The Manifestation of the Reign of Grace through the Increase of Righteousness


Romans 6:1-23


Tom J. Nettles


I.  If Grace Prospers with the increase of sin, would it not make sense for us to sin? Romans 6:1-4

A. Paul poses the question and immediately gives the simple answer. “How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” The rest of the chapter is an exquisite exposition of this answer. Remember throughout the lesson, this is the rhetorical question to which you are giving a theological expansion. [6:1,2]

B. The ordinance by which we are introduces into the Christian community is a testimony of the commitment to righteousness faith in Christ implies.

1. The clarity with which the ordinance depicts the historical reality makes it to be spoken of as identical with the reality. “Take, This is my body. . . . This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  [Mark 14:23, 24] “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” [1 Corinthians 11:25] “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” [1 Corinthians 11:29]  “Baptism . . . now saves you” 1 Peter 3:21] These are all literary metaphors, saying one thing is another. The ordinance so closely figures the historical correspondent that it is said to be, or do, that which can only in its most literal sense be said of the historical reality, not the figure. When Paul says that in baptism we were baptized “into his death” he attributes to the figure that which is strictly true only of the historical substance. Look at Leviticus, “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area”  “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall b clean before the Lord from all your sins.” [Leviticus 16:22, 30] On the other hand the writer of Hebrews calls the practices “symbolic for the present age,” [9:9] and goes on to say “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” [10:4] The various manifestations of atonement said to cleanse the nation from sin, did so only as a predictive manifestation of the coming historical work of Christ. Even so, the ordinances given subsequent to the completed work of Christ are symbolic of that which is already accomplished and remind us of its effectuality.

2. Baptism is one’s public manifestation of faith in the completed work of Christ as his only source and hope of redemption. One submits to baptism in order to say publicly, “I believe that Christ, the Son of God, died for sinners and was raised again from the dead. I give myself to him in his death and in his resurrection in which he has been raised above the effects of sin.  I embrace his conquering of death as a testimony of my joy to be freed from the corrupting and degrading effects of sin. I will now walk in newness of life and purify myself from all that defiles as I look for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of my Lord.”



II.  How does our Union with Christ in his death affect the relation of sin and grace in our lives? Romans 6:5-14

A.  The argument in these verses is built on the assumption of our union with Christ in his death. This “if” can just as easily be translated “since.” Our union with the last Adam as our covenant head means that his entire experience is our precursor to ours, those for whom he died. If our covenant head has dealt with death in such a way as he has overcome it and all its effects, then so shall we have that same experience in Him. [6:5] the following verse give these explicit details.

1. AS we were united with Christ in his death, symbolized and testified to in our baptism, the entire grip of death on us was executed in him so that it no longer has any claim on those who have endured its penalty. Our “old man,” or “old self” is the entire self as controlled in every aspect by sin. That man was crucified in its representative, Christ. The “body of sin” is sin in all of consequences that has taken residence in our whole person. The body of sin has been destroyed in that none of its consequences has prevailing power over us. Its tyranny is gone; we no longer serve it as a slave. Our life here and hereafter no longer is determined by the mastery of sin. [6]

2. If sin’s penalty has been executed, then it can demand no more. “One that has died,” that is, undergone every consequence pronounced by God himself as a judicial punishment for sin, “ has been set free from sin,” that is, has noting more that to endure as the consequence of sin. [7]

3. “Now if we died with Christ,” that is, if Christ truly represented us, was our covenant head in his death in by his death took our place under the judicial wrath of God for sin, “we believe that wel also live with him,” that is, if his death has been accepted as a full satisfaction of divine wrath, and as a result he as been raised above death and all its darkness, then we too shall experience the same elevation of life above death, physically, judicially, and spiritually. [8]

4. The fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead. He appeared to a large number of people in a variety of situations, talked with them, ate with the, taught them, commissioned them. This is the astounding fact, Christ was crucified and in the grave and verified as dead, but there is no doubt that he rose and is alive even now at the present time. He has, therefore, thought he died as a curse, rise from the dead. His date with death was consummated n the most aggravated way, but he rose again, and so has no more date with death. He bore our sin in his own body on the tree, fully dispensed with that load an all its consequences so “death no longer has dominion over him.” [9]

