Beginning in Ro 3 21 and running up through Ro 5 Paul has been explaining to the church in Rome how God provided for the redemption and justification of humanity, how God imparted / imputed righteousness to human beings. [Note: The words justification and righteousness both stem from the Greek word dikaiosu,nh.]
Now in Ro 6-8 Paul is going to explain the results, the benefits of righteousness with which Jesus has gifted us through his death and resurrection. Paul he treats these benefits in three parts:
In Ro 6 Paul deals with the freedom humanity now has from sin’s tyranny.
In Ro 7 Paul deals with the freedom humanity now has from the law’s condemnation. And
In Ro 8 Paul teaches us about the life we now have in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Leading up to Ro 6 Paul has been talking about justification by faith alone.
The primary objection to this easy way of salvation – which Luther called justification by faith alone – is that it logically implies a patently false line of reasoning with a ridiculous conclusion: the more we sin, the more God exercises His grace and gains greater glory for so doing; therefore we should sin as much as possible for the glory of God!
Paul’s horrified repudiation of such reasoning in v 2 stems from the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ as dramatized through Christian baptism. In this text Paul reasons that in baptism the believer confesses his death to sin through identification with Christ in His death, and the believer also confesses his coming alive to righteousness through identification with Christ in His resurrection. So far as God is concerned, then, the Christian died when Christ died. Further, the Christian rose when Christ rose. That fact places the Christian under obligation to live as a person who is dead to sin and alive to righteousness. The Christian must therefore form their selfimage according to God’s viewpoint.
How does this fit together within the larger biblical story? We are united with Christ through his death and resurrection which comes through our baptism. In a number of ways this connects up with the story behind the Story. One of the ways it connects up is that the old Exodus was through water. The people of God were saved by God by passing dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea. We see that in 1 Cor 10 1-4 where Paul makes this connection explicit.
So in Ro 6 Paul discusses this important concept of participation, this union with Christ that results in this being empowered and indwelt by the Holy Spirit and filled with the power and presence of God in order to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
vv 1-4 has us in the biblical story in the inaugurated kingdom of God. Paul is talking about the Roman Christians’ lives right now. The kingdom of God is not yet consummated but something miraculous nevertheless has happened to these Christians at Rome. [In the consummated kingdom of God their bodies will be raised.] Within the wider biblical story, the death and resurrection of Christ has brought in the reign of Israel’s God which will culminate at some point in the future in the resurrection of the bodies of God’s people from the dead to dwell forever with the Lord in a renewed creation.
So Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning, the first fruits of the resurrection and the beginning of the new creation. 1 Cor 15 20.
As part of that whole picture the Roman Christians have been baptized into Christ v 3
So, here in vv 1-4 Paul is saying that as the result of Jesus’ resurrection the Roman Christians have been miraculously transformed and, as we previously discussed this in 1 Th, they have been somehow united with Christ in his death and resurrection. In this newness of life, in turn, they will lead a whole new life.
We see this concept of participation inaugurated in Ac at Pentecost and we will see that more fully in Ro, this concept that God has given God’s people the gift of the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit dwells within God’s people. God’s people have been called into this life of sanctification and holiness.
Theologians call this concept participation which is the supernatural and transforming union of believers with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit filled with the power and presence of God in order to be transformed by it. That is, Paul is saying that something has happened here to these Roman Christians, something that is beyond the fact that they are forgiven. Not only are they forgiven but Paul is saying that they have been given this newness of life; they are now alive through Jesus’ resurrection for the first time.
These vv demonstrate the inaugurated character of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ resurrection has brought about a profound change. Their bodies have not yet been raised to life because that is for the consummated kingdom of God yet to come. Still, they have undergone a spiritual resurrection; they have been given new life in this mysterious way of the inaugurated kingdom of God. They have been transformed to walk in newness of life. Paul is making this connection that in baptism we are in a mysterious but very real way united with Christ in his death and resurrection through our baptism. v 3. So that new life that walked out of the tomb according to Paul on Easter Sunday is now at work in these Roman Christians to transform them.