Lectionary Commentaries for June 25, 2017
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39

Colin Yuckman

Matthew continues the theme of disciples imitating their master.

This time the parallel appears not just in what they will say and do, but in what they will experience in the mission field: rejection, suffering, and for some even death.

This passage introduces a second stage of the mission instructions for the twelve which began in Matthew 10:1-23. Directives for their evangelistic task take on a darker tone and resemble a warning as much as an encouragement. If the first part of the instructions focused on practical aspects of the mission journey (10:5-15), the second is taken up with the severe conditions the apostles will experience, though coupled with reasons for hope (10:16-23). Our passage focuses on the commitment of the apostles themselves while revisiting some of the earlier themes (10:24-39).

During a former time, perhaps, such images of a master and his (and it usually was “his”) apprentice conveyed the relationship by which trades and various excellences in craft were passed down. A learner was inducted into a way of life by mimicking the mode of his master’s way of life until he too mastered the craft and could in turn take on apprentices.

In an automated, self-help world, the master-apprentice model seems quaint and antiquated. When I have a leaky faucet, I turn to YouTube do-it-yourself videos instead of signing up for an internship with a master plumber. At the same time, becoming Jesus’ disciple is of a different order than plumbing repair. The costs are incalculably higher.

Most of us can probably recall someone who has helped us become who we are, a teacher or pastor or family member. The intensity a life of discipleship demands will require a parallel intensity in the bond we have with Jesus. The idea that mission can simply be tacked on to church life or the Christian “lifestyle” as a secondary trait does not line up with Jesus’ words here. To become an apostolic witness, according to Jesus, is to experience the intensity of a relationship in which the teacher is in a sense reproduced in the student. Channeling Martin Luther’s famous words, C. S. Lewis claimed just this: “[T]he Church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs.”1

Nevertheless, Jesus expresses his own vocation as one not of peace, but a sword (verse 34). Granting its metaphorical language takes nothing away from its severity. Though Jesus may later tell Peter to put away an actual sword (Matthew 26:52), here he takes one up symbolically to point out how his presence and his name will cause division (verses 35-37) even within the strongest of human organizational systems, the family unit. Such a sense of division and value system seems offensive to just about every religious tradition for which family matters, not to mention the one which takes seriously the commandment to “honor your mother and father” (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Matthew 19:19, 15:4-6).

In the way that Jesus’ words echo Micah 7:5-7, however, it should be noticed that Jesus does not offer a simple rejection of the family. Obedience to Jesus will relativize household relationships rather than abolish them (see Matthew 19:29). By following God’s will the definition of the family unit is redefined. Depending on one’s situation it may mean “family” loses its biological orientation altogether.

When Jesus is pressed about his mother and brothers wanting to talk to him, he follows his own teaching by pointing to his disciples and saying “‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:49-50). God’s will is the true basis on which human life ought to be organized. And that will has taken on flesh in Jesus.

For those who might think that discipleship can represent part but not the whole of one’s life, Jesus offers a harsh word; for those accepting this comprehensive calling, his words promise care and sustenance in the midst of costly sacrifice (Matthew 19:27). Even the Gospel’s final words point to the new family paradigm. From here on out disciples will be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19).

Forthright promises of division, rejection, and suffering are paired with equally strong statements claiming every hair on our heads is counted and our lives, as fragile as they inevitably are, remain in God’s hands. The language (especially in verse 29) recalls the Sermon on the Mount (6:25-30). At the same time, the poles of loss and provision are inscribed in the final verse: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (10:39; 16:25). Ultimately, such dramatically good news cannot help but be shared “in the light” and shouted “from the housetops” (10:27).

In light of the master-disciple relationship which Matthew has to this point emphasized to the reader, we cannot overlook verse 38: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” If those sent are going to reflect the life of the sender, then mission itself will be cruciform. We should not be prepared to share in the exaltation of Jesus if we are not ready to share in his humiliation.

Remarkably, this is the first time Matthew mentions “cross” in his Gospel, and it is not in direct reference to Jesus’ crucifixion but as a prerequisite to following Jesus. The fact that “cross” precedes crucifixion offers all sorts of potential for homiletical insight. Unless we in a sense take up our cross we cannot begin to comprehend the way of Jesus Christ, who took up the cross. The preparation of the apostles for Jesus’ death and resurrection was not a matter of thinking the right thoughts, grasping it on a cognitive level. By the ordering of his Gospel, Matthew seems to suggest that only mission in the way of the cross can prepare us for recognizing the Christ of the cross when he comes.

