Romans 6:1b-11 The Second Sunday After Trinity 21st June 2020
Our reading today in Romans 6 marks a transition point in Paul’s letter. In Chapters 3-5 Paul has been considering the truth that we are made right with God through our faith in Jesus. We are justified by faith. Our sin cut us off from God, but we are put right with God through our faith in Jesus who died on the cross and took our sin upon himself and so paid the penalty for our sin. We have been put right with God, so what about the way we live now? This is the subject that Paul now addresses in Romans 6
In chapter 5v20-21 Paul wrote ‘But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’.
Grace is a lovely Christian word, which was mentioned last week (5v2a). John Stott said ‘grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues’, and God is always ready to give us more grace. God is a gracious God. There is a story of a little boy from a large family who met with an accident and was taken to hospital. They were a poor family and if given a glass of milk at home, the little boy would always have to share it with at least two others. In hospital, the nurse brought him a large glass of milk, and he asked shyly, ‘how deep should I drink’? The nurse told him he could have it all and there was more from where that had come. So it is with God’s grace. It is both inexhaustible and constantly available. God is on our side! He is gracious. He is a God of grace.
Now Paul begins this section of his letter in Romans 6 with an argument against an imaginary opponent, an argument with its starting point of that verse at the end of chapter 5 ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’. William Barclay the Scottish theologian put it well:
“ The objector says: ‘you have just said that God’s grace is great enough to find forgiveness for every sin’. ‘That is right’ says St Paul.
The objector says: ‘You are in fact saying that God’s grace is the greatest and most wonderful thing in all this world.’ ‘That is right’ says St Paul.
The objector says: ‘Well, if that is so, let us go on sinning. The more we sin, the more grace will abound. Sin does not matter, because God will forgive anyway. Indeed we can go further and say sinning is a good thing because it gives the grace of God even more opportunity to operate’. ”
The objector is saying that sin produces grace. Therefore sin is a good thing because it produces the greatest thing in the world, grace’. At this stage in this imaginary argument Paul recoils in horror, he says in 6:2 ‘By no means! How can we who died to sin, go on living in it’?
The big question is what does it mean ‘to have died to sin’? How and in what sense have we died to sin? If we have died to sin, why do we confess our sins each week in church (when we can go)? If we have died to sin, why do we keep on sinning? Paul sees a moral incongruity in this. We are Christians we will not want to live sinful lives, but we do – yet we have died to sin. What does all this mean?
Paul illustrates the fact that we have died to sin with an argument from baptism. Basically Paul says a Christian is someone who has a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and baptism signifies this union with Christ. I know we baptise babies and I believe there are very good reasons for doing so, not least as a demonstration of God’s grace to us. But let us stay with Paul’s comments about baptism in Romans 6.
Of course baptism has a number of meanings, a washing away of sin (that is why we use water); entry into the church (that is why the font is often at the entrance of the church); the gift of the Holy Spirit. But also, and most importantly, baptism signifies union with Christ. And Paul says that baptism into Christ is baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is where baptism by immersion is such a powerful symbol. The baptismal candidate goes under the water, buried with Christ in his death, united with Christ in his death, and rises up out of the water, a rising to new life, united with Christ in his resurrection. A baptism service is like a funeral service and resurrection service rolled into one. Baptism symbolises this unity with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This is how the early Christians saw baptism – as a dying and then a rising. To add to the symbolism, in the early church baptisms were only held at Easter when the death and resurrection of Jesus were celebrated. Furthermore when the candidates were baptised they took off their old clothes when they went down into the water and when they came up out of the water they put on a new white robe. They put off the old, they put on the new, they had died to sin, they rose to new life. We need to grasp the power of that drama. Dying to sin, the old life, and rising to new life.
But living it is not easy! The problem is, as Paul said in Romans 7:15: ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate’. I am sure we can all identify with that scenario. So back to the big question. What did Paul mean when he said ‘we died to sin’? I suggest that it is because as Christians one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin so that we become very sensitive to sin. In fact when we become Christians we probably have a heightened sense of what is wrong, our consciences become more alert. That is the reality for us. But in 6v12 Paul says ‘do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions’. There would have been no point in him saying that if ‘we were dead to sin’ meant we were totally unresponsive to it.
However, we have died to sin in the sense that Christ has met the demands of sin and paid the penalty for our sin when he died on the cross. He took our place, bore our guilt, took our punishment upon himself, so that we could be forgiven. We have died to sin in the sense that the penalty for our sin, death, has been paid by Christ. And we are united with Christ in his death, baptism illustrates this, and so in our union with Christ the penalty for our sin has been paid. But not only are we united with Christ in his death, we are also united with him in his resurrection. And yet we live in a sinful world, we are still human, temptation is all around us, and we fail, we sin, we are not holy as God is holy. And so we need to keep on reminding ourselves that we are in Christ, we are united with Christ, we have identified ourselves with not only the death of Christ, but also the resurrection of Christ and should live accordingly. And so, v11 ‘So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’. We can do this because Jesus has paid the price.
There is a story, and it is only a story, of an old Eskimo fisherman who had two dogs. One was black and the other white, and he trained them to fight. Every Saturday he took them to the local market and took bets as to which would win. Sometimes the black dog won, sometimes the white dog won, but the old Eskimo fisherman always won. Someone once asked him what was his secret. Well, he said, ‘sometimes I feed the white dog and starve the black dog, other times vice versa. The one I starve is too weak to fight and will always lose, the one I feed is strong and always wins’.
As Christians we must do that. Starve the old nature and feed the new nature. We must starve the old nature, the things that are not of God, stay away from those areas that tempt us so that we do not succumb to temptation. And we must feed the new nature, so that the Spirit, the things of God, the love of God, his holiness, can grow in us. We must spend time with God, and his people and his word, so that we may be strong in him. This will help us to die to sin and be alive to Christ, and continually create in us a fresh joy and hopefulness and expectancy in God who is alive today, because Christ has risen. We will want to live and grow in the love of God.
We must continually remind ourselves of who we are, we are Christians, united with Christ in his death and resurrection. We need to keep on reminding ourselves, and keep on saying to ourselves ‘Yes, I am a new person in Christ, I am a new creation, and by the grace of God I mean to live accordingly.’
As Dave Bilbrough’s song puts it:
Verse 1. I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand.
Verse 2. My heart is overflowing, my love just keeps on growing, here in the grace of God I stand.
Verse 3. And I will praise you Lord, yes I will praise you Lord, and I will sing of all that you have done.
Verse 4. A joy that knows no limit, a lightness in my spirit, here in the grace of God I stand.