< June 22, 2014 >

Commentary on Romans 6:1b-11

 

The letter to Romans is a Pauline manual for Christians who wrestle with the human condition being vulnerable to the pressures of this world.

By appealing to Abraham and positing him as a model of ways through which God justifies human beings, Paul continues to move the discussion from Abraham to all human beings and helps them to see their condition of being separated from God because of sin.

Thus, Romans 6:1b-11 is about the purpose, function, and goal of the sacrament of baptism, in relation to all human beings who are held under the grip of sin and the reign of death. Through baptism, humanity can make the transition from sin into grace via the sacrament of baptism, which Paul eloquently describes in Romans 5:6-16, Romans 6, and Philippians 3:10-16. 

The Church, its leaders, and followers must continue to rekindle their faith by meditating and possibly studying Paul’s sacramental teaching and his views on eschatology. Both sin and death belong to the realm of justification, a theological theme that humbles humanity when it comes to issues of being in a right relationship with the Creator. As such, we ask these fundamental questions: What does baptism do? When does baptism start and when does it end? Is baptism a necessary sacrament in the life of humanity?

Theologically, Paul’s view on baptism is that it is a journey or a process and its effects are not only for a moment but for an entire life. Believers must understand that the baptism Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not just wash away the stains of sin, but rather, it is a participation in the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his resurrection.

The result of this participation and anticipation are that one has to believe in and embody a resurrection life. Christian life is basically a life of resurrection and that is what makes Christian faith unique from other religions. Secondly, baptism does not erase sin, rather it puts it in check. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, baptism builds a wall around a believer and sets boundaries on what to practice and what not. With time, a believer walks into grace and life become new a Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

The past tense of the verbs in Romans 6 are worth noting, especially the one that says, “We were buried.” Here, the baptized person is given an assurance of the death of the former life and that sin no longer has power over his/her life. In any case, the phrase “we will certainly be united with him is resurrection like his,” is futuristic and that may mean that the future is open and that full salvation is reserved for the future.

One can experience salvation in the now moment, but the full view of salvation is a mystery and will be revealed to us in God’s time. The theological point to be noted is that the follower of Christ is reconciled with God and is in the furnace of being saved. The reconciled person in Paul’s theological view is the one who will “walk in the newness of life.” Salvation in Paul’s proclamation of the Gospels is that it is embodied in the real life of a believer. However, suffering, temptation, and tribulation are not excluded simply because one is in Christ. Rather, suffering is in many ways a process through which God’s salvation can be manifested and realized.

Having emphasized the theological legitimacy of baptism and its intended results, Paul drives home his main point of what we can refer to as a “decisive-cut off point,” where by the death of Christ was a once and for all event (Romans 6:10) and that he will not die again. Thus, sin and death are no longer things that should worry Christian believers.

Those who identify themselves with Jesus Christ in his atonement through baptism can no longer tolerate and even cooperate with sin. Their life is now grounded, shaped, directed, and formed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the motivating center of their everyday living is now directed towards Jesus Christ. Everything a believer does is determined by Jesus Christ on whom and through whom sin has been defeated forever.

This is the hardest part of being a Christian, not just in North America but also in the Global South. Christians must always remind themselves that our old self, our culture, our rights, our private spaces, and the desires of our flesh were crucified with Jesus Christ. Our daily living must demonstrate our newfound and grace-filled status in Christ.

Theological and spiritual implications are that we must offer ourselves to God, to the world, and to one another in ways that are evident of the death of Jesus Christ. Simply put, one must live a righteous life (Romans 6:13c). Sin has no place in the life of a believer, and one must not be mastered by sin. At a much deeper level of faith, Paul is advocating for a new life and what we have become in baptism will not allow us to go back to being the old self. Going back will be equivalent to persecuting the living body of Jesus Christ.

It should be reasonably clear that those who have lived under colonial oppression such as Africans have a better understanding of Paul’s message of liberation. Sin is like a foreign domination in that it dehumanizes and reduces one to a victim position and some people die as victims because no one is there to rescue them from sin. Paul’s message is that humanity can be freed from sin and all it takes is the initiative of a few. The point of the passage is that every believer is in union with Christ and that Christ dwells in him or her. In other words, Christ’s faith becomes a believer’s faith by virtue of being in Christ, just as one partakes of his righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The principle point to be remembered is that for Paul, faith involves an understanding that new life “with Christ” is an assurance of salvation or pledge of hope to those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This assurance is lived out in discipleship, that is, a life dedicated to God. Preachers and Sunday school teachers may want to consider having a series of studies of theological themes around baptism, sin, death, resurrection, embodiment, and discipleship for these topics are part of Paul’s argument in Romans 6:1-23.