Romans 6:1-14

Two Ways News is a weekly collaboration between Tony Payne, Phillip Jensen and occasionally Talar Khatchoyan – a newsletter and podcast on a topic to encourage gospel thinking for today (subscribe at

The world is full of tragedy, evil and heartbreak, and it touches all of our lives. We want the evil to change. We want ourselves to change. But how can change ever really happen?

That’s the subject in this episode as Phillip and Tony ponder the first half of Romans 6.

An exposition of this passage can be found at 16. The Christian and Sin.

The next episode in this series is Free to be Slaves. The previous episode is Lest We Forget God.


If only our world knew where it could be found.

TP: We’re talking about change this week—about the relationship between the grace of God in the gospel, and a changed life. But that’s also the question that will keep cropping up over the next few weeks as we talk about chapters 6 and 7 of Romans. In particular, if the gospel is all about grace and free forgiveness, how on earth will people be motivated to live a good life?

PJ: Well the fact that the gospel does motivate a changed life is well documented in history; down the centuries, people have been able to bring about change in their lives and in society because they’ve experienced the grace of God. So rather than grace leading you into total degeneracy, grace does the exact opposite. It leads you into holiness. It’s not like secular moralism that has no reference to God, and doesn’t really change you. Greater relationship to God does lead you to morally changed values in your own way of living.

TP: That was the import of that book by Rodney Stark where he looked at the way that people behaved in the Roman Empire and the contrast between the Christians and the Romans. It was the Christians who cared for the sick and the orphans, and who nursed people and who sacrificed their own lives for the sake of others. And he documented the difference that had made within Roman society. 

PJ: It’s the same as Tom Holland’s book Dominion. When you actually look at what Christians have done, sure there have been bad events in the histories, but actually, it has transformed society. The moral values that we now just take for granted have come out of people understanding the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and the grace that God gives as a result of his crucifixion.

TP: But our culture doesn’t understand that, does it? While I was away having a break recently, I didn’t consume too much news. I wanted to have a relaxing, happy holiday. I didn’t want to get angry at the television like I normally do when I watch the news. And yet, there were some incidents that I did see, which reflected the issue of how are people going to ever change? The one that really struck me was the recent awful murder of a young woman in New South Wales. It sparked an outrage over domestic violence, and rightly so. It’s an awful thing, and there is a demand that something must be done. We must see change. Enough is enough. We cannot have this violence against women. And so there were public protests and marches. The government then gets pressured to scramble and announce some funding or some programs to be seen to be responding. But the issue, even under this awful question of domestic violence, is how can people ever be motivated or made to change? In our public culture and policy settings, we just seem to have very few limited levers that we can pull.

PJ: The problem is that in our culture, having dispensed with God, we’ve turned the government into God. But the government is not a very good god and the government cannot do what is expected of them. And so there is call after call for action. There is no way we want one woman to be murdered. We don’t want anyone to be murdered.

TP: Not even a man for that matter.

PJ: Yes, although it is emotionally worse for a woman or a child to be murdered in the sense of the vulnerability of women and the fragility of childhood. It’s unfair competition that is being applied. Irrespective of how long feminists have been telling us that women are just as strong as men, it’s not actually true. And that’s why when those who are more defenseless are being attacked and murdered, it’s just worse. It’s just wrong. It is a great evil. And, wherever possible, we must stop it. But the government can’t. It has been trying for years. It has never succeeded and never will succeed either. I’ve been saddened and amused by the fact that their solution had been putting more money into the question, because that’s all they’ve got: money. They’ve got a police force and they can make laws but… 

TP: There already are laws that say this is wrong.

PJ: More laws are not going to really do it. Neither is more money really going to change things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t respond, but the government responds because there is a current emergency rather than a long term plan that is actually going to make a difference. And their response never seems to actually stop it because in a little while, there will be another emergency. On average each week there is a woman murdered in Australia in domestic violence. If there was one per year that would be too many.  

TP: What you’re saying reminds me of an author we quoted a few weeks ago–Nicholas Aroney, who is a Queensland academic.