5. Since in his death, he gathered in one heap all the sins of his people and endured on the cross and in the grave, in his soul and body, every consequence due to them for all their sins and sin and all its aggravations, his dealing with it cannot be repeated. “Payment God cannot twice demand first at my bleeding surety’s hand and then again at mine.”  This payment, was made once for all. The subsequent life, now free of the burden of the curse which Christ had shouldered from the time of his incarnation until the day that the stone was rolled away, is an unending life filled with the glory of God’s presence and the consciousness of his pleasure. “The life he lives he lives to God.” [10]

6. On that account, therefore, those that have testified to their union with Christ by baptism, must see the accounts clearly written. Death is done; the internal corruption that was embedded as a punitive measure as part of the curse, is destroyed and will soon pass away. Our being “dead to sin” means not only that we are forgiven, and justified, and will be raised to a glorified body, but that the present dominance of the corrupting power of sin has been broken. It is in its death throes, but its power has been destroyed and it cannot take us down to moral oblivion and finally eternal death. In this aspect too, we are dead to sin and alive to God. [11]

B. Our new position in relation to sin, allows us and prompts us to work toward manifesting our freedom from sin. 6:12-14

1. The practical reality is that sin displays its hostility to God’s holiness in the very practical issues of how we use our bodies. If we make progress in sanctification it will be shown in a variety of ways involving self-discipline. The most obvious perversion of the use of our bodies is in the issue of sexual passion; The presence of the Spirit of God and the freedom from corruption brought by the work of Christ will give a determination to live with purity before God. The passions stil wage war, but the operations of the Spirit will bring about plain old- effort in overcoming the illicit use of desire.

2.  Paul insists that Christ’s death has an immediate impact on the way we use the members of our bodies. We no longer are to present our members as instruments of unrighteousness in pursuit of personal and immediate pleasure, or self-interest at the expense of the well-being of others, but we now have both power and motivation to present our members as instruments of righteousness. In breaking the hold that sine had on our affections and passions, Christ has given us a resurrection from death to life. No longer captive to the corrupting power of sin and death, we may now move toward the goal of perfect purity to be consummated when the Lord returns. [13]

3. Paul is insistent that in those that have died with Christ, with Him as their covenant head, sin shall not lord it over them. That hold, already broken at the time of our vital union with Christ by faith, will more and more lose the tenacity of its lingering grip. We are enabled, and motivated, more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. This is not an admonition or exhortation, though one is implied in it, but a statement of absolute certainty because of the purpose and power of God. The Law by itself would have no power to give either motivation or strength in this journey, but grace gives both. [14] The Law as a moral standard is to be obeyed, but it is not the way of righteousness unto justification before God, since all that are under the Law are under a curse, and its curse no longer applies to those that are in Christ.


II. Graces breaks the fetters of our slavery to sin and its consequences to give us righteousness and its consequences. Romans 6:15-23.

A. 6:15 - The caricature that his opponents make of Paul’s position—“Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace?”—twists the vocabulary and the concepts unmercifully by ignoring the substance of Paul’s argument. They are diffuse  concerning the nature of sin—and its concomitant death—and righteousness—and its concomitant life. Paul’s strong response, May it never be, has often been translated, “God forbid.” That is appropriate for it builds off the reality that nothing can have existence unless god gives it existence. The very idea that grace encourages sin is a complete fabrication having no reality in the nature of things, for God has not so ordered the operation of his grace.

