective instrument of righteousness.
The Civil War ended in 1865 with a Union victory. The battle for freedom was long and bloody but ultimately victorious.
As we know, we still experience echoes of slavery in our time. Though freedom for slaves was declared, the long process of becoming equal citizens under the law, is in many ways, an ongoing struggle. Though the parallel is certainly imperfect, some similarities exist between the fight to end slavery in the United States and Jesus’ sacrifice to end slavery the world over. The lesson today focuses not so much on the moment of victory, but, instead, the work that is still to be done in the aftermath.
The nature of the church in Rome was influenced by an edict issued by Emperor Claudius in about AD 49. That edict had forced Jews living in the city to leave (Acts 18:2). The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that Claudius “banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one character,” the word Chrestus likely referring to Christ.
This experience most likely fostered a certain division within the Roman church between Gentile and Jewish believers, with each group contending that it had better claim on salvation in Christ than did the other (compare Romans 11:13-24). The expulsion of Jews from Rome resulted in Gentile Christians being in the majority in the church there, if they had not been the majority already. And their majority status seems to have continued even after the death of Claudius in AD 54 which allowed Jews to return to the imperial city. Much of Paul’s letters to the Romans is therefore directed specifically to the Gentile believers (11:13).
Paul used this letter as an opportunity to carefully explain the gospel (and his own teaching on it) to an audience who did not know him and had never heard him preach in person. As a result, this letter contains the most thorough and organized defense of Paul’s preaching (Romans 2:16; 16:25). He argued that faith in Jesus is the only way to be justified before God. This justification comes by grace, through faith in Jesus, and not by obedience to the Old Testament law (3:21-26). Both Jew and Gentile are alike in sin, and both can be saved only through the redemption of Jesus (3:23-24).
In Romans 5, Paul again looked closely at the work of Jesus Christ. Adam was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), but gave into temptation. Consequently, through the sin of Adam, death came into the world (3:19;5:12). Jesus, however, has done what Adam could not. Jesus, God himself in the flesh, was sinless despite temptation (Hebrews 4:15). And his death and resurrection brought grace and life to the world (5:17). Now, in Roman 6, Paul turns to examine the practical effect of Jesus’ work in our lives.
- Dead to Sin (Romans 6:1-14)
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1). The two questions here are rhetorical (also see 6:2). Instead of seeking an answer from the audience, Paul primed the reader for his answer to the question “Shall we go on sinning” (compare 3:8). As we are informed, we can see in the question this flow of logic: (1) Since forgiveness of sin is a sign of God’s grace to us and (2) since grace is a good thing, then (3) why not sin all the more so that we may get more “grace” from God?
Paul’s purpose now is to show that being a believer makes a decisive difference in one’s relationship to sin. Specifically, Paul says, “we died to sin” (v. 2). What does he mean by this? Clearly he does not mean that Christians are not tempted by sin or that we are incapable of sinning – as his commands in verses 11-14 make clear. Scholars tell us that Paul uses the imagery of “death” for two reasons. (1) it creates an obvious point of contact with the death of Christ, an important step in Paul’s argument (vv.3-4). (2) It is a powerful image of a decisive shift in state. When someone becomes a Christian, Paul implies, their change of state in relationship to sin is as dramatic as a change from life to death. And he spells out the implication of their change in another rhetorical question: “How can we live in it any longer?”
This question can easily be turned into a statement: We who are Christians no longer live under the domination of sin. Therefore, we can’t go on living in sin the way we used to.
The father in Charles Day’s “Life with Father” does not have much interest in religion or the church, His wife is concerned that he has never been baptized, and keeps insisting that he be baptized. At one point in the story, he asks why she is so interested in his being baptized. She replies that she is determined to get him into Heaven some way. He responds, “They won’t shut me out on a technicality!”
Is that what baptism is, just a technicality? We see Paul’s answer in verses 3-5. Here, he shows how the transfer from the state of sin to new life in Christ has taken place. It is in baptism that we are joined to Christ and to his death and resurrection.
