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Again, Paul is not making a statement about our experience, necessarily, but about our status. In our experience we are a lot like some of the American slaves after the Civil War. They were given their emancipation, but some had lived their whole lives as slaves, and they didn’t know what it meant to live as free men. They still thought they could be bought and sold as property. So we can still act like slaves, under the reign of sin, when in fact we died to sin, and we are now under the reign of God’s grace.3 Paul’s main point in all of this is his statement in Romans 6:14: “Sin will have no dominion over you” (ESV).
So if this is now the case, if we died to sin, Paul says, “how can we live in [sin] any longer?” We have a new status, as those belonging to Christ, and this new status must lead to a new way of life. Continuing to sin is as illogical as an emancipated slave still toiling for no pay under the hand of an oppressive master in the cotton fields of Mississippi. It makes no sense. One cannot become a Christian without becoming a new person, called to live a new life. For in coming to faith in Christ, we died to sin.
But how have we died to sin? What is the means of this new reality? This is Paul’s concern in Romans 6:3–11.
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (6:3–4)
Paul appeals to the common experience of baptism—every Christian, Paul assumes, has had his or her faith visibly expressed in the waters of baptism. Baptism was so intimately connected with conversion in Paul’s mind that he could speak of baptism as shorthand for the conversion experience as a whole. And baptism, in this sense, is the means by which we are joined to Jesus Christ. And since we are joined to Him by faith, as exhibited in baptism, what is true of Him becomes true of us.
And what is true of Christ? Romans 6:9–10: “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
Becoming a Christian, which is publicly manifest in baptism, means being identified with Christ—being identified with Him in His death, as the believer says, “That is the death I deserve.” And it also means being identified with Christ in His resurrection, as the believer says, “That is the life that I now share and will share.” Jesus Christ died to sin—he decisively said no to sin—even to the point of death. He triumphed over it, by obediently enduring its sting on our behalf. But He was raised to life by the Father, never to die again. If we are identified with Christ in His death, we will also share in His life.
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