New Life: Romans 6:1-14

Thoughts from Passage

The phrase “I’m only human” is a phrase often used as a way of saying that we do not believe we can either be better or that sin is our only choice. What if the phrase should really be, “I’m not yet fully human?” In other words, before we come to  a place of knowing Jesus we have not yet been redeemed and brought into the life of knowing Jesus as Lord.

We often limit the cross and the empty tomb. What I mean is, is it not enough to have defeated sin? Do we really want to say that the death, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit are not enough to genuinely free us from sin? Do we want to believe that Jesus has not done enough or are we willing to say that true, complete freedom from sin is possible, but only because of Jesus. This seems to be a question that Paul is wrestling with over the next few chapters and I believe the answer is clear. If we have been baptized into the new life then we are called to live the new life, period.

Baptism is the symbolic movement from death to life. From being enslaved to sin to becoming a “slave” to grace. It is a means of grace in which we move through the waters of baptism and come out the other side as new creations. Through baptism we may find that we begin to become “fully human.”

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a]that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

One of the phrases I sometimes hear in reference to the sin nature is someone saying, “Well, I’m only human.” The truth is we are all human, but there is the humanness that is centered on Christ and the humanness that is centered on Jesus. We use “I’m only human” as a way to justify our sinfulness.

This idea of our humanity is what Paul is addressing. The reality is that due to our sinful nature we are not yet fully human, but in the resurrection of Jesus we can become fully human. We can be restored to the image of God that we were created in.

Paul is setting about making sure the readers know that through baptism (not just the physical act, but the baptism with the Holy Spirit) we die to our old self and find our new life in Jesus. The sin nature is to be buried in the waters of baptism, period.

Baptism represented much in the Jewish world. It was one of the three things that a pagan would have to do to become a Jew. It required a sacrifice, circumcision, and baptism to become a Jew if you were not born one. The convert was required to be entirely immersed in the waters of baptism to symbolize a complete transformation.[1]

Baptism in the early church was not much different. The candidate for baptism would strip down naked before being baptized and would walk into the waters that way. When they would come out on the other side there would be a white robe waiting for them. It was a distinct symbol of moving from death to life and of the complete conversion from a life of sin and the movement to a life within grace. The man or woman who was baptized was a new creation, the old was gone and the new had come. How could the new man still act like the old man? In Paul’s words we see that if you are really made new then no longer does the old way have dominion over you!

The good news for us is that the death of our old self is not the end, but the beginning of the rebirth of our life in which we share in the resurrection story as our story. A story that frees us from our bondage and slavery to sin, a story that frees us to live and love as God’s redeemed, resurrected people. A story that allows us to say “I was dead to sin, but now I am alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

William Barclay gives three truths to be found in this passage and I believe they are worth sharing:

  1. It is a terrible thing to seek to trade on the mercy of God. It is a terrible thing to make the mercy of God an excuse for sinning. Think of it in human terms. How despicable it would be for a son or a daughter to consider himself or herself free to sin, because he or she knew that a father or a mother would forgive. That would be taking advantage of love to break love’s heart.
  2. The man who enters upon the Christian way is committed to a different kind of life. He has died to one kind of life and has been born to another. He is essentially a different man. In modern times we have tended to stress the fact that acceptance of the Christian way need not make so very much difference in a man’s life. Paul would have said that it ought to make all the difference in the world.
  3. But there is more than a mere ethical change in a man’s life when he accepts Christ. There is a real union with a real identification with Christ. It is in fact the simple truth that the ethical change is not possible without the union with Christ. A man is in Christ. A great scholar has suggested this analogy for that phrase. We cannot live our physical life unless we are in the air, and the air in us. It is so with Christ. Unless we are in Christ, and Christ in us, we cannot live the life of God. To limit Christianity to an ethical demand, and to leave out this essential union with Christ, is to leave Christianity less than half-way.[2]

 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

One of the hardest things for many of us to believe is not that God does not want sin to reign in us, but that through Jesus the sinful nature does not have to have the last word in our lives here and now. This idea that every part of who one is, from the job we do to the places that we go is meant to be offered to God as a sacrifice. In other words, God wants us to live in such a way that all of our life is a reflection of the new life we can find in Jesus.

The Christian life is one of action. The life of a Christian is meant to be lived in public. It is not something to be experienced in a secret place, but something to be lived in the marketplace. It is as William Barclay writes, “We are faced with the tremendous alternative of making ourselves the weapons in the hands of God, or the weapons in the hands of sin.”[3] We either work for God in His redemption story, or we work against Him.

Our limbs and organs, and for that matter our mind, memory, imagination, emotions, will are to be put at the disposal not of sin, but of God. We are to think and act as people who have come through the river and out the other side; that is, who have died and been raised to new life. We should not miss the powerful implications of this…What we do in the present time, when we offer our whole selves to God’s service, is the beginning of the resurrection life.”[4]

Verse 14 sums up in so many ways what it looks like when we give all of our selves to following Jesus “…sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Grace is by definition something unearned it is a gift and when talking about grace from God it is unmerited and unearned and yet it is life-giving.

One of the challenges of grace is often we err in one of two ways. We err believing that we don’t deserve God’s grace and don’t ever accept it (The truth is that no one deserves it, but God gives it anyway.). The second way we err is that we accept God’s grace and recognize our unworthiness, but we then don’t offer that grace in the lives of others. We act in ungracious ways towards others when Jesus calls us to gracious living.

The inspiration of the Christian comes, not from the fear of what God will do to him, but from the inspiration of what God has done for him.”[5]

[1] Barclay, 84.

[2] Barclay, 86.

[3] Barclay, 88.

[4] Greathouse, 165.

[5] Barclay, 88.

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