It may not be too much to claim that upon Jesus’ return, when he shows us his hands and feet we will recognize him, but not simply because they show proof of his crucifixion; they should be familiar because they match our own wounds.


1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1980): 171.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Alphonetta Wines

Anyone considering going into ministry would do well to read the book of Jeremiah.

A perusal of this book will dispel any idyllic notions one might have about what it means to accept a call into ministry, what it means to be God’s messenger.1

Unique among the prophets, Jeremiah shares not only his message, but also details of his experience as a messenger. The prophet’s pain is on display for all to see. Hiding from neither God, himself, nor the reader, Jeremiah refuses to be silenced by any who would rather turn away, by any who would prefer to reject him and tune out his message.

Given this backdrop, asserting that the prophetic task is difficult and costly is an understatement. Jeremiah knows that people likely would not heed his warnings and that the foreseen devastation and destruction would become a reality. This realization breaks his heart.

Jeremiah’s words portray the heart-wrenching despair of a man whose life is turned upside down when he answers God’s call. Earlier he protests that God deceives the people of Israel (Jeremiah 4:10). Here he complains that God deceives the prophet himself (20:7). The metaphorical device, deception, depicts just how dire the situation is. It portrays a longing for escape, an escape that is ever elusive, ever out of reach. For Jeremiah, the pain is so deep that he, like Job, curses the day of his birth and with anguish almost too deep for words, expresses the wish that his life would end before it began.

Jeremiah utters this curses not only because of his message, but also in response to the social death he experiences because of it. Social death can be described as a situation in which individuals live estranged from their communities. Jeremiah’s protests of the injustices of his time lead to social death when his community rejects him because they do not want to hear his words warning of defeat by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 20:7-10).

Humans are social by nature. When connections with community are lost or severed, those afflicted undergo significant emotional stress. This emotional stress, if intense and prolonged, can also lead to spiritual crisis. This is what happens to Jeremiah. Good relationships elude him. Commanded by God not to marry, to have children, or to participate in social activities (Jeremiah 16:1-8), and facing rejection and persecution by his community (20:1-6, 37:11-21), Jeremiah finds himself at the edge of despair.

In this moment of spiritual crisis, Jeremiah experiences God as less than beneficent, as deceiver. Persecuted by leaders, rejected and derided by his community, he stands alone. All of his relationships — with the divine and with humans — are in disarray.

In contrast to Job who curses due to the silence, the absence of God, Jeremiah curses due to the presence, the voice of God. In Jeremiah, the voice of God and the prophet’s voice are one. Unlike Job who suffered because he hears too little from God, Jeremiah hears too much. He cannot contain himself. He has to speak. God’s words, he writes, are like “fire shut up in my bones.”

The prophet’s response is an indication of the close connection between the prophet and his message. While some may try to distance themselves from the messages they bring, for Jeremiah, nothing could be further from the truth. For him, there is no separation between message and messenger. In fact, message and messenger are so connected that the community’s distaste for the message becomes rejection of the messenger.

For him, there is an inexorable connection between message and messenger. For Jeremiah, “It is personal.” 

The opening verses in Jeremiah 1:4-19 describe the prophet’s call to ministry. Jeremiah initially resisted God’s call. From the outset, God’s reassurance convinced and informed Jeremiah that the task would not be easy. Yet, God insisted. God prevailed.

Given the rejection and social death that Jeremiah experiences, the words of 20:7-12 should come as no surprise. Even so contemporary readers are likely to be caught off guard not only by the depth of Jeremiah’s agony, but also by his imprecatory thoughts toward his detractors. Many would decry his honesty with God. Yet, in the depth of his feelings lies the source of the power of his message.

The prophet struggles because he would rather not deliver such a message — and yet, he cannot do otherwise. He cannot help but warn his beloved nation that death and destruction are on the horizon. While he cannot but speak, speaking comes at a high cost. He is a laughingstock, mocked and rejected by his community. The people with whom he ministers, the ones he is trying to help, are the very ones who distance themselves and cause him so much pain. Even those closest to Jeremiah fail to understand. Seeking revenge, they wait for him to fail. Jeremiah, for his part, remains confident in God, confident that his persecutors will not succeed, confident that God’s justice will come to pass, confident that he will see God’s retribution on those who cause him so much pain.

