In Romans 5, Paul said that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). This leads naturally to the question which opens Romans 6.
The logic Paul seeks to refute is that grace has the opportunity to show itself for what it is — a gift given in the face of rejection — when people sin. That is, continuing to sin is to do grace a favor.
To this logic, Paul answers an emphatic “Absolutely not!” When we stand in grace it is absurd to think that it is necessary for any reason to continue in sin. This is to miss the whole point. Standing in grace is standing in an entirely new place, a place apart from sin. Standing in grace means that we have died to sin. We can’t continue to sin so that grace may abound for the fundamental reason that we are dead to sin.
Those who are in Christ Jesus no longer live in sin. Our environment has drastically and completely changed. It is as dramatic as transforming from a land animal to a sea animal. The environment of those who are in Christ Jesus has changed from living in sin to not living in sin. We have been transformed into beings that can thrive in an entirely different ecosystem from the one in which we previously lived. To live in grace is to live in an ecosystem that is not structured by sin.
This has happened because of our baptism into Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3). Here Paul refers to what the Roman Christians must have participated in — baptism. And he interprets baptism as participatory in the fullest sense. Baptism is not simply participating in a community’s cultic rite, or doing a ritual that signals agreement with a community’s beliefs. Baptism means participating in Christ. Baptism means being immersed not just in water but in Christ. The new environment in which believers live, then, is the environment of Christ. Reality is now Christ. We live in Christ.
Living in Christ is living in who Christ is and what Christ does. Christ died. Paul has already explained the significance of Christ’s death. In Romans 3 he spoke of it as a sacrificial death that offered redemption, deliverance from slavery to sin. In the immediately preceding chapter Paul has said that Christ’s death was for sinners (5: 8), that Christ’s blood makes us righteous (5: 9), and it reconciles us to God (5:10). Christ’s death, then, is what created an environment free of sin.
Christ’s death created an alternative world — a world where sin does not rule. It is into this alternative world that baptism gives entrance, for baptism is into Christ’s death. It is, in other words, baptism into that which frees from sin. We are dead to sin because we are in Christ’s death. Notice that Paul does not say that sin is dead but that we have died to it (Romans 6: 2). Sin still exists, but it belongs in the world from which we have been freed.
Moreover, just as Paul said in the previous chapter that Christ’s death is what frees because Christ’s death ended in life (Romans 5:11), so here Paul connects the fact of Christ’s resurrection to our own state. We are not just baptized into a death that frees us from sin, we are baptized into a death that ended in life. Being in Christ’s death, then, gives us not just freedom from sin but newness of life.
We have been translated to a new environment where not only is sin a foreign entity, but where everything is new. Most fundamentally, we are in an environment of life: “we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Baptism joins us to Christ. Christ accepts believers into his very being. Most especially, Christ accepts us into everything about his being — into his most unique and powerful action. The baptized are changed, then, not by acquiescing to a powerful agent of God who has come to set up a new regime that we must obey. Rather, the baptized are changed by sharing in the action that won the victory over sin and death.
There is something profoundly inclusive about God’s way in Christ. It is not the way of a powerful control freak who sets everything right and then calls the shots. It is the way of love. God respectfully, lovingly offers us the opportunity to share in the very thing that sets us free. We are participants in the act of victory, not simply beneficiaries of what is done for us.
And because we share in Christ’s victorious action of defeating sin and death, we, like Christ, share in the wondrous consequence of that action. Our lives are now lived in the context of resurrection. Because we have died with Christ, the one who is free from sin, death no longer reigns over us. Just as Christ lives, so will we (Romans 6:8). Together with Christ we will — and do — live resurrection life.
The result of Christ’s death is life. God, of course, is life. After Christ’s conclusive death in relation to sin, Christ lives for or towards God (Romans 6:10). Christ’s death is all about life, about the life that is the source of life, about God. It is this death that we participate in through baptism. Through baptism we have been freed from our old selves which were ruled by the lethal partnership of sin and death. We are liberated to walk in newness of life and in the certainty of sharing Christ’s risen life.
God of resurrection, you have promised new life to all who believe. Make us believers, and show us how to live into this new life. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
We are baptized in Christ Jesus ELW 451
Borning Cry ELW 732
You have put on Christ ELW 211, UMH 609
Baptism, William Billings