United with Christ

Explore the Bible Series

October 23, 2005


Lesson Passage: Romans 6:1-14



Paul introduced a new theme in Romans 6:1-8:39.  Previously Paul took great pains to expound the glorious doctrine of justification through faith in Christ.  Now, the apostle’s attention turned to the implications of justification. He anticipated that some readers might misunderstand his doctrine.  Perhaps they might conclude that justification by faith alone would lead to a disregard for careful obedience to God and holiness of life. Paul raised important questions about the implications of his teaching. In the sixth chapter of Romans Paul answered two hypothetical questions.

  1. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?” (See 6:1)
  2. “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (See 6:15)


The next two Bible lessons will address Paul’s answer to these critical concerns.  As we will see, Paul took great care to avoid a misunderstanding of justification that would errantly lead believers to think that they could continue under the domination of sin. He asserted that believers are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.  Christians have died to their old lives and God has raised them to new life in Christ.  Therefore, they cannot, by virtue of their union with the risen Christ, continue to live under the domination of sin.  Those who have died with Christ are also raised to new life, a life under the reign of grace. 


This passage teaches one of the central themes of the New Testament, the believer’s union with Christ.  This doctrine finds expression widely in the New Testament; yet, it remains one of the most neglected and mysterious truths in Scripture.  In fact, I have concluded that the believer’s union with Christ is the central doctrine of Pauline theology.  Baptists, it seems to me, should have particular interest in the teachings of our present passage because of its clear assertions about baptism. 


Personal Note: For many years of pastoral ministry I held the issues addressed in these verses as matters of little import.  Sadly, I did not give these truths their rightful place of prominence in my preaching, and I deeply regret this omission.  My neglect did not grow from rebellious rejection of the Scriptures; rather, my own ignorance fueled a certain indifference to these profound mysteries.  Perhaps the very mysterious nature of our union with Christ scared me a bit, and I highlighted doctrines that seemed clearer to me as kind of defense mechanism (I am guilty of a sort of Christian rationalism that espoused my own sufficiency to explain the great mysteries of the faith).  Many pastors, I fear, feel pressured to become the “answer man” for their congregations.  I feel differently now.  The believer’s union with Christ forms an integral part of the superstructure of the Christian faith, and I relish the contemplation and proclamation of these things.  Furthermore, I find a profound comfort in the depths of the Lord’s ways “which are beyond finding out.”

This week’s outline will take the form of a topical treatment of the major themes introduced in this text.


Outline of the Lesson Passage:


I.                    Paul’s Questions (6:1-2)

A.    “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?”: To continue in sin denotes a pattern and principle of life.  Believers, in a sense, continue to sin, but they do not continue in sin.  The sin principle remains in the Christian, but it no longer governs the life.  Sin is an unwelcome renegade who carries out a guerilla warfare in the believer’s heart. At one time “King Sin” ruled in the believer’s heart, but grace has deposed sin, and it no longer dominates the heart or conduct. Christians do indeed fail (and sometimes these failures prove very harmful), but they do not continue I under the governance of sin as the ruling principle of life. Please note, this question grows from Paul’s assertion at the end of Chapter Five, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

B.     “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”: Paul answered the first question with a second.  It is morally impossible for those who have died to sin to continue under its dominance. “Died” translates an aorist verb (denotes action that occurs at a moment in time, punctiliar action).  This verb must refer to the death of Christ.  The believer, in some mysterious way, died in Christ; therefore, sin has no more claim over the justified man.


II.                 The Believer’s Union with Christ

A.    Common misconceptions of this doctrine (I owe a great debt to Millard Erickson’s treatment of this topic)

1.      Pantheism: All human beings enjoy oneness with the essence of the Divine; indeed, this oneness is “God.”  Obviously this view does not reflect Paul’s position in this passage. 

2.      Mysticism: The believer’s personality is essentially absorbed into the being of Christ.  Some “Deeper Life” teachers come very close to this view. 

3.      Relationalism: This view sees our union in the framework of relational models.  Believers are one with Christ in the sense that he becomes out friend, brother, and spouse.  It is, of course, true that Christ becomes these things for his people; however, that is not the import of this text.

4.      Sacramentalism: The believer unites with Christ by means of receiving the Eucharist. Roman Catholics hold to this view. 

B.     Proper models to understand the believer’s union with Christ

1.      Judicial union: God judges his people in accordance with his holy Law.  He sees beleiveres in Christ.  Justification has changed their position before the Law because they are in Christ.

2.      Spiritual union: This union is wrought by the Holy Spirit (See Romans 8:9-10).  Also, this union relates to regeneration (the New Birth) and renewal.

3.      Vital union: Christ’s life and power indwell the believer. This union with Christ enlivens, empowers, and directs the Lord’s people. Review the material from Chapter Five concerning Adam and Christ.  People are either in Adam or in Christ.  To be “in Christ” entails a profound change in one’s being, a transformation from our Adamic nature to Christlikeness. 

  Exposition and Application of the Text

1.                  Believers are united with Christ in his death (See vv. 1-7).  The “old self” was crucified with Christ, and the body of sin was done away with.  Again, Paul expressed this truth in the aorist tense (See vv. 2,4,6, and 7).

2.                  Believers live in the condition of death to sin.  Paul expressed this ongoing condition in the perfect tense (denotes an ongoing condition) in verses five and seven.  Verse five, for instance, claims, “…we have been united (grafted) with him in the likeness of his death.”  Verse seven says, “…we have been freed (perfect tense) from sin.”

3.                  Believers experience a two-fold life in Christ.  Verse four that Christians have died to sin and been raised in Christ in order that they might walk in newness of life.  Paul then switches to the future tense in verse five, “…we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”   There is, of course, a sense in which Christians immediately receive the life of Christ, but Paul also asserted that believers will experience a future resurrection.


III.               Baptism: The Sign of the Believer’s Union with Christ

A.    Sacramental view:  Catholics believe that baptism washes away original sin and brings regeneration.

B.     Symbolic view: Water baptism mirrors the believer’s union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.

                  Questions for Consideration

1.      Does this passage give insight into the importance of baptism?

2.      Does this text give insight into the proper recipients of baptism?

3.      What, according to this passage, is the appropriate time of baptism (infancy or adulthood)?

4.      Does this passage indicate a proper mode (immersion, effusion) for baptism?


Application: Paul drew several implications from his convictions about union with Christ.

  1. Believers walk (denotes the pattern of life) in newness of life (v. 4)
  2. Believers no longer live as slaves to sin (vv. 6 and 7).
  3. Believers must not let sin reign in their mortal bodies (v. 12).
  4. Believers must not present their members (the various aspects of body and personality) as instruments of unrighteousness (v. 13).
  5. Believers must present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness to God (v. 14).