21 April 2021Romans 6:1-14
..if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (v. 8)
I sometimes imagine St Paul dictating his letter to a young scribe, who occasionally looks up from his work and asks a question. Perhaps at this point he is saying to Paul “Well, if God’s grace keeps growing in spite of our sin, why don’t we sin more so that there can be even more grace?”
In reply, Paul does the equivalent of slamming his fist on the table and shouting “Of course not, don’t be stupid!” Then he calms down and explains what he means. Being a Christian involves becoming a new person, living a life that is united with Christ and modelled on him.
Paul’s emphasis on baptism might surprise us, especially if we think of it in terms of sprinkling water on a baby’s head. But for Paul, baptism involved immersion in water as part of a solemn commitment to Christ, a risky step that might join you to the fellowship of the Church at the expense of alienating your family and making you the target of persecution. That theme of our corporate humanity comes into play again. To be baptised is not, for Paul, just a matter of saying ‘I agree with the teaching of Jesus’ or even, "I believe that Jesus died for me on the Cross." Something of our old self dies as we go down into the water, but as we come out of it we are joined with the risen humanity of Jesus Christ. That’s why Christian names were traditionally given at baptism. In the centuries after Paul, the new convert emerging from the water would be clothed in a fresh white garment as a sign of this new identity.
What we call the Old Testament was Paul’s Bible and he always seems to have the Hebrew scriptures in mind as he expounds the Christian faith. His readers would know the story of the Exodus, when the people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt by crossing the waters of the Red Sea, emerging into the wilderness as the liberated people of God. Baptism, for Paul, is like a new Exodus, a journey of liberation.
The final ‘therefore’ (v. 12) is a reminder that Christians are called to live out this new existence. “Become what you already are” is how one commentator summarises Paul’s message.
- What questions would you like to ask Paul, if you were able to interrupt his argument?
- What does baptism mean to you?