Much like the psalmists, Jeremiah’s words move from complaint to praise. His complaint helps him work through his feelings. From protest against Israel to protest toward God, he has come to terms with both personal and national situations. Knowing that he cannot help but continue his thankless task, Jeremiah ends by lifting up praise to God. 

More than once when faced with honest feelings, whether one’s own or those of another, people are hastily advised to “get on with it.” Even in church, people are eager to put feelings aside without processing them. However, facing feelings honestly is essential to finding healing and wholeness for one’s life. Jeremiah is an excellent example of how the process works. The wise person would do well to learn from him.


1. Portions of this commentary are adapted from Alphonetta Wines, Thinking the Unthinkable: God as Enemy — An Image of God in the Book of Job and Other Books of the Hebrew Bible (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Christian University, 2011).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

We are accustomed to talking about the “sacrifice of Isaac,” but this story could be called the “sacrifice of Ishmael.”1

The Isaac story is the topic for next week. This week, Ishmael is the focus and it is worth noting that his story in many ways mirrors (or foreshadows) the other.

Abraham has two sons. The first, the son of a slave woman, is born out of Abraham’s and Sarah’s understandable doubt that God’s promise will be fulfilled. (“God helps those who help themselves” isn’t a new concept.) The second, a miracle child, is born to them in their old age against all odds.

In Genesis 18, we hear the story of God’s impossible promise that Sarah would conceive a child in her old age. She laughed till she cried when she heard the promise, but sure enough, she conceived and bore a son and they named him “Laughter.” In this week’s reading, the miracle child is now old enough to wean, and Abraham throws a party to celebrate the occasion.

But all is not well. “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac” (Genesis 21:9). In the Hebrew, the words, “with her son Isaac” don’t appear, though the Septuagint adds that phrase. The rabbis, perhaps to soften the blow of Sarah’s and Abraham’s subsequent actions, ascribe sinister motives to Ishmael; he is jealous of his little brother and torments him. The biblical phrase, however, has no such connotation. In fact, the word translated “playing” is a pun on Isaac’s name. Ishmael is simply laughing, enjoying himself at the feast.

But Sarah does not want to see this son of a slave woman, this reminder of her own long sorrow, to inherit along with her son. Her disdain for Hagar and Ishmael are apparent in the way she refers to them: “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac” (21:10).

Abraham does not want to do it. Ishmael is, after all, his son. But God tells Abraham to do what Sarah wants “for through Isaac shall your descendants be named” (21:12). And God reassures Abraham that Ishmael, too, will be the father of a nation.

Then, in language that foreshadows the following chapter, Abraham rises “early in the morning” (21:14; 22:3), puts food and a skin of water on Hagar’s shoulder (21:14; 22:6), and sends away his son with the boy’s mother.

It’s not the first time Hagar wanders in the wilderness. In chapter 16, pregnant, she flees a conflict with Sarah and ends up speaking with the LORD and even naming God: “A God of seeing” (16:13). This time, however, she has nowhere to turn. She has no option to return to Abraham and Sarah, so she wanders into the wilderness, to almost certain death.

This story in chapter 21 does not seem to know the genealogical notes of 16:16 and 21:5, which would make Ishmael a teenager when Isaac is born. A mother could not carry a teenager on her shoulder (21:14), nor would she be able to “cast” him under a bush (21:15) when the water runs out. Ishmael here is best understood as a young child, one who cries from thirst and fear as his mother sits a distance off, unwilling to watch as her son dies.

But for the second time in her life, Hagar is visited by God (or an angel of God; often in Genesis the line between the two is blurred). “And God heard the voice of the lad” (21:17). In Hebrew, the first few syllables of this verse are the name Ishmael—“God heard.” And it is the only time in the whole story that Ishmael’s name appears, as if to emphasize the meaning of that name—God hears. God hears the cries of the outcast and abandoned. God hears and has compassion.

The angel of the LORD speaks to Hagar and says what angels always say, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, though things seem hopeless. Take the child in your arms. I have heard his cries. I will save him and will make of him a great nation.

