Paul asks a crucial question in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”
He’s anticipating a question he has heard before – it’s a little philosophical game some were playing with grace. It went something like this – God is in the forgiving business, and I’m helping God out by making business good.
• It began back in 3:5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?
• 3:7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?”
• Continued in 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
• And now in 6:1 Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
• And he answers them in 6:2 – By no means!
If we come away from Paul’s discussion of grace and assume it doesn’t matter how you live because grace will simply take care of it and sweep sin under the rug, we have tragically misunderstood grace.
Grace is the freedom from sin, not a license to sin.
Grace calls us, not to a licentious abuse of this freedom, but to the most absolute kind of holiness.
We can’t begin to understand what Paul is trying to tell us – this very graphic drama that is played out – if we do not first understand his picture of sin.
• Sin is a prison. (Do you doubt it? Try breaking a bad habit.) And we have been given a sentence of death and are living out our days on death row.
• Sin is an inoperable malignant cancer whose tentacles have wrapped themselves around our vital organs and are squeezing the life out of us.
We are locked in this prison, decimated by this disease. We cannot free ourselves or cure ourselves. Only one thing will release us – death. The warden must come out and announce – “the prisoner died at 6:05 this evening.” The funeral home must release the obituary – “John Roberts passed away Saturday morning after a lengthy illness.” There is no other way.
And so Paul’s response – We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer? It’s a theme he repeats 7 times:
vs 3 “we were baptized into his death.”
vs 4 “we were buried with him through baptism into death”
vs 5 “we have been united with him in his death”
vs 6 “our old self was crucified with him”
vs 7 “anyone who has died”
vs 8 “we died with Christ”
vs 11 “count yourselves dead to sin”
And this death has a very specific purpose - listen again:
vs 6 our old self was crucified with him SO THAT the body of sin might be done away with”
vs 6 SO THAT we should no longer be slaves to sin
vs 7 anyone who has died has been freed from sin
vs 8 if we died with Christ, we will also live with him
vs 11 count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God
vs 12 do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires
vs 13 do not offer the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness
vs 13 you have been brought from death to life
vs 14 sin shall not be your master
The question really asks
• “You have been freed from prison – why would you want to go back and live again behind bars on death row?”
• “You have been freed from your cancer, why would you want cancerous cells re-injected back into your body?”
Let’s step back a moment to vss. 3-4 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.
Paul does not make an argument for baptism – he assumes baptism. This is not written to the unbeliever convincing him to be baptized, but to the Christian who has been baptized to live like it. Baptism is no lifeless ritual, no ceremony for babies, no rite of passage into adulthood. Baptism is no less than our union with Christ. F. LaGard Smith calls baptism the wedding ceremony of the believer.
As we read what Paul says, we come to understand a great deal about the necessity of baptism, the significance of baptism, he even presents a dramatic enactment of baptism – listen to one writer’s interpretation of Paul’s words – “That plunge beneath the running waters was like a death; the moment’s pause while they swept overhead was like a burial; the standing erect once more in air and sunlight was a type of resurrection.”
We could say much about the particulars and details of baptism. But for Paul, in this discussion, its relevance is in what happens to our relationship to sin. It is written to the man or woman who, having been baptized, find themselves again and again flirting with sin, enticed by sin, companions with sin.
Imagine a young couple at the altar – they vow to love, honor and cherish each other as long as they both shall live. The preacher says “you may kiss the bride” – down the aisle they go, arm in arm. Minutes later at the reception he’s flirting with the bridesmaids. Days later, home from the honeymoon, she comes home one afternoon to find him in bed with another woman. “It’s unbelievable! How could you! Have you forgotten what you promised? Doesn’t our marriage mean anything to you?”
We just can’t imagine how anyone could be so faithless, so absolutely untrustworthy, who could so blatantly disregard the covenant they had just made.
But let’s come back to Paul’s concern. To return to sin after sealing your soul in baptism is like committing adultery on your honeymoon. We have been united with Christ in a covenant relationship – how can we even consider going back to our old lover, sin?
That’s the language Paul uses in vs. 3 – “Don’t you know?” “Have you forgotten?”
When we were baptized we willingly committed our life to Christ. We were inseparably united with him in his death, his burial, his resurrection.
Death to sin is always followed by life in Christ. Burial is always followed by resurrection. Vs. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Baptism is our funeral in which we die to the old self - we severe our relationship with sin. But at that very instant, baptism also becomes the delivery room in which we are lifted out of the waters, born anew in the Spirit of God. Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:17 become real for us – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come!
Travel back to the prison for a moment. Walk through the corridors to the old cell that held you captive. Peer through the bars and what do you see? There he is – it is Christ – he took our place, he bore our guilt, he suffered our punishment.
Look through the window into the hospital room and there he is – it is Christ – he took our disease, he suffered our pain, he died our death. In one incredible moment in baptism, Christ takes our place on the cross and experiences our sin, and bears our punishment. We experience his death, his burial and his resurrection. When we come out of that water, we will not, we cannot ever be the same.
Some time ago, I had a woman call and hatefully accuse us of teaching salvation by works because we believe in the importance and necessity of baptism.
I take exception. The only work in baptism is God’s work. God’s grace absolutely excludes any possibility of me doing anything to deserve salvation. My baptism doesn’t earn me one second in heaven.
But baptism isn’t a work of merit, it is a response of faith. I don’t see how in the world getting soaked in water can make a difference with God – but the Bible tells me that it is God’s will – part of God’s plan. And so by faith, I submitted myself to this humbling, audacious response of faith.
Is baptism necessary? You tell me.
• If baptism is that event in which God tells us we die to self and are raised to life;
• If baptism is that moment in which the blood of Christ washes over our sins and cleanses us with God’s forgiveness;
• If baptism is that profound moment in which God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence and begins to dwell within us;
• If baptism is God’s welcome into his family, the church
• You tell me – is baptism necessary?
I hope that if you have been baptized, that it was not some ritual you did years ago to please your parents, or to be like your friends, or to appease your conscience. I hope that it was, and is, a living, daily reminder of a relationship that began that day – that you experience every day the freedom from sin, the joy of forgiveness, and the gift of life that is only in Christ and begins with baptism.
Archaeology has taught us something remarkable about how the early Christians viewed baptism. Our modern day baptistries resemble something like a hot tub or a miniature swimming pool. The earliest baptistries bore a remarkable resemblance to tombs and mausoleums. It was like being baptized in a coffin. They were a place of death and burial. Those who went into the waters of baptism were reminded in a very stark way that in baptism they were dying to self.
This morning, Jesus’ invitation is to come and die to sin and to self, so that you may live forever in him.
Posted on Sun, March 18, 2012
by John Roberts