Romans Bible Study (The Righteousness of God Revealed)

Romans 6:1-5, Union With Christ

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Chapter 5 concluded with the beautiful thought that where sin increased, grace super increased all the more. Paul taught that grace is more powerful and greater than all our sin. Adam’s sin changed the world by introducing sin and death (separation from God) into the world. But now Jesus has come and he has also changed the world. Rather than being under the power of sin and death, we can be under the power of grace and receive justification. Now that grace is overflowing, Paul is going to ask us with whom we are in union: Adam and Christ?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (6:1; ESV)

Understanding Paul’s rhetorical questions is important to properly understanding this section of Romans. The NIV translation seems to miss the picture that the apostle Paul is trying to paint. The NIV reads, What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” But the NIV changes sin from being a noun to a verb. Paul is not saying, “Since we have grace, can we go out and commit many sins?” This is not the question Paul is answering. Look at the question again that Paul poses. “Are we to continue in sin?” Or to state the question another way, “Are we to remain in sin?” The idea behind the phrase is to remain in a place or remain in a status. We noticed in Romans 5 that sin and death are personified and described as a wicked ruling power. Sin is spoken of as coming into the world (5:12) and as ruling like a king (5:21). Paul is continuing that usage. Paul is asking if we can remain in the place of sin. Paul is questioning if we should remain under the power and reign of sin. The question has the form of asking something like this: “Should we remain in France and thus act like those who live in that country?” To bring this illustration to Romans 6, Paul is asking if we should continuing living in the country of sin and act like those who live in that country.

This question closely relates to Paul’s teaching in Romans 5. Once Adam sinned, we live in a world full of sin, death, and corruption. But Christ has come bringing super-abounding grace. So we do not have to live in the country of sin. The Christian now lives in the country of grace and justification. Sin reigned in Adam, according to Romans 5. Paul is asking Christians, “Shall we remain under sin’s rule?” “Should we continue living under its power?”

While the NIV translation carries some of the idea, it does miss the mark. Paul is not asking if we should go on sinning because we have the grace of Christ. Rather, since we have the grace of Christ, can we still live under the rule and power of sin? Can we still live in the country of sin and act like the citizens of that ruling power?

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2; ESV)

The answer: NO WAY! Absolutely not! God’s grace is overflowing and super-abounding through the blood of Jesus. How can we who died to sin still live in it? Notice again that sin is pictured as a place to live. The Christian is not living under sin’s power. Recall what Paul taught us in Romans 5. Sin and death were reigning. But in Romans 5:17 we learn those who receive grace reign in life through Jesus. Sin and death reigned previously, but now grace reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life (5:21). We are dead to  the power of sin. We cannot live in the country of sin when Jesus has broken sin’s power and we are no longer in its grasp. Christians are people whose main characteristic is “dead to sin.” We cannot stay where we are as sinners. Paul told us that we are ungodly, sinful enemies of God. But we cannot stay in that land of sin. We are to be dead to that life and cannot live in that country or under its rule any longer. You have died to sin! You cannot live under its rule! To put this into our illustration that we used in verse 1, you have died to France. Thus you cannot live as a citizen in France. You cannot act like the French because you are dead to France and all of its power and rule. In the same way, Paul is saying that we are dead to the country of sin. Therefore we cannot act like those who live under the power and rule of sin.

KEY: It is important to recognize that Paul is not saying, “I never sin.” The apostle John cleaned that thought up nicely in 1 John 1:10 that if we say we have not sinned, we are liars and God’s word is not in us. Paul is not saying that Christians do not sin. Rather, Paul is saying that we are dead to the power and rule of that world. Sin is not the rule of our lives. We are not citizens of sin. Sin is not what we are living for because we are dead to that life and dead to that rule.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4; ESV)

Paul asks these Christians a very strong question. Don’t you know what baptism means? Don’t you know what baptism symbolizes? Baptism is our statement we are dead to sin. I think the NLT helps reveal the meaning of Paul’s teaching more clearly.

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? (Romans 6:3; NLT)

Baptism joins us to Christ and places us in the body. When we make the decision to come to Jesus and are baptized, we become joined to Christ. But the point is not simply that we are now joined with Jesus. To be baptized into Christ is to die and rise again with Christ. We are dying to the world of sin, sin’s rule and power, and rising to live a new life as a new person joined to Christ.

There is a symbolism expressed in the act of immersion. Going down into the water signifies our burial. We are putting to death the old person and the old way of living. We are not going to live for sin. We are not going to submit ourselves to sin’s power and rule any longer. In going down into the water we are declaring that we no longer live in the country of sin nor will act like citizens of sin. Our rising out of the water signifies our resurrection to new life. Immersion is signifying the death of our old life in sin and the rising of a new life joined to Jesus that replaces the old life. Our rising up reflects that we are under a new master. We will not serve sin as our master and ruler. Instead, we will serve Jesus as our master and ruler. We will reign in life and not let sin reign over us. Paul will discuss this thought further in the rest of Romans 6.

