Jean’s Gospel: The Baptized Life
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1)
Although Paul’s question is unlikely today, you may hear a similar question: “Does it really matter if we continue in sin, since we are saved by grace?” This might even be the argument someone uses to justify continuing a habit or lifestyle that the Bible defines as sin.
Most Christians know that the answer to Paul’s question is “no”, but the reasons given often vary from one Christian or tradition to another. The most common reasons given today typically turn the Christian inward. Examples include: “A person who accepts Christ must bear the fruit of sanctification; are you bearing fruit?” or “A person who has sincerely committed his life to Christ will amend his lifestyle; have your done that?;” or “A person who truly understands the enormous sacrifice which Christ made for him will obey Him out of thankfulness and gratitude; are you thankful?” These reasons all err because they imply that grace depends on us doing our part.
Paul never takes sin lightly (and neither should we), but he does take a completely different tact from the above examples. Paul knows that if, as he writes, Christians “are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14), then the answer to the question must rely, not upon us – how we feel or what we perceive – but upon grace alone, and in particular upon the Word of grace that comes to us from the outside, which is concrete and trustworthy.
This Word says:
“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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:2-11)
Paul writes that in baptism, God has pronounced us dead. Baptism unites us with Christ in a death like His; it buries us with Him into death. Therefore, the reason why Christians do not live in sin is quite simple really: Dead people do not live in sin! But how can this be? It is so because that is what God’s Word says. This is the same Word through whom God spoke heaven and earth into being. This Word does not simply record, declare, promise, or describe something; this Word accomplishes what it says: “it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:11)
So, then, what does it mean to be baptized “into Christ Jesus”?
- It means that we have been redeemed or ransomed by Christ, who took away our sins and paid for them by His death. Baptism delivers us from the realm of sin, death and Satan, and transfers us into Christ’s kingdom, in which we have the forgiveness of sins.
- It means that “our old self”, who is enslaved to sin, was crucified with Christ, in order that the body of sin may be brought to nothing, to free us from slavery. Our solidarity with the first Adam is over, broken and finished. The sin that came into the world through him no longer has power over us.
- It means that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” In baptism, God gives us new life in Christ. Elsewhere Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has ” (2 Cor 5:17) Having been set free from the power of sin, God’s grace enables us to walk in the newness of life. This new life is not always perceptible to the human eye: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3). Therefore, no matter what we may experience or how we might feel, we must trust Christ and His Word alone – “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)
- Finally, it means that “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In baptism God promises us the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life.
Paul deals with the issue of sin in the life of a Christian through the lens of baptism, as in: “remember your baptism;” “remember what it signifies;” and “remember what Christ gives you in your baptism.” Baptism is not only an historical event in which we are initiated and reborn into God’s family. It actually describes, empowers and orients the whole of Christian life. Because we have been baptized into Christ, by no means, says Paul, should we continue to live in sin.
Because the power of baptism derives its efficacy from the death of Christ, we receive the benefits of baptism as a free gift of the Father for the sake of His Son through faith, which baptism engenders or strengthens. These gifts are worked in us by the Holy Spirit, who kills the old self and makes us new creations in Christ. Thus, in Baptism we have the whole Triune God working on our behalf for our salvation. What are we to do? Remember our baptisms: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
God is faithful and His Word is trustworthy. If we trust in His gifts and promises given to us in the Gospel through preaching, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and in our baptism, God will enable us by the Spirit to walk in the newness of life now, while awaiting the resurrection, which Christ has prepared for us to walk in, both now and forever. Amen.