Sunday School Lesson

July 31

Lesson 9

From Death to Life

Devotional Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Background Scripture: Romans 6

Romans 6:1-4, 12-14, 17-23

1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

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

17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Key Verse

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. —Romans 6:4

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize the dramatic change that occurs in the life of one who turns to Christ.

2. Explain the death/life and slave/free metaphors that Paul uses.

3. Identify a part of himself of herself to offer more fully as an instrument of righteousness to God and make a plan to do so.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. “Gotta Serve Somebody”

B. Lesson Background

I. Death and Life (Romans 6:1-4, 12-14)

A. Faulty Logic (vv. 1, 2)

B. Correct Thinking (v. 3)

C. New Life (v. 4)

D. Godly Imperatives (vv. 12, 13)

E. Saving Grace (v. 14)

II. Sin and Righteousness (Romans 6:17-23)

A. Different Masters (vv. 17-20)

Servant to ... What?

B. Different Results (vv. 21-23)

The Good Purpose

Conclusion

A. Lingering Sin

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. “Gotta Serve Somebody”

In 1979, the iconoclastic folk singer Bob Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity with a new album titled Slow Train Coming. It featured the Grammy Award-winning “Gotta Serve Somebody,” a song that expressed that new Christian’s understanding of how life really works. Dylan sang of the fact that life involves service either to Satan or to the Lord.

Dylan’s spiritual journey since then has been the subject of much speculation. But the words of his song ring true today, nearly 40 years later. Many people think they serve only themselves. Their highest good is their own pleasure and satisfaction. They reject God’s authority in their lives, often by denying His existence.

Yet as Dylan discovered, we are all servants of another. We delude ourselves if we think we are the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. That outlook leads us to become slaves to our passions, which in turn leads to horribly messy lives and an eternity without Christ. The apostle Paul stresses that we are either servants to sin or servants to righteousness. There is no middle ground. This is the topic for today’s lesson.

B. Lesson Background

Much of Romans 6 uses the metaphor of slavery, which is the intent behind the words servants and serve in this chapter. This fact brings with it a problem of certain mental associations, since slavery in the ancient world was not always equivalent to the slavery of the U.S. into the nineteenth century.

America’s sordid history of slavery involved slave traders “harvesting” people in Africa, transporting them from their homeland, then selling them as commodities. This was often justified on the racist theory that such Africans were inferior, even subhuman. This horrific legacy tends to dominate our understanding of the practice of slavery.

In Paul’s day, however, people became slaves for various reasons. Most slaves were the human spoils of war, peoples from nations conquered by the Roman legions. Roman slavery was not based on race, and there was no assumption that slaves were soulless or intellectually inferior.

Some slaves were highly educated, and their masters were known to free them after a period of service. Such people thus attained the status of loyal freedmen (compare “the synagogue of the Libertines”—think “liberated”—in Acts 6:9). But unless such freedom was granted, slaves were considered possessions of their owners, and we should not think that slaves were never abused in that regard. Even so, slavery in the first century AD did not have the across-the-board odious reputation we generally associate with that word now.

We also acknowledge that slavery in the first-century Roman Empire and in nineteenth-century America operated under similar assumptions. There was a master, and slaves were obligated to serve that master. Disobedience could be punished harshly. The will of the master was primary, and the slave had to obey. This is the background for much of what Paul has to say, for when he refers to people as “servants of sin,” he means that sin is their master whom they serve like slaves.

I. Death and Life

                                                           (Romans 6:1-4, 12-14)

 

A. Faulty Logic (vv. 1, 2)

1. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

Paul begins this section with two rhetorical questions. These are questions for which the answers should be obvious. The second question deserves close scrutiny, and we can see in it this flow of logic: (1) Since forgiveness of sin is a sign of God’s grace to us and (2) since grace is a good thing, then (3) why not sin all the more so that we may get more grace from God?

How to Say It

Galatians Guh-lay-shunz.

Libertines Lib-er-teens.

synagogue sin-uh-gog.

Thessalonians Thess-uh-lo-nee-unz (th as in thin).

 

Paul is using a technique known as “reduction to the absurd.” In this method, an argument is boiled down to a level at which supporting it seems crazy. Anyone who would argue that continuation of sin is a good thing because it results in more opportunities for God to forgive us has missed the point entirely! Do we think we are doing God a favor by increasing His grace business?

What Do You Think?