Now, I would like for us to consider a few things at this point. First, the form of baptism matters. Sprinkling water on a person does not symbolize the death to sin and the raising to a new life. Pouring a pitcher of water over someone does not symbolize being buried with Jesus. The Greek word that is translated “baptized” in verse 3 is baptizo and the word means “to immerse, to submerge.” Baptism is a burial. There is not anything special in the water. There is nothing in the act alone that saves. We can immerse ourselves in water every day if we like by taking a bath. Baptism is not a sacrament. You are not finding the overflowing grace of God by just being nagged by friends or family to finally get into the water. What makes baptism powerful is the symbol that it carries and what you are saying by carrying out this symbol. The act is symbolizing the declaration of the person that they are dying to the rule of sin and death and are rising up to a new life. This immersion in water marks the occasion. This is when the new life begins. There is no such thing as a Christian who has not been baptized. We are not united in Christ when we believed, but when we were baptized, according to Paul. Friends, if you were sprinkled as baptism, you were not buried with Jesus and you have not joined yourself to Jesus. I want each of us to see that this is a very important act because it is the method God has given us to express our faith in him so that he will overflow grace to us. This is how begin our death to sin and reign in life in Jesus.

Second, I want us to also consider that this thought process rules out infant and children baptism. You must know what you are doing. Your parents getting you baptized is not the answer. This illustration was not given to say that we need to throw people in water against their will even if they do not know what they are doing. You must know what you are doing. Look at the words again: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” You need to know what is going on. You are making a powerful statement that you are at this moment are joining yourself to Jesus, becoming dead to sin and alive to Jesus. We are renouncing our citizenship in the country of sin and are now living as citizens of heaven.

Thus, those who are baptized have this status: joined with Christ. You are not baptized into a church. You are not baptized into a denomination. You must be baptized into Jesus and Jesus only. You are no longer joined with Adam, under sin’s reign and power. Now we are joined with Christ and are reigning in life through Jesus (5:17). Now, through this faithful act, we are those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness (5:17). The old life is dead and buried. We leave that life behind in the waters of baptism and rise up from the water to live a new life in God’s grace. We are dead to a self-centered way of life and embrace a new, Christ-centered life, a life that acknowledges Christ as Lord over all.

Now, why did Paul come here? Why is Paul talking about how important it is for us to be in Christ and joined to Christ? Let’s return to Romans 5 and notice how Paul is working this together. While we were weak and helpless in our sin (sin ruling over us), Christ died. He died for us while we were sinners (5:8), while we were ungodly (5:6), and while we were enemies (5:10). Now that we are reconciled, much more will be surely be saved in his life (5:10). Salvation is in being in Jesus. It is in Jesus that we have reconciliation to God (5:11). It is in Jesus that grace has abounded (5:15). In Jesus we find justification (5:16). In Jesus we reign in life (5:17). In Jesus there is life and justification for all (5:18). In Jesus the many are made righteous (5:19). We must be united to Christ to receive the super-abundance of God’s grace overflowing. Jump ahead to Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We unite ourselves to Jesus when we make the commitment to no longer live with sin as the rule of our lives, but with Jesus as the rule of our lives. This is what is happening at baptism. Again, Paul is not saying that we never sin now. Rather, sin is not in charge. Sin is not the rule of our lives. We have kicked out the rule of sin. We have renounced our citizenship in the country of sin. Now we live in a different kingdom, the kingdom of Christ. Now we follow his rules and submit ourselves to his grace and love. Now we walk in a new way of life (6:4).

The power of baptism rest completely in the death and resurrection of Christ.

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; ESV)

Now we are given a promise. If we are united with Jesus in his death (that is, dead to the power of sin which is represented by the act of baptism), then we will certainly be united with Jesus in a resurrection like his. Baptism symbolizes this fact. If we unite ourselves with Jesus in his burial, then we must be united with Jesus in his resurrection. In baptism, which symbolizes the life that is dead to sin, we know that we have new life in the present and a resurrected life with God in the end. Sin and death reign in our lives because of our sins. We are sinners. We are ungodly. We are enemies. But Jesus’ grace has overwhelmed our sins so that when we are united to Jesus, we can reign with him in life. In Jesus we have hope and the knowledge that we will not be condemned for our sins. God has covered our sins with the blood of Jesus and now we stand before God with the status of acquitted.


  1. Change your allegiance. Are you living where sin and separation from God is the rule of your life? Are you trapped by the power of sin and feel unable to break the vices that rule over you? It is time to change the ruler of your life. Jesus has come and has brought grace, which gives us the opportunity to no longer be ruled by sin but ruled by grace.
  2. Dead to sin. Don’t you know that when you are baptized you are joined to Jesus and can no longer be joined to sin. We cannot live the life we were living before we received God’s grace. We are dead to that life. We are dead to that way of thinking. Baptism symbolizes our death to self-centered living.
  3. Alive to God. Baptism also symbolizes our new life of Christ-centered living. We walk in newness of life, not only because we participate in Jesus’ death and burial, but also because they shall participate in his resurrection. Only when we are in Christ will receive grace, justification, and reign in life. We become joined to Christ in baptism.
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