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Blogging Romans: What Then Shall We Say?

January 26, 2012

What then shall we say?  So Paul begins the next part of his argument (6:1) and so our class continued last night.  Paul has demonstrated the victory that Christ has won over sin and death, the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, that abounds now in grace for the many.  Indeed, that abounds for you and me in faith.  We who were under the dominion of sin and death now live in the kingdom of grace.  We are, in short, no longer in Adam.  We are in Christ.

What then shall we say?  How then shall we live?  Shall we continue in sin?  And what happens if we do?  What does it mean to live as someone who is no longer in Adam, but is in Christ? And what does it mean when the Old Adam (who is, after all, a very good swimmer) is at work in me?

Paul’s argument in chapter six has several facets, but the first is the most important: We are no longer in sin; we are in Christ.  By baptism – which we’ll come back to in a bit – God has moved us from one reign, one kingdom, to another.  It is an act accomplished.  So Paul: “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.”  We are crucified with Christ; it is a fait accompli on the part of God which calls forth faith on our part in the promises of God.  What does this mean for our living?  That to go on in sin is impossible.  We do not live “in sin” any longer; we live “in Christ.”  Sin no longer has dominion or power over us.  In Christ, sin is dead.  The fact that sin’s death rattle lingers throughout our lives does not and cannot change this fact, for God has declared it so.

We may not continue in sin, but as we all know experientially we do continue to sin.  Sin may manifest itself in my members (6:12-14) but it does not define who I am any longer.  The Law may continue to make my sin abound and point out the fact that I am failing to do what I know to be right (7:14-25) but this does not remove me from Christ, in whom my life is now hid as we await the full revelation of God’s glory.  I cannot continue in sin, because I am in Christ.  This, in faith, by God’s grace, is simple reality.

What then shall we say about the fact that we, God’s justified, continue, in fact, to sin?  What then shall we say about the fact that Paul has demonstrated that no Law, no command, can lead to obedience and right behavior?  Do we need a new law?  The key here lies, it seems, in 6:13: “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”  We are invited to present ourselves to God, not in response to a demand, but as a thankoffering, a joyful gift returned to the original giver of grace.  Being raised from the dead, we are invited to live resurrected lives as we await the resurrection.  Even in the midst of our ongoing sinfulness, the new life Christ is working in us gives us the strength and courage to do this, not by command but as response.

Near the end of chapter six, Paul introduces the concept of sanctification.  Sanctification, which describes the new, holy life of the believer, has long produced conflict and consternation among Christians.  Is a holy life the gift of God’s Spirit that comes with justification, or is it a process whereby the believer seeks to live a holy life?  I think Paul’s argument in chapter six provides the groundwork that allows us to answer the question: Yes!  We are in Christ, out of sin, and by God’s declaration just, righteous, and holy, for Christ is just, righteous, and holy.  There is nothing else that needs to be done, even in response.  We are sanctified, period.  But Paul also calls us to enter the struggle to live out the holy life we’ve been given, and in that sense it is the lifelong journey in which we seek to become what God has already declared us to be.  We are, in fact, simul justis et peccator.  We are sinner and saint, all the way down, and we will be both, totally and completely, throughout this life.  Paul calls us, sinful though we are, to live just, righteous lives in response to the One who has made us just and righteous.

All of which brings us back to baptism, the means through which God unites us to the death of Christ and the promise of resurrection – both in the future and now – thereby granting us the benefits of Christ: justification, sanctification, glorification, and newness of life, effected by the grace-filled waters of resurrection.  In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther can write about baptism in terms of its “once-for-all-ness” while at the same time invoking it as a daily reality.  Luther writes that baptism “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.”  Period.  Baptism moves us into the kingdom of grace by uniting us to Jesus’ death.  Note, also, that unlike the old sign of circumcision, baptism is not a sign or a symbol of either an eternal reality or the inward reality of the believer.  Baptism does what it says it does, for with the water comes the Word of God.

As we who have been united with Christ’s death await the resurrection, baptism calls and equips us to live as resurrection people now.  So Luther, again: Baptism “signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

So may your Old Adam or your Old Eve get a good dunking today.  May you rise anew with Christ today as he works out his holiness in and through you.  And may you claim as your own that which has been declared to you: that though sin and death rattle around in you, they have no power over you.  In the waters of grace, you have been killed and raised in newness of life.  Thanks be to God!

“So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 6:11

From → Scripture

One Comment
  1. Russ Long permalink

    Right on, Dave and oh, so Lutheran!

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