Letter to the Romans 6:1-11 Meaning

N.T. Wright
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Paul and His Letter to the Romans: Part Two (Romans 6-11)

Prof. N.T. Wright walks students through the central portion of this profound Epistle written by the Apostle Paul.

07:25:55 of on-demand video • Updated April 2020

  • Embrace the beauty of this magnificent letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
  • Understand the historical background that is so important to discerning the meaning of this pivotal epistle.
  • Discern how the Apostle Paul brings forth an argument with majesty and complexity.
  • Explain the movement of the main themes in Paul's Letter to the Romans.
  • Dig deeply into the intricacies of specific sections within the letter.
  • Explicate how the strands of key thoughts keep interweaving through the text much as a major symphonic orchestral work returns to movements that reinforce the underlying elements of the work.
  • Discuss how key theological ideas and thoughts are worked through by the Apostle Paul.
English What then shall we say. That's a familiar chapter opening for Paul. And so here he faces the question which generations have asked as they've got to this point in the argument of the Gospel that if God loves us so much if his free graces reach down to where we are if he has rescued us from all that has gone so horribly wrong when we could do nothing to rescue ourselves then why not just carry on as before. If God loves us that much. Let us continue in sin so that grace may abound. Now of course when Paul puts it like that we must assume two things first. He has had people say something like this again and again and he has phrased it in such a way that actually the answer is obvious. Of course that will be a ridiculous position to land up in though it's not the only time that he indicates that people have said this sort of thing to him. We think back to chapter 3 verse 8 letters do evil say some good mekon and Paul just waves it away their condemnation is just and indeed when the great sixteenth century reformers recovered the joy and the excitement of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith they faced the same question that many people said well if you say we're justified by faith alone without works of the law then what's the point in obeying what God wants. What's the point in the moral struggle in trying to live the way God wants. Isn't that trying to add a bit of our own on top of what God has done. Isn't that like getting into an elevator lift and then thinking that because you're needing to get up to the top of the building you better get a chair and climb on that while you're about to do some climbing of your own. And of course that's not the case. We are not saved by grace originally and then having to supplemented with works. That's a rank caricature which represents nothing really which is going on in Paul. However what we do find in Paul when we take Romans 1 to 8 as a whole is that the doctrine of justification itself belongs within this larger whole of the power of the Gospel and for Paul the power of the Gospel is something which transforms not only our legal status not only our covenantal status but who we are through and through so that we find ourselves caught up in the reign of grace but precisely because we are to be renewed human beings. We have to think through and work out and put into practice what that actually means. And so this isn't just an aside. Some people say well in Romans 6 and 7 Paul is turning aside from his argument to answer particular problems or objections. Well there's a bit of that but there are many many objections which people might have raised at several points in Paul's argument and he chooses these ones because these enable him to develop the larger underlying argument which he wants to draw out. And here it's particularly about the transformation of human character the transformation of the mind and the heart and the will which come about through the reign of grace. He is again talking about the two kingdoms the kingdom of sin and the Kingdom of Grace. And he has different ways of summarizing those as we'll see throughout this chapter drawing again and again on Romans 5:12 2:21 and those catchwords like obedience and righteousness and so on which he's set out there and used in that argument. But where he starts his answer to this rather silly question in verse one is with baptism there's often surprises people because many debates have gone on about the meaning and practice of baptism particularly in the last 400 years of church history and people are quite wary of giving too much emphasis to baptism lest it seem to be just a ritual which effects something magically that's never going to be the case for Paul but for Paul. Baptism is all about the dying and rising of Jesus. It's all about being plunged into that reality so that when Jesus himself as Israel's Messiah died and rose again then he did so as the representative of all his people creating a new reality so that those who were in him would whether they instantly realized it or not be inheritors of this new reality. And Paul's aim here then is to say how do you get from justification to glorification. How do you move from the verdict which is announced in the present on the basis of faith thus fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant through to what he says in five one to five the hope of glory in the end. And the basic point is if you have been baptized into the Messiah you are no longer in Adam. Think about five 12 to 21 in Adam in Christ and the whole point of Chapter 6 is to say you have been taken out of that solidarity and moved into this one you are no longer part of the old humanity. In verse 6 Here he talks about the old man the old human being clearly referring back to the state of being in Adam. And instead you are in the New Humanity and you have to figure out what that means. Actually a great deal of Romans 6 is an appeal to thinking to the mind being renewed to realize what is in fact the case and then to live on that basis. He doesn't actually use the word mind or thinking in this chapter but when he does later in eight and then in 12 it's pretty clear that this is the kind of thing he's referring to. So the immediate context of baptism for Paul is the early church traditions about John the Baptist and Jesus John the Baptist had a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In other words in that context baptism which would say this is the moment at last when Deuteronomy 30 is to be fulfilled when Israel turns back to the Lord with all its heart and soul and God forgives her sins and renews the covenant. And of course do you draw them in 30 in its position within the five books of Moses comes very shortly before the people are about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. But then baptism acquires a new meaning through the death and resurrection of Jesus that very early on the church sees that this idea of being plunged into water and coming up the other side is