PJ: I think he’s a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Queensland.

TP: And I’ve got a quote here. He says, “A current feature of our public discourse is that when calamity strikes, the best and only solutions we can imagine are more laws and better education. But even education is a limited and incomplete strategy. If law is inadequate because it can only deal with our external actions, education is deficient because it can only inform our minds and fill our heads with information.”

PJ: Yes, it’s a great quote that comes from a speech he made here in Sydney some years ago, I think for Scot’s College (he has a Presbyterian background). And he is right. Over and over again, when there’s a crisis, it comes out in the media and they say we’ve got to have this in schools, we’ve got to teach young people about this, and we’re going to get the government to change laws. 

But there have been some interesting articles in the last few weeks that the education solution has failed because they’ve tried to teach that the problem is with boys. After all, most of the domestic violence happens with males killing females. They say we have got to teach boys to be more respectful of girls, and of course boys should respect girls. But after ten to fifteen years of doing this teaching, there’s been no change. Trying to teach all boys that they’ve got to respect girls is not actually going to change the situation of the particular boys who wind up as men killing women. 

TP: Who are a very small percentage of men.

PJ: Of course we don’t want to be defending men. 

TP: Not at all. 

PJ: But the concept that if we have an egalitarian society, we will reduce domestic violence, is patently not true. And so people have pointed to what they call the ‘Nordic Paradox’, which is that the Nordic (or Scandinavian) countries that have made the greatest efforts to teach egalitarianism, and which by law are among the most egalitarian societies in the world, have in fact seen no decline in domestic violence; if anything, they has been an increase.

And certainly our 15 or so years of this solution of educating boys has not seen a decline in domestic violence in Australia. So it’s not working. There have been several articles from an academic at New South Wales University in criminology who has been arguing that we need to pivot in our response to this by actually dealing with the particular kinds of issues and the particular kinds of people who create domestic violence. And so it’s not all men, but rather a certain kind of men, a certain group of men. We need to find and speak on the subject and the ways in which certain contributing factors are nearly always there–alcohol, gambling, poverty… 

TP: And the consumption of violent pornography.

PJ: Yes. This particular set of problems don’t cause domestic violence, but they are heavily correlated to it and they exacerbate the problem. But we keep ignoring it. We keep ignoring that usually alcohol or drugs have been involved in the week or so in which it happens. We keep avoiding it because as a culture, we don’t want to change. Interestingly our Prime Minister said that we need to change these laws and fix things but that we’ve also got to understand this is a social problem; and that our society needs to change.

Well, I agree with that. However, of course, the way they try to change society is by education. And that’s no better than thinking legislation is going to change it. By all means legislate, by all means educate, but they’re not going to do the trick. 

TP: Because in a sense they’re extrinsic, aren’t they? Both law and education come from outside. Their attempt to bring change comes from either forcing the change through coercion or trying to motivate you to change through reward or punishment, or from giving you information and trying to persuade you to change from an external source. And it just doesn’t work. 

PJ: And that’s again where Professor Aroney has put his finger on a much better way forward.

TP: I think you’re referring to the rest of the quote where he says something more is needed. He says, “If we are to be motivated to do what is best for ourselves, for our communities, and for the world in which we live, we need something more. This ‘something more’, I argue, is religion. Properly understood, religion offers something that mere law and mere education cannot. Religion penetrates to the heart. It motivates the will. There are not only two but rather three pathways to the good society: law, education, and religion.”

PJ: I’m sure it’s right. I’m sure democracy only works in a culture that is accepting of certain religious, cultural expectations. And we’ve tried to run democracy without religion for the last 60-70 years, and it’s patently not working. That’s because what will change people is the work of God in the gospel. It has changed people in the past and it will in the future because God is at work. That’s why Romans 6 is talking to us about how it’s not a matter of rules. The law hasn’t changed us; the law just condemns us. It’s the grace of God that actually changes us. But when people hear about this grace, they think it means you just go ahead and sin more, but that shows they have not yet understood the grace properly. Look at the history. Grace has meant that people have actually changed for the better. 

