At the Great Easter Vigil, after a lengthy series of Old Testament readings, the lights come on full, the Gloria is intoned, and the opening prayer is sung. Then all are seated for the first reading from the New Testament, proclaimed in the new light of Easter glory. It is Romans 6, the opening text from the New Testament proclaimed by the Church as Christ steps forth from the tomb! It would seem that the Church considers this an important reading for our consideration, given its placement.
Romans 6 is a kind of mini-Gospel wherein the fact of our new status as redeemed, transformed Children of God is declared. And within these lines is contained “Standing Order # 1″ for the Christian who is a new creation: “No longer let sin continue to reign in your death-directed bodies.”
Perhaps we can take a look at this central passage from the New Testament. Here it is in total and them some verse-by-verse commentary:
We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)
1. THE PRINCIPLE – We have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? – Here is a powerful and uncompromising statement. Paul is setting forth the most fundamental principle for the Christian life: sin is not to have any power over us. This is the NORMAL (i.e., normative, to be expected) Christian life, a life that is victorious and that is seeing sin put to death and the blessings of grace coming alive. Paul says, quite clearly, that we have died to sin.
Before returning to this concept, it might be important to consider what the word “sin” means here. The Greek word is ἁμαρτίᾳ (hamartia). In its root, sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) means “missing the mark” or falling short of a designated goal. In the Greek tragedies, the hero often had a “fatal flaw” wherein he misses the mark, or fails to obtain what he sought due to a moral failing or error in judgment. In Scripture, the word ἁμαρτίᾳ usually means something closer to what we mean by sin today, namely, “a moral failing.” But we should not completely leave behind the notion that sin is a missing of the mark. It is not untrue to say that sin is not so much a reality unto itself as it is a “privation,” a lack of something that should be there. In every sin, something is missing that should be there.
Now St. Paul often describes sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) at two levels: the personal experience with sin, and the “climate” in which we live. So we might distinguish between Sin (upper case) and sin (lower case). Hence, Sin is the climate in which we live that is hostile to God, that has values in direct opposition to what God values. It is materialistic, worldly in its preoccupations, carnal rather than spiritual, lustful, greedy, self-centered, and alienated from the truth. It will not submit to God and seeks either to deny Him or to marginalize Him. This is Sin. (We need to understand this distinction, for in verse 10 of this passage Paul says Christ “died to Sin.” But clearly Christ had no personal sin. But he DID live in a world dominated by Sin and it was to THAT which he died).
As for sin (lower case), it is our personal appropriation of Sin. It is our internalization and acceptance of the overall climate of sin. For example, a Bosnian child is not born hating a Croat or Serbian child. That hatred is “in the air” and the child often (usually) internalizes it and then acts upon it. Hence, Sin becomes sin.
Now Paul says that we have DIED to all of this. That is to say, the overall climate of Sin can no longer influence us. Neither can the deep drives of our own sin continue to affect us.
But how can it be that most of us feel very strongly influenced by Sin and sin? Consider for a moment a corpse. You cannot humiliate or tempt, win an argument with, or in any way personally affect a corpse. The corpse is dead and you and I can no longer have any influence over it. Paul is saying that this is to be the case with us. We are dead to the world and its Sin. Its influence on us is broken. Because of this, our personal sins and the drives of sin are also broken in terms of their influence.
Ah, but you say, “This does not seem to be true.” Nevertheless, it IS the principle of the Christian life. It is what is normative for us and what, increasingly, we should expect because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is true that death for us is a process, more than an event. But to the degree that the old Adam has been put to death in us, his vital signs are diminishing. He is “assuming room temperature” and Christ Jesus is coming alive within us.
And here is the central question: is Jesus becoming more alive in you? It is remarkable how little most Christians expect from their relationship with Jesus Christ. The best that most people hope for is to muddle through this life and just make it (barely) over the finish line to heaven. Mediocrity seems to be what most people expect. But this is not the normal Christian life! The normal Christian life is to be increasingly victorious over sin, to be experiencing the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in our lives. We have died to sin. Its influence on us is waning, is diminishing. Increasingly the world and its values seem ludicrous to us and God’s vision becomes precious.
So here is the principle: since we have died and are dying to sin, it is increasingly impossible for us to live in it or to experience its influence.
2. THE POWER – Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
When Paul (and Scripture) use the word “know,” it always means more than grasping something intellectually. In the Bible, to “know,” means to experience something personally and to have internalized its truth. Thus, when Paul says, “Or is it possible that you have not experienced that we died with Christ and risen with him to new life?” in effect he is saying, grab hold of yourself and come to experience that you have died to your old life and have now received a completely new life. Start to experience this personally.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17). This is the normal Christian life and we ought to be experiencing it more and more.
But here again, we have to fight the sloth of low expectations. Do you think that Jesus Christ died for you so that you would continue to be in bondage to anger, or lust, or hatred? Surely he died to free us from this!
To see your life transformed is NOT your work, it is the work of the Lord Jesus. Since it is His power at work we ought to expect a lot. But low expectations yield poor results. So Paul is saying, come to know, come to personally experience and grasp His power at work in you. Have high expectations! How can we have anything less when the death and resurrection of Jesus are the cause of this?
3. THE PERSONAL WITNESS – For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. –
Once again, Paul says we “know” this. This is the normal Christian life: to experience that our old self was crucified and has died, and that increasingly we are no longer slaves to sin.
In my own life, I have experienced just this, have you? I have seen many sins and sinful attitudes put to death in me. My mind has become so much clearer in the light of Christian faith and I now see and experience how silly and insubstantial are many of the claims of this world. So, my mind and my heart are being transformed. I have died to many of my former negative attitudes and drives.
I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be, praise God. A wonderful change has come over me.
How about you? Do you have a testimony? Do you “know” (experience) that your old self has been crucified and that you are being freed from sin?
4. THE PROCLAMATION – in various ways then in the verses that follow, Paul sets forth the essential proclamation of the Normal (normative) Christian life:
- count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
- Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…
- [you] have been brought from death to life…
- For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Some final questions:
- Do you believe this?
- Do you know (experience) this?
- What do you expect from your relationship with Jesus Christ?
- How are you different from someone who lived under the Old Covenant?
- How are you different from the unbelievers in this world?
- Are you living the normal Christian life of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ, or are you just muddling through?
The icon above is 18th Century Russian, and is available at most icon distributors. This vision is the Harrowing of Hades, in which Christ pulls Adam and Even from their tombs and summons them to new life.
This song says, “Victory is mine, I told Satan, ‘Get thee behind’ for victory today is mine.”