Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 6:12-23


A Summary of Romans 6:12-23~After having spoken so forcefully about the exalted life of Christians who, through Baptism, have died to sin and risen to holiness of life with the risen Christ, the Apostle now takes care to exhort his readers to be ever on their guard against their enemy, sin, lest, resting too confidently in their new estate of grace, they become careless, and again falling under its sway, become subject to its tyrannical dominion. They can now avoid sin, because they are living under grace. Let no one think that, being freed from the slavery of the Law, we now may sin with impunity. On the contrary, as before we served sin unto death, so now we should serve justice unto life eternal. 

Rom 6:12. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, so as to obey the lusts thereof. 

Sin means concupiscence, which remains after original sin has been washed away (St. Aug., Cornely); or, more strictly, according to the text, the sin which entered the world with Adam, and which like a tyrannous monarch has sought to reign among men ever since (Lagrange). Sin reigns in the body when the will yields to the evil desires and passions of the body. As long as we live the remains of sin continue with us, ever inclining us to evil, and it is only through grace that we can resist and overcome the evil desires of our corrupted nature. 

Rom 6:13. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of iniquity unto sin; but present yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of justice unto God. 

Instruments of iniquity. The term οπλα may signify “instruments”; but its meaning here, and everywhere in the New Testament, is rather that of arms. St. Paul exhorts the Christians not to permit the members of their bodies to become weapons, instruments, in the hands of sin to subject them again to the servitude of sin; but rather as dead to sin and living for God, to use their members for God’s honor and glory. 

Instruments of justice. We must serve God not only negatively, by resisting sin, but also positively, by actually using our members in the cause of justice. 

Rom 6:14. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace. 

Sin, i.e., which dominated the Christian before Baptism. If αμαρτια is here used without the article, it is because the Apostle has been speaking all along about the same sin personified which entered the world with Adam’s fall (Lagrange). He tells the Christians they are no longer under the dominion of this sin or its effects, because they are now living under grace, which at all times is sufficient to enable them to live holy lives. They are not under the law, which indicated things to be done and things to be avoided, but did not give the help necessary to carry out its injunctions. We have now “under grace,” not only the Ten Commandments, but also the seven Sacraments to enable us to keep the Commandments.

The Apostle is here speaking of the Law in itself, as separated from faith and the grace which the just of the old Law enjoyed by reason of their belief and hope in the Messiah to come. 

Rom 6:15. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

St. Paul, here, as before in v. 1, forestalls an objection which might be raised against his teaching. Some of the ill-instructed converts might argue that since they were no longer under the Law but under grace, they were free to violate with impunity the moral precepts of the Law. He hastens to correct a misunderstanding so erroneous. Such an impious teaching would have been similar to Luther’s pernicious doctrine regarding faith and imputed justice. 

Rom 6:16. Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are whom you obey, whether it be of sin unto death, or of obedience unto justice.

St. Paul, in order to show the falsity of the possible inference in the preceding verse, directs the minds of his readers to a well-known truth, namely, that no servant can at the same time serve two opposing masters (Matt 6:24). The masters in question are sin, on the one side, and God on the other (verse 22). Although the Christian through Baptism becomes mystically united to Christ, he does not cease to have toward God the relation of a servant to his Master. If, therefore, one yields his members to obey the behests of sin, he becomes the servant of sin which leads to death, temporal and eternal; but if, on the contrary, one uses his members to serve God, he is the servant of God and this service of God leads to justice, i.e., to sanctity, the practical fruit of a life lived in Jesus Christ. 

Rom 6:17. But thanks be to God, that you were the servants of sin, but have obeyed from the heart, unto that form of doctrine, into which you have been delivered.

Here the Apostle thanks God for that, by His grace, the Romans have ceased to be the slaves of iniquity and have become the docile servants of the Gospel of Christ. They have replaced the servitude of sin by obedience to Christ’s teachings. 

That you were servants, etc. Better, “Whereas you were servants,” etc. (ητε δουλοι). 

From the heart shows the alacrity with which the Romans had accepted and obeyed the Christian teaching which they had received.

The form ( τυπον) of doctrine is the Gospel which was announced to all Christians (2 Tim 1:13). The terms, type, rule, form of doctrine represent the Gospel as containing a moral teaching, but without the forbidding menaces of the Law (Lagrange). 

