The Life of Holiness, Romans 6:1-14 (pp. 271-313)
Posted by Robert C. on May 29, 2013
[David G. has stepped up and written the "double" post below, covering two weeks of our reading schedule—last week's and this week's readings. Thanks, David.]
What shall we say, then? Are we to persist in sin so that grace will increase? Of course not! How can we who have died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
A man may die many times before his body is buried in the ground. Conversely, there are also among us the walking resurrected, those who have embraced a newness of life through Christ’s gospel of faith in his atonement, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. The difference between the walking dead and the walking resurrected is reckoned not so much in works as in faith, not so much in a watery moment (although this is important) as in a patient and non-resistant yielding.
To illustrate this Paul raises a series of questions about the relationship between sin and grace. Namely, if kindness and mercy are given to those who sin, should we not sin more in order to receive more grace? “Let it not be.” In fact, we should wonder whether it is possible to “claim to accept the grace of God yet continue to sin” (274). As Paul unfolds this point he is taking pains to show us that a life of faith is also a life alive to good works.
Faith, trust, and faithfulness, rather than our righteous acts, justify us with God. This is central to Paul’s teaching. But the faithful life is necessarily connected to life freed from slavery to sin. It is necessarily a life freed to righteous living, a life of righteous acts. Faithful life and sin are incompatible with one another because faith requires faithfulness (278).
The opportunity provided to the believing Christian is one in which we may be baptized into Jesus Christ’s death. That is to say that sin may die in us, that we might live a new life. Sharing something with the Stoics, Paul seems to be saying that “death can be overcome in this life, freeing us to a life not ruled by death and the fear of death” (276). Life, living here “means not only the fact of life, but the conduct of life,” for they are in some sense inseparable. (277) Or, as Matthew Arnold put it, “conduct is three-fourths of our life and our largest concern.”
For true Christians, the Atonement is not only about overcoming sin and death, but it also includes an aspect of empowerment toward good works. The conduct of which we are capable is much more when undertaken in Christ than on our own. Indeed, the primary good work of the gospel is baptism by immersion, in the similitude of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Baptism does more than move one from one social or political world to another. It moves a person from one metaphysical world to another. To speak of baptism as rebirth is not just a metaphor, for the baptized person has been transformed from one who serves sin and lives as a shade in the world of death to one who serves righteousness and does so in the world of the fullness of life. Paul wants his hearers to understand that Christians and pagans may seem to live in the same world, but they do not. . . . Properly administered, basptism – like marriage, adoption, divorce, changing one’s name, and a host of other events – changes one’s status in the world. Indeed, by Paul’s way of thinking, baptism changes the world we live in: the act itself moves us from the world of death and sin to the world of life and God’s grace (281, 284).
Interestingly, the movement from one metaphysical world to another is illustrated by a metaphorical death, just as we move from one physical world to another through our physical death.
It is here that Faulconer highlights the thickness of death in scripture, which takes three primary forms:
- Physical Death
- One’s spiritual state prior to repentance
- Being separated from God in any way
Paul is consistently using language that plays with all of these levels at once. We are dead in sin, thus rebelliously separate from God. Sin is a dead-end, no through outlet, just another one of hell’s cul-de-sacs of misery and regret. Conversely, we are alive to Christ, walking in a newness of life, then dead to sin. Slaves to God, thus free of death’s grip, we rejoice in God’s very presence here and now.
That last bit, here and now seems to be one of Paul’s important arguments. It is not at a future time that we may be freed from sin, but now! It is not only later that salvation may find us, but it has done so already. At the very moment we make ourselves willing to yield to the Father’s will, past, present, and future are transformed within and without us.
Faulconer emphasizes the importance of reading the phrase “baptized into his death,” with the emphasis on into his death. “By looking faithfully to Christ and his death for us, we come to be repentant. Thus, if we are to be faithful to him, we must show our repentance and our trust by joining Christ in his death, in other words, by being buried in the waters of baptism, as Christ was buried in the tomb – and in yet other terms, by becoming part of the new exodus, the new Israel” (287). Quite literally, Paul says we are buried with Jesus. “Baptism is not just a burial like his burial – it is the same burial that he experienced. We experience what he experienced, passing from life through death into a new life” (289).
Indeed, in baptism we share in both his death and his burial so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have become one with him by imitating his death, we shall also partake in his resurrection, knowing this, that our old person was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For the dead are freed from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we trust that we also will live with him: knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again, we know that death has no more lordship over him. In dying, he died to sin once and for all, but in living he lives to God. In the same way, reckon yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Again, on so many levels, baptism is signifying death and life, an ending that is also a new beginning. For at the moment that we covenant with God in baptism our old, sinful self must die. It must die so that we might become alive in Christ, a new creature destined for a more abundant life through our faith and trust in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Faulconer twists it up thus:
The key to justification is death, the death brought by faith, the death that occurs in baptism. The irony is that this is a death from death: in repentance we die as to our old person, but the old person is already spiritually dead. We die from death. We are freed from it, which is why to become one with Christ, to die with him, is to become spiritually alive (298).
Christ died once and for all to end all death: physical death, spiritual death, now and later. Often it’s the now part of death that seems so hard to bear, but later, without the now, is much harder to bear. Paul is asking us to apply the Atonement now, to be baptized now, this very moment, in the sense that our baptismal covenants might be made alive again in this very moment, whether we were baptized eighty years ago or eight days ago. Indeed, my son, who I baptized just two weeks ago emerged from the waters and declared, “That was awesome!” If that moment and that declaration can live in him forever – and make no mistake about it, Paul thinks it can – then he may be dead to sin and forever alive in Christ. This will be less a matter of works than faith, but the distinction, it should be clear, is practically meaningless – for our works must be faithful, a new walk, a new life, “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
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