Friday

15 April 2016

“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 72


Background

The form of this section of the Letter to the Romans is known as 'diatribe'; the writer imagines himself in conversation with an interlocutor who poses questions from time to time, usually to interrogate the writer on what has just been said. So here, Paul has established that the Old Adam/ New Adam narrative tells us that grace has far outstripped the power of sin however much sin increased. If, therefore, more sin just leads to more grace, why should Christians not do wrong in order that God's grace might become even better known?

Paul responds with a distinctive phrase - "By no means!" (v. 2) or literally 'let this not be!' (the King James Bible has "God forbid!"). The idea is appalling because it misunderstands the whole gospel which was enacted in the Baptism that the Romans received. The symbolism of dying and rising again would have been graphically seen in new Christian's immersion into and lifting out of the water. Paul goes on to detail how this symbolic identification with the burial and resurrection of Jesus points to a new reality of union with Jesus. The fullness of this union is yet to be seen in the Resurrection but it is still a present reality in which, being conjoined with Christ, the believer lives a new life in which sin should play no part.

Paul believes that something really changed when Jesus died and the Father raised him from death, and that something really changed when a believer underwent Baptism. It was not that the Christian is marvellously not capable of sinning; we all know that that is not the case. It is rather that the Christian no longer feels that he or she is not capable of not sinning as he or she would have done under the old regime. This idea takes Paul back to a contrast that he had established earlier between Law and Grace. The Law was an admission that sin was in control; Grace has put an end to the tyranny.


To Ponder

  • Paul's argument draws heavily on the symbolism of Baptism by immersion. How might we make the same points clearly if/when a Baptism is conducted by sprinkling?
  • Paul wrote to a community which included many first-generation Christians who were conscious of the contrast between their old lives and the new. Is that your experience? If not (ie if you cannot remember a time when you were not a Christian) what does the language of 'dying to sin' mean for you?


Bible notes author:    The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

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