In Romans 5, Paul proposed that all of humanity is either represented by Adam or Christ. Those in the former lived under the reign of sin, death, and the law of Moses, those in the latter under the reign of righteousness, life, and grace. Paul went on in Romans 6 to set forth the implications of union with Christ. The apostle argued that if one is united with Christ, they have been freed from the forces that rule those in Adam. Thus, as those free from sin’s ruling power, the justified should practice ethical righteousness.
Paul anticipated that some in the Roman congregation might respond with sarcasm when considering his thesis that the profound gift of righteousness is offered freely to sinners simply by faith in Christ. Paul thought some might consider the wonder of God’s grace in Christ only to retort, “Should we continue in sin that grace may multiply?” (Rom 6:1); or with the mocking question, “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:15). To both of these, Paul replied in the strongest of terms, “Absolutely not!” (Rom 6:2a, 15b).
(1) In Rom 6:3-6, Paul described the believer’s union with Christ in language more intimate than Israel’s close association with God. When the Lord instituted the covenant of circumcision for Abraham and his descendants in Gen 17:7, the Lord promised to be the God of Abraham’s family and that they would be His people. When the Lord called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, He said, “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” (Exod 6:7a). Jeremiah exhorted the people of Judah to obey God so that He would be their God and they would be His people (Jer 7:23). Jeremiah also promised that when the Lord restored Israel, they would be known as God’s people and the Lord would be known as their God (Jer 30:22; 31:33). Ezekiel announced to the exiles that God would gather and lead His people again. Yet again, the Lord promised, “I, the LORD, will be their God” (Ezek 34:24a). Israel’s close, covenantal association with the Lord surfaces throughout the Old Testament. However, Paul’s portrayal of the believer’s union with Christ in Christ’s death and resurrection suggests that believers enjoy a deeper personal relationship with God. Paul wrote that the believer’s death-and-life union with Jesus is portrayed in Christian baptism. The believer’s immersion corresponds with Jesus’ death, and exit from the waters with His resurrection. According to Paul, Christian baptism not only signifies the believer’s union with Christ but also the new way of life they are to pursue because of their relationship with Christ. Since sin’s dominion over the body is abolished through the believer’s union with Christ, those united with Christ are no longer enslaved to sin’s ruling powers (Rom 6:6).
(2) In Rom 6:17, Paul described the Roman believers’ obedience in language anticipated by the promise of the new covenant in Jer 31:33. Jeremiah announced the new covenant saying that in the day when the Lord would restore His people, He would place His law on their minds and write it on their hearts. In Rom 5:12-14, Paul introduced sin as a reigning power—holding sway over all in Adam. In Rom 6:16, Paul probed the implications of sin’s rule, asking, “Do you not know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?” Every person is in Adam or in Christ, enslaved either to sin or to obedience. Paul encouraged the Romans, saying, “Thanks be to God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18).