Last week we examined one of the most encouraging texts in the New Testament: Romans 5. Paul tells the Roman Christians that since they have been proclaimed innocent by God they now have peace with God and unmitigated access to him and his grace. There is now hope (desire and expectation) and incredible joy even in the face of suffering. We are given confidence in God’s grace and love. Since he loved us enough to be willing to save us while we were his enemies how much more will he continue to save us now we are his friends? If he loved us enough to die for us while we hated him, how much more will he hang on to us now that we love him?
Paul closes the discussion by saying, "Law was added to increase the failure. But where sin increased, grace was amplified superabundantly! As sin tyrannized us with death, God’s grace rules by bringing justice—setting the world right—this results in life forever through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
And now we come to chapter six and Paul anticipates an argument to all this grace talk. “Paul, if you teach this grace stuff like that—people will go crazy and run around doing all kinds of bad things. It’s a license to sin!” When I grew up, many preachers I heard treated this teaching of grace exactly that way. I’ve heard preachers give the same sort of arguments: this grace stuff just leads to people doing what they want. Paul just shakes his head in unbelief and disappointment.
Before we investigate Paul’s response to this argument, I need to make some preliminary observations.
First, the art of sermon is the art of interpretation of an ancient text. When I preach a text I'm explaining what I understand the writer to mean. Today, I thought it would be a good idea to actually read the text interpretively—in other words: after studying Romans 6, I thought the best way to present it was to offer my own translation / paraphrase / interpretation of the text rather than giving you a running commentary every three or four verses. So what I will present to you in a moment is not a pure translation of Romans 6, it is more an interpretive paraphrase.
Secondly, it is important to understand this passage was not written to convince people they should be baptized. Such a point would have been wasted on the original readers of the text—after all, they were already baptized! I bring this up because if you listen to this chapter as if Paul is trying to convince someone to be baptized you will miss his point entirely. He assumes his readers are baptized believers.
Finally, in my interpretive paraphrase you will notice I use the words “immerse”, “immersed”, and “immersion” in place of baptize, baptized and baptism. Why do I do that? Because I want to translate the word into English—not transliterate. This wasn’t a special religious word in the Greek language. The Greek word baptizo literally meant to “dip”, “plunge”, "submerge", or “immerse.” That’s all it meant. If Paul wanted to use a word to denote sprinkling or pouring he would have used rhantizo or ekcheo. (In that case I suppose the English translators, to be consistent, would have transliterated the words to "Rhantize-Rhanitism" and "Ekchize-Ekchism"!)
So let’s now approach Romans 6 and hear it in more interpretive common language and see if it makes sense to us.
What shall we say then? Do we keep on sinning in order to receive more grace? Come on! That’s not what we’re saying and you know it! Absolutely not! We died to sin; how can we keep on living in it? This is exodus story: Red Sea crossing! We walked through the water, there’s no turning back now! Or don’t you know all of us who were immersed into Jesus were immersed into his death? That’s the significance behind our immersion. When we were lowered into the water, it is like when Jesus was buried. When we were raised up out of the water, it is like Jesus being raised to life through the Father’s glory!
Listen! We know our old self was nailed on a cross right along with Christ in order to defeat and crush our sin-filled self so we won’t be running ourselves ragged serving sin—because dead people don’t sin, right? They are free from sin!
If we’ve been killed with Christ (nailed on that same cross), then we get raised with Christ, right? We believe it! For we know Jesus can never die again, since he was raised from the dead—death has no more power over him! The death he died, killed sin once for all; but the life he lives is lived to God.
In this same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Because of this you don’t let sin rule your body, enslaved to its evil wants and commands. Don’t present your body parts as tools for evil—instead give yourselves completely over to God as people brought back to life from the dead! Offer your body parts as tools for justice, because sin is not to be the dictator of your life: you’re not under law, but under grace: God’s graciousness!
I can hear your argument already: “Oh! So we get to live any way we wish since we’re no longer under law but recipients of God’s graciousness?” You know better! Absolutely not! You know very well if you offer your obedience to someone as if you were a slave—then you are his slave—whether it’s death-dealing sin or justice-filled obedience. Thank God you’ve given yourselves completely over to obeying the teachings which you received. You have been freed from sin and have become slaves to God’s justice!
I'm using common language because it’s easier on you--our sinfulness makes us weak. Remember how you did just what you wished—giving your bodies over as slaves to impurity and wickedness: how you were spiraling out of control? In the same way now, offer your bodies as slaves to justice, which leads to a life set apart.
When you lived enslaved to sin you certainly didn’t have to worry with obedience to God. But did it do you any good? Was slavery to self-centered living really freedom? You look back on those things embarrassed and in shame—it was a dead end life that wasn’t life at all: it was death!.
But you’ve been set free! You don’t have to listen to sin any longer! You don’t have to let it drive your life! You’re property of God now and that slavery has the incredible benefit of holiness welling up into life! Real life! Forever life! When you work for sin—you earn your pay: death. But God gives a gift all your work can never earn: forever life in Christ Jesus our Lord!
So may you come to understand the significance of your baptism. May you realize you didn’t just join a club or perform some magic ritual. May you see your baptism as Red Sea Crossing: the entrance into a new country—a new way of living! May you understand you have come through Exodus territory—you’ve been set free from slavery and have come under the rule of Jesus. You are now his to live his kingdom priority out in your life! May you come to know the joy of giving yourself: body, soul, and spirit into the service of God!