“Not guilty! You’re okay with me. My grace covers it all.”–God
Sounds like something out of The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament (http://rockhay.tripod.com/cottonpatch/ ). It does capture Paul’s concept, but maybe it’s too colloquial. Here are Paul’s words—the source of my “quote” . . .
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:18-20).
It’s not about what we do; it’s who we’re connected to. Connected to Adam, we’re condemned sinners. Connected by grace through faith in Christ, we’re made right with God, whose grace is always greater than our sin.
A dangerous doctrine. If we’re justified by faith apart from works, and if God’s grace is always greater than our sin . . .
“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (6:1,NRS).
Paul expects his Jewish Christian readers, especially, to raise that objection. If my sin evokes God’s grace, and if the revelation of grace glorifies God, why shouldn’t I trespass God’s laws and sin?
Who would actually think like that? Well, I might. Maybe my attitude toward sin is too “soft”. Maybe I presume God will be gracious no matter what.
Paul slams the door on that thinking—and for a startling reason . . .
“By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (l6:2, NRS).
We died to sin! What can Paul possibly mean? By sin he doesn’t mean acts of sin; he means the power of sin. Something happened to us so that sin’s power no longer dominates us: we “died to [the power of] sin”.
The NRS’ “go on living” translates one Greek word, zaysomen. It means “to live” or “to be alive to”. Paul’s question is rhetorical. Since we “died to sin”, of course we can’t still be alive to it! Sin has no power over a dead man!
Who, though, is “we”, and when did “we” die to sin’s power?
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ” (6:3, NRS).
“We” refers to “all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus” and “when” obviously is when we were baptized. Commentators differ, though, on the meaning of “baptized into”. Some argue Paul is referring to literal water baptism, others that Paul is using “baptized into” to refer to a spiritual union with Christ produced by the Holy Spirit. I think that the union is produced by the Holy Spirit, but at belief/baptism. (I put them together because I understand the early church baptized a new believer immediately upon his faith.)
This baptism “into Christ Jesus” is a baptism “into his death”. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death . . . ” Mystery here, but one whose truth we mustn’t overlook. In our faith/baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death and buried with him.
In 44 years of pastoral ministry, I don’t remember once carting off a newly-baptized believer to be buried! I’m being goofy—just to make an obvious point. Paul is referring to a spiritual experience, not a physical one. But how to explain Paul’s language? What happened to us? In a mysterious way the Holy Spirit “connected” us to Christ in his death and burial to cause us to “die” and be “buried” to the power of sin.
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4, NRS).
God’s purpose in our spiritual union with Christ in his death and burial—and now, Paul implies, with Christ in his resurrection—is that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father . . . we too might walk in newness of life.” That is, not under the power of sin, but in the resurrection power of God.
Therefore, justification by faith apart from works isn’t an excuse for sinning but a call to put into practice who we are in union with Christ!
This raises an important point. The Christian faith isn’t all Bible and theological doctrines. When I say that, I’m not demeaning the Scriptures; they are the written Word of God. And without knowing correct theological doctrines we’re all “at sea” about what the truth is that we believe. But both the Word and the doctrines are intended to lead us to God. And that means experience. In this case, the experience of a nature-change. Once “alive” to the dominating power of sin, now through faith in Christ (proclaimed publicly through baptism) our nature becomes “dead and buried” to the dominating power of sin.
That raises a challenging question: if true, why do we still struggle with sin? Answer: though this nature-change is real, we must apply it. After discussing our nature-change in 6:5-10 (we’ll walk though that next time), Paul urges his Roman-church-readers . . .
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11) . . .
And again . . .
“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).
So. because we are dead to sin’s power and alive to God in Christ, we have to think of ourselves that way. And we must stop offering ourselves to sin’s power, but instead offer ourselves to God to do what he declares is right. If sin still dominates us, it’s because we’re not thinking of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, and it’s because we’re offering ourselves to sin instead of to God.
A comment should be made about the purpose of our being made “dead to sin”–“so that . . . we too might walk in newness of life.” This translation is to be preferred to the NIV’s, “so that . . . we too might live a new life”.
” . . . newness” is the Greek kainotays and refers not only to something recent and different, but extraordinary (Friberg Greek Lexicon).
Paul teaches that we have been connected to Christ, not only in his death, but in his resurrection: “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”. Implication: we have experienced the Father’s resurrecting glory in our innermost being so we might live new. Paul will write in more detail about that in coming paragraphs.
* * *
My take-away from this text . . .
I’m dressed in a hospital gown, lying on a table in the operating room The surgeon cuts and scrapes, removes and inserts, then sews my sliced back together. I feel nothing. Not even aware to what he’s doing. Because a power from outside myself (anesthesia) has “put me out”. That’s how I should see myself regarding sin’s power. It can’t dominate me, because I’ve been spiritually connected with Christ in his death, “put out” to sin’s power.
My image isn’t entirely accurate. My ultimate death to sin won’t occur until final bodily resurrection. And I must stop presenting myself to sin as if it’s still my master. But, first, I must “consider” myself dead to sin. “So, Lord, help me keep seeing myself in that embarrassing gown, lying on that operating room table, ‘put out’ to the power of sin through my connection with Christ in his death.”