One Sacrifice, Two Effects

In Romans 6:1-11, Paul wishes to make a simple point: Christians should stop sinning and start living like citizens of God’s kingdom. The same grace that justifies the believer also puts the old self with its sinful ways to death.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. 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. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been justified from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:1-11

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul had argued that both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin (Romans 3:9). God’s solution for sin is the same for both Jew and Gentile:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. (Romans 3:23-25a)

Indeed, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We have been “justified by his blood” and we will be “saved through him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9)

In Romans 6, however, Paul turns to the other side of this salvation. Yes, God’s salvation is a free gift. Yes, Jesus’ death is a sacrifice of atonement through his blood that results in justification for those who have faith. But, the very same gift that freely justifies those who have faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice also destroys the power of sin. Grace, then, is not a license for sin. Rather, those who are united to Christ in faith find that God is at work in them putting sin to death.

The Power of Union with Christ

The most important concept in Romans 6:1-11 is the adjective translated as “united” (σύμφυτος, symphytos).

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)

With more Yoda-like literalness,

For if we have become united to the likeness of his death, how much more with that of the resurrection we will be.

So what is symphtyos? In its root, it means something like “planted together with” or “born together with” or “of joint origin.” If we have become symphytos with the likeness of his death, it means that something that is true of Jesus has become true of us, just as if it had been true all along.

We have been united with him in his death, and one effect of that union is that “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). In a very real sense, Jesus’ death becomes our death. I think it is much more common to hear that Jesus came so that we could live than it is to hear that Jesus came so that we could die. It’s true that Jesus came so that we could live, but for Paul that’s only half the story. Jesus came so that we could die. The old self has been crucified with Jesus so that we no longer have to remain slaves to sin.

If Jesus’ death brings release from sin’s destructive penalty, it also brings release from sin’s destructive power. There is one sacrifice for sins with two effects. We cannot logically divide what God has joined together. Freedom from sin’s power and justification before God’s bar of justice are inseparably bound.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For it is the one who has died who has been justified (perfect passive indicative of δικαιόω) from sin. (vv 6-7).

It’s not as if I can say, “I’ll take the forgiveness now and think about how that might affect my life later.” If I have been united to Christ for forgiveness and deliverance from God’s wrath, I have also been united to him for the destruction of my old self.

And In Paul’s scheme of things, the crucified one has also been raised from the dead (v. 9). He was raised that “we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). For those united to Christ’s resurrection, new life in Christ is both a future promise (v. 8) and anticipated as a present reality (v. 11).

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

Remember, too, that for Paul none of this was simply a matter of inward spiritual experience. God’s saving work is visible and effective in our lives in Christian baptism.

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. 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 6:3-5)

It is in Christian baptism that we are united to Christ’s one sacrifice with two effects. It is also in Christian baptism that we are united to Christ’s resurrection, so that we might walk in newness of life today and share in Christ’s resurrected life in the age to come.

 

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