A Sermon on Romans 6:1-14 for May 3, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church
Over the last few weeks we’ve been considering the death and resurrection of Jesus. We remembered and celebrated the events of Easter. Since then, we’ve been asking ourselves how the early church ‘lived out’ the earth-shattering reality of the resurrection.
This is an important thing for us to do. For the early church, Easter was not simply an historical reality. The death and resurrection of Jesus profoundly impacted the way the early church saw itself, saw its mission, and saw its future.
So, we first considered the Easter call to believe, or trust in, this resurrected one. This is much more that intellectual ascent to facts about the past. The resurrection called the community to a life of faith – or trust – in the death-conquering Jesus.
Then last week we looked at the hope beyond death that the resurrection of Jesus created among the early church. They came to believe not only that this death-resurrection movement happened to Jesus. They also began to hope – even in the face of their own death – that resurrection would also happen to them.
Today we are again considering what it means to live the resurrection. This time, however, we’re asking how this impacts the way we live here and now.
You see there’s a danger that we can hear the message of Jesus – and the resurrection – as exclusively about life beyond this life. The passage we’ve just heard makes it clear that this a very old pit-fall.
Romans 6 is Paul’s replying to a misunderstanding of his message. Some are hearing his radical grace-of-God preaching as a reason not to live God-centred lives. They see God’s grace and twist it into a reason not to re-centre their whole lives on God. They are arguing that the love of God allows them to remain self-centred, or in Paul’s language, ‘sinful’.
Paul’s opening rhetorical question identifies their perspective pretty well:
‘Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?’
Surely, if the depth of our sin – or self-centredness – highlights just how grace-filled God is, there is no good reason for a lifestyle change.
Paul’s response is emphatic: ‘Of course not!’
Such an unequivocal answer leads Paul to pose his own follow-up questions: First, ‘Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? And second, ‘Have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?’
Did you hear it? Paul’s first response this ‘I don’t-have-to-change-because-God-loves-me mentality’ is to turn to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Clearly the Easter events are radically central not only to our hope for life beyond death – but also for the way we choose to live here and now. The death and resurrection of Jesus – and our identification with, and participation in, these events – is the foundation Paul offers for living lives centred not on ourselves, but on God.
Unfortunately, we all too easily hear the term ‘sin’ with heavy legalistic and moral overtones. I don’t deny that sin and our behaviour are closely related. However, sin is so much more than behaviour. Sin is about who we choose to serve. It’s all about who is at the centre of your life – You? or God?
And the central message of Paul’s gospel is that, as we learn to follow Jesus, we learn to die to self-centred living. And then, following the Easter pattern, we learn to live in a God-centred way.
The gospel invites us to take on the movement from death to life each and every moment.
This reality is symbolised most profoundly and powerfully, in the act of baptism.
Paul uses ‘baptism’ here as something of a shorthand way of speaking of our conversion or initiation into Christ and Christ’s ways. As we have heard, Paul considers followers of Jesus to have been ‘…united with Christ’, ‘buried with him…’, and ‘raised to life as he was’.
Paul’s third question taps directly into this ‘with Christ’ language: ‘Have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?’
Here is a pointing of the community back not only to the act of baptism, but more fundamentally, to its meaning and symbolism.
Perhaps you’ve seen a baptism – or been baptised yourself. If so, you probably have something of an inkling of what happens. Water, confession of faith in Jesus, maybe a testimony of how Jesus impacted the person being baptised and the reason for their often baffling act of obedience.
Baptism, at its core is a way of celebrating conversion, and initiating someone into the Jesus-following community. It symbolises our choosing to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ. First we go under the water as a symbol of our dying to ourselves. We then come up out of the water as a symbol that we now live to Christ.
Clearly the early church saw the redemptive events of Easter as something to participate in!
For Paul, all this piques in verse 11: ‘So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus’.
In the Gospel of John when Jesus is trying to help the disciples prepare for his upcoming crucifixion and resurrection he tells a very short parable (or riddle):
‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives’. (John 12:24).
After this, however, Jesus begins to point to this dying and rising as much more than a reality for Jesus himself. It’s also a reality for his followers. Immediately after this Jesus says ‘Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me’ (John 12:25-26).
As we have heard, today we begin Missions Month here at Mosaic. We’re remembering and celebrating those who take Jesus’ message to cultures beyond our own. These are people called to obey the Great Commission as found at the end of Matthew 28.
There the resurrected Jesus told the eleven to ‘…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age’. (Matthew 28:19-20)
You know, there’s a danger in missions month. We can begin to see this as a call to special cross-culturally gifted people – but not to me. Please rest assured, these words on the lips of the death-conquering Jesus do not become real when we cross national borders!
Rather, they’re a call for every one of us to share the news that we can participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So please consider across this month how you might spread this message among those you come in contact with.
And perhaps you have never considered being baptised yourself and would like to publicly dedicate yourself to taking the death to life path Jesus showed us.
If so, you can respond to this invitation now by pressing the ‘moments’ key indicating that you would like to be baptised. One of our congregational pastors will then respond. If you are viewing a recording of this sermon, please contact a pastor directly.
Have you ever sympathised with the idea that God’s grace implies that you can remain self-centred rather than God-centred?
If you’ve already been baptised, do you ever find it reminding you of your chosen path from life, through death, to life? What change has this symbol asked of you? If you have never been baptised, what is it that is stopping you?
How do you find yourself embracing the death and resurrection pattern each day? Where are you doing this well? Where is there learning still happening?
Are you ever tempted to see mission as something that others do? How do you directly engage with the call to baptise and make disciples?
What do we at Mosaic need to do to more intentionally to make disciples here in Canberra? What are you willing to do to make this happen?