What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 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.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
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. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:1-14 (NRSVA)
The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, names a strange reality among the Jesus-following community. Some have concluded that salvation by grace implies that there is no longer any need to live a life in imitation of Christ.
Their reasoning: that sin highlights the grace of God and, therefore, continuing to do wrong is only helpful to God’s agenda. Paul puts forward their position in one of his opening rhetorical questions: Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?
Paul is quite intolerant of this understanding of God’s grace. His short answer to the question, ‘Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?’ is an emphatic: ‘By no means!’
The rest, as they say, is commentary!
In answering this, Paul turns to the very centre of our faith: the death and resurrection of Christ. This is a reality that gives us profound hope in the face of death.
Yet Paul is far from content with the death and resurrection of Jesus as merely a distant future hope. He insists that this Easter account is not only our future story, it is also our story now.
After all, we are the people who have taken on the death and resurrection path of Jesus as our own. We are learning to do this everyday as we follow Jesus in faith.
This reality is so central that the church continues to follow the early church in symbolising this through baptism. This is, first, a taking on of Jesus death – and then a taking of his resurrection. It is a following Jesus from death to life.
This death to life is the way of all reality (the reality created, unsurprisingly, by our resurrection God!). This, I suspect, is why Jesus told so many stories of dying seeds that then produced abundantly. These are not simply stories about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are also stories about our path to life. They are also stories about how our God-created world works!
We, the church, are a people who have died, been buried, and then raised into ‘newness of life’. We live from a new place – the old, sin-loving self is dead and buried. It is gone and we are now free from ‘sin’. Of course, this reality is something we are growing into and learning. It is not as yet complete.
Following Jesus is a journey of learning life again from the reality of death and resurrection and the presence of the Spirit. We are apprentices – making all the mistakes of learners – in the Kingdom of God.
It is not nearly enough for Paul to talk of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a reality that clicks in when we die. He is expecting that we will embrace this dying and rising reality now. We do this as we learn to die to a life of sin – a life centred on our own ego and live for Christ.
Our life is to become a celebration of the pattern Jesus showed us: life, death, resurrection. Paul is worth quoting here:
‘We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.’ Jesus died to sin – and lives to God.
And so it is with us. Paul’s radical conclusion: ‘…you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’. Death and Resurrection. Easter lived out in us each and every day!
All this brings us right back to baptism. Baptism is the way followers of Jesus have symbolised their embracing of the death to life movement that Jesus showed us.
You may have seen a baptism. It is done in many different ways throughout the world. Here at Mosaic, being a Baptist church, we emphasise baptism as a public symbol of our dedication to Jesus’ path or pattern. We also go for ‘full emersion’ – that is our whole body goes under the water!
Baptism is a vital symbol of the life we are learning to live because in it we embrace of the life – death – life path of Jesus. At baptism we stand in the water, confess Christ as our own, are submerged in the water, and ‘rise’ again as we come out.
It is a powerful symbol of our dying to self and rising to Christ!
Put simply, baptism is our embracing of Christ’s movement from death to life as our own. It is our symbolising of the hope in – and commitment to – the path of Jesus for ourselves.
And this, Paul insists, leads to our walking ‘in newness of life’. We are a people united with Christ in both death and resurrection. This, Paul believes makes us free from sin and alive to God. Indeed the Apostle sums all this up beautifully when he says: ’…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (v11).
And of course, Paul’s opening question is now answered: ‘Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means’ – for we have died to our ego, and are alive to Christ.
We are both under grace and called to righteousness.
Have you ever sympathised with the idea that God is gracious – so it does not matter if I do the wrong thing?
Where do you see the death and resurrection pattern in creation?
If you have already been baptised, do you ever find it reminding you of your chosen path from life, through death, to life? What changes has this symbol asked of you? If you have never been baptised, what is it that is stopping you?
Do you find yourself embracing the death and resurrection pattern each day? Where are you doing well? Where is there learning still happening?