B.  6:16 - Paul uses an example of slaves and masters, something all could understand. The slave follows the dictates of the master. One does not serve one person as a slave and do the bidding of another master at odds with his own. So when one follows sin as his master, the reward that he reaps is death, in all the forms previously discussed. The other master juxtaposed to sin is at this point of the discussion, not righteousness, but “obedience.” This obedience is that which is implied in obedience to Christ whose servants we are if we have been embraced by his grace. The fruit of this obedience is righteousness. In one sense, obedience is our master, for we see that only by obedience in the earthly  human life of Christ was grace obtained for us. The be called by grace is to be indentured to obedience. This obedience then has the fruit of righteousness, that is, a life lived in a sober and righteous manner. To this end has Christ redeemed a people. Grace, therefore, does not produce either a license or desire to continue in sin, but a love for the duty of obedience.

C.  6:17 – To those that were slaves to sin, God has given the effectual power of his grace to bring them to obedience. “Thanks be to God.”

1. If we were slaves, our release came, not from any power that we had but from an emancipation wrought by god Himself.

2. Our slavery to sin, and thus disobedience, has now given way to obedience. This obedience is “from the heart,” meaning that we now have a changed heart, with a joyful willingness to live in compliance with the content of the gospel. This is the obedience of faith, meaning that the truth is received because it is from God, showing our dependence on him, and not from carnal reasoning.

3. That standard of teaching. This refers to a specific form. They were taught the gospel and their obedience consisted of their cordial reception of it. John Gill says, “Not a bare hearing of the doctrines of it, and giving as assent unto them; but an embracing of them by faith for themselves, so as to lay hold on Christ in them, submit to his righteousness therein revealed, and be willing to be saved by him, and him alone, in his own way; and this is the obedience of faith.”

D.  6:18 – Their being committed to the particular truths revealed in the gospel have given them a union with Christ in his finished saving work. They are therefore set free from sin. First, they are set free from the condemnation of sin and second they are set free from the tyranny of the sinful dispositions that reign in the unregenerate heart, and they are set free from the increasing corrupting powers of sin. They are slaves to righteousness. Righteousness has become their master. They are completely dependent on the righteousness of Christ for their justification before God. He alone has been a faithful doer of the Law, he alone has righteousness, he is the head of his people, and the his righteousness is accounted as theirs. As a result, righteousness now guides the mind and affections.

E.  6:19-23 - When Paul said that he speaks in human terms, he seems to mean that the image of slavery is a common every day phenomenon that all of them have observed. Thus he means that he is likening the bondage over our souls exerted by sin’s power is like the slavery they observe each day all around them. A slave’s time, energy, power, and strength is not his won but owned by the master. Even so in our unregenerate state all of our faculties of body and mind were given over to the service of sin (impurity and lawlessness, two manifestations of the directions that sin takes us) which led to even more of the same. The rescue of our lives by grace, from the bondage of sin means that our new master constantly points us to righteousness and requires that all or mental, spiritual and physical faculties be oriented and active in that direction. This bondage to righteousness is sanctification. (19). We have no option of neutrality in this matter. The human will is never in a state of perfect equilibrium, but always disposed one way or the other. If disposed to sin, we are its slaves and are “free” from the upward call of righteousness. The result of that bondage is not freedom and joy and delight, but death. Paul assumes if they have been brought to righteousness, they now are ashamed of that former bondage to sin and the consequent use of the members of their bodies for its purposes (20) The bonds of sin and all that that includes in its wake has been broken by God’s call to the grace of Christ. A slave of God is no longer in bondage to sin and death and lawlessness. The end result, fruit, of this bondage is sanctification. That original state of fellowship with God in a growing knowledge of his glory, the practice of true righteousness out of a foundation of holiness becomes the dominant direction of life her, and is the path that culminates in eternal life. Now Paul summarizes his argument through out this chapter in answer to the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” That is like asking are we to continue under the mastery of the very thing that leads to death in order to manifest that we have life? How absurd. The entire gospel, that “form of teaching to which we were committed” shows the absurdity of the antinomian path to holiness. “The wages of sin is death,” so we can in no way expect life if we indeed continue in sin. But “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gospel that Christ embodies by his death, burial, and resurrection as a free gift is eternal life. We earn death by sin; we re granted eternal life as a free gift, but it comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, and his way of righteousness.