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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Romans 6

 

 

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Verses 1-23

THAT WHICH WE have thus far learned of the Gospel from this epistle has been a question of what God has declared Himself to be on our behalf, that which He has wrought for us by the death and resurrection of Christ, and which we receive in simple faith. In it all God has been having, if we may so say, His say toward us in blessing. Chapter 6 opens with the pertinent question, “What shall we say then?”

This signalizes the fact that another line of thought is now about to open before us. Nothing can exceed the wonder of what God has wrought on our behalf, but what are we in consequence thereof going to be for Him? What is to be the believer’s response to the amazing grace that has been shown? Is there through the Gospel the bringing in of a power which will enable the believer’s response to be one worthy of God? As we open chapter 6 we begin to investigate these questions and to discover the way in which the Gospel sets us free to spend lives of practical righteousness and holiness.

If men attain a merely head knowledge of the grace of God, their hearts remaining unaffected, they may easily turn grace into licence and say, “Well, if God’s grace can abound over our sin, let us go on sinning that grace may go on abounding.” Does the Gospel in any way countenance such sentiments? Not for one moment. The very reverse. It tells us plainly that we are dead to sin. How then can we still live in it? Once we were terribly alive to sin. Everything that had to do with our own lawless wills—with pleasing ourselves, in other words—we were keenly set on, whilst remaining absolutely dead to God and His things. Now an absolute reversal has taken place and we are dead to the sin to which formerly we were alive, and alive to the things to which formerly we were dead.

Have we been ignorant as to this, or only dimly conscious of it? It should not have been so, for the fact is plainly set forth in Christian baptism, a rite which lies at the threshold of things. Do we know, or do we not know, what our baptism means?

There is perhaps a previous question which ought to be raised. It is this, Have you been baptised? We ask it because there seems to be in some quarters distinct carelessness as to this matter, engendered we suspect by the over-emphasis placed on it in former days. If we neglect it we do so to our very distinct loss. In baptism we are buried with Christ, as verse Romans 6:4 states, and not to have been buried with Him is a calamity. Moreover, if not amongst “so many of us as were baptised” the Apostle’s argument in verses Romans 6:4-5 loses its force as far as we are concerned.

What then is the significance of baptism? It means identification with Christ in His death. It means that we are buried with Him, and that the obligation is placed upon us to walk in newness of life, even as He was raised up into a new order of things. This is its meaning and this the obligation it imposes, and our loss is great if we know it not. We greatly fear that the tremendous controversies which have raged over the manner and the mode and the subjects of baptism have led many to overlook entirely its meaning. Argumentations about baptism have been carried on in a very unbaptised way, so that no one would have thought the contestants “dead to sin.”

Baptism is however a rite, an outward sign. It accomplishes nothing vital, and alas, millions of baptised persons will find themselves in a lost eternity. It points however to that which is vital in the fullest sense, even the Cross, as we shall see.

Let us notice the closing words of verse Romans 6:4, “newness of life,” for they give a concise answer to the question with which the chapter opened. Instead of continuing in sin, which is in effect continuing to live the old life, we are to walk in a life which is new. As we go through the chapter we discover what the character of that new life is.

Our baptism was our burial with Christ—in figure. It was “the likeness of His death,” and in it we were identified with Him, for that is what the rather obscure expression, “planted together” means. We submitted to it in the confidence that we are to be identified with Him in His risen life. The newness of life in which we are to walk is in fact connected with the life of resurrection in which Christ is today.

In verse Romans 6:3 we were to know the meaning of our baptism; now in verse Romans 6:6 we are called upon to know the meaning of the cross in relation to “our old man,” and “the body of sin.” The cross is that which lies behind baptism, and without which baptism would lose its meaning.

We have already had before us the death of Christ in its bearing upon our sins and their forgiveness. Here we have its bearing upon our sinful nature, whence have sprung all the sins that ever we committed.

It is not perhaps easy to seize the thought conveyed by “our old man.” We may explain it by saying that the Apostle is here personifying all that we are as the natural children of Adam. If you could imagine a person whose character embraced all the ugly features that have ever been displayed in all the members of Adam’s race, that person might be described as, “our old man.”

All that we were as children of fallen Adam has been crucified with Christ, and we are to know this. It is not a mere notion but an actual fact. It was an act of God, accomplished in the cross of Christ: as much an act of God, and as real, as the putting away of our sins, accomplished at the same time. We are to know it by faith, just as we know that our sins are forgiven. When we do know it by faith certain other results follow. But we begin by knowing it in simple faith.