God opens Hagar’s eyes to see a well of water nearby, just as Abraham in the next chapter will see the ram caught in the thicket (21:19; 22:13). And in both cases the seeing leads to new life for Abraham’s sons.

Ishmael grows up in the wilderness and becomes the father of a great nation, the Ishmaelites. He also becomes the father-in-law of Esau, that other overlooked son (28:9). His descendants appear a few other times in the biblical text. It is the Ishmaelites, for instance, who sell Joseph the beloved son into slavery in Egypt (37:28; 39:1). Muslims trace their ancestry to Abraham through Ishmael.

But all of that will come later. For our purposes this Sunday, perhaps it is enough to note an easily overlooked phrase in the story: “and God was with the boy” (21:20). God is with the boy, this outcast son of Abraham. God is with his mother, too, an Egyptian slave woman cast out by the father of her child. It is worth noting that Hagar sees God not once, but twice, and even names God. It is a privilege not many have, not many even of the chosen people.

God’s choosing of one particular people, and one particular line of that people (Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau) is a scandalous matter for many. The scandal of election is difficult for we who value fairness and egalitarianism. And yet, that seems to be how God works in Genesis and in the rest of the Old Testament. The chosen people are called to high standards and to difficult trials (witness the story next week). They are blessed in order to be a blessing (Genesis 12:3). They are to be a “priestly kingdom” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). It is not an easy thing to be chosen, according to the biblical witness. It is both a privilege, and a great responsibility.

But it must also be noted that election, according to this story, does not entitle one to exclusive claim on God’s care or on God’s presence. “God was with the boy.” Jon Levenson, a Jewish scholar, puts it this way, “Ishmael is read out of the covenant but emphatically included in the promise that is larger than the covenant and preceded it.”God cares about and provides for this son of Abraham, too. God was with the boy.

It is easy to overlook this story of Ishmael, set as it is between the story of Isaac’s miraculous birth and the story of his (near) sacrifice. Yet, it is worth pausing and considering what Ishmael’s story tells us about God’s care and providence. As the old hymn reminds us, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” We cannot limit God’s mercy. God hears the cry of the abandoned. God hears the cry of the outcast, and God saves.


1. First published on this site on June 22, 2014.

2. Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (Yale University Press, 1993) 102. Levenson here refers specifically to the promise in Gen. 12:2 that Abraham will be the father of a great nation, a promise fulfilled in both his sons.


Commentary on Psalm 69:7-10, [11-15], 16-18

Paul K.-K. Cho

In Psalm 69, a servant of God (69:17) suffers for no fault of his own, but rather for his devotion to God (69:9).

He is an innocent sufferer, even a righteous sufferer, and the servant claims that he suffers “for God” (69:7). For these reasons, Psalm 69 is a profound meditation on suffering comparable to the great Isaianic passages about the “servant of YHVH,” especially Isaiah 52:13 — 53:12, and that devastating book called Job. Suffering, in our psalm, is not the consequence of sin but of piety, and it is suffering that benefits God.

The reality of suffering

Psalm 69 readily admits the reality of suffering and that suffering is an undesirable experience for the righteous. The psalm does not glorify suffering as an opportunity either for education or for demonstrating the virtue of patience, even if suffering can be those things. The psalmist simply decries his suffering and petitions God for a swift deliverance:

I am in distress — make haste to answer me. (69:17b, NRSV)

In short, the psalmist does not glorify suffering but complains effusively, honestly, to God. Complaint, then, is presented as a righteousness and faithful expression of hope in God.

The cause of the suffering in the psalm also deserves note. The psalmist, from among the wide palette of painful experiences, lifts up the suffering caused by the human tongue. The psalm mentions enemies (69:4, 18), they do not approach with bow and arrow but with words – a very human approach and arguably humanity’s most potent weapon. Thus, the psalmist complains of insults, gossip, and the mocking song and describes them in the powerful, if typical, language of chaos waters:

I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
And the flood sweeps over me. (69:2)

The suffering caused by human words is palpable to the body, as the rush of words suffocate the psalmist. That is why the prayer for deliverance found in the psalm is no less urgent than the prayers of psalms in which military threat is in view. Suffering caused by human words — typically of family and neighbors (69:8) — is every bit as real as that caused by the arrow and the fang. Words, even when they are false, can kill.

