Identification with Christ (6:1-14)

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans 6:1-14; Sin; Death; Sanctification; Christian life
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans
Related Resources: Spiritual Reality & Spiritual Mentality: A Study of Colossians 3:1-4


In chapter 6 Paul begins to discuss the application of the gospel in the present life of the believer. In particular, he is concerned to establish the grounds on which sin’s reign (see chap. 5) is overthrown in everyday experience. The first of these grounds is our identification with Christ—specifically in His death and resurrection.

Paul begins his discussion with a rhetorical question: Since grace abounds in the presence of sin (5:20), should we continue to practice sin so that God can display His grace (6:1; cf. 3:7-8)? He replies immediately with a resounding “No!”18 The rationale for his response? Continuing in sin as a believer denies the reality of one’s death to sin (v. 2).

Though the idea of death to sin may sound strange to us, Paul considered it to be elementary Christian truth (“Know ye not [. . .]?” [v. 3]). The fact is that identification with Jesus Christ must necessarily be identification with His death (v. 3; cf. Col. 2:20; 3:3). This is precisely what is pictured in water baptism: It typifies our burial with Christ. And, since Christ arose from the dead, it is natural to expect that our life in Christ will exhibit newness (v. 4; cf. Col. 2:12).19 In fact, our union with Christ in death guarantees our union with Him in resurrection (v. 5; Col. 3:1).

Verse 6 explains that our “old man”20 was crucified with Christ (cf. Gal. 2:20), thus invoking the idea of spiritual solidarity emphasized in the latter half of the previous chapter. Our death with Christ has as its objective the undermining of sin’s dominion in our life. In a word, sin’s power is canceled through death. According to E. F. Harrison, “This annulling of the power of sin is based on a recognized principle—that death settles all claims.”

Our identification with Christ is not merely negative, for sharing in His death naturally leads us to expect participation in His resurrection (v. 8). Though the grammar might lead us to believe that Paul is referring to our future (physical) resurrection, the context strongly suggests he has in mind our present (spiritual) victory (Moo 377). Christ’s victory over sin was final; He died to sin, but now He lives to God (vv. 9-10). Similarly, Paul reasons, we should consider ourselves to be dead to sin, alive to God through His Son (v. 11).21

This teaching has both positive and negative implications. On the negative side, we deny sin the opportunity to reign in our lives. Tolerating its reign is inconsistent with the saving work of Christ (see chap. 5). On the positive side, we should surrender our body’s members to God for the purpose of fulfilling righteousness—a direct contrast with yielding them to sinful activity (v. 13).

Paul concludes this portion by stating that sin will not dominate us. He bases this assertion on the fact that we are not under law, but under grace (v. 14). This prepares the way for his discussion through chapter 7.


Since in this passage Paul is addressing those that are “dead to sin” (v. 1), the applications are primarily to believers.

  • We should strive to understand the reality of our union with Christ, something Paul considered a basic Christian doctrine.
  • We should submit to the rite of baptism, understanding that it portrays our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ.
  • We should resist sin as if we are dead to it, for that is precisely the case.
  • We should practice righteousness as those who have risen with Christ.
  • We should recognize that habitual sin is not normal for believers.
  • We should view our body parts as instruments to be surrendered to God’s service.


18 Paul’s reply, me genoito, rendered “God forbid” in the KJV, literally means, “May it not be so!” This phrase has been translated in a variety of ways, such as “By no means” and “Perish the thought” (E. F. Harrison).

19 It is possible that Paul refers to water baptism in v. 3. This seems unlikely given the connection between verses 3 and 4, oun (“therefore”). Baptism often connotes identification--with the message and/or conduct of the baptizer or the community of the baptized. Nevertheless, even if Paul has only water baptism in mind, it is implausible to propose that baptism effectually identifies us with Christ’s death; this is inconsistent with Paul’s argument concerning justification in Romans, as well as with 1 Peter 3:21. Therefore, if water baptism is in view, it must derive its meaning from the reality of Spirit baptism (1 Cor. 12:13).

20 Paul also refers to the “old man” in two other places. In Colossians 3:9, he assumes (as in Romans 6) that his readers have already “put off” the old man. However, in Ephesians 4:22, he instructs them to do so. Reconciling these seemingly conflicting texts, we conclude that the death of our “old man” is an objective reality, but that this reality must be claimed in subjective experience. It is indeed possible, though extremely illogical, for a believer to live as if he has never died with Christ.

21 Unlike Christ’s death, our death has no redemptive power. Nevertheless, just as He died to overcome sin, so our identification with His death results in victory over sin (Moo 379).