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.Romans 6:1-7
This passage from Paul has been one of the richest I have come across recently that has expanded my horizons of what salvation entails. In this passage Paul makes central the idea that the process of salvation is us being united to Christ.
The standard and prevalent view of salvation that I have come across is that Christ saves us primarily through his death. This view holds that his death is payment for the penalty of our sins and therefore he takes on the punishment that was due to us. And by taking that punishment upon himself, we no longer need to face that punishment and are therefore saved and God is able to forgive us. However, what Paul argues here is that we are saved by the life and person of Christ and not simply the event of his death. This is especially clear in Romans 5:8-11 where Paul says after we are justified by his blood and reconciled to God through the death of Christ, we will be saved by his life. In other words what saves us is not only the death and blood of Christ as an offering (the event of his death) but simply Christ.
Christ is not simply our substitute whose work of saving us is done entirely apart from us. Paul makes clear that in some real sense in the process of salvation we are united to Christ. Our union to him unites us to his death which results in the power of sin present in us being destroyed. The underlying premise is that the death of Christ results in the destruction of our bondage to sin.
This naturally leads to the fact that salvation results in a fundamental change in our nature. The old self enslaved to sin is done away with and crucified with Christ; and the new self with the potential and capacity of truly living in obedience, righteousness and in harmony with God is made alive. Our union to Christ unites us to his sin killing death and unites us to his life giving resurrection. This new nature we receive is a total transformation that occurs within the self and not outside of us. This new transformed nature is the basis for our sanctification being possible. Sanctification is the actualisation of the potential and capacity we possess in the new self. We are now able to bare the sweet fruits of love, temperance, justice, wisdom, self-control, patience and humility; because we now possess the righteousness of Christ, a nature with the inherent potential and capacity for such fruits.
Justification means to be made truly just and righteous. In verse 7, the word “set free” translates the greek word dikaioo which is the same word Paul uses in other places to refer to being justified (Romans 3:24). Paul uses the same word, to be justified, to describe this entire process of union with Christ which leads to our bondage to sin being broken and a new regenerated self emerging.
Therefore justification cannot be limited to mean being in good legal standing with God, or a process that is alien and extrinsic to you referring only to how God sees you. To be justified means to be made just, and we are made just not by our own actions but by grace which unites us to Christ.
The central theme, locus and crux of salvation and life is being united with Christ – now and for eternity.