What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (6:1; ESV)
Understanding Paul’s rhetorical questions is important to properly understanding this section of Romans. The NIV translation seems to miss the picture that the apostle Paul is trying to paint. The NIV reads, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” But the NIV changes sin from being a noun to a verb. Paul is not saying, “Since we have grace, can we go out and commit many sins?” This is not the question Paul is answering. Look at the question again that Paul poses. “Are we to continue in sin?” Or to state the question another way, “Are we to remain in sin?” The idea behind the phrase is to remain in a place or remain in a status. We noticed in Romans 5 that sin and death are personified and described as a wicked ruling power. Sin is spoken of as coming into the world (5:12) and as ruling like a king (5:21). Paul is continuing that usage. Paul is asking if we can remain in the place of sin. Paul is questioning if we should remain under the power and reign of sin. N.T. Wright uses an excellent illustration to help clarify the point. “Should we remain in France and thus act like those who live in that country?” To bring this illustration to Romans 6, Paul is asking if we should continuing living in the country of sin and act like those who live in that country.
This question closely relates to Paul’s teaching in Romans 5. Once Adam sinned, we live in a world full of sin, death, and corruption. But Christ has come bringing super-abounding grace. So we do not have to live in the country of sin. The Christian now lives in the country of grace and justification. Sin reigned in Adam, according to Romans 5. Paul is asking Christians, “Shall we remain under sin’s rule?” “Should we continue living under its power?”
While the NIV translation carries some of the idea, it does miss the mark. Paul is not asking if we should go on sinning because we have the grace of Christ. Rather, since we have the grace of Christ, can we still live under the rule and power of sin? Can we still live in the country of sin and act like the citizens of that ruling power? While the distinction is slight, it makes better sense of Paul’s teaching in the verses to come.
More on Romans 6 to come….