Dying to Live
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:1-11 Read the whole chapter.
So we find ourselves looking at a passage in Romans that is one that is pretty weighty theologically. Paul packs a lot in here. Paul was a very well trained orator, a speaker that could put together arguments pretty well. In Romans, he's begun laying out what he understands to be justified, or set right, with God through our faith. So he's talking about the necessity of God's grace being in our lives and in this world. He talks about how sin came into the world through one and he points all the way back to Adam and Eve. That just as sin entered the world that grace and salvation also entered the world through one person in Jesus Christ and as he's making this argument he anticipates one of the arguments that his critics may have offered back to him. If you've ever studied philosophy or debate there are a number of logic fallacies that have all kinds of colorful names. There's the red herring, there's the ad hominem, there's the straw man, and all of these are different ways that people fail in their logic. A straw man is that you build up this fake image caricature of what you're opposed to and then you attack that instead of attacking a real issue.
Well the argument, or the fallacy, that Paul is anticipating here is one that is called affirming, the consequent. It's a propositional fallacy in the sense that when we talk about if-then statements it would be like saying 'well if "A" happens then "B" happens and because "B" is good then we need to do more of "A".' So Paul anticipates some people saying 'well look if grace came into the world because of sin, we like grace, therefore we should keep sinning some more so that there's more grace.'
Paul answers his own question there. He anticipates it in verse 1 he says, "Well so what then are we to say? Should we continue to sin?" He gets very adamant he says 'by no means, absolutely not, that's a false argument, it's false logic.' I would suspect that there are probably very few people among us, or around us even, that would say 'well sin's a good thing because the more sin there is the more grace.' That would be kind of like saying 'well you know what cancer is a good thing because the more cancer there is the more opportunities there are for them to research and learn how to treat those. So more cancer means more treatments.' Or we could say that 'you know what when hurricanes and natural disasters happen there's this outpouring of generosity and compassion of people who go, help, rebuild, cleanup and do all of those things so we need more hurricanes because we always see those positives come out of it.' Again that's a false thought to have.
Now again I don't know that a lot of people would necessarily have that line of thought.but what Paul is trying to pull people back from cheapening what God has done for us through Jesus Christ when he suffered, died on the cross, and rose again. That was the ultimate act of love. That was an act of love that done on behalf of us that we might live. Paul then begins talking about what it means for us to be people of faith, people who have put our trust in Jesus Christ because of what's been accomplished. Knowing that the benefits, or blessings, of that have a significant and meaningful impact in our lives. That because Jesus died and rose again Paul says we will as well. But we have to die to our old self. We have to die to sin. We have to leave that sin in the past and move forward into that new life.
But there's a problem. The reformer Martin Luther spent a lot of time, and a lot of the things that he instructed and taught about came from Romans and Paul's understanding of justification. Martin Luther, I'm paraphrasing him a little bit here, but he basically said that just as sin entered the world through that one person, so that grace comes through Jesus, that new person. And that old person has to die. He sees baptism symbolically being that way in which sin is laid to rest in the tomb, it goes beneath the water, and rises to new life. He says we need to drown that old man. He says the problem is that old man's a pretty good swimmer that sin keeps coming back. While baptism is something that we do in a moment, whether it's in our church with our baptismal font up here and then me dipping water out and place it on the head of a child or an adult. Or in churches that practice immersion baptism, where they go to a lake or a horse trough and the person's actually put beneath the water and brought back up. Baptism happens in a moment. We say those words 'I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'. But Luther also says it takes the rest of a life to finish that baptism. Meaning that our baptism isn't just a one-time occurrence. It isn't something that we do when we check it off the list and we move on and say what's next. Rather it's something that we live into each and every day.
We talked about it in Bible study this week that Paul makes some statements in here that would imply that things should be maybe easier than we experience them. He says in verse 7 "For whoever has died is free from sin." But we know that's not true. we all know that we stumble and fall short of God's glory. We make mistakes. We might try and rank them as big or small ones. The truth of it is there are things that we do that we know we ought not. There are things that we do or rather fail to do that we know that we should. It's a challenge at times. Which is why when we think about what it means to be baptized with Christ that we have that opportunity to die to our old self, to die to our sin, and to rise to new life.
But that rising to new life needs to be something that you do just like getting out of bed every single morning. That each morning when you open up your eyes, clear your head, and rub away the sleep from your eyes: you need to remember and think about the fact that when you wake up you're also rising to new life in Christ. And some days are gonna go better than others. Some days are gonna be a challenge. Some days we're gonna get to the end of the day and we're gonna have a lot of things to ask God to forgive us for, whether it was a short temper, a harsh word, an unkind thought, or whatever temptation you gave in to that day may have been. But the thing is the next day is a new day. A new opportunity to rise with Christ and to live as that person that God is calling you to be because of Jesus. When we die to our old self, we die to our old passions, our old longings, our old ways of wanting and being and thinking and acting. And we allow God to begin working to transform us and change us. And friends that's exactly why Paul says "does that mean we should keep going on sinning so that grace may abound." And he's basically saying 'no because if you truly put your hope and your trust in Jesus then you should be striving to be a changed person. Allowing that spirit and that grace to work and to move in your life and reorient you, recreate you, make you new, make you more fully in the image of Christ.' But sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we get pulled back into those old ways because they're habits, they're routines, they're things that have been a part of our life for a long time and moving beyond them isn't always easy.
Melissa has a lot of flowers that she enjoys putting out during the summer, perennials and annuals. And one of the things that she spends a fair amount of time doing in the morning when she goes out to water things is deadheading them. And if you don't have flowers, deadheading is where you go around and particularly on the petunias after the flowers have bloomed and been beautiful, they wither and they start to turn brown. They're not so pretty anymore. The thing is, part of what the plant is doing when those flowers wither and start to dry up is it's still investing a lot of energy in that bud that's no longer pretty. It's trying to keep it alive as long as possible, or it's trying to produce seeds. When that happens, it's diverting energy from the health of the roots or the other plants or the flowers that haven't opened yet. So you go around and you snip, or you pinch off all of those little dead blossoms.
In our lives we, like a plant, can spend a lot of time investing energy, investing time, investing our personal, emotional, spiritual resources in things that would have been better off leaving them dead with Christ that we might rise to new life. So this idea of dying with Christ it's kind of like God deadheading us as well and helping to prune off, pinch off those things that aren't contributing to the life that he desires for us. Sometimes snipping that bud off or trimming it back allow something to die that the whole might live more abundantly. You only have to die. It's not a pleasant thought when you hear it that way. Because the truth of it is in our society, in our culture we spend a lot of time and energy avoiding death. That death is a great equalizer. That death is something that most people fear whether it's the fear of life ending or the fear of the process that you go through. Sometimes particularly in our faith we need to remember that the One who has gone before us died and rose again. And that when we die with Christ, we rise to a new life. A life of hope, a life in which our future is secure, a life that even though a day will come that will take our last breath, that last breath won't be the end, but rather a new beginning.
So may we for now die to our old self that we might live as the people of God. Because when we live with Christ: death is defeated, death no longer has dominion over him and that holds no dominion over us. So in Paul's words consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. That is his hope, his desire, and the very reason that he sent Jesus to this world that you and I might truly live.
In what way can you remind yourself each morning to die to yourself and rise with Christ?