Our New Life in Christ
Romans 6:1-14 | Common English Bible
Our new life in Christ
6 So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2 Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3 Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 5 If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. 6 This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, 7 because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. 8 But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.
12 So then, don’t let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. 13 Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. 14 Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.
At some point, each of us decided to follow Jesus. We may have done it early in life. We may have done it late in life. We may have done it and then stepped off the path for a season and then made the decision all over again. It may have been a decision after a period of thoughtful deliberation. A decision of the mind. It may have been a decision in response to a stirring of emotion. A decision of the heart. It may have been both and usually is. My observation is that most people love their way into following Jesus rather than thinking their way into following Jesus.
For some of us the decision to follow Jesus was made for us if we were presented for baptism by a parent or parents when were infants. Of course, when we were older, usually sometime around the age of 13, we had to make the decision for ourselves. The commitments adults made on our behalf when we were children become our commitments, too.
The Christian scriptures are all over the map when it comes to just how the Christian life begins. There are passages that talk about a person receiving the Holy Spirit and then seeking baptism. There are passages that talk about persons being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit either at the point of baptism or after the baptism. There are passages where persons are baptized and there is no mention of the Holy Spirit’s presence. There are also passages where persons receive the Holy Spirit but there is no mention of baptism. So, when various Christian traditions insist that baptism has to be in a certain way and in a certain order, I have to say, not necessarily.
But the Christian journey always begins with intent. Parents intend for their children to follow Jesus. Young people intend to follow Jesus. Adults, regardless of where they are in life, intend to follow Jesus.
Intention is one way we live an active life rather than a passive life. We seek to make things happen rather than let things happen to us.
There are four questions in the Presbyterian tradition asked of everyone who joins a congregation. We share these questions with many other Christian traditions. You may or may not recall them. That’s okay. Here they are:
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love?
Will you devote yourself to the church’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers?
These are the questions our commissioning class responded to today. I’m a language nerd and usually overthink everything. It’s been a helpful preoccupation in the writing and delivering of sermons over the years. I had a writing teacher who always emphasized paying attention to the verbs in any given sentence.
That’s helpful with these questions. Trust. Turn. Renounce. Will. Obey. Show. Devote. All of these verbs involve intent. The questions ask what’s it going to be — what are we going to do with our lives? what are we going to live for? who are we going to live for?
The first verb — trust — sets the stage for all the others. Turning from sin and renouncing evil and obeying God and showing love and devoting ourselves to Christian practices aren’t possible without trust.
For Christians, our trust is in the saving grace of God in Christ.
When it comes to Protestant Christian theology, there is probably no more foundational book of the Bible than Romans. Both of the most influential 16th century Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin preached numerous sermons on passages from Romans.
As an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther wondered if he would ever be worthy of God’s love. He was probably the most devout and dedicated monk in all of 16th century Germany, if not all of 16th century Europe. He studied the scriptures. He prayed. He fasted. He vowed poverty and chastity. He did all the things his religious order instructed him to do. And still he had this gnawing sense that he could do more.
Luther’s reading of Romans changed everything for him. From Romans, Luther develops his theology of justification by grace through faith. We are right with God, our neighbor, and the world not because of any efforts on our part but because of grace on God’s part. And the way we embrace and embody this grace is through faith. We trust it. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
What happens when we trust that God has put us right with God and our neighbor? What’s different?
Hopefully, everything. Paul uses the language of a “new life in Christ.” Humans have always sought to define who in the world it is that we are. Scientifically, we are not that complicated. We are culture-bearing primates with highly developed brains and the capacity for speech and abstract reasoning. Theologically, however, we are a little more complicated. To use the language of the Christian tradition, we are “simul justus et peccator” [see-mull you-stuss ett peck ah tore] — that’s Latin for righteous and sinner at the same time.
It’s humbling to think of ourselves in this way. On those days when we think we have it altogether and couldn’t be more righteous, we need to remind ourselves that sin is never far away. It’s a part of who we are as well. And, in my mind, more importantly, on those days when we think we couldn’t be more miserable as a human, we need to remind our selves that grace is never far away. It’s part of who we are as well. We are saint and sinner, sinner and saint.
A long debated question in the Christian tradition is: Are we saved sinners or saints who still sin? And the answer, of course, is yes. We are saved sinners and we are saints who still sin. If we believe we are saints only, we are insufferable. If we believe we are sinners only, despair will overwhelm us.
Here’s the good news. Paul tells us that in Christ, we are set free from the sin that enslaves us and for a life that is free to live abundantly. Our commissioning class is signing on for this truth today just as each of us has done when we decided to follow Jesus. We affirm with Paul, that we now “Consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”