Paul’s Roman audience had never heard him preach and so may not have been familiar with the concept of being “baptized into [Jesus’] death.” Baptism was commonly understood as a ritual washing away of sins, which John linked explicitly to genuine repentance (see Matthew 3:1-2, 6, 11a; Luke 3:3). And this symbolism was not lost in emerging Christian understandings of baptism but deepened that understanding by tying baptism to faith in Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 19:1-5; 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). Paul connected baptism to a personal identification of the believer with Christ (Galatians 3:27).
Notice too that Paul appealed to baptism as a shared experience. The believer has not made a commitment to be carried out in a solitary way but, instead, in solidarity with them who have also taken on Christ. The body of Christ is made up of the many who call him Savior.
“Therefore” (in verse 4) is a fitting analogy for “death.” “Through” baptism we are brought into Christ so that his death becomes our death. Baptized persons put sin to death and bury it when they believe, repent, and are baptized (Colossians 2:17). Note also in verse 4 that Paul does not say we were buried “like” Christ, rather, we were buried “with” him.
Most likely, in using the verb “buried,” Paul is thinking of the way the Christian identified with Christ in all of the major events of his redemption work. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul rehearses these basic redemption events: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…he was buried…he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and we who believe have participated with Christ in each of these events: we died ‘with him’ (6:3,5,8), we were buried ‘with him’ (6:4), we shall be raised with him (6:5,8).” Therefore, baptism stands for our whole conversion experience. In baptism, we have been brought into union with Christ and the powerful events of his redemptive work. The effects of these events are now at work in us, meaning that we now have the ability to “live a new life” (6:4b).
Important to remember! Jesus died, but he was “raised” to life by “the Father.” In the same way, our death in “Christ” is not the end but the means for having “new life.” At the point of conversion (symbolized here by baptism), the believer’s old life of sin ends and a new life begins (8:6-7) God’s “glory” that has given Jesus new life does the same for us (8:11).
In verse 5, our sharing in Christ’s “resurrection” depends on our unity with his “death.” Christian baptism is a likeness of, or a demonstration or reenactment of, the central facts of the gospel messages as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (the death, burial, and resurrections of Jesus). Baptism provides a grand opportunity to be like Jesus!
So when we asked in desperation, “who, in God’s name am I?” As Bishop William Willimon put it, “Baptism has the water running down our faces and words saying, “You are, in God’s name, royalty!”
- Alive in Christ (Romans 6:6-14)
In the remainder of this chapter and in Romans 7-8, Paul continues to describe the ongoing battle in which we are keenly aware. As long as we live in this world, the fleshly part of us (the body ruled by sin) will be calling for attention: that will be the part of us through which Satan will work the hardest to capture our allegiance and erode our faith.
Here, however, the apostle insists that we no longer take orders from sin or from its headquarters. Paul uses the term “our old self” to describe the individual under sin’s rule (Ephesians 4:22). But now that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17), we live under a new master, or by the “new self” (Ephesians 4:24). So by joining with Christ, we no longer are “slaves to sin.” Note that we are not free from temptation, but we are “free” from sin “as the controlling factor in our lives.” God has also given us his Holy Spirit to equip us for the battle, and the Holy Spirit is stronger than Satan (1 John 4:4). Sin will continue to entice, but now it has met its match.
In verse 8, Paul shows that living with Christ automatically follows dying with him. The one always includes the other. As in verse 5, many interpretations think that living with Christ is something a believer has already experienced. But the future tense again more likely refers to that Coming Day when believers will be bodily raised with Christ. But while our bodily resurrection lies in the future we enjoy even now the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.
In verse 9, Paul explains just what Christ’s own resurrection means. He now lives in a state in which death is no longer possible and has no power over him. He has conquered death and, Paul implies, we who belong to him also have the assurance of conquering death.
In verse 10, we see that Jesus’ singular sacrifice for our sin is sufficient for all time (Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:10). It never will be repeated. While Jesus’ “death was to sin,” this doesn’t mean the Christ ever sinned but instead that he submitted to death, which is the consequence of sin. But he now reigns at the right hand of the Father. His “life” is to God, as it was before he laid aside his “glory” to live among us (Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 2:6-8).