What techniques, tactics, etc., have you found to be helpful in overcoming persistent sin?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Before being tempted

While being tempted

2. God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Paul answers his own question, using some of the strongest language found in his letters: God forbid. We can sense impatience and even anger in his tone.

Paul then poses another question that highlights the absurdity of sinning in order to receive more grace: If we have died to sin, why would it still be a living force in our lives? Is sin dead or alive for us? The idea of being dead to sin is central to what follows.

Lest we think that Paul is merely opposing first-century nuttiness, let us cast this in modern terms: Is it possible for a Christian to engage in ongoing sinful behavior and still feel good about it? Why are so many Christians comfortable doing things the Bible condemns as sin? Does the assurance of forgiveness make sin less serious?

Paul is demanding that we take a sober look at continuing sin. He begins this discussion with a surprising object lesson: our baptism (next verse).

B. Correct Thinking (v. 3)

3. Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Paul appeals to baptism as a shared experience. He asks if his readers understand baptism to be a type of death. While this is a sort of rhetorical question, the answer may not be obvious to all. The expected response may be, “No, I did not understand baptism that way. I’m listening. Tell me more.” Remember that unlike his other letters, Romans is written to a congregation where Paul has not taught in person. Some of his teachings may be new to these readers.

Visual for Lesson 9. Point to this visual as you ask, “What is your reaction to this illustration?” Encourage free discussion.

Baptism is an act rich with symbolism, but death is not the obvious way of understanding it. Baptism is biblically depicted as a type of washing that accompanies a spiritual cleansing of sins (see Acts 22:16; compare 1 Peter 3:21). This is why we find baptism tied to repentance, a renouncing of sin (see Luke 3:3). For Paul, we find baptism also connected with a personal identification of the believer with Christ (see Galatians 3:27).

C. New Life (v. 4)

4. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Paul now explains the baptism/death analogy. The key connection is the image of burial. Only dead people are buried. Since baptism is a type of burial, it therefore must involve a death—the death is the sinful life of the believer. Baptized persons put sin to death and bury it when they believe, repent, and are baptized (see Colossians 2:12). Churches have practiced baptism in various ways from early centuries, but it is worth noting that the burial analogy works best if we understand baptism as a full immersion of a person under water.

Paul’s lesson does not end under the water, however. Baptized persons come up out of the water, and Paul sees this as parallel with Christ’s coming out of the grave in resurrection. Jesus died, but God brought Him back to life. Paul wants his readers to understand that at the point of conversion (symbolized here by baptism), the believer’s old life of sin has died and a new life begins.

This analogy has splendid teaching points, and these are worth pointing out when a person is baptized. There is a sense of death when one is completely under the water, for normal sensory perceptions are suspended. You cannot hear. You cannot smell. With eyes probably closed, you cannot see. It is like a momentary death.

What Do You Think?

In what ways do others see newness of life in you? What adjustments in that regard do you need to make?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding what fellow Christians see

Regarding what unbelievers see

D. Godly Imperatives (vv. 12, 13)

12. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

Here in the first half of Romans, Paul personifies three spiritual realities as being tyrants; each has dominion as it reigns over us. All this is described with language derived from a king’s reigning over his subjects or from a master’s ruling over his slaves.

The first of these three is death, introduced as a reigning tyrant in Romans 5:14. The second is sin, explicitly seen as the reigning tyrant in the verse before us. The third is the law, spoken of extensively in chapters 2 and 3, but introduced fully as having “dominion” in 7:1 (but see 6:14, below). These three oppress us in different ways. We fear death, we suffer because of sin, and we are judged inadequate by the law (see 2:12).

Paul urges his readers not to allow the ominous spiritual tyrant of sin to exercise any sort of authority in their lives. He’s not talking about abstract sins of the intellect, but about real-world acts that involve our bodies. Such sins come from yielding to the lusts thereof. The underlying Greek reflects language Paul uses elsewhere when talking about sexual sins (Romans 1:24; see 1 Thessalonians 4:5).

Sexual passion in and of itself is not a sin, but adultery and fornication definitely are. We do not necessarily sin when we have desires (Matthew 5:28 being an exception), but when we yield to them. It works this way: “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). This is letting the tyrant of sin have lordship.

13. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

The word members refers to the parts of the human body, such as hands or ears. This use is reflected in English in the word dismember, referring to cutting off an arm or leg. Paul urges his readers to reserve every part of their bodies as instruments to be used for God’s right purposes.

