Over recent weeks we have spent a fair amount of time looking at a few Psalms and then a chapter in Isaiah. This morning I want to return to the New Testament and spend two or three weeks considering the relationship between sin and our old lives, and grace and our new lives. Whilst Paul deals with a lot of this subject in Romans 6 there are references to both sin and grace and our old and new lives throughout this remarkable letter.
I always find it interesting to see how God’s Word flows from book to book and between the Old and the New Testaments. Last week we looked at the second half of Isaiah 55 and thought about transformation. This passage is also about transformation, the transformation from our old life of sin to our new life of grace. It is a transformation brought by God’s grace and nothing more; without His grace there can be no transformation.
Since Romans 6 begins with a question, I thought that we should start at the end of Romans 5 and look at a couple of verses that lead into that question. It is important to understand that Paul was writing to the church in Rome which consisted mostly of Jewish believers, and those Jews would no doubt have been shocked by what he was about to say. They had thought that the Law had been given to lead them to salvation and that if they obeyed the Law to the letter then salvation was assured. That was a long way from the true situation and they were about to learn that God had sent the Law not to lead them directly to salvation but to shine a spotlight on their sin and highlight all their wrongdoing. In that way, rather than leading them to salvation it actually showed their great need for salvation.
In 5:20a we come to that statement that would have really rocked the Jews and may also seem to be a rather strange statement to us as well, “The law was added so that trespass might increase”. Paul is off course referring to God’s Law as found in the Ten Commandments, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It seems strange to think though, that God would give us His Law so that sin could increase; that seems perverse to say the least. Surely the Law should be given to punish sin? When we read the NLT version of this phrase, things become a bit clearer. That version says of 5:20a, “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were”. Up to the giving of the Law people had always been sinful and thought nothing of it. They disobeyed God, ignored Him, showed Him no respect, killed, raped and committed any one of dozens of other sins. However, at the time they didn’t truly realise that they were committing any sins since they had no yardstick to measure against. Paul had already said in 4:15b, “...where there is no law there is no transgression”. Paul said something similar to the Galatians when he wrote, “Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions...” (Galatians 3:19a). Then God gave His Law and, when the people compared their actions against what the Law said, they could see that they had sinned.
We are the same aren’t we? We keep on sinning and never truly recognise or realise that we are. Then something happens to pull us up short and we may be led to consider the Ten Commandments or passages in God’s Word that show us just how sinful we are. Perhaps someone close to us notices that we have slipped from our normal ways and have adopted sinful ways and points that out to us. It is at that moment we can come before God to seek His forgiveness and He will dispense yet more of His bounteous grace. No matter how much we sin, God’s grace is always more abundant.
There is the obvious temptation of course to keep on sinning since it seems that the more we sin the more God will bestow His grace upon us. Apparently the infamous Russian Monk, Gregory Rasputin, taught that salvation came through repeated sin and repentance. His idea was that those who sin the most receive the most grace and that would therefore lead to salvation. That is an interesting proposition but I somehow doubt that that is what God had in mind when He gave us the Law and it surely stretches Paul’s question, “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” (6:1).
A life of sin is a life lived in darkness and it is a life that leads only one way: towards death. Jesus Christ died to take us away from that life and bring us into the light and give us eternal life with Him. Paul wrote to the Colossians and said, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought is into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). All of that happens by the grace of God, there is nothing that we can do to earn it or buy it; it is solely down to God as a result of our coming to Him in repentance.
The sinful life is our old life, a life that we should no longer live if we have come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Through His grace God has now given us a new life, a life in Christ and we should live that life to the full by being filled with His grace and with the Holy Spirit.
Because there was now the Law, people could see that they had sinned and sin simply increased. To counter that, God dispensed His wonderful grace and forgave all those who came to Him in repentance. Now my understanding of grace is that it is an unmerited and undeserved gift from God, as well as being the free and unearned favour of God. As sinners, those who found themselves identified as such under the Law could do nothing to earn or receive God’s forgiveness; it was all down to Him and His wonderful grace. It transpired though that just as sin increased, so did grace; the more people sinned the more God bestowed His grace upon them. Writing in Romans 7, Paul even went so far as to suggest that the Law provoked sin. When talking of the commandment “Do not covet”, Paul says of himself, “...sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead” (7:8). Paul makes it very clear that if he hadn’t known of that Commandment he would never had known that he was sinning by coveting so much.
