"There's A New You Growing" Bible Study on Romans 6:1-11
June 18, 2020, 11:26 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Romans 6:1-11 (Common English Bible).

So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2 Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3 Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 5 If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. 6 This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, 7 because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. 8 But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

I haven't the foggiest idea why the Revised Common Lectionary (the three year cycle of appointed readings that many mainline Protestant churches read each Sunday) begins this Sunday's epistle with verse 1b instead of reading Romans 6:1 as a whole.  It's impossible to jump into the Apostle Paul's baptismal argument without knowing the questions for which Romans 6 is the answer.  Romans 6:1a "So what are we going to say?" is a response to some issue that has arisen in the church in Rome.

This "What are we going to say" is clearly subsequent to some things that Paul has said earlier.  Romans 6:1 depends on what has been said in Romans 5.  "So what are we going to say is the response to what has gone before.  Paul is showing his classical rhetorical training.  Paul is mounting a debate in response to somebody's question, "Should we continue sinning so grace will mulitiply?"

Someone, perhaps someone in the congregation of First Church Rome must have said something like, "Since we are saved by grace, then why don't we sin even more so that God can be even more gracious.  Let sin abound!  Let the party begin!  Let's get totally wasted!  Let's have an orgy!  Let's steal whatever we want!"

Paul responds with another type of argument than we expect.  In Romans 5, Paul has eloquently argued that God's grace in Jesus Christ is God's answer to human sin.  Adam's transgression was great.  And Adam's transgressions continued among us, Adam's heirs, that is, metaphorically, Adam is our human ancestor, and his weaknesses tend to be ours.  But God's grace in Christ was greater than Adam's sin.  We are rescued not by our efforts but by God's grace.

Since grace is God's predominant response to our sin, then perhaps someone in the Roman congregation is saying, "If sin evokes God's grace, let's keep sinning so God can keep being gracious."  In other words, the sheep that was lost and is found by God's grace decides that it's fun to get lost so that the Good Shepherd can have the joy of seeking and finding the little lost sheep. So, the sheep keeps wandering away again and again.  What's wrong with that?

Paul responds in two ways to his own, "What are we going to say?"  First, Paul says flatly, "Absolutely not!" (Romans 6:2a)  Then Paul moves to a deep theological response that's close to saying, "Your question doesn't make any sense because that's not who you now are in Christ.  You are baptized, and that means you are dead to sin and alive in Christ.  There's a new you growing up to look more and more like the life of Jesus Christ."

Paul's argument may be hard for us to follow because he is arguing from the point of view of a theology of baptism that equates baptism with drowning.  In baptism, our old selves are put to death so that our new selves might rise with Christ.  We are moved from citizenship in an old, dying order (the empire of Caesar, the world, the flesh, and the devil) to a fresh, new creation in Christ.  Earlier, Paul had written to the Corinthian congregation, "So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, Common English Bible)

One good thing about Paul's argument that speaks of Christians as dead and raised people is that it is based upon baptismal practice.  The vast majority of the followers of the Way of Jesus have been baptized.

The challenge is that few may have a theology of baptism that's up to Paul's argument.  We may at our best think of baptism as a kind of symbolic cleansing, a rite that signifies our commitment to Christ and our initiation into Christ's Church.  At worst, we think of baptism as a cute ritual for babies and their parents.

Paul says that baptism is an ontologically transformative event , not only in appearance but a reality.  When we are baptized, we die and are raised from the dead to new, resurrection life.  Early Christians signified this by fully immersing the baptized (who, Hippolytus says were baptized in the nude in third century Roman congregations).  When they came up out of the water, the newly baptized were dressed in a new robe as a sign of their new life.  They were different because of the promises and the action of baptism.

For Paul, baptism is birth into eternal life, a defeat of death (Romans 6:8).  More to the point of Paul's argument in Romans 6, the baptized also share in Christ's conquest of sin.  The baptized are given the power to live holy lives right here and now (Romans 6:6-7).  Baptism defeats the death and sin that we once thought were defeating us.

"You are dead to your old selves, therefore you are dead to sin," says Paul.  "Stop acting as if you were living in the old, dead world where you were slaves to sin.  Come on, you are new people.  There's a new you growing into the Way of Jesus Christ.  Live like it!"

We are baptized!  We are alive in Jesus Christ!  Thanks be to God!

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Greg Rupright



Comments

06-20-2020 at 9:12 PM
Pat May
It’s nice to have this to ponder tomorrow since I won’t be with you “in church.” We’re at the lake with no WiFi and old phones which lose “juice” quickly. 😪
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