Letter to the Romans 6:12-23 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 On the basis of the argument which is made in 6 1 to 11 pool then is used the direct appeal. If this is your status if this is true of you then no longer live under the reign of sin let's not sin then reign in your mortal bodies don't allow it to rule. Don't give it that power. Paul has the Exodus image in mind as he does throughout 6 7 and 8. And this is equivalent to saying if you have come through the waters of the Red Sea If you are now on the way home to the inheritance. Don't even think about going and living under Pharaoh's rule again. Why would you want to do that. Do not let sin. The slave master rule in your mortal bodies to make you obey whatever it happens to desire this way or that and don't yield your bits and pieces your members your hand your tongue your feet your eye has weapons of unrighteousness to sin but yield yourselves. Give yourselves over. Present yourselves. There may even be a cultic image here as in Romans 12 one following. Give your whole selves to God as people who are alive from the dead. It's very interesting that in verse 13 he doesn't make it exactly the same. He doesn't say don't you know your members this way yield your members that way don't you and your members this way. You are your whole self. In other words I think he's implying you can't actually yield your whole self over to sin because if you are in Christ your whole self is now a new renewed self no longer in Adam but now in Christ. Therefore live consistently and don't yield the bits and pieces of your mind your body your imagination over to do whatever. The power of sin is still trying to persuade you to do rather remind yourself that you have come from death into life. Here again the life the resurrection life is the present reality. The ground on which we stand and then he says extraordinarily because he hasn't mentioned it so far in verse 14. You see sin won't actually rule over you since you are not under law but under grace. Where does that suddenly come from. As again and again in Romans 1 to 5 the law comes in alongside as he said it did in the great scheme of things. In Chapter 5 verse 20 he brings in the law a little bit in chapter 4. A little bit in chapter 3 bit in chapter 2 and now here. And it isn't until Chapter Seven that we'll see where all this is going. But the point is as we all discover that. Had you been under law then if you were in the body of Israel ruled over by the law the law would have actually strengthened the grip that sin had on you. That may sound very strange and that's why Paul has to write all of Chapter 7 to explain it. It sounds paradoxical but for us it's really important to know that we are under the rule of grace. Now of course at this point people take off in the wrong direction again and again they say oh we're not living under law we're living under grace. Meaning by that. Therefore the old moral codes whether of Israel or even actually of the church don't apply anymore because we just believe in grace. And anyone who finds themselves drifting in that direction needs to go back to the beginning of Romans 6 again. It's rather like snakes and ladders game if you take that wrong turn you have to go back to chapter six first one. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound. Of course not. Living under grace doesn't mean living in sin in this callous fashion are abstractions of law and grace . Often actually blindness to the specific argument that Paul is making here. So in verses 15 following. Again as we might expect Paul anticipates this objection. What then are we actually going to sin because we are not under law but under grace. No of course not. Certainly not. Don't you realize this is how it works you become slaves obedient to the one whom you give yourselves to obey whether obedience or sin. How is he using this word obedience. As I said before as a way a shorthand way of referring to the entire achievement of Jesus in Chapter 5 verses 12 to 21 and he lines up two or three things words which have occurred which he has already unpacked earlier which he can now use as a shorthand for the entire package of being in Adam or in the Messiah. So he uses the righteousness language the obedience language and ultimately obeying God language as a way of denoting that side of the equation and he uses the sin or unrighteousness or injustice or uncleanness or lawlessness language as a way of denoting that side. And so that whichever of those he's referring to he's saying this is where you are on the map you are not in Adam you are in the Messiah and therefore this is how you now have to live. And so strong is this idea of two kingdoms that you can even talk about it in terms of two slaveries . And he says thanks be to God. Verse 17 that though you were once slaves to sin you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you are committed. Freed from sin. Now you have been enslaved to righteousness to God's covenant justice and he knows that actually talking about a new enslavement when really it's a form of freedom is a rather odd illustration. So he says in verse 19 I'm using a human picture because of your natural human weakness. I'm trying to get it across to you. But he sees it in terms of being slaves in Egypt. And now the Israelites being in that sense slaves of God God has set them free. So they are now to serve him the idea of a pattern of teaching to which they have been committed implies already as we find one or two other passages in Paul that there is already by the mid-fifties in the first century when Paul is writing this great letter a rough outline pattern of Christian teaching which all new converts would be given which they would be taught which would be repeated in church which they be reminded of and probably they be reminded of it and have to learn it before they were even baptized and then having been baptized they would be reminded. Yes this is the pattern of life. This is the pattern of teaching to which you've been committed. And we can