TP: Which is what Paul goes on to explain in Romans 6. If you really understand what has happened to you in grace, and what God’s grace has achieved, it’s a momentous motivation for powerful change. So why don’t we read the passage and then unfold what it is saying about this power as motivation for change? 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

PJ: Tony, you read beautifully, but when you read that, it makes me realize why people don’t understand it.

TP: It’s a complex couple of paragraphs, isn’t it? 

PJ: It’s very complicated. And it just goes on and on. How do I grasp it? One of the things I noticed in studying Romans 6-7 is there are four objections that Paul answers, and he answers it with the same structure each time:

  • He immediately says, “By no means” which means ‘absolutely not’. So he says, you’re wrong.
  • Then he says, “Don’t you know that … ?” And he points back to what they know from the gospel.
  • And in that knowledge, he then thirdly points to what he’s commanding us to be or to do. “Since you know this, then this is what you should do.”
  • And then fourthly, there’s an encouragement. “This will be the good thing that comes from it.” 

So how about we go back through the passage and look for the pattern. He starts with “By no means!”. What’s the second step—the thing that we should know from the gospel?

TP:  He says: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

PJ: Yes. When I become a Christian, I deny myself, take up the cross, and follow him. So he dies for me in such a way that I now embrace his death. I have given up my life; I’ve died with him. Remember Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever will save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.” So I embrace the death of Jesus by dying to myself. That’s the first thing I know. What else do I know?

TP: Well, we were buried with him by baptism into death, it says. So his death is our death. We’ve died with him, but we’ve been raised with him to a new life. 

PJ: Yes. Because we’ve been born again, so we no longer live the Tony Payne or Phillip Jensen life; we now are living the new Jesus life. Baptism was a time when people were given Christian names because it’s symbolic of the new life and the new person that you’ve become. What else do we know?

TP: I think I missed one that comes before the mention of new life in verse 6—it also says that we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For the one who has died has been set free from sin. What does that mean? 

PJ: Well, remember back in Romans 3:9 it says that we’re all under sin. That ‘sin’ that we’re under is not just sins or the things we do; sin is a disease that is riddling our existence like a cancer. So the cancer has been cut out, it’s gone. The control of sin in our life, the life of sin, is the old life that I’ve died to. It’s not talking about whether I sin or not, it’s talking about the authority of sin over my life. The rule of sin has now been killed.

TP: The contrast is with what we saw in Romans 1 where having rejected God, we were given over to a whole life of sin. In rebelling against God, everything goes astray, our desires get mucked up. We end up being given over to a depraved, darkened and futile sort of existence. But now we have died to that; and we live under a whole new regime. 

PJ: Yes. The fundamental thing is the rejection of God and what you see is the consequences of that. But now I’ve died to self, I’ve come alive with Christ to God, and so that fundamental rejection that led to all those other sins has changed. It’s over. The slavery I was under is finished. I’m no longer committed to my master called Sin.

TP: So we’re no longer under that old master. But instead, we now live a whole new life, a life that lasts forever because Jesus has risen from the dead, because his resurrection means that our resurrection is also guaranteed. 

PJ: Yes, and it’s a permanent state. I can use illustrations but no illustration is going to work perfectly. But you know, you’re still playing golf. 

TP: Sadly, yes. 

PJ: I’ve given my golf sticks away. I can’t do it anymore. And so I can call you a golfer, but there’s no point calling me a golfer. It’s over. It’s done. And even if I went and bought another set of sticks, I still couldn’t play anymore. The arthritis in the hands, the eyesight, it’s gone. And so that’s a past life. 

TP: And so (as Paul is saying) if you want to suggest that since we’ve now had our sins forgiven by God’s grace, then we can just keep sinning all the more, because we’ll only then get more grace …  Well, you haven’t understood anything! You’re behaving as if you’re still under sin. You haven’t understood that what’s happened by God’s grace is a transfer from one dominion to another, from one life to another, from an old life to a new life. There’s an old you that is now finished with. And there’s a new you that lives under a new power in a new life in a new country and it’s permanent.

