Dealing with the Consequences
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
July 6, 2014
Romans 6: 1-4, 8-14, 20-23 (CEB)
So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore, 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.
8But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.
12So then, don’t let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. 13Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. 14Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.
20When you were slaves of sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.21What consequences did you get from doing things that you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life. 23The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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.
In verse 11, Paul says that we must consider, or calculate, “yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.” These few words have often been misunderstood, which has clouded the whole passage. People have sometimes supposed that Paul was talking about a new sort of “leap of faith,” from death to life; a leap by which we might jump to a new level of holiness that is completely beyond the reach of temptation and sin. That actually sounds great, right? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to never have to deal with temptation or sin?!? But that is not what Paul is saying here. It would be nearly possibly anyway!
The word Paul uses, the one translated as “consider” or “calculate” or “reckon.” This is a word that was used in bookkeeping, in calculating accounts, in working out budgets, profits, and losses. So here’s what Paul was getting at. When you do a calculation, you get an answer which, in a sense, didn’t exist before. But in another sense, all that calculation does is to make you aware of what had in fact been true all along. It doesn’t create a new reality.
Think of it like this. What’s 2+2? Four. Right. 2+2 is four. It always has been four. It always will be four. This is truth. However, there are people in this world who aren’t aware of this truth. For example, if I were to ask Leah (a little baby) to tell me what 2+2 equals. She wouldn’t know the answer, or know what to say, even if she could talk. Just because Leah (a little baby) can’t add 2+2, nor just because you or I can, that doesn’t change the fact that 2+2 equals four. It just means that some of us are aware of the truth. In the same way, when you close up shop at the end of the day, you don’t know how much money you’ve made until you calculate it, but adding it up doesn’t make the day’s profit a penny larger or smaller than it already is.
Paul is telling us to do the sums, to add up, to work out the calculation. He wants to make sure that we don’t fool ourselves into imagining that somehow we can live lives that are actually 100% sinless. And here is the point, the answer to that question, “since grace abounds, why not just go on sinning?” It is often hard to believe that grace can still reach our sinful selves. But faith at this point consists not of trying to believe the impossible, but instead opening our eyes to the truth of what Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection. This means having faith in our own standing as baptized and believing members of Jesus’ people, those who are “in the Messiah.” That is the challenge of this whole passage; we need to remember who we are so that we can act accordingly.
In these passages, Paul is helping us think about appropriate Christian behavior and how to put it into practice. And what it comes down to is remembering who we are and learning to live in the truth. The truth is, Christ conquered all sin when he died and the cross. And the truth is that Christ conquered death when he was raised to new life. That means that it is also true that those who are in Christ are dead to sin and alive in Christ. Still, we have difficulty grasping this truth because we know that death is still before us. But what Paul wants us to understand is that followers of Christ can begin to taste the reality of the future, even as they live now. That is truth, too. I mean we don’t feel all that great when we know we have done something bad, right? We feel guilty and ashamed, it is life-draining, we often suffer terrible consequences. But what about when we go out in the world and live like Christ lived? The consequences are very different, aren’t they? It’s very life-giving to serve others in the same way Christ did. Even though we will still die, we can begin to experience eternal life now if we are “in Christ.”
When I was in middle and high school, I used to spend one week out of every summer on a week-long choir tour with roughly 80-100 other youth from my church. Of course, the tour was always led by our choir director and a few key parents, but the church youth director always went along with us as well. I remember there was one year, though, when our youth director had some sort of conflict and he wasn’t able to accompany us. So on the morning we were to depart, we got the buses all loaded up and climbed in, all set to go. But before we pulled away, our youth director climbed into the front of the bus, he took the intercom, and he said, “Remember WHO you are, WHOSE you are, and WHY you are.” As we were preparing to head out for a week of sharing God’s Word through song, Scott was reminding us that our work was more than just the words we sang. We were God’s people on God’s mission, that was a truth that could not be changed, and he expected us to act accordingly. He was telling us to be the people God made us to be.
As those baptized in Christ, our lives have been changed. It doesn’t mean that other life circumstances have changed, but that “in Christ,” we are now equipped to deal with temptation and sin. But if we are to overcome these powerful forces, that means remembering the truth; it means always remembering WHO we are, WHOSE we are, and WHY we are.
And there is no better way to remember than through the sacrament of communion…