By Justin Rossow
We use Romans 6:5 at funerals all the time, but to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that verse; I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Romans 6:5 would actually be more appropriate at baptisms.
Here it is in the ESV:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
It’s a fine translation, but like all translations, it is filling in blanks. (Paul literally leaves out a verb, and is being kind of poetic here.) At least half of the translation problem is on the English side of the equation.
I think we often take Rom 6:5 to mean, “Since we have been baptized”—read 6:4-7 and you will see that Paul is indeed talking about baptism and the enduring effects of baptism—“Since we have been baptized, we will go to heaven when we die.” That’s why we read Rom 6:5 at funerals.
Aside from the fact that the real hope of the New Testament is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come, Paul isn’t actually talking about the future. Or rather, not THAT future—some distant day when you die and go to heaven (or, put in more biblical terms, some Day soon, when Jesus returns and the dead are raised).
Paul is talking about living your life now. He calls it “walking around in newness of life” in Rom 6:4. The focus is not on your baptism in the distant past and your resurrection in the distant future. Paul is clearly talking about the present, enduring effects of baptism, and the habitual living out of a life of faith in an already-dead-but-now-also-already-alive-in-Christ kind of way.
Filling in Paul’s blanks from the verse right before Romans 6:5, and trying to make the force of the verb tenses clear, you might translate it something like:
“If we have become [and now are in an ongoing state of] being joined to the likeness of HIS death, we are also going to be walking around in the likeness of his resurrection.”
Romans 6:5 is saying, your baptism buried you with Jesus and your ongoing life, that you live every day, is being lived out in the resurrection of Jesus, all the time.
Of course, that also means you will rise from the dead someday in future (soon, when Jesus returns), but you are already walking around in a state of being dead and buried and being raised to resurrection life, already now, ahead of time.
Romans 6:5 is NOT primarily about your literal, bodily resurrection. It’s about the very real resurrection you are living out every day because you have already been buried and raised in the likeness of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
Read Romans 6:5 at baptism, not funerals.
Better yet, read it today. Read it every day. It describes the way you walk around your life even now, as part of the New Creation; your future hope breaking into your present reality.