What God had in view in the crucifixion of our old man was that “the body of sin” might be “destroyed,” or rather, “annulled,” so that henceforth we might not serve sin. This again is a statement not easy to understand. We must recall that sin formerly dominated us in our bodies, which in consequence were in a very terrible sense bodies of sin. Now it is not that our literal bodies have been annulled, but that sin, which in its fulness dominated our bodies, has been, and thus we are freed from its power. It has been annulled by the crucifixion of our old man, the result of our identification with Christ in His death, so that His death was ours also.

Take note of the closing words of verse Romans 6:6. They give us quite clearly the light in which sin is viewed in this chapter. Sin is a master, a slave-owner and we had fallen under its power. The point discussed in the chapter is not the presence of sin in us but the power of sin over us. We have got our discharge from sin. We are justified from it, as verse Romans 6:7 states.

Our discharge has been effected by the death of Christ. But it is very important to maintain the connection between His death and His resurrection. We saw this when considering the last verse of chapter 4, and we see it again here. Our death with Christ is in view of our living with Him in the life of the resurrection world.

We get the word know for the third time in verse Romans 6:9. We should know the meaning of baptism. We should know the bearing of the death of Christ as relating to our old man. Thirdly we should know the bearing of the resurrection of Christ. His resurrection was not a mere resuscitation. It was not like the raising of Lazarus—a coming back to life in this world for a certain number of years, after which death again supervenes. When He arose He left death behind Him for ever, entering another order of things, which for convenience sake we call the resurrection world. For a brief moment death had dominion over Him, and that only by His own act in subjecting Himself to it. Now He is beyond it for ever.

His death was a death unto sin once and for ever. It is sin here, you notice, and not sins; the root principle which had permeated our nature and assumed the mastery of us, and not the actual offences which were its product. Moreover, it is not death for sins but unto sin. Sin never had to say to Him in His nature as it had with us. But He had to say to it, when in His sacrifice He took up the whole question of sin as it affected the glory of God in His ruined creation, and as it affected us, standing as a mighty barrier against our blessing. Having had to say to it, bearing its judgment, He has died to it, and now He lives to God.

Let us pause and test ourselves as to these things. Do we really know this? Do we really understand the death and resurrection of Christ in this light? Do we realize how completely our Lord has died out of that old order of things dominated by sin, into which once He came in grace to accomplish redemption; and how fully He lives to God in that new world into which He has entered? It is important that we should realize all this, because verse Romans 6:11 proceeds to instruct us that we should reckon according to what we know.

If we do not know rightly, we cannot reckon correctly. No tradesman will rightly reckon up his books if he does not know the multiplication tables. No skipper can rightly reckon the position of his vessel if he does not know the principles of navigation. Just so no believer is going to rightly reckon out his position and attitude either in regard to sin or to God, if he does not know the bearing of the death and resurrection of Christ upon his case.

When once we do know, the reckoning enjoined in verse Romans 6:11 becomes perfectly plain to us. Our case is governed by Christ’s, for we are identified with Him. Did He die to sin? Then we are dead to sin, and so we reckon it. Does He now live to God? Then we now live to God, and so we reckon it. Our reckoning is not mere make-believe. It is not that we try to reckon ourselves to be what in point of fact we are not. The very reverse. We are dead to sin and alive to God by His own acts, accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ (to be made effectual in us by His Spirit, as we shall see later on) and that being so, we are to accept it and adjust our thoughts to it. As things are, so we are to reckon.

Before we were converted we were dead to God and alive to sin. We had no interest in anything that had to do with God. We did not understand His things; they left us cold and dead. When however it was a question of anything that appealed to our natural desires, of anything that fed our vanity and self-love, then we were all alive with interest. Now by the grace of God the situation is exactly reversed as the fruit of our being in Christ Jesus.

Having adjusted our reckoning, in accordance with the facts concerning the death and resurrection of Christ which we know, there yet remains a further step. We are to yield ourselves to God in order that His will may be practically worked out in detail in our lives. The word yield, occurs, you will notice, five times in the latter part of the chapter.

