1 Sep 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
One of the causes of confusion in understanding verse 6 is Paul’s use of the verb *crucified*. For many people associate it with Galatians 5:24, where ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus’ are said to ‘have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’. A mental link between these two verses would naturally suggest that here too in verse 6 Paul is alluding to the crucifixion of our old nature. But the two verses are entirely different, since Romans 6:6 describes something which has happened to us (*our old self was crucified with him*), whereas Galatians 5:24 refers to something which we ourselves have done (we ‘have crucified the sinful nature’). There are in fact two quite distinct ways in which the New Testament speaks of crucifixion in relation to holiness. The first is our death to sin through identification with Christ; the second is our death to self through imitation of Christ. On the one hand, we have been crucified with Christ. But on the other we have crucified (decisively repudiated) our sinful nature with all its desires, so that every day we renew this attitude by taking up our cross and following Christ to crucifixion (Lk. 9:23). The first is a legal death, a death to the penalty of sin; the second is a moral death, a death to the power of sin. The first belongs to the past, and is unique and unrepeatable; the second belongs to the present, and is repeatable, even continuous. I died to sin (in Christ) once; I die to self (like Christ) daily. It is with the first of these two deaths that Romans 6 is chiefly concerned, although the first is with a view to the second, and the second cannot take place without the first.
But how has the fact that our former self was crucified with Christ resulted in the disabling of our sinful self and so in our rescue from sin’s slavery? Verse 7 supplies the answer. It is *because anyone who has died has been freed from sin*. At least that is the AV, RSV and NIV rendering. It seems to lack adequate warrant, however, since *freed* translates *dedikaiotai* which means ‘has been justified’. True, there is some slight evidence from early Jewish literature that *dikaioo* could mean to ‘make free or pure’ (BAGD). But there is a perfectly good word in Greek for to ‘set free’. namely *eleutheroo*, which in fact Paul uses in verses 18 and 22, whereas *dikaioo* comes fifteen times in Romans, and twenty-five times in the New Testament, in all of which occurrences the natural meaning is to ‘justify’. So surely the verse should be translated ‘he who has died has been justified from his sin’. But exactly how are our death and consequent justification (7) the basis of our liberation from sin (6)?
The only way to be justified from sin is that the wages of sin be paid, either by in the sinner or by the God-appointed substitute. There is no way of escape but that the penalty be borne. How can a man be justified who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term of imprisonment? Only by going to prison and paying the penalty of his crime. Once he has served his term, he can leave prison justified. He need have no more fear of police or magistrates, for the demands of the law have been satisfied. He has been justified from his sin.
The same principle holds good if the penalty is death. There is no way of justification except by paying the penalty. You may respond that in this case to pay the penalty is no way of escape. And you would be right if we were talking about capital punishment on earth. Once a murderer has been executed (in countries where the death penalty survives), his life on earth is finished. He cannot live again on earth justified, as can a person who has served a prison sentence. But the wonderful thing about Christian justification is that our death is followed by a resurrection, in which we can live the life of a justified person, having paid the death penalty (in and through Christ) for our sin.
For us, then, it is like this. We deserved to die for our sins. And in fact we did die, though not in our own person, but in the person of Jesus Christ our substitute, who died in our place, and with whom we have been united by faith and baptism. And by union with the same Christ we have risen again. So the old life of sin is finished, because we died to it, and the new life of justified sinners has begun. Our death and resurrection with Christ render it inconceivable that we should go back. It is in this sense that our sinful self has been deprived of power and we have been set free.