[Apollos brought this insight to my attention some time back. Just wanted to share it here.]
(Romans 6:7) . . .For he who has died has been acquitted from [his] sin.
When the unrighteous come back, are they still held accountable for their past sins? For example, if Hitler is resurrected, will he still be accountable for all the horrible things he did? Or did his death clear the slate? Remember that from his point of view, there will have been no interval between the time he blew himself and Eva to smithereens and the first moment when he opens his eyes to a bright, New World morning.
According to our understanding of Romans 6:7, someone like Hitler isn’t judged on the things he did, but only the things he will do. Here is our official position:
Basis for judgment. In describing what will take place on earth during the time of judgment, Revelation 20:12 says that the resurrected dead will then be “judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.” Those resurrected will not be judged on the basis of the works done in their former life, because the rule at Romans 6:7 says: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” (it-2 p. 138 Judgment Day)
17 Must those resurrected during Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign enter the antitypical city of refuge and remain there until the death of the high priest? No, because by dying they paid the penalty for their sinfulness. (Romans 6:7; Hebrews 9:27) Nevertheless, the High Priest will help them to reach perfection. If they successfully pass the final test after the Millennium, God will also declare them righteous with a guarantee of eternal life on earth. Of course, failure to comply with God’s requirements will bring condemnatory judgment and destruction upon any humans who do not pass the final test as integrity keepers. (w95 11/15 p. 19 par. 17 Stay in the “City of Refuge” and Live!)
However, does not a reading of the context of Romans 6 reveal another understanding?
(Romans 6:1-11) 6 Consequently, what shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, that undeserved kindness may abound? 2 Never may that happen! Seeing that we died with reference to sin, how shall we keep on living any longer in it? 3 Or do YOU not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be [united with him in the likeness] of his resurrection; 6 because we know that our old personality was impaled with [him], that our sinful body might be made inactive, that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin. 7 For he who has died has been acquitted from [his] sin. 8 Moreover, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 For we know that Christ, now that he has been raised up from the dead, dies no more; death is master over him no more. 10 For [the death] that he died, he died with reference to sin once for all time; but [the life] that he lives, he lives with reference to God. 11 Likewise also YOU: reckon yourselves to be dead indeed with reference to sin but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.
This is very clearly referring to spiritual death.
Romans 6:23 says that the “wages sin pays is death”. This refers to a punishment for sin, not an acquittal. ‘Acquittal’ is defined a ‘clearing a debt, or freeing from a duty, or clearing a charge; also, declaring one as not guilty.” When a man is judged as guilty and condemned to a punishment as a result, we do not say he has been acquitted. When a prisoner is released from prison, we do say he has paid his debt, but we do not say he has been acquitted. An acquitted man does not go to prison nor under the executioner’s axe.
Let’s look at this another way. When Peter resurrected Dorcas, was she restored to life having been acquitted of all past sins? If so, why was she brought back still in an imperfect state? If you’re acquitted, your debt is wiped out. Death no longer has a hold over you. That’s the message of Romans chapter 6.
The second half of Romans 6:23 points to a ‘free gift’. An acquittal doesn’t have to be deserved. It can be granted as a free gift; an undeserved kindness. (Mt. 18:23-35)
The cross references in the NWT to Romans 6:7 follow. Do they support our current understanding?
(Isaiah 40:2) “SPEAK to the heart of Jerusalem and call out to her that her military service has been fulfilled, that her error has been paid off. For from the hand of Jehovah she has received a full amount for all her sins.”
This is a valid cross reference as this is clearly a messianic prophecy and thus concurs with Romans 6 in that it supports a spiritual or metaphorical death.
(Luke 23:41) And we, indeed, justly so, for we are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this [man] did nothing out of the way.”
This text isn’t referring to a spiritual death, but a physical one and so isn’t really applicable to Romans 6:7 nor its context. It would be better placed as a cross reference to Romans 6:23a.
(Acts 13:39) and that from all the things from which YOU could not be declared guiltless by means of the law of Moses, everyone who believes is declared guiltless by means of this One.
This is a valid cross reference as it also points to a spiritual or metaphorical death.
The righteous, by faith, are acquitted of their sins because they died the death that Romans 6 refers to—not a literal death, but a death to an old and sinful way of life. Therefore, they receive a better resurrection, one to life. It is not their literal death that acquits them of sin, otherwise, they would be no different than the unrighteous who also die. No, it is their spiritual death to a former way of life and their willing acceptance of Jehovah as their ruler and their recognition of his Son as their redeemer.
But some may claim that Rom. 6:7 applies, by extension, to a literal death; that men like Hitler—should he come back—do not need to repent for past sins, no matter how heinous. They only have to worry about what they do following their resurrection. However, it appears that the only Scriptural support for such a doctrine is this one verse in Romans. Given that it clearly speaks only of the death that Christians experience when they reject their past sinful way of life, one must ask, Where is the Scriptural support for making a secondary application as we do?