Innocent suffering

Also important is the observation that the psalm admits of innocent suffering. More than that, it describes the suffering of a pious, even righteous, person. The psalmist suffers, not for some uncharacteristic peccadillo — for “looking upon a virgin” or ignoring the complaint of a slave against him” (Job 31) — but because of his “zeal for [God’s] house” and for earnest fasts (69:9, 10). Was the enthusiastic piety of the psalmist an affront to the easy religiosity of his contemporaries? Whatever the perceived offense, from the perspective of the psalmist, he suffers because of righteousness. His is innocent suffering.

It is important, in this light, to note that suffering is not, within the world of the Bible, necessarily a sign of sin. This lesson, of course, is at the heart of the Book of Job. Job’s three friends, no doubt learned and respected men not unlike Job himself, interpret Job’s suffering as the fitting consequence of sin and, out of genuine concern (which admittedly turns acerbic), advise Job to agree with God’s judgment (i.e., the plain meaning of the suffering) and repent. Repentance, they propose, will cause God to turn away from his righteous anger and restore Job to blessedness.

Our psalmist entertains no such possibility. Far from repentant, he stands certain in his righteousness before God (69:5) and looks, not to repentance as the path toward restoration, but to lament and complaint. The psalmist does not obfuscate the reality of his suffering, which includes verbal bullying and social ostracism (69:8) — experiences not uncommon among youths and adults, then and now. Rather, he openly laments and complains that God, to whom he has directed his prayers, has been too slow in responding:

Do not hide your face from your servant…

Draw near to me, redeem me… (69:17a, 18a)

The psalm, then, presents lament and complaint as fitting responses of the righteous to suffering, especially when the suffering is innocent. Does the Bible claim that punishment follows sin? No doubt. But it also admits that the innocent suffer. And the prescribed response, in such cases, is lament (the full acknowledgment that suffering is evil) and complaint to God, who appears too distant and all too silent in the midst of suffering. Lament and complaint are prayer based on the hope that the Holy One can be moved.

Vicarious suffering

The Bible refuses to believe that human suffering is without meaning. And the commitment to an understanding of suffering as meaningful becomes an acute theological problem especially with innocent suffering. This is the case in our psalm, as it is in Isaiah 53. And the psalmist makes perhaps an outrageous claim for his innocent suffering: he suffers “for God” (69:7).

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
That shame has covered my face…

The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (69:7, 9b)

Psalm 69:9b identifies those who disparage the psalmist as the very persons who disparage God. The unstated claim is the identification of the psalmist with God.

The psalmist makes perhaps a grander claim in 69:7. The force of the Hebrew phrase translated “for your sake” is unclear, but possibly is an interpretation that includes a dimension of benefit. The phrase might indicate that the psalmist’s suffering benefits God; that is, the psalmist may be saying that he suffers in the place of God, for God: the insults directed to God falls instead on the psalmist so that God is spared the affront.

The suffering of which the psalm admits, then, is more than innocent suffering. It is more than even righteous suffering. It is vicarious suffering that is not only effect — caused by the psalmist’s piety — but also cause, whose effect is a benefit, in some mysterious way, to God. In short, the psalmist, in his suffering, honors God — glorifies God.

Salvation from suffering

Given the special character of the psalmist’s suffering, it is no surprise that the petition for salvation takes on elevated meaning. The psalmist argues that his deliverance from suffering signifies an affirmation of all who hope in and seek God (69:6). Why? Because the psalmist, in his suffering and salvation, stands before God and his fellow human beings as an icon of all the servants of God. The suffering servant has become the representative of all God’s servants.

Is it any wonder, then, that New Testament authors saw Christ in the light of this psalm?

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 6:1b-11

Kyle Fever

“Shall we continue in sin?”

This is Paul’s opening question in Romans 6:1.

It’s not necessarily the case that someone in Paul’s audience really thought that it would be a good idea to “continue in sin.” This was Paul’s way of rhetorically advancing his argument. The question derives from Paul’s claim in 5:20 (“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”).

