July 30, 2023

Our Death to Sin in the Death of Christ (Romans 6:3-4)

Our Death to Sin in the Death of Christ (Romans 6:3-4)


Last week, we shifted our focus from Romans 5, which primarily dealt with the results of justification. The key among these results is the eternal peace we receive with God through Christ.

Chapter five also taught several other important truths, including the doctrine of original sin and the doctrine of union. Specifically, we learned how our sinfulness is related to our birth and union with Adam and how our righteousness is related to our new birth and union with Christ.

I also explained how the term “death” in Scripture refers to separation, while “life” refers to union.

We looked at Scriptures like Colossians 2:13-14 that say, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”

Essentially in chapter five, Paul was trying to communicate that prior to Christ, we were alive to sin and dead to God because we were in union with Adam. But now, we are alive to righteousness and dead to sin because we are in union with Christ.

Here in Romans 6, we shift from the blessings and results of justification by faith to sanctification, and I would even say identity that comes through justification.

Now, as I mentioned last week, “sanctification” means to be made clean. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question #35 defines sanctification as: “The work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.”

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the wording here, and I believe that Paul would, too. The phrase “and are enabled more and more to die unto sin…” implies that dying unto sin is a work that we do rather than an identity we hold.

Last week’s passage said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

Yes, we should pray that our desires for sin will be sanctified, but our relationship to sin is already changed. We don’t further die unto sin—we are already dead or separated from the power of sin.

Now, as mentioned last week, Paul is defending against the accusation of antinomianism (anti-law) which is certainly how a Jew would have interpreted Paul’s Gospel of grace. He is anticipating a charge that Paul has done away with obedience to the Law altogether.

Again, this is not what Paul is saying at all. Paul is saying that law keeping does not justify a person but law keeping is still of value.

Jesus often said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The distinction that Paul is making here is that our obedience does not save us, but it does demonstrate that we are saved.

In other words, we obey to please God, not to appease God.

Today, in verses 3-4, Paul continues to dispel this idea that he’s calling people to lawlessness or to abuse the grace that abounds in Christ.

But he does this not by telling Christians what to do but by explaining to Christians who they are.

This affirmation of identity with Christ continues all the way through verse 10. The application that results from this identity is covered in verses 11-14.

So, let’s read our text today and work through it verse by verse.

Vs.3: Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 

  • Paul opens with a rhetorical question expecting his readers to know the answer.
  • But you cannot forget that we are still in the territory of Paul’s argument dealing with death, separation, and union.
  • Now, before I begin my exposition, it’s crucial to note that Paul is not referring merely to water baptism in this context. Instead, he is speaking to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which we commonly refer to as being “born again.” However, he certainly has in view the signifying reality of that spiritual baptism seen in water baptism.
    • So when Paul says, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death,” he’s speaking to the power of baptism to procure the union we have in Christ.
    • As we know, water baptism does procure union with Christ. We do not believe in baptismal regeneration. Water baptism is merely the sign of God’s promise that He will give eternal life to those who have faith in Christ. It’s a seal applied to the body that acts as a physical reminder and historical memorialization of God’s faithfulness to those who believe.
    • Instead, Paul uses the term “baptized into Christ Jesus” as a way to summarize and symbolize the process of regeneration.
    • It’s the New Testament’s version of circumcision of the heart. There was physical circumcision which was the sign and seal of God’s covenant promises, but then there was circumcision of the heart, which is regeneration.
    • Douglas Moo from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said of this verse, “Baptism here functions as shorthand for the conversion experience as a whole.”
      • In other words, baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means of uniting you to Christ, His death to sin, and granting you a new relationship with sin.
      • This shouldn’t shock anyone. John the Baptist told us in Mark 1:8, Matthew 3:11, and Luke 3:16, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
      • You see, this spiritual baptism is symbolized in the sacrament of water baptism. It’s a physical sign of a spiritual promise.
      • I would agree with John Calvin, who believes this is especially symbolized by immersion, which signifies the washing away of sin and the act of identifying with the burial and resurrection of Christ.
      • Colossians 2:11-12 says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
      • Calvin, who was not a Baptist, said, “Whether the person baptized is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptize means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.”
    • So with that context in mind, what Paul is saying here is that in the way Adam died in sin, and we all died with him in that sin, Christ died to sin, by conquering the power of sin. And for those who have been born again by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we have also died to sin by our union with Christ.
      • Romans 6:10 says, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all…”
    • Namely, as Christ was separated from the power of sin through His death and resurrection, our union with Him grants us the same relationship to sin. Namely, we are separated from its condemning power.
      • Romans 7:4 says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
    • Again, this is Paul pushing us to understand the privileges of our union with Christ.
    • His death to sin was our death to
    • His righteousness is our righteousness.
    • His resurrection guarantees our resurrection.
    • To put it differently, as we once inherited the relationship to sin and death through our union with Adam, we now inherit this new relationship to sin and death through our union with Christ.

Vs. 4: Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 

  • By this spiritual baptism, we have been made one with Christ—we have been made one in His death to sin, His resurrection from the dead, and His life to God.
  • This is why Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
  • Romans 7:6 says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
  • I want you to see the implications of the doctrine of union. I want you to see how our salvation is really accomplished through separation from Adam and union with Christ.
  • The great theologian John Murray once said, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”
  • This is what I believe Paul is trying to communicate. Our justification by faith is not merely a religious adjustment but a reception of a completely new identity.
    • In Christ, we have died to the power of sin.
    • In Christ, we have fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law
    • In Christ, we have escaped death.
    • In Christ, we have the assurance of resurrection and the hope of glory.
  • But to bring us back to the context of this passage—the defense against antinomianism—we cannot forget how these truths would have been received by the Jew or the legalist.
    • The idea that justification by faith conveys to us the identity and sinlessness of the Messiah was a difficult truth to grasp.
    • As you know, they could not understand how a Gospel of grace would not result in lawlessness.
  • This again gets back to the purpose of this entire argument offered here by the Apostle.
  • First, he wants to assure us that his objective is not lawlessness.
  • Second, he wants to shift us from seeing obedience as a natural response to our identity.
  • Third, he wants that new identity to cause obedience that’s driven not by guilt and fear (like one alive to sin and the Law) but obedience that’s driven by gratitude and love (like one dead to sin and the Law).
    • Trevor and Julia plan to write a children’s book called “I obey because I love.” Which is a book teaching Christian kids how to obey not from a desire to meet the demands of the law but from gratitude because we have a Savior who already met the demands for us.
    • That is not much different from what Paul is trying to accomplish here.
  • He wants Christians to see the great grace and mercy extended to them by God in Christ, the new identity they have received through spiritual baptism, and their new relationship to sin.
  • This is why he closes verse four by saying, so we too might walk in newness of life. 
  • Because when Christians understand that their union with Christ alters their motives and affections, their obedience and holiness, and righteousness are no longer driven by a heart of dreadful duty to escape punishment but by privileges stemming from love to the glory of God.