We cannot live lives of divided loyalties, serving two masters. We must yield fully every aspect of ourselves to the service of God. We are not partly alive and partly dead. We are completely alive from the dead (Ephesians 2:5). In the new life, we serve only God in acts of righteousness.

E. Saving Grace (v. 14)

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

Paul returns to his tyrant language, insisting again that sin cannot be our master. The reason for this is found in the controlling rule by which we live. If we allow sin to dominate us, then we position ourselves to be subject to the law. Paul certainly has the Jewish law in mind here, but the application is broader if under the law is understood to mean “under the old realm.” Paul has already argued that if we are under the law, then we are judged guilty (see Romans 3:19, 20). Anyone who attempts to be righteous by rule-keeping will fail (3:23).

Instead, we are to be ruled by grace. It is not about which law or set of rules we try to keep, but about which master we serve. Even when we avoid sinful behavior, we are mastered by sin if we are doing this in an attempt to earn favor with God (the way of law). If our motivation is to serve God, then righteous behavior will follow naturally.

II. Sin and Righteousness

                                                                  (Romans 6:17-23)

 

A. Different Masters (vv. 17-20)

17. But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

Paul knows that the repatterning of a life to avoid serving sin is not a simple or easy thing. It does not happen accidentally or by chance. It comes from solid teaching, clear doctrine that is faithfully conveyed.

This is the process of discipling, the instruction of a newly baptized person in the ways of the Christian faith. Such is the core of the famous Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19, 20). The initial steps of conversion are not enough. Those must be strengthened by intentional instruction of the new believer.

18. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

Paul sums up with a simple equation: to be made free from sin = being servants of righteousness. We are not freed from sin to serve ourselves. If we think this is the case, then we are still slaves to sin. We serve righteousness, which is the polar opposite of sin. Sin is choosing to do the wrong thing, the thing God does not want. Righteousness is doing the right thing, the thing that is pleasing to God. When we serve righteousness, we are serving God.

What Do You Think?

What are some ways you have seen people try (and fail) to be neither a servant of sin nor a servant of righteousness?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In the business world

In family life

In recreational activities

Other

19. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

Paul acknowledges that he is speaking in simple, basic terms (after the manner of men). This is because of his readers’ infirmity, meaning the ways in which sin has corrupted them and perverted their perceptions. Paul is not being condescending, but rather is being meticulously clear. The stakes are high, and he wants no misunderstanding. Here is the bottom line: sin and righteousness are not intended to coexist in the life of a believer. Uncleanness and iniquity are incompatible with righteousness and holiness.

What Do You Think?

How do we evaluate the differing behavioral expectations that various churches have for their members?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the problem of legalism (Colossians 2:16-23)

Regarding the problem of license (Jude 4)

Regarding local cultural practices

Other

Servant to ... What?

I was on the teaching staff of a small Bible college in the mid-1970s. That was when college students all across the country were demanding more freedoms on campus. In so doing, those students questioned authority, staged protests, occupied deans’ offices, etc. Our small Bible college did not experience all those behaviors, but at one point students made demands to the board of trustees for more freedom from the rules and regulations.

A particular student whom I got to know quite well was the president of the student body. In that capacity, he requested a meeting with the board to explain the students’ requests (or “demands”). But as the time to meet drew near, he came to realize what the students really desired: more freedom to do their own thing. They were not interested in serving any greater good; they just wanted to be allowed to follow their own personal (selfish) desires. Upon that realization, the student-body president dropped the petition and did not even meet with the board. He had no interest in fueling the student’s immature lack of responsibility.

This is roughly what Paul is warning against. Once freed from the bondage of sin, we are not then just “independent contractors” who can do our own thing. We are called to a higher purpose, to serve righteousness. A willingness to accept this service is a mark of spiritual maturity.—C. R. B.

20. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

Sometimes it is worth looking back on our lives. In that regard, the equation of verse 18 applies in the negative as well: to be free from righteousness = being the servants of sin. When we were in the thrall of sin, we cared little about doing the right thing, about following the will of God. If we are slaves to our passions, we are not seeking to serve God.

B. Different Results (vv. 21-23)

21. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

By asking about fruit, Paul means “What things of lasting value did you harvest in your previous lives of sin?” The things of which we are now ashamed are the acts of sin that are in the past. Paul’s pointed question still rings true: Was your life better when it was full of sin? We may think of the Israelites who were freed from slavery in Egypt by the mighty power of God, yet later wanted to return (Numbers 14:1-4). The lure of sin is powerful, especially when sin was at one time a deeply established lifestyle.

