Summary: Baptism was never meant to be an empty ritual. It has implications for our everyday lives
Romans 6:12-23 “The Difference Baptism Makes”
In 1517 Martin Luther had a problem. A monk by the name of Tetzel was selling indulgences. An indulgence is a certificate guaranteeing the forgiveness of all sins—for a small price. Not only did Luther have a problem with the idea that the effect of sins could be eliminated with a few coins, but he also had a problem with his congregational members who were “set free” from their sins. They began to live self-indulgent, decadent lives.
Paul had a similar problem. He proclaimed a gospel of steadfast love and overwhelming grace. Many people heard his gospel and responded to it. They took it a step farther, though. They rationalized that if their salvation did not depend on their good works, then they could live in whatever manner they wanted to live—they could eat, drink, and be merry. Several leaders in the Christian Church were appalled by this nihilistic approach to life and questioned Paul’s gospel because of it.
BAPTIZED—A NEW CREATION
Paul addresses these concerns in this chapter of Romans. He doesn’t base his argument on fancy philosophical ideas, but rather goes to the very beginning of a Christian’s life—baptism. Baptism is both death and new life Paul asserts, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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” (Romans 6:3-4).
Paul stressed the new life that comes when a person begins a walk with Jesus as Jesus’ disciple. To the church in Corinth he wrote, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). To another church Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).
Sin is a part of the old life—our pre-Christian life. Paul proclaims that sin no longer has dominion over us. Of course this doesn’t mean that we suddenly become sinless saints. As human beings living in a sin-filled, broken world, we constantly struggle with sin and the effects of sin in our lives. Martin Luther observed that we are “At the same time both sinners and saints.”
Our baptism—the personalization of what Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection in our lives—opens us up to a life of righteousness. Righteousness is living in a “right” relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. It is not to be confused with self-righteousness where we judge others more harshly than we do ourselves and think of ourselves as better than others. Righteousness is “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly before our God” (Micah 6:8). Righteousness is the state of life in which we were created to live. Righteousness is “shalom” a wholistic wellbeing.
Righteousness is the empirical difference between those who walk in a relationship with a living Christ and those who do not.
Paul asserts that living sinfully is not what the Christian life is to be about. He also points out the detrimental effects of sinful living in our lives. In verse 16 Paul writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness.”
We daily experience the reality of Paul’s words. Instead of sin we often call those practices that have dominion over us “bad habits.” Whether it is chocolate, cigarettes, alcohol, anger, bigotry, or self-centeredness, we know how difficult it is to break the hold these things have upon us. Paul stresses, though, that we are not stuck in sinful behaviors. The cross of Christ has set us free. We can say “No,” to sin and break free from these bad habits.
Conversely, we can yield ourselves to righteousness and good habits. These good habits then become a part of our lives; a way that we live. Sharing our blessings from God with others grows so that it becomes a way of life—who we are. Random acts of kindness become enjoyable and something to which we look forward. Words of praise and thankfulness can replace criticism and swear words. Good habits replace bad habits, and we become slaves of righteousness rather than slaves of sin.
LIFE OR DEATH
Paul ends this section of his letter to the Romans by asserting that, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We usually associate these words with the afterlife and heaven/hell. I believe Paul has a more practical and immediate focus.