Chapter six portrays the ideal situation for a living Christian. What God’s grace and righteousness should accomplish in a believer’s life is nothing short of perfection. However, this requires a complete mindset shift in the person himself, namely, that a believer is dead to sin and its power (Romans 6:1-4). This occurs immediately at salvation, when a new believer is “baptized into Christ Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit baptizes or places a person into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Although water baptism is a symbol of what took place at salvation, it does not actually cause a spiritual change in a person. Paul was referring to Spirit baptism in Romans 6 when he wrote that those “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” The result of this joining with Christ is that “just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too may live a new life.” Because of this spiritual reality, our old sinful nature “no longer dominate[s] us.” Thus, we should live with this mindset: “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:5-11). Doing this in practice requires an intentional choice and act: everything we are and have belongs only to Jesus for his exclusive use (Romans 6:12-14).
The truth that an unbeliever is enslaved to sin is often understated (Romans 6:15-23). The depravity that Paul discussed in the first chapters does not mean that each individual person lives as badly or sinfully as he possibly could. Rather, it means that, spiritually speaking, each person is as bad off and separated from God as he could possibly be. The fact that many unbelievers do a lot of wonderful things does not change their spiritual state. They are still, by nature, enslaved to sin, living for themselves and rejecting God and his gift of righteousness. At salvation, God frees a person from sin and grants the new believer Jesus’ own righteousness. He wants all believers to voluntarily “enslave” themselves to him as their new Master and Lord, but that is often not the case. Many believers continue to live subject to sin and self rather than the Savior, even though they no longer have to live that way. Because of this, although their sins are forgiven, they will never enjoy the fullness of eternal life (knowing God intimately, John 17:3).