First Lutheran Church
May 17, 2015
SAVED FROM SIN BY GRACE
Paul begins chapter 6 with a provocative statement What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? To ask that question indicates two things. First, Paul assumes that we understood chapters 1-5, which teaches that all people break God’s law. We have a felony record before God. We cannot do good to outweigh the bad. Law-keeping will not result in righteousness. Jesus Christ alone makes us righteous. He suffered the penalty for sin, for our sake. Our justification is the completely free gift of God through faith. That is grace.
Because of that, it is easy to conclude that we can do whatever we want, that we should sin so that grace may abound. But that is not what Paul is saying. He admonishes us to take sin very seriously, so that we can take the sheer joy of grace very seriously. Paul answers his own question in verse 2. Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? The very thought of continuing in sin intentionally is totally absurd. Paul is teaching us that, through Christ, we are no longer be enslaved to sin. He lived and died to free us from it.
We all experience the power of sin, because sin is the human condition. It is not found in a few things to avoid. It is in the very fabric of human life, something that binds and controls us, making us desire sinful things. Sin leaves us in despair of never being free of it. Because of that, Paul’s rhetorical question begins to make some sense, How can we who died to sin still live in it? If we understand this rightly, will not want to live in it.
So Paul asks another question in verse. 3, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? One of Paul’s greatest teachings concerning our understanding of life in this world, are made in chapters 1-5, parts of which we studied in the last two weeks. He teaches that sin and death stand arrayed against humanity as hostile powers. The mystery of salvation is that Christ’s obedient death brings an end to the rule of sin over humanity, while his resurrection overcomes death. Jesus died and was raised as a human being, bearing the likeness of sinful flesh. He breaks the reign of sin through obedience to death. With his body dead to the power of sin, he is released from the power of death through his resurrection.
Paul sees two realities at play simultaneously. First, Jesus is united with us in our humanity, which exists in a cosmos where sin and death hold sway. When Paul says that our old humanity was crucified with him, he means that Jesus died on the cross as a human being. Secondly, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection to deliver us from the power of sin and death. Paul proclaims that through baptism we are united to Christ. And if we are united to Christ, then what is true of him is true of us. Dead to sin, we no longer have any excuse to sin. This is the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Alive to righteousness, we are brought into the new life of the new humanity that will live and reign with God forever.
As the Old Testament and the gospels did before him, Paul depicts the powers of sin and death arrayed against God in a cosmic battle. Sin steals the life that God intends for humanity, enslaving us to death. Not only has Christ conquered sin and death, we are called to join the battle. Paul tell us to present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and our bodies as weapons of righteousness. In so doing, our slavery to sin is broken. Sin shall not be master over you, he says, for you are not under law, but under grace.
Life under grace is not an invitation to sin, because life under grace is life in Christ. Our hope for eternal life makes itself known in continuity with our present life. It is life in which sin has been put to death so that we walk in a new righteousness Jesus Christ paid the penalty of sin for us, which is God’s wrath in eternal separation from him in hell. We participate with him, not for suffering the penalty of hell, but in the breaking of the power of sin. Verse 6 says, We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.
This is not an abstract idea. It is played out visibly and gloriously every time a life is redeemed and the power of sin is broken. We can see it happen in our lives every day, in the baptism of Abby two weeks ago, in celebrating our young peoples’ path through confirmsation, in ministering to homeless and suffering people, in prayer and study together. There is a radical break with the old life of sin. That life comes to an end, it is crucified. If we are united to Christ, that connection to him is so intimate that we participate in all that he has done for us. This is what sanctifies us and makes us new, both in this world and in the next.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means. We come to the table this morning, as we do every Saturday and Sunday. Because we are once and for all united to Jesus, eating and drinking at his table is an exceptional participation in that union. We are actually drawing grace from Jesus Christ at his table. The graces that flow from the cross are renewed and strengthened as we partake in his grace by faith. At his table, Christ again declares that we have died with him, that the waters of baptism have washed away the power of sin and death over us. That is why this table is for all of us, for we all struggle hard with sin. So, as we eat and drink together, remember that you are free from sin in Christ. The big thing has been done. The victory has been secured. Grace has triumphed for us. Believe, trust and come to the table. There is a place for all of us there, because all of us are loved by God, to whom we give the glory.