PJ: Yes, because Jesus hasn’t risen to die again; he has risen for all time. It’s a new kingdom. It’s a new world. It’s a new age. And so therefore, the third step of the argument is, what are we commanded? If that’s true, then what should we do?

TP: Well, looking at the passage, it in verse 11: 

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

That’s the first imperative or command I can see there. Is that right?

PJ: That’s right. I’ve got to think of myself now as no longer in the world of sin. I’m now in the world of Jesus. Verse 11 gives you the principle of what’s happening in your mind. That’s the new state. But verses 12 and 13 spell out what the new state looks like. 

TP: Romans 6:12 —

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

PJ: So while there’s the great principle of sin, there are also the particularities of sins. So if in principle I no longer live in the kingdom of sin but in the kingdom of grace and Jesus, then I mustn’t obey the principles of the kingdom of sin. Namely, I’m not to present my body to do those things that I used to do. So yes, I’ve made the great change away from Romans 1:18. I’m no longer rejecting God. The choices and consequences of that lifestyle are still around and available to me, but if I’ve made the change from rejecting God to accepting God—well, then I don’t live that way anymore. I’m going to do it the other way. 

TP: So the new way of seeing and understanding yourself, realizing who you now are in Christ, means that the idea that you would go back to obeying that old power and living under sin and doing sinful things is just absurd. We have a whole new mind of who I now am and what Christ has done. I want to present myself and my body and all that I am–my members, as it says, all the different parts of me–I want to present it all to God to do what is righteous in that new kingdom of grace rather than the old. 

PJ: Yes, it is like I come from another country to migrate to Australia in order to live in exactly the same style–in the same poverty, in the same language–as the previous country. No, I’ve come to the new world to live a new life.

TP: So then live a new life. That’s what we’re urged to do. So there are imperatives there. Here’s what you do on the basis of what you already do know. And then he finishes with a flourish to say there’s a final thing, which is to encourage them once more about who they are.

PJ: Yes, verse 14 is wonderful. “Sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law but under grace.” I was always fighting against the law and being condemned by it, but in grace the law of God is now in my heart and I want to do what God wants me to do. And so I am changed internally. It’s no longer that extrinsic morality; it’s now an intrinsic morality. And that’s something that no Australian legislation, or educational system, or even the external law of God itself will ever bring about. The grace of God transforms me intrinsically so that I no longer want to do that which is wrong. It doesn’t mean I always get it right. I’m not claiming perfection. You mustn’t use this passage as a perfection doctrine, as some people have. But it’s saying that the big change has happened, and the command to put it into effect is because of the encouragement that the change has happened.

TP: We’ll see as Romans goes along that it’s quite obviously the case that perfection hasn’t arrived, and that there’s still an obligation on us as God’s people to put to death those remnants of our old selves and the old habits and the old temptations and the old motivations and old intentions. So it clearly assumes that there’s a lingering after-effect in our lives of the reign of sin. And we’ve all seen this in our lives. But this passage discusses the motivation and nature of what really brings change. It’s the gospel of grace itself—and if you think that somehow the gospel is not about change and transformation, or if you think it’s a licence to sin all the more, well you haven’t understood it at all. 

PJ: And if you think you can coerce people to be non-coercive, which is what legislation is doing, it doesn’t work. But if you hear about the wonderful grace of God, then you can change not just the person, but also society, because the Christian change is not from the top down but from the bottom up. Because the transforming work of the gospel changes not just individuals. As many individuals change, we change the way in which the community itself lives. But sadly, our secularists want to change society without the gospel. And, sadly, it’s only going to get worse.

TP: It’s a passage which, on the one hand, is gloriously hopeful about what God does in the lives of people to actually bring change and to do that which we patently can’t do, either individually or socially. It’s a passage of great hope, and as chapter five says it’s something in which we rejoice and give thanks. But it also is a sobering reminder that without this gospel, there is no hope for real, lasting change.

If you have benefitted from this resource, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to provide free resources.

Support us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *