Starting from Romans 6, Paul traces Israel’s history through the Exodus, to Mount Sinai in Romans 7 and into the promised land in Romans 8. In Romans 9 Paul shows how Israel’s election and hardening saved the world, and from Romans 10 – 13, Paul used Israel’s exile in Babylon to explain the resurrection and transforming reign of Christ in the nations of the world.
Romans 6 begins with the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” This may refer back to Romans 5, which speaks of God’s forgiveness after many sins. The nature of these sins was likely more to do with the hostility and greed between Jews and gentiles, between rich and poor, instead of the oneness in Christ, the restoring and caring relationship that Paul was urging. Paul’s answer to the question was, “How shall we who are dead to sin, continue any longer in it?” And then Paul goes on to describe our baptism into Christ’s death.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised 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.” (Romans 6:3-4)
Paul was showing that he was no longer dominated by his old way of looking at things. This baptism, or death of the old way, is an Exodus theme, where Israel were delivered from slavery through baptism in the Red Sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1-2) But what did Paul mean by this in relation to the gospel and the church community in Rome? We can look at how Paul used this same theme in Galatians as a clue. There, Pauls says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, but not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
In the Galatians passage, Paul was referring to Peter drawing away from table fellowship with the gentiles because they weren’t circumcised, according to the law. Paul spoke of his being crucified with Christ in the context of his refusal to separate from believers based upon racial or social heritage. The question in Galatians was the same as we see in the overall discussion of Romans: Would Peter, and the Jewish community, be continuing in sin by eating with the uncircumcised?
Paul’s answer was no. When Christ died, he delivered us from the law which kept us in slavery. The law bound us to a slavery of hostility towards others, blaming and punishing others for their poverty, sin or race, rather than restoring them. If we live in the grace of Christ, this law will no longer have dominion over our relationships. (Romans 6:14)
This was the sense in which Paul said he was crucified with Christ. This former bondage to the law of judgment in his heart towards others was now dead and buried in Christ. Since Jesus forgave us in his death, he took away the law that divided us, the law by which we justify our separation and lack of care towards others. If we live by the law to condemn others, then that law condemns us as well. Jesus died to take that wall of division away, and to join us into one healing people, accepting each other, as God in Christ has accepted us.
So then, Paul continued, if the law has been taken away, do we live for ourselves, to please ourselves? No, we do not. Paul said, “Christ lives in me.” Christ is carrying out his will and purposes in my life. And Paul said, “The life I now live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This isn’t a privatised faith. It is a life of faithfulness towards our neighbour. Christ replaced the law of division, of judgement, with a new life of loving faithfulness towards one another, as exemplified by his cross. “I live by the same principles as Christ did, when he loved me and gave himself for me. This is how I now live towards others, instead of accusing them to justify myself.”
And when Paul said this, he was speaking on the behalf of the whole Jewish community, to show how Christ had delivered them from a slavery of bondage in the law, which was really a slavery of bondage to the self. When Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ,” he was speaking on the behalf of Peter and their whole nation. All the Jews were called to follow Christ into this service of the world, rather than condemn it. This was their baptism into deliverance.
So, in coming back to Romans 6, we see that if the community of Rome was to go on using the law as a basis for their division, then they were really living for self, continuing in sin, rebuilding what Christ had destroyed in his death, going back to Egypt and denying their baptism. This was slavery to self.
But if they realised they had been bought with a price, redeemed from self-love through the love of Christ, and that their lives were no longer their own, then they would live to love God, by living to restore their neighbour. (1 Corinthians 6:20) This “new slavery to righteousness” would actually be freedom. Living for others builds freedom into our personal lives and into our community. This is the true Exodus.
The morality Paul is speaking about in Romans 6 is both the morality of receiving and restoring others to build community, rather than serving the self, and also things like sexual morality. These are really the same morality. They both either build or destroy community. There is one way to freedom, or to slavery. If we say no to self, it won’t have dominion over us.
In Paul’s day, this was true for Israel as a nation, giving up their power and wealth to serve, and true for all the individuals from Jewish and gentile backgrounds, coming together in Christ to form a new serving people. Personal sin and social sin are really the same thing. In Galatians, Paul uses baptism to speak of denying self to form one table. In Corinthians, he uses baptism to speak of denying self, so as not to destroy community through selfish desires. There isn’t a separation between personal and social holiness.
As Jesus delivered us from the law, he delivered us from the dominion of sin in all its areas. We embrace the law to justify and live for self. When we live by grace, love is our purpose.Dying to the law, that is, being forgiven by Christ when people put him to death, frees all humanity from the drive of the law within, from the dominion of the self-life. The wages of going on living for self are death. It is the principle that destroys everything. There is no eternal life in self-love, so if we are committed to ourselves we will die. But the love of God towards others sustains eternal community.