see elements of that pattern at various points in Paul's letters. But the point is back to verse 16. Then you have a choice. Are you going to be an obedient slave of sin which leads to death or obedience which leads to final vindication. And this is the line of thought which runs right through the chapter to the final verse first 23. If you serve sin if you are a slave of sin then what you are saying is I don't want to be a genuine human. I don't want to live in this image bearing way. I don't want to reflect God's wise stewardship into the world. I certainly don't want to reflect the praises of creation back to God and as a result you become progressively less than fully human. That is the choice that people make if they serve sin and that's the sense in which what I said before comes true that humans give their power away they give their status away. They give their all authority and vocation away and the powers to which they give all of that then take over and diminish them progressively and the end as Paul says of that line is of course death itself . But instead he says there is a different way the way that now you have been inaugurated into verse 19 be just as you presented your limbs and organs as slaves to uncleanness and to one degree of lawlessness after another. Paul is thinking of course of the pagan world which he knew only too well in Corinth and emphasis and all over the place. He knew what went on on the street. There was really no such thing as private life in Paul's day except for the very rich or the very royal . So what was going on was going on. And Paul knew that people had lived like this and that this meant a major moral change a major change in the habits of the heart and the habits of the thinking the imagination as well as the habits of the body as you once did. So now he says present your limbs and organs as slaves to Covenant justice which leads to holiness and the word holiness here of course is in Paul's Jewish world again a cultic word. It's the word you would use of offerings brought to the temple or tabernacle. It's a word you'd use of the temple itself and especially its inner sanctum and particularly of those who are called to serve in the temple. And so just as in the original Exodus story the children of Israel are brought out of Egypt in order then to serve God and by erecting the tabernacle and worshipping him there they are now to discover the meaning of holiness. So in just the same way this will come out more fully in Chapter 8. Paul says that those who have thus been liberated liberated from the reign of sin are now to find that they are leading to holiness the covenant justice the righteousness which is their status in the Messiah is designed to produce the status of holiness and all the practice that goes with it. So he sums it up one more time when you are slaves of sin. Verse 20 you are free in respect of covenant justice of righteousness. But OK that was a funny sort of freedom because all it did was take you on on the way to death. What fruit did you ever have from those things of which you're now ashamed to look back on your former life and just think it may have felt either fun or exciting or whatever at the time. But it leaves a bitter taste pretty soon afterwards. And in retrospect in long retrospect you see it was going not only know where it was going to destruction to decay to the degradation of your own humanness and of all those bits of the world and of other people that your humanness was touching at the time the destination of that kind of behavior is death. But now and again verse 22 it's one of those lovely but now moments like chapter 3 verse 21. But now you been set free from sin and enslaved to God. And this isn't in fact a slavery in the sense of something that squashing your real freedom you discover what it means at last to be a genuine human you have fruit for holiness. Its destination is the life of the age to come eternal life in the common translation. But remember eternal life is not a disembodied distant reality simply in somewhere called heaven. It's the life of God's coming age when the whole creation will be renewed as he says in Romans 8. And so the summary verse 23 sin pays a wage. If you want to sin then you'll get your reward and the reward is death. But God's free gift is the life of the age to come in the Messiah Jesus our Lord. So what we have in this passage again is another part of the exposition of the renewed humans in Christ as the royal priesthood. They are to be the ones who are ruling over the world and they have to start by presenting their own bodies to God in His service in the service of his way the genuine human way and in doing this they are to be the ones who are thereby worshipping God. This presenting of themselves to God their whole selves is the way to holiness. This is the language of the temple the new temple which consists of the Messiah and his people. Now of course there's still an element missing. It's extraordinary to me reading Chapter 6 that Paul manages to restrain himself from talking about the Holy Spirit in many other passages when he's talking about the new life in for instance Galatians 5. The spirit is front and center. He's talking about the fruit of the spirit which enables you to be this kind of person but he's not ready for that yet. He's being very restrained and building up carefully so that when at last we get the full exposition of the spirit in Chapter 8 we will look back and see. Yes. This whole thing works together. We need the whole argument in order to understand any of it. But we have to be patient and wait for that to come at the right time for the moment then. Romans 6 is all about having come through the waters the baptism waters which remind us of the waters of the Red Sea. And as a result we are no longer under the power or reign of sin we are under the reign of Grace revealed in dramatic action in Jesus the Messiah. This is kingdom of God theology. And Paul says it isn't just theology. It's something it has to mean what it means in your actual daily life.