Rom 6:18. Being then freed from sin, we have been made servants of justice.

This verse, which concludes the preceding one, should not be separated from it by a period, but should be taken to gether with it. The conjunction introducing the verse ought to be and, instead of then.

The conclusion which follows from the two preceding verses is that Christians, being now servants of the Gospel, should hold themselves aloof from sin and serve only justice, i.e., holiness and sanctity. It is quite evident that the sin (της αμαρτιας) of this verse refers to that which came into the world with Adam, and not to the concupiscence which followed upon original sin. It is this same sin which has been in question all along. See above, on verses 12 and 14. 

Rom 6:19. I speak an human thing, because of the infirmity of your flesh. For as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity, unto iniquity; so now yield your members to serve justice, unto sanctification.

Here Paul explains how Christians are to serve justice. The first part of the verse, down to for, is a kind of parenthesis, of which there are two chief interpretations. According to the first, which is that of most Catholics, St. Paul says that the precept he is about to give his readers, the Christians, is merely human, i.e., light, easy to obey, namely, that for the future they should use their members in doing for justice at least as much as they had done in the past for sin. Hence this precept is called “human,” as being accommodated to the human weakness of the faithful. According to the second interpretation, which is that of a few Catholics and most modern non-Catholic authorities, Paul says that when speaking before of the servitude of justice, he spoke in a human way, in order to accommodate himself to the intellectual incapability of the Romans who could not yet comprehend this great truth that to serve God is really to reign.

The second part of this verse, which begins with for (γαρ), connects what follows with verse 18, and explains what is meant by being servants of justice. As the Romans, before their conversion, had been slaves to impurity and immorality of all kinds, they are now exhorted to become servants of “justice” unto sanctification.

20. For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice.

When the Romans were the slaves of sin, they were free men to justice, better, they “were free as regards justice,” i.e., they paid no attention to justice, but gave themselves entirely up to sin. This freedom, or rather, neglect of their own righteousness, however, did not excuse the Romans from responsibility. Sin and justice are here represented as rival masters; while serving one, it was impossible to serve the other. 

Rom 6:21. What fruit therefore had you then in those things, of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death. 

What fruit, etc., i.e., what result had you then in the evil satisfactions of your sins? The answer understood is, none; or, only those evil fruits of which you are now ashamed, because they lead to death, temporal and eternal. According to some of the best critical editions of the Greek text the interrogation point should be after then, thus: “What fruit had you then? That of which you are now ashamed” (Theodoret). 

Rom 6:22. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting.

The fruits, therefore, of the sins of the Romans were two—shame and death; but now, being free from sin, and become servants of justice, they should produce the fruits of good works, which are personal sanctification and, in the end, life eternal. 

Rom 6:23. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

The wages. The Greek word for “wages,” οψωνια, properly signifies that pay which is due a soldier for his sustenance, to which, therefore, the soldier has a strict right. Throughout St. Paul has been representing sin as a cruel master who gives death eternal as pay to the soldiers, i.e., to the sinners, who serve him. In contrast to this one might have expected the Apostle to say that the wages, or pay of justice is life eternal; but he has rather said that the grace of God is life eternal, i.e., life eternal is the recompense of the grace of God, or of our works which proceed from the grace of God. In other words, sin merits eternal death, but our good works of themselves cannot merit eternal life; this latter is due to the gratuitous grace of God, which is the source of our good works that merit eternal life. Our good works are the result of grace, and life eternal is given in reward for the good works which grace produces in us. This is why St. Paul calls life everlasting “the grace of God,” i.e., the result, or effect, or reward of God’s grace; and this is all given in Christ Jesus, etc., i.e., through Christ, our Redeemer and Mediator, the source of all graces; or in Christ, in quantum in ipso sumus per fidem et caritatem (St. Thomas).

From the foregoing it must not be concluded that the Christian may be indifferent in his actions and works, trusting all to the grace of God. Through Baptism he is initiated into the service of God. Therefore he must use his members as faithfully in serving justice, as aforetime he did in serving sin (Rom 6:18-20), and thus assisted by the grace which God will give him, he will procure his sanctification and eternal salvation.

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