Primary Scripture Romans 6:1-14
In Romans 5:20, Paul wrote that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. This leads naturally to the question which opens Romans 6.
Honestly, I don’t know of many folks for whom this line of thinking hasn’t come up when reading the first few chapters of Romans.
Paul has just spent no small number of words on the really important idea of grace. God’s grace – God’s amazing grace – for all of us wayward and sinful people.
We are loved enough to be forgiven by way of the self-giving death of Jesus.
We are loved enough to be shown the power of God’s love in the resurrection of Jesus.
We are loved enough to be drawn into an abiding relationship with God.
Not because we deserve it.
Not because we can ever earn it by knowing or keeping the law that was given, but because the very core of God’s being is love
And – as we will discover a bit later in this letter – there is not a thing- not one single thing – that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not even sin.
Why? Because all that sin is covered by all that grace.
The law? Yes- those provide crucial guidance for how to live with and love our neighbors well. But there is no need to strive for perfection in keeping it.
Our past mis-deeds? No need to stress over those, either. Christ has made us righteous. Jesus stood in the gap, putting us back in right relationship with God.
God’s been all in – with us and for us – for a long time
When we were weak,
when we were spiritually sick,
when our spiritual ancestors were still completely unaware of who Jesus was
Before Jesus came into the world as our Emmanuel
God loved us.
And God loves us still.
All that grace – that is what Paul says we are to take pride in. If we are going to boast about anything in this world, it is in the way that God has rescued and will continue to rescue us.
And we may boast in the way that God’s faithfulness allows us to be people of hope…. Always. Even in the midst of our greatest trials and suffering.
God shows off, we point to God’s righteousness, and God is glorified.
So… if our sin and God’s forgiveness is the cause of the display of God’s grace, which allows more people to see and for many of them to know God’s faithfulness…
Then more sin is good?
Or at least… not exactly bad… right?
I mean, wouldn’t sin be doing grace a favor?
If Paul were a pre-teen, we’d be getting the massive eye-roll for that question. And possibly even the #3 combo of eyeroll with a side of DUH.
He comes pretty close, setting us up for a rhetorical eyeroll: a resounding NO. By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?
I can hear him talking this concept through with a friend, over some hummus and what, wine? Eh… whatever they drank instead of coffee…
Paul leans in, saying, OK – hear me out.
You and I have been baptized as Jesus-followers, right? Now, that means we have said yes to all the grace we can handle.
We’re swimming in it, like the water in the river where we got dunked. We are soaked through to the skin by this grace. In fact, it’s almost like that grace has entered us and changed our way of being so completely that we don’t even need to come up out of the water to breathe!
Cue the head tilt. No worries… Paul will just shift metaphors, like he does in his letters.
Ok – stay with me. Think about fish in that river. They spend their lives swimming around, breathing and living and doing all the things that fish do in the water.
Ever see a fish that’s accidentally jumped up out of the water into a boat? Or onto the dock? It’s not good. They flop around and try hard to get back to the water…
Why? Because that’s where they can live. They DIE out of the water.
They need to swim to breathe.
But if they could just change… swap their gills for lungs like ours, they wouldn’t need to go back into the water ever again.
You and I, we are born as air breathers. And we still need to be up here out of the water to survive. But spiritually speaking, we’ve been baptized in the river of life and need to stay wet – swimming around in the grace.
If we find ourselves seeking out the old ways of living… drawn to those old sins that harm our relationships, we are like those fish out of water… flailing about, trying to find our way back to a state of grace, where we can breathe in God’s breath, God’s Spirit that makes us alive in Christ.
Yes, it’s an imperfect metaphor. Paul’s coffee buddy would likely have had questions… maybe a lot of questions.
The thing is, we are creatures who have been re-created.
Not metamorphosed into something unknown or different on the outside. But our inner world, our inner being has been recreated, refined.
Our core self has been seeking after God from the very beginning, responding to God’s primary claim on our love. And in Christ we are finally united.
But the world we live in, it’s as steeped in sin as it is in love. It’s in an in-between state –
Not the world as it was before Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
And yet, not as it will be when Jesus’ reign comes to its fullness.
The Kingdom of God – God’s will done on Earth as it is in Heaven – is here. In the worship and work of God’s people… us. But in so many ways, that vision remains a hoped-for – aspirational – reality.
Sin and its consequences ripple out across relationships, across time, across generations. We reap what was sown in our own youth, or the consequences of more recent decisions.
We reap what was sown by members of our own families, as well as the seeds sown by people we’ve never met, but whose decisions shaped the history of our city, our state or nation
But we need not despair, for our faith gives us hope. The hope that Paul described for us, the promise of God’s power, revealed through the Spirit that was mediated to us through Christ.
Why would we choose sin over a life empowered by God’s Spirit? Why would we choose sin over the power of God that is in us and flows through us, the power of God to defeat death?
So that grace might abound still more?
Oh… no… No no no
But we do continue to sin. Even after we learn to trust God.
Even when we know what to watch for…
And not so that God’s grace might increase. Why?
The most honest answer I can come up with is this one…
We are recovering sinners, making our way through that in-between, now-and-not-yet world. And some days, MOST days, it gets really messy.
A recovering addict will tell you that she chooses – moment by moment- one day at a time – between staying clean and falling off the wagon.
We all make 1000s of choices every day. All of which have spiritual consequences. And that means we choose between life and death, over and over again every single day.
But unlike folks in recovery, who will introduce themselves as addicts, we can choose to leave behind our former identity. In fact, Paul exhorts us to do so.
We are no longer sinners – unworthy and condemned. We have been claimed. We are God’s children – baptized and beloved. Co-heirs with Christ.
Commentator JR Daniel Kirk reminds us that there are a several imperative verbs in this portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans. These imperatives – commands – “summon us to take hold of our resurrection life and bring it to bear on the present”. What does that look like?
In verse 11, we are told to consider ourselves “as those who are alive from the dead”. And in verse 13, we are to present ourselves to God “as those alive from dead” in order to join the battle against the forces of sin and death.
Our humanity is united with a very human Jesus who died a very human death. When Paul talks about being crucified with Christ, that old version of humanity is what died.
Our humanity is also united with the wholly divine Jesus who was raised from death and reigns even now with God. When Paul talks about being alive in Christ, this new version of our humanity is where our hope lives.
This new version of humanity, this new life in Christ, is how we need to see ourselves. That is the identity we must claim. And the image of God we must bear in the world.
This is also how we need to picture our gathered body, the resources and worship and energy moving through the world as Christ’s body… That is, the church. This new version of humanity, dripping with resurrection power, is a means of grace for a world in need.
Imagine that, my friends! We, together, swimmers in the font of God’s grace, are God’s plan for ushering in the long-awaited Kingdom
On this final Sunday of Eastertide, can you take hold of hope more firmly, believing in the power of the Christ who is INDEED risen to bring that power to bear on our lives, too?
Can you come to the table and be nourished by that promise? Then go bravely – boldly – out to proclaim the good news In word and in deed?
I invite you to take a little time to sit and listen. Perhaps asking God to help you answer these questions…
How can I make ready for resurrection power this week? How can I prepare my heart to recieve that kind of power…
And the corollary question for our community of faith: How can we make ready for resurrection power together? What can we do to prepare our collective hearts for a move of the Spirit among us?