Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ” (Romans 6:12-23)
July 2, 2017
I was raised in the Pentecostal movement. I attended an Assembly of God church (the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world) with my mom and grandparents. I have many fond memories of that church and was definitely blessed to learn about the Christian faith there. However, like many of us raised in the church, there were also some things I didn’t like or was hurt by. One thing that was particularly difficult was this idea of “back-sliding.” Back-sliding was what people would say when someone in the church sinned. It could also describe someone who walked away from the church entirely. Now in high school, I “back-slid” a lot and it was church so everyone knew what I was up too. Most conversations I would have with friends and elders at the church would basically focus on needing to be better behaved. Didn’t I know that Jesus loved me and died on the cross for me? Wasn’t I baptized in the Holy Spirit? Why then can’t I start living a holy life? Were some of the questions I would get asked. This demand for obedience and perfection drove me to another place away from God. The thing is, the place away from God had its own demands. It demanded that I be drunk so that the cool kids would like me. It demanded me to live life only for myself. It said I must obsess about money because money will make me happy. If my upbringing bordered on legalism, the life I lived apart from God was nothing but self-indulgent sin. Is there relief from the things I know to be true about God’s love and the gospel, and the Bible’s own calls for holy living? That is what Romans 6 is all about.
We first need to ask where are we in St. Paul’s letter. Our Romans passage today comes after verses 1-11 of chapter 6. In those verses Paul argues against those who would say that by continuing to sin they actually show off grace and should therefore keep sinning. To this St. Paul gives a big negative, “By no means!” St. Paul speaks of dying to sin and being alive with Christ. He argues that in baptism we are united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection. Further, he reminds the Romans that they should think of themselves as dead to sin and alive to God. All of this is good, encouraging Gospel. However, it doesn’t solve the daily problem of my sinfulness. I can hear that I am dead to sin but can I live as if I am dead to sin?
That question brings us to our particular passage today. St. Paul moves from the indicative of God’s work in the death and resurrection of Jesus to the imperative of how we should live. Verse 12 is just that an imperative, “do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” St. Paul’s emphasis is on my active fight against pursuing sin. Now remember, he can only say this because we are already dead to sin. As one theologian put it, “It is the destruction of the power of sin that makes possible a realized biblical ethic.” (Murray, Principles, 221). The constant struggle is between what Paul calls the Old Man and the New Man. The Old Man was our life of sin; the New Man is our life in Christ. The two wage war over us all the time. For while we certainly are in Christ and free from sin, our old habits, desires, and impulses continue to haunt us. Further, the life we life now in Christ is real but also not fully arrived. His resurrection was the beginning of a new world and those of us who are in him get a foretaste of that, while still living in the old world.
Here is the big take away from Romans 6:12-14. The imperative at the beginning of this section about not letting sin have dominion over us, is concluded with a promise, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” The imperative is there to urge you towards holy living, the promise is there for when you fail.
While I struggled with my faith and my sin throughout high school, I did have a group of friends from church who were flat out annoying in their love and acceptance of me. I did everything I could to push them away and be a bad friend. One time, I was supposed to go to rehearsal for a performance we were putting on at the church. Instead I bailed and figured no one would be the wiser. When I pulled into my drive way, I noticed several cars. I opened the door and there were my friends, talking with my mom, playing with my cat. A slightly awkward conversation ensued but they didn’t shut me out. They didn’t hit me with the label of “back-slider.” They instead reminded me of our friendship and how they all cared about me. Once they left, my mom shut the door and said those are what true friends look like. I certainly had an obligation to them (and it wasn’t a ridiculous one) to show up for them at the church. When I screwed up, they didn’t hammer me with Bible verses or an intercession. They reminded me of God’s love for me. I didn’t stand them up again. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, God asks us to pursue holiness and show up. When we don’t, God reminds us that in the end the cross is better than our failings. When we don’t show up, the cross does and we are forgiven. – Amen.