Through a random series of events, I found myself preaching the same sermon twice at two different churches over the past 2 weekends. It was convicting to preach, knowing I don’t live it out well myself. Here’s the 30,000-foot version.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
At the end of ch 5 Paul explains that one purpose of the Law is to show how great our sin is, which in turn shows how great God’s grace is when he forgives us and justifies us by faith. This raises a possible objection: If my sin magnifies God’s grace, should I not continue to sin and therefore continue to magnify God’s grace? Chapter 6 unpacks Paul’s emphatic no! and shows that the question misunderstands the basics of the Christian life, which is one of dying to sin and walking in newness of life.
Dying to sin
The Christian life begins with a break with sin– not a complete ceasing of sin, of course, but a real break, a turning from sin to God. The break is so drastic that Paul describes it as death, and it’s depicted in baptism. In our union with Christ, we have participated in his death, so that when he died, the old “us” died.
But this is a past-tense event for believers, so why say the Christian life is one of dy-ing to sin? The answer is that this is another of Paul’s “become what you are” exhortations. He describes something that’s true of believers, then exhorts us to walk out that truth. So since we have died to sin, we must continue to die to sin in the constant temptations we face while still in this world. Some are obvious, like will we keep our marriage beds pure or will we give ourselves to people other than our spouses? But most are more tricky: Will we gossip (“vent”) about people at work or seek to live at peace with them? Will we struggle to buy as much as we can or to “keep our lives free of the love of money”? We all face questions like this every day.
So there are two questions:
- Have you died to sin?
- Are you dying to sin?
The strength for both of these doesn’t come from within; it comes from the working out of something that’s already happened to us. Titus 2:11-12 shows that the grace of God is both the basis of and the fuel for our fight against sin.
But just as Christ’s death was not the end of the story for him, our own death to sin is not the end of the story for us.
Walking in newness of life
Just as we participate in Christ’s death, we also participate in his life. His resurrection guarantees not just our physical resurrection at the last day (1 Cor 15), but also a new kind of life for us now.
So what does it mean to “walk in newness of life”? Scripture often uses “walk” as a picture of the course of someone’s life. So if we’ve been saved, our life should show a sense of newness—that we aren’t the same person we used to be; we have a new perspective, new priorities, a new love for Christ and his kingdom. We’ve gotten down off the throne in our hearts and given it, if you will, to Jesus.
The change in our hearts has been so drastic—Paul talks of it here as dying and rising again—that it should bear obvious fruit. If you’ve ever met someone who’s fallen in love, you know what I mean– Everything’s different. They haven’t just decided to act differently; something happened to them that changed things.
How do we walk in newness of life? Again, this isn’t something we do on our own; it’s the work of the Spirit dwelling in us. The Holy Spirit carries on the continuing work of sanctifying us, enabling us to live to righteousness, become more Christlike. This is why Jesus said it would be better for us if he went away—now God dwells in every believer’s heart, continuing the process of conforming us to his image. We should remind ourselves of this–we can fight temptation by saying “I have been filled with the Holy Spirit,” clothed with power for the purpose of living a godly life in a world full of evil.
Of course it’s easy for us to just list a bunch of rules we think we can keep and then push for that, but If we think of holiness as list of don’t s we’ve missed the point. Christ died to sanctify, to make holy, a people for himself, to prepare good works for us to walk in. We shouldn’t just play defense against list of sins, but rather should go on the offense, seeking to become more and more holy. We should want to be eager to spend time in the Word, in prayer, in worship. We should strive to cultivate a holy thought life—not just avoiding sinful sexual thoughts, but positively meditating on God and his Word when our mind kicks into neutral. We should look for opportunities to minister to others, whether by sharing the Gospel with nonbelievers or instructing and encouraging our brothers and sisters. And on and on.
We have been justified by faith, baptized into Christ’s death, raised in his resurrection, filled with the Holy Spirit. By that power, not just by gritting our teeth & trying harder, we must seek to walk out the change that’s happened to us.
Conclusion (not that I said, “And now the conclusion”)
All of us who have born again have passed from death into life– like Forrest Gump, the braces have fallen off our legs [referring to an earlier illustration]. But we’re constantly tempted to go back and pick up the braces, put them together again and try to wear them around as if they help. At the very best, that results in self-disciplined moralism—which isn’t that great of a result! At our worst, we can even subtly use Paul’s hypothetical objection. If there’s anything that marks the lives of lots of Christians today (including mine), it’s a flippant attitude toward the holiness of God and sinfulness of sin.
We can excuse our sin by broadly acknowledging it, presuming on God’s forgiveness, without putting up an honest fight against it, without turning from it with grief and hatred. This isn’t what Christian life should look like. God is holy, he makes his people holy, he calls his people to holiness. As we go into this week, let’s wake up. Let’s live in light of our union with Christ, continue to die to sin, live to righteousness. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”