"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
If the Spirit can do all that is needed in our life, does that imply the more we sin the more grace will abound? (6:1) A first answer is given from the meaning of baptism as the sign of dying to our Adamic self-sufficiency and entry into the newness of life in the Spirit (6:2-10). A second answer will be by considering the change that occurs when a slave is freed (6:12-23).
In both cases the key will be how we die to sin (6:2) and how we are set free from sin (6:18). The idea of dying to sin has sometimes been interpreted as a rigorous ascetic beating down of the body. And being set free from sin has sometimes been interpreted as a form of sinless perfection. By using our model of looking to the powerful agency of the Spirit, Paul's good news elegantly avoids both these heresies.
6:1-2 Paul is conscious that his teaching of living by the freely given grace and power of the Spirit could be taken in an antinomian direction. He feels the need to answer this again in 6:15 and 7:17. Some commentators suggest that the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6 and 11, and perhaps the encouragement of immorality in Revelation 2:14 and 20, were antinomian in saying that we were freed from any sense of right and wrong.
6:3-4 The readers should have known that their baptism into Christ Jesus was a baptism into his death. If we wonder what this could mean, the explanation is in the next verse. "Just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . . we too might walk in newness of life" (6:4). Instead of "by the glory of the Father," The New Jerusalem Bible has "by the Father's glorious power" which exactly fits our model of the agency of the Spirit.
The argument might go like this: Jesus went into death with no assurance of anything except the agency of the Spirit that had empowered him at every stage of his ministry. Baptism would therefore be a sign of our death to Adamic self-sufficiency, and beginning to live in similar dependence on the Spirit. In a previous epistle Paul had explained that "In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). Another epistle tells us that "When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of the God who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:11-12). This suggests that an essential part of baptismal faith was faith in the power of God, or Spirit of God, who had raised Jesus from the death.
Similarly Luke records the words of John the Baptist that "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (3:16). And his Gospel ends with the promise that the disciples were to be "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). He then goes on in the Book of Acts to describe how Peter invited all to turn (as in the Hebrew shubh) and by baptism accept their forgiveness and "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Clearly water baptism was incomplete without receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:2, 5-6; see the previous explanation about circumcision in 2:29).
6:5 Our union with Christ in his death is a similar acceptance of our total inability to change, perfect, or raise our unaided human nature from death . Since Christ went into the enormity of death with faith in the Holy Spirit to work in his dead body, we also have the same assurance.
6:6-7 Paul then uses the violent image of crucifixion to illustrate the radical nature of rejecting or crucifying a trust in our own self- empowerment. Paul had previously used the idea of being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:19). He also said that "All those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). And since it is the Holy Spirit that frees us from the sin of the world, life in the power of the Spirit is a total death to life in the power of the flesh (explained in more detail in 8:4-13).
6:8-9 This means that if we have died to trust in the flesh, as Christ did in his death, then his resurrection power is ours also.
6:10-11 If that is the radical nature of dying to trust in our unaided human flesh, we should live our lives alive to the power of God. That answers the question he began with. To continue in the sin and death of self-sufficient living is totally incompatible with our new life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This section is illustrated by the image of a slave being sold from one master to another. Perhaps Paul has in mind the rare loving master who first frees the slave he has bought, and then encourages him or her in the new life of freedom.
6:12-14 To live in the flesh is "to present your members as instruments of wickedness" (6:13). In 1 Corinthians membership is in the body of Christ into which we are baptized by exercising one or more gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). In Romans 8 what corresponds to presenting our members is the idea of "setting the mind" either on the flesh or on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6). And when our mind is set on the Spirit to exercise our own function in the body of Christ, we find ourselves freed to become what we really longed to be.
In 2 Corinthians we have a similar description of this freedom. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
6:15-19 Now Paul uses the image of a slave who has been transferred from an evil master. The new master longs to see him grow into perfection. Having been transferred, the slave is totally free from the old master ... and there is no need to go back and take orders from him. As in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, having been baptized into the freedom of the Spirit "we present our members" for the life and love of the body of Christ (6:19).
6:20-23 When we lived in the flesh we had no allegiance to the Spirit (20). And Paul asks what benefit we ever got from that previous master. All that spiritual death can offer is eventual disintegration, but spiritual life is eternal (6:22, 23; as in 5:21).
The conclusion is that the unaided flesh makes us work for deadly wages, but the power of the Spirit through faith in Christ is not only a free gift but it is eternal (6:23).