Thoughtful analysis of the past reveals that it was not all joyful fun and games. It was pain, disappointment, broken relationships, etc. As Paul puts it, the end of those things is death. This can be true physically and spiritually. Sin kills both body and soul (compare Romans 7:5).

22. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

The contrast is stark. The readers’ previous lives as slaves to sin became a highway to death. But freedom from that ill-chosen life results in fruit unto holiness, a life in concert with God’s will. The holy life is the absolute opposite of the life of sin. The holy life is a highway that leads to everlasting life, not eternal death (compare 1 Peter 1:9).

The Good Purpose

Some philosophers have proposed that to understand people we need to understand what purposes drive them. To evaluate the “goodness” or “badness” of a human purpose involves observing how peoples’ actions turn out. If the result of a certain action is beneficial, then we are able to say that the purpose that drives it is good; if the result of a certain action is harmful, then we are able to say that the purpose that drives it is bad.

But that’s more than a bit simplistic! Because the sale of Joseph into slavery ultimately turned out to be beneficial, should we conclude that the actions of his brothers in that regard reveal a good purpose on their part (Genesis 50:20; etc.)? That added complexity is the result of living in a fallen world.

But God doesn’t live in a fallen world. He is the one who establishes both the purpose of everlasting life and the nature of the good actions of producing “fruit unto holiness” that accompany such a result. So don’t be fooled by “philosophy ... after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). When others criticize or mock your life of holiness, just remember where they get their wisdom—and where you get yours.—C. R. B.

23. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul sums up with one of the most important and oft-quoted verses in the New Testament. By wages, he means “earned and deserved payment.” This is not an inheritance or a gift. Our sin earns a specific end-result: death. The tyrant of sin becomes the tyrant of death. This is more than physical death, the fate of all men and women. This is eternal death. Those who die as slaves to sin will die forever, separated from God eternally.

Paul does not leave us hanging on this dreary note, because there is an alternative: God’s grace can be received as a gift. Receiving this gift is an act of faith, and more than anything else this gift is what Paul has been talking about this whole chapter. God’s gracious gift is our freedom from sin, release from the bondage of that life-long tyrant. Our future is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What Do You Think?

In what ways do people still attempt to earn God’s favor? How do we convince them of their folly?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding behaviors

Regarding speech

Regarding thoughts

Conclusion

 

A. Lingering Sin

Why does sin linger in our lives? Can we ever truly die to sin? It is wise to acknowledge our struggles with ungodly attitudes and behaviors, as Paul himself did in Romans 7:14-23. Denial of sin just makes the situation worse. But here is the lesson of Paul: we must not be dominated by sin. Our focus, our goal, our passion must be for obedience to God’s will.

To accomplish this transformation, Paul tells us to remember our baptism, remember how we pledged our lives to the Lord Jesus and chose to live for Him! Don’t look back on your pre-baptismal life with any fondness. Allow the Holy Spirit to empower you for victory over sins, sins that may be large or small. Don’t just die to these sins—renew your determination to live for Christ.

B. Prayer

Holy God, may You help us in our ongoing struggle to leave sinful things behind and live for You. We pray this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Allow Jesus to break the bondage of sin
in every area of your life!


August 7

Lesson 10

More Than Conquerors

Devotional Reading: 1 John 4:7-16

Background Scripture: Romans 8:28-39

Romans 8:28-39

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Key Verse

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Tell how believers are “more than conquerors” through Jesus.

2. Suggest some challenges that seek to separate Christians from the love of Christ, and tell why they cannot succeed.

3. Make a statement of faith in Christ, expressing confidence in Jesus’ ability to keep him or her in the love of God.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Everything Happens for a Reason?

B. Lesson Background

I. No Chaos of Purpose (Romans 8:28-30)

A. Working for Good (v. 28)

B. Proceeding to Glorification (vv. 29, 30)

II. No Disconnect from Love (Romans 8:31-36)

A. Nothing Spared (vv. 31, 32)

When God Is for Us

B. No One Condemns (vv. 33, 34)

C. Nothing Separates (vv. 35, 36)

III. No Defeat by Foes (Romans 8:37-39)

A. Our Overwhelming Victory (v. 37)

Of Pain and Conquest

B. God’s Conquering Love (vv. 38, 39)

Conclusion

A. Undefeated

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2015-2016 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless