Summary: If we ignore the truth of Christ's saving work, then we suffer the consequences of a life mired in sin and death. But if we can remember that we are "in Christ", then we can rest secure in Christ's power to give us life!
We continue this morning our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We began a couple of weeks ago with Paul’s sweeping introduction to the letter and his words about Christ’s amazing work on the cross. Paul opened our eyes to see that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was made on behalf of all humanity in order to share with us God’s grace. It is a free gift, offered to us without price, and there is nothing we can ever do to earn or deserve it. Our only response is to receive this gift in faith and allow God’s grace to change us. If you all remember, we briefly dealt with the issue of not taking such a gift for granted and continuing on with our lives as if God’s grace means nothing to us.
Well, where we pick up in the letter to the Romans this morning, Paul is now dealing head-on with that exact same issue. At the very end of chapter 5, just before today’s reading, Paul makes the statement, “The Law stepped in to amplify the failure, but where sin increased, grace multiplied even more.” And here, at the beginning of chapter 6, Paul opens with the obvious question, “So what are we to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply?” Boom. There it is. Why not just go on with life as we please if grace will abound, even in the face of our sin? Paul says, “Absolutely not!” And what follows is Paul’s explanation of why sin cannot continue in the life of grace.
As we begin to consider Paul’s words to us this morning, I want to share a couple of stories that will help us understand the message Paul is sharing here. A couple of years ago, Ken, Mary Ellen, and I were gathered around the table eating dinner. As we ate, Mary Ellen reached across the table at one point to grab something, and ended up knocking over her glass of milk instead. As you can imagine, it made an awful “clanging” noise and managed to douse both Mary Ellen and Ken. Immediately, tears began to well in Mary Ellen’s eyes. I think that’s why I remember this particular spill so vividly, because of that old adage, “don’t cry over spilled milk.” In any case, Ken and I jumped right into action. I got Mary Ellen dried off while Ken mopped the kitchen floor. We both reassured Mary Ellen that it was no big deal, that everything would be fine. Then, when he was done, Ken proclaimed, “Look! Now the whole floor is nice and clean!” To which Mary Ellen, now in better spirits, responded, “Hey! Maybe I should spill on the floor more often!” Um. I don’t think so. In the same way, just because God in Christ Jesus has the power to make things right is not an invitation to do wrong.
But it’s not just that those in Christ have no permission to go on sinning, our identity in Christ actually changes us in such a way that we CANNOT sin. For Paul, the apt analogy here is baptism. We often speak of baptism as a cleansing, a renewal, a washing away of the old self. And it is that. I mean, think about what happens when you take a bath. If you’ve been out running in the mud run and you come in to shower off, all that mud and dirt is gone from your body. And at least in those moments immediately following the shower, you cannot be considered dirty because you have cleaned yourself. But Paul takes the idea of baptism a step further. It’s not simply a washing or cleansing. Instead, baptism is actually a death and then a resurrection to new life. To continue that bath analogy, the dirtiness is completely drowned to such a degree that even the possibility of ever getting dirty again is gone. That’s the kind of complete change which Paul is describing here. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
The change that Jesus makes possible in our lives is a complete 180 degree turn around. Paul insists that for those who are in Christ Jesus, what is true of the Messiah is also true for us. It doesn’t matter that that might seem highly unlikely to us. It doesn’t even matter that we might not feel this is true in our lives. The simple fact is that this is the truth. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still evil forces at work in our lives. Being “in Christ” doesn’t mean that we don’t still experience temptation. And resisting temptation isn’t a matter of simply pretending you wouldn’t find it a lot easier to just give in. Instead, living in Christ means learning to think straight and to act according to what you know to be true. Knowing the truth means that we have to live our lives in a new way. Because when we are “in the Messiah,” we die to our old selves so completely that there is no other possibility except to live a new life.