It also arises from firsthand experience that the radical gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ led to accusations of moral anarchy (Romans 3:8). God’s grace extends to the ungodly and obliterates any attempts to claim justification on any other ground. God’s grace mocks silly distinctions on the basis of human ideals, ideologies, and other lines in the sand we draw to sort out the good citizens from the riff-raff. This might lead to the conclusion “Well, if it’s the case that our boundaries and our laws are meaningless, dear Paul, then let’s just all be ungodly sinners all of the time.” Paul says no. Such an understanding reflects an anemic understanding of grace and justification. This passage should lead to deeper reflection on both how we understand grace and justification.

The lectionary text is part of a longer argument, the second part of which also begins with a similar rhetorical question in 6:15: “Should we sin since we are not under law, but under grace?” The present passage (which really should extend through 6:14) cannot be taken in isolation from 6:15-23. In the first section, Paul draws attention to the foundational reality of believers. In the next section, Paul addresses the outworkings of that foundational reality. The entirety of Romans 6 is closely linked to Paul’s thoughts about Christ as the new Adam in Romans 5, and to the reality of freedom from the law in Romans 7. For Paul, death to sin is the necessary flipside of being united to Christ the new Adam. And it is linked to death and to the law. If we have not truly been transferred out of the land of Sin, then we have not been united to Christ, nor have we transferred from the hold of the law.

In this first section (verses 1-14), Paul makes two main moves, centered on what the community took for granted: baptism. First, Paul speaks of baptism as death. Second, Paul links baptismal death to death to sin.

Baptism is linked to death

Whatever we might draw from this passage about baptism, one thing is clear: baptism is more than another event that takes place in the life of a person, like graduation, where all the relatives come and celebrate. And it’s more than a religious ritual where church members commit to one another in word but not action. Baptism is very serious business.

Death through baptism is not merely a spiritual metaphor. Throughout Paul’s letters, this “death” to old humanity is very real. The language Paul uses emphasizes that this death is a “knowable” reality. In verse 3 Paul speaks of “not knowing” to remind his audience that baptism is baptism into death with Christ: “Do you not know that all of us … were baptized into his death?” In verse 6 he writes about “knowing” that the old humanity was crucified, with the result that the body of sin is destroyed. And in verses 8-9, Paul writes, “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will live with/in him, knowing that … death no longer lords over him.”

It is this knowable experience of “death” to the old humanity that enables Paul to eschew social convention (Galatians 3:28), to dare to risk folly and persecution rather than play according to the world’s “wisdom” and seek fame (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and to actually say that obedience to the law avails nothing in terms of “marking” someone as being in or out of God’s favor (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Baptismal death is death to sin

Many Christians today struggle with the idea of being “dead to sin.” When Paul talks about “dead to sin,” is this the same thing as “sinless”? The problem might be that we operate with a moral perfectionism system of thought where “sin” refers to the individual acts we do that miss the perfection mark.

The contexts suggests that Paul is working with an understanding of sin as an operating force, something that exercises dominion over people, a mode of living in the world defined by corruption of God’s good creational intentions for humanity and the world. Given the overall context of what Paul says about Adam and Christ in Romans 5 and the law in Romans 7, it makes sense to consider that in baptism believers have died to their previous existence, of slavery in the land of Sin. They have been rescued by death, to be brought into a new land and a new existence.

The resonances with the Exodus of Israel are thick in Paul’s narrative imagination. Like Israel, those who are baptized in Christ have passed through waters, being separated from enslavement to all that was before, and they’ve been transferred like Israel by God’s delivering hand into a new existence. Does this mean that the Israelites changed? Yes and no. The important point is that they’ve been transferred from one reality to another. Paul’s concluding statement makes the point: “Consider yourselves on the one hand dead to sin, but on the other hand living to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).

The rhetorical question in 6:1 reflects a shallow understanding of the transformation that God’s grace brings about. God’s grace moves the ungodly to a new land and changes their identity and the nature of the rules that govern their lives. God’s grace is no excuse to remain unchanged. Paul is not preaching moral anarchy. Nor is Paul advocating an understanding of the Christian life as untransformed. It does not give us pardon while we keep playing in Sin as we always have, only feeling better because we believe God overlooks it. In dying with Christ, we no longer dwell in the land of Sin, we become God’s new creation in Christ. This is our new reality! Justification and grace are not only forensic or the easing of guilt; they are regenerative. Baptism is not a security; it is a reality changer.