Baptism of Katherine Piper Jane Casey & Beatrice Wren Jacqueline Casey
August 4, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s Epistle is the last third of Romans 6. Last week we heard the first third. Paul’s began there with an explication of Baptism’s delivery from sin’s dominion. He was responding to his own statement at the end of Romans 5.
Romans 5:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We should not mistake God’s generosity in forgiving our sins as toleration or His simply sweeping them under the rug as insignificant. Paul puts out a rhetorical question to demonstrate this. He says, “Having heard that grace abounds where sin increases, should we continue in sin that grace may abound all the more?” He answers immediately: “May it never be so!”
His next question asks whether or not we have any actual understanding of grace. He is incredulous as he asks “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Don’t you know what that means, what that has given to us and made us to be? Don’t you know that grace reigns supreme in the believer over sin and disobedience? “Remember,” he says, “the righteous shall live by faith.”
We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too would be raised from the death of sin and walk in newness of life. That newness of life is sanctification which is a gift that leads to eternal life and perfection. If we have been united with Him in a death like His, that is a death by crucifixion, a death in obedience to God the Father and the Law, and we have been united to Him in a death like His by Holy Baptism, then we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His – which we are in Holy Baptism. In Titus 3 Paul calls this Baptism a Baptism both of regeneration, that is justification, and also renewal, that is sanctification. We know that our old man, that wicked part of us that still abides on this side of glory. He hates God and His law. He was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin for which he lusts would be brought to nothing not that it would be ultimately defeated in the end but doesn’t matter now but that it would be brought to nothing.
Here is the point: we are no longer enslaved by sin. We are free in Christ. Baptism has killed us and anyone who has died to sin has been set free from sin.
Paul then rephrases his earlier rhetorical question. He asks “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but are under grace?” Again he answers emphatically: “May it never be so!” We are free from sin, nor for sin. Being free from sin makes us slaves to righteousness. You are slaves to the one that you obey. Either you are slave to sin, hating the law and seeking your own way, which leads to damnation, or you are obedient to God, loving His Law and His ways, putting the old man to death by daily repentance and contrition in the means of grace, which leads to righteousness. This is what it is to be Baptized.
That is the set up for today’s reading. After Paul explains that he is speaking in the manner of men, he summarizes: “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, (you who are Baptized) now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
You are not free in regard to righteousness. You have been freed of the Law’s condemnations. You have been and are absolved of your sins. You are not guilty. You have not, however, been freed from the Law’s demands. You have been be freed of sin by Baptism which saves. You now belong to God. Free of sin you become a slave of God. His mark is upon you. You are ruled by grace.
Baptism does not make you your own lord; He, into whom you are Baptized, is your Lord. Being ruled by grace, you are now free to engage in the life-long battle against yourself, the devil, and the world. You are now free to serve God in righteousness and purity. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
All of this can be a bit confusing – which is why Paul spends so much time on it in Romans and his other writings. If we are not ruled by sin why do we sin? If we are free from condemnation of the Law what does our obedience matter? What does Paul call us slaves?
There are myriad ways to get this wrong and fall into some version of either legalism or antinomianism or a flakey mysticism. Paul is telling us what is true and which we confess by faith not by sight or reason or experience. We live by faith. We confess that which God has revealed in His Word by His mercy even when it might seem almost contrary to our own experience or what we think would be better. Baptism saves. Grace reigns. The Law does not condemn those who trust in Christ. He is our Lord. In the next chapter Paul will acknowledge more directly that the life of faith is a battle against the self that is utterly dependent upon Christ who delivers us from this body of death by grace. That chapter embodies the painful confusion that results from having and old and a new man simultaneously while we await glory.
In the meantime, our translation of verse 19, which was the first verse of the Epistle today, doesn’t do much to help our confusion. We heard: “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.” That is a bit misleading. More literally, Paul says “I am speaking in the manner of men because of the sickness of your flesh.” We need to know the cause of our confusion and pain. The problem is not our nature or limited capacity as given by God. Rather the cause of our problem is the sin that infects us. That sin rebels and chafes against hierarchy and the goodness of Divine order. In the original creation, before the Fall, human beings were fully capable of submitting to a loving Father without fear or worry or resentment because they trusted Him. Pauls says he is speaking in a “human way” because he is using human speech which has been corrupted by human experience and abuse. He has no other speech to use.
The word “slave” is tainted in human speech and fraught with evil. The words “servant” and “underling” are not much better. And these aren’t the only painful words. It is horrific to consider but there are Christians who struggle to call God “Father” because their biological fathers were abusive or absent. They have to deal with that. They can’t make up new words for God but rather have to allow, as it were, God’s Word to redeem human words.
This is what Paul is acknowledging. He says: “Look, I know what you are thinking. You don’t want to be a slaves or called slaves. But you are a slave whether you know it or not. And to be a slave to righteousness, a slave of God, is to be loved and cared for. It is to have an honored and valuable place in creation, to be, in fact, in dominion over creation. I know it is hard to understand because of the fight that is in you against sin, and the weakness that always wants to fight for its rights, but we don’t live by intellect. We live by faith and by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If He says it, it is good and will do what He says.”
Christ is our ultimate example in this. He did not struggle with being a slave of His Father for He was without sin. And therefore He was happily obedient to His Father even when it was unjust and terribly painful and didn’t seem to make sense. He never doubted that His Father loved Him and would vindicate Him. He knew that His Father would work everything together for good and deliver us Gentiles to Him as a gift.
Our problem with being called slaves of God, with the Law, with obedience and grace, with the proper articulation and balance of Justification and Sanctification, is not the limited capacity of the human mind or the need for better words. Rather it is the sick weakness of our flesh which has been corrupted by sin. Because of sin we are prone to mistrust God or judge Him and His Law. Instead of His Word to understand the world and our place in it and His goodness we try to use our faulty and confused experience or reason. Thus we make up theologies or theodicies that explain away the mystery and appeal to the cravings of our fallen flesh. Because of sin and sin alone we struggle to believe that grace reigns, that we were freed for obedience and that obedience is good and worth the effort. We struggle to believe that God is working all things together for our good when we are in the midst of so much sorrow and uncertainty and our lives have gone the way we wanted. But by grace we do. We are baptized, which is not so much a conversion of our intellect or experience, as it is an on-going killing of the old man and a raising of the new, a conforming of us to Him and not the other way around.
Paul’s ultimate statement in chapter 6 is all of Christian theology and all of our hope in a single summary sentence, all centered and rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ delivered in Holy Baptism which regenerates and renews: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Wages are earned and deserved. Gifts are not. This is the essence of grace which fills both the Giver and the gifted with joy. To believe this – that God gives us eternal life in Christ for free without works by Holy Baptism – that is to live by faith. And that is the life into which we are all Baptized to which we have been called.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.