13 January 2018Romans 6:1-11
“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.” (v. 6)
Psalm: Psalm 18:16-24
There are two opposite and equally dodgy ways of thinking about the Christian faith. One is that if you fall into committing a sin then you can’t really call yourself a Christian; you’re not ‘saved’. The other is that since God forgives with endless mercy, thanks to Jesus’ death, then it doesn’t matter how we behave – just do it anyway: God forgives! But neither way is true! The New Testament letters (like Romans) were written to Christian believers who sinned, made mistakes and struggled with temptation (that’s why the letters were written in the first place!). But we also know that God’s Church is at its most effective when it acts out of gratitude for God’s forgiveness, never taking that mercy for granted. The truly repentant person doesn’t wilfully do the same again, but should want to act in the way of God’s new community: with mercy and love towards others. Behaviour does matter.
In all of our readings this week, two themes have emerged, running alongside each other or weaving together. There is the central biblical story of the exodus from slavery and crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land; and there is the sacrament of Christian Baptism to mark the start of a new relationship with God. In today’s passage, Paul brings together those two images.
In Romans 6, Paul uses the language of slavery (from the Exodus story) as a powerful and apt metaphor. On the one hand, we have the cruel and powerful ‘old master’, Sin, who enslaves his captives into ways that lead to inevitable degradation and death. Death is what you get if you follow him, and death is also the only way to escape his rule. ‘Sin’ is also then a realm or a state of being: the state of being ‘in Adam’ (belonging to the old master). But, in the Christian gospel, Christ (the Messiah) has come to set us free: Jesus redeems us and pays the ultimate price for our redemption, offering his whole perfect life. But he is more than just a sacrifice. In Paul’s thinking, Christ is the complete and perfect representative of God’s people. What is true of him, in God’s reality, is also true of them. When Christ died, then he represented all God’s people, so all who belong to him die with him. In dying they are set free from the old master of sin, who cannot have a claim on them any longer. But this death (unlike normal death) is not the end. When Christ is raised, God’s people are raised to new life too. All of this becomes true when a person identifies with Christ, accepts his invitation to new life, and commits to follow him. Baptism is the classic sign for this: an entry into God’s new covenant family; a union with Christ in his death and resurrection.
Of course, the old master can still come knocking and making demands. The important thing is to remember you’re not a slave to sin anymore. You may fall for their tricks now and again, but the Christian person belongs to Christ. You may sin, but have you really chosen to go back to the dark side? Even when we slip up, we still belong to our new master. He has bought us back with his own blood and will not give us up so easily.
It will always be a complicated journey because the ways of the old master are still very powerful in the lives of many, holding many in this world in slavery. But the life of the ‘age to come’ is flowing into this age now, thanks to Jesus. Two worlds are colliding, and only one will ultimately win. The creation will return to the way of the creator. Although his kingdom is not yet complete, he came to rescue us here and now, that we might have a chance to know him and serve him now. His grace is not to be taken for granted (and deliberately return to the way of sin again), but rather it is an invitation to do so much more with our lives and ‘walk in newness of life’, holding onto the promises of our Baptism, and into the Promised Land!
- The recurring references to slavery in chapters 6 and 7 of Romans clearly show that Paul is thinking about the Exodus and the wilderness days. Romans 8 then takes us on into the Promised Land. Try to read through those chapters in the light of your own faith and experience, and try to hold them together with that grand story of Israel which lies in the background.
- What fresh thoughts or insights have helped you as you’ve read the Bible passages this week?
- What is God saying to you through God’s own word at this time?