Being dead to sin it is quite obvious that the obligation rests upon us to refuse sin any rights over us. Formerly it did reign in our mortal bodies and we were continually obeying it in its various lusts. This is to be so no longer, as verse Romans 6:12 tells us. We have died to sin, the old master, and its claim upon us has ceased. Being alive from the dead, we belong to God, and we gladly acknowledge His claims over us. We yield ourselves to Him.

This yielding is a very practical thing, as verse Romans 6:13 makes plain. It affects all the members of our bodies. Formerly every member was in some way enlisted in the service of sin and so became an instrument of unrighteousness. Is it not a wonderful thing that every member may now be enlisted in the service of God? Our feet may run His errands. Our hands may do His work. Our tongues may speak forth His praise. In order that this may be so we are to yield ourselves unto God.

The word, yield, occurs twice in this verse, but the verb is in two different tenses. A Greek scholar has commented upon them to this effect:—that in the first case the verb is in the present in its continuous sense. “Neither yield your members.” It is at no time to be done. In the second case the tense is different. “Yield yourselves to God.” Let it have been done, as a once accomplished act.

Let us each solemnly ask ourselves if indeed we have done it as a once accomplished act. Have we thus definitely yielded ourselves and our members to God, for His will? If so, let us see to it that at no time do we forget our allegiance and fall into the snare of yielding our members even for a moment to unrighteousness, for the outcome of that is sin.

Sin, then, is not to have dominion over us, for the very reason that we are not under the law but under grace. Here is the divine answer to those who tell us that if we tell people that they are no longer under the regime of law, they are sure to plunge into sin. The fact is that nothing so subdues the heart and promotes holiness as the grace of God.

Verse Romans 6:15 bears witness to the fact that there have always been people who think that the only way to promote holiness is to keep us under the tight bondage of law. There were such in Paul’s day. He anticipates their objection by repeating in substance the question with which he opened the chapter. In reply to it he restates the position in a more extended way. Verses Romans 6:16-23 are an extension and amplification of what he had just stated in verses Romans 6:12-14.

He appeals to that practical knowledge which is common to us all. We all know that if we yield obedience to anyone, though not nominally their servant we are their servant practically. That is the case also in spiritual things, whether it be serving sin or God. Judged by this standard, we were without a question once the slaves of sin. But when the Gospel “form of doctrine” reached us we obeyed it, thanks be to God! As a result we have been emancipated from the thraldom of sin, and have become servants of God and righteousness. Well then, being now servants of righteousness, we are to yield our members in detail so that God may have His way with us.

This yielding then is a tremendously important business. It is that to which our knowledge and our reckoning lead up. If we stop short of it our knowledge and our reckoning become of no effect. Here doubtless we have the reason of so much that is feeble and ineffectual with Christians who are well instructed in the theory of the thing. They stop short at yielding themselves and their members to God. Oh, let us see to it that if as yet we have never had it done, as a once accomplished act, we have it done at once! Having it done we shall need and find grace for the continuous yielding of our members in the service of God.

All this supposes that the old master, sin, is still within us, only waiting for opportunities to assert itself. This makes the triumph of grace all the greater. It also increases to us the value of the lessons we learn. We learn how to yield our members servants to righteousness unto holiness, even while sin is lurking within, eager to reassert itself. In serving righteousness we serve God, for to do the will of God is the first element of righteousness. And righteousness in all our dealings leads to holiness of life and character.

Instead, then, of continuing in sin, as those enslaved by its power, we are set free from it by being brought under the sway of God. Twice do we get the words, “made free from sin” (verses Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22). Formerly we were “free from righteousness.” We have escaped the old power and come under the new. This is the way of holiness and life.

Everlasting life is here viewed as the end of the wonderful story. In the writings of the Apostle John we find it presented as a present possession of the believer. There is no conflict between these two views of it. That which is ours now in its essence, will be ours in its full expanse when eternity is reached.

The last verse of our chapter, so well known, gives us a concise summary of the matter. We cannot serve sin without receiving its wages, which is death. Death is a word of large meaning. In one sense death came in upon man when by sin he was utterly separated from God. The death of the body occurs when it is separated from the spiritual part of man. The second death is when lost men are finally separated from God. The full wages of sin includes death in all three senses.

In connection with God no wages are spoken of. All is gift. The very life in which we can serve Him is His own gift through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus at the end of the chapter we come back to the thought with which the previous chapter closed. We may well make our boast in the eternal life which is ours by God’s free gift, and heartily embrace all the consequences to which it leads.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 6:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-6.html. 1947.

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