In the first half of Romans, Paul personifies three spiritual realities as being tyrants; each has dominion as it reigns over us. All this is described with a language derived from a king’s reigning over his subjects or from a master ruling over his slaves.
The first of these three is death, introduced as a reigning tyrant in Romans 5:14. The second is “sin” explicitly seen as the reigning tyrant in the verse before us (6:12). The third is the “law,” spoken of extensively in chapters 2 and 3, but introduced full as having “authority” in 7:1 (also see 6:14). These three oppress us in different ways. We fear death, we suffer because of sin, and we are judged inadequately by the law (Romans 2:12).
However, Paul urges his readers not to allow the ominous spiritual tyrant of sin to exercise any sort of authority in their lives. Although we are dead to sin, we will continue to struggle against it. And Paul was not talking about abstract sins of the intellect, but about real-world acts that involve our bodies. Such sins come from yielding to “evil desires.” But in living under Christ’s rule we have been given a path to flee from sin and escape its clutches. Resisting sin is not passive. It requires effort (2 Timothy 2:22). We have been set free from sin alright, but we must also choose to abandon sinful thoughts and behaviors.
Verse 13 makes the same point in a different way. With the words “instruments and parts of your body,” Paul brings before us a picture of all our varied capacities and abilities, which we are to withdraw from the use of our master sin and place at the disposal of our new master God. It is “righteousness,” that standard of right behavior God rewards to us, that we are now to serve.
In verse 14, Paul returns to his language of “sin” as a tyrant, insisting again that it cannot be our “master.” If we allow sin to dominate us, then we position ourselves to be subject to the law. Paul definitely had the Jewish law in mind here, but the application is broader if “under the law” is understood to mean “under the old realm.” Paul has already stated that we are under the law, then we are judged guilty (3:1; 19-20). Anyone who attempts to be righteous by rule keeping will fail (3:23). Law does not save; it points out sin. Obeying the law to the best of one’s ability is certainly wise, but that does not provide the answer for mastering sin. If we allow sin to reign over us, we are putting ourselves right back into slavery, despite the freedom given to us by Christ.
Very important! Instead, we are to be ruled by “grace.” It is not about which law or act of rules we try to keep, but about which master we serve. Apart from grace, we cannot overcome sinful desires. By grace, death has been destroyed, sin’s hold has been broken, and the law has been fulfilled through the perfect obedience of Jesus. And we are told that even when we avoid sinful behavior, we are mastered by sin, if we are doing this in an attempt to earn favor with God (the way of law). If our motivation is to serve God, then righteous behavior will follow naturally.
With Jesus’ resurrection, we see that both the new era of resurrection life and the old era of sin and brokenness exist side by side until Christ’s return. This time of both fulfillment of promises and expectations of future perfection can be called the “already/not yet.” This label points out the tension that exists in this present age. As we know, through faith in Jesus, believers have the beginnings of resurrection life in the Holy Spirit right now (Ephesians 1:13,14). This is our spiritual resurrection and new life in Christ (Colossians 3:1). And the followers of this new life will come with the final resurrection from physical death. For the believers, new life is both present and future.
Note again that our baptism has united us with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With his death, we are set free from slavery to sin. With his resurrection, we are given new life. However, we must make the choice of how we will live in this new freedom. If we continue to live in disobedience we will become slaves to sin all over again. But, if we choose to live in righteousness we will enjoy the new life Christ has purchased for us.
Is baptism a technicality? Not on your life! Baptism is a sacrament. God’s grace coming into the life of God’s church and working in that church for the saving of believers and the redeeming of God’s word.
“Remember your baptism and be thankful!”
Resources for this lesson
- How do you balance a natural fear of death with your faith that death no longer has dominion over you?
- Reflect how you would explain the meaning of Baptism to another.
- What change will you make in the coming week to serve Jesus in every aspect of your life?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2021-2022 NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 297-304.
- “The NIV Application Commentary, Romans” by Douglas J. Moo, pages 194-201.
- “The New Interpretation Bible, Volume X Romans, 1 Corinthians, pages 542-543.