a symbol of dying and rising. And here we find it clearly stated in Romans 6 as we find it pretty strongly hinted at in first printings 10 and in Colossians 2 and other places as well. But those passages also remind us of something else that's going on here. As I said in the general introduction to Romans five to eight this is about coming through the waters . As a result of which the slaves get freed. So baptism for Paul is an exodus image a Passover image and that too may be one of the reasons why the early church picks up the notion of the death and resurrection of Jesus and aligns it with baptism. This is the moment when you come through the water in order no longer to be a slave to the old slave master but now to live as God's forgiven rescued free people. And that's how the argument works. It's very close at this point to Galatians 2. And indeed throughout Romans 6 7 and 8 there are many echoes and resonances with Galatians 2 and 3 and 4. All of which are worth following up and pondering in more detail. But the whole point is that the old solidarity has been broken. He says We were buried with the Messiah by baptism into his death. So that just as the Messiah was raised from the dead by by the glory of the father Glory being their power again. So we too might walk in a new quality of life might behave differently. Paul uses the word Perry patio which means to walk about a frequent image for or we would call it ethics or behavior as in the rabbinic word Hulkower which means walking. It's not just enough to believe. Are you actually walking in the right way. And he explains verse 5. If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection. There's been a lot of debate about this and some people have said well it's only in Ephesians and Colossians that we really have the idea that we already stand on Resurrection ground and that for Paul in Romans 6 this remains in the future. Paul is very careful obviously to indicate that the ultimate resurrection does remain in the future . We'll get to that in Romans 8 9 10 and 11 but it's the whole point of Romans 6 is that we already stand on Resurrection ground. Verse 11 you must calculate yourselves as being dead to sin and alive to God in the Messiah Jesus. And the calculation is necessary because of course he doesn't feel like that half the time. Maybe even most of the time it feels as though we're still being dragged down. Feels as though we're still under the power of sin. Sin comes and whispers in our ear or shouts at us or confronts us and says you know you can't escape you know you want to live in this particular way. And Paul's appeal is. Remind yourself who you are in the Messiah and on that basis realize that you in fact already stand on Resurrection ground. This is what we know he says in verse 6. Our old humanity was crucified with the Messiah. This is the parallel to Galatians 2 19 and following so that the solidarity the bodily solidarity of sin might be abolished. Paul sees the power of sin generating and sustaining an entire mass a body corporate entity of humanity that is drifting in the way that sin wants it to go and is of course thereby drifting towards death . And Paul says that's a form of slavery the crowd mentality which is all under the power of sin. But then he says if you die age you've been declared free from all charges once you've died you've come out from under that rule. So if you have died with the Messiah then this no longer applies to you. Here we see quite clearly the way in which Paul's language about being in the Messiah actually works to be in the Messiah means that what is true of him is true of you and whether or not it feels like that. That is the thinking the working out the reckoning that has to take place. But again and again day by day those who are in the Messiah have to remind themselves of this that if we died with the Messiah we shall live with him. We know that the Messiah having been raised from the dead will never die again. Verse 9 absolutely crucial for many theological debates that this is a once for all event. This is good news not merely an example. Death has no longer any authority over Jesus over the Messiah the death he died he died to sin once and only once but the life he lives he lives to God. And then this crunchier the end. So you too must calculate yourselves. The word Paul uses is the same word actually has when Abraham believed God and it was recognized to him as righteousness. This is the reckoning. It's a bookkeeping metaphor. It's a calculating metaphor. It says add it up. The Messiah has died and been raised. You are in the Messiah therefore you no longer belong in the Adam's solidarity. You have died in him. This is about status. It isn't. Force yourself to imagine that maybe it might be true if you tried hard enough. No it's a matter of calculating like adding up some adding up numbers and arithmetic. This is the status that you have. If you are in the Messiah you already stand on Resurrection ground. Now of course many Christians much of the time perhaps all Christians some of the time find it so difficult to believe that granted all the waves of the massive sin that's all around us and still whispering from inside our own bodies and our own imaginations that we find it difficult to the point of impossibility actually to believe this. That's why again and again Paul says just like the church has said over the years. Remind yourself of the meaning of your baptism if you have been baptized into Christ. This is true of you. Now of course there are many questions and problems that this raises. I know of many people who have been baptized whether as infants or indeed as adults for whom now it seems to mean little or nothing. And that's the situation Paul addresses in first Brinton's chapter 10 when he draws on the same Exodus imagery as he does in this passage in order to say well let the one who thinks that there are still standing. Take heed lest they fall. If you think that you can just coast along you may end up like the Israelites in the wilderness. They had come through the waters. They had come through the Red Sea. They had tasted the heavenly food and drank the heavenly drink. God's special provision for them in the wilderness. But he says with many of them God was not pleased. So for a fuller picture of baptism we need as well as Romans 6 and Colossians 2. We need first Corinthians 10 first Corinthians 12 and many other passages as well. But this is the point Paul is now making that the line from justification to glorification comes on the basis that what is true of the Messiah is now true of you. That's why in Romans 3:24 justification is an Kristo in the Messiah it is God's declaration over all who confess that Jesus is Lord who believe that God raised from the dead. That's the basic baptismal confession and belief over all those who say that and believe it in their hearts that this is in fact true of them and hence the challenge comes. Reckon that it is true. Calculate it. Do the mathematics work it out. And then as we all see in the next section live it out