The biggest problem with sin of course is that it leads to death exactly as Paul makes clear in 6:23, “the wages of sin is death...” In other words, if we keep on sinning, let sin rule in our lives and do not seek God’s forgiveness and therefore His grace, we will die. Perhaps rather interestingly, The Message version of 5:20b translates this as, “All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it”. However, if we repent and receive God’s grace then that grace will rule in our lives and will result in a life spent with Jesus for all eternity.
Sadly, we live in age where there is a constant battle taking place in our lives; a battle between sin and grace; thankfully, grace will always come out on top. Sin may occasionally seem to be winning but God’s grace will always triumph in the end.
This all leads Paul to ask the big question: “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” (6:1b). Notice that that question uses the present continuous tense; we sin and we keep on sinning. It may seem reasonable for Paul to ask that question since if grace increases to match the increase in sin, then surely we should sin more and more so that grace can increase more and more to match it? As Paul says by way of reply, “By no means!” (6:2); whilst that may sound logical it is not the answer.
Paul adds to that statement, “we are those who have died to sin” (6:2), in which case, he asks, “how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). If we have repented of our sins then our old life has ended and we now live a new life, a new life ruled by grace. On that basis we should no longer live in sin, it should have no place in our lives whatsoever.
If we recognise that we have sinned and we come before God to truly repent of our sins then we will receive both His forgiveness and His grace. When that happens, sin should no longer rule in our lives and we should not even have any place in our lives. That also sounds logical and makes far more sense. God wants us in His family; He doesn’t want us to keep on sinning; He does want us to receive more and more of His grace and that will happen when we live changed lives ruled by His grace.
In 6:3 Paul moves on to remind us of what happened when we were baptised. A close reading of Paul’s numerous letters shows that he regarded baptism as a vital part of a Christian’s life. I also regard baptism as important but I have never believed that believer’s baptism forms a mandatory part of becoming a Christian. It is right and proper than people should feel led to enter the waters of baptism after coming to faith and feeling led by God to do so. However, nowhere have I ever read that it forms a definite requirement for Christians. When you think about I’m sure you will be able to remember the thief on the cross. Jesus told that thief that he would join Him, that is Jesus, in paradise that very day; there was no mention of baptism or any other ritual process to go through.
Now it should be fairly obvious that Paul is talking here of baptism in water. The Greek word used means to immerse or cover and that is what happens when a believer is baptised. However, what about those Christians who have not been baptised? Are they excluded from what Paul is saying here? To quote Paul himself, by no means! It may be possible for us to visualise this verse as applying equally to baptism in the Holy Spirit, something which happens to every believer on coming to faith. We know that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Following His baptism, Jesus was praying “and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). When we come to faith we also receive the Holy Spirit just as Jesus did. A second example comes with being baptised in suffering. That may seem a strange thing to say but just consider this thought for a moment. In Mark 10 we can read a few verses where Jesus has spent time with His disciples and predicted His forthcoming death. James and John ask Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hands respectively when He went to glory. Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” (Mark 10:38). When they replied that they could, Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with...” (Mark 10:39). Jesus was soon to suffer and die at the hands of His enemies and seems here to be referring to that suffering as a form of baptism. He was to be immersed in suffering and warned His disciples that they too would “be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with”. My point is that we shouldn’t see baptism as simply being immersed in water, I believe that it can also include being immersed in the Holy Spirit and immersed in suffering just as Jesus Himself was.
Having said all that, for the purposes of considering what Paul has to say about baptism and dying to sin we will regard baptism as being in water. If we are baptised in water then we are simply following exactly what Jesus did. The act of believer’s baptism generally involves being fully immersed in water, whether that be in a baptistery, a swimming pool or a river. Paul is indicating here in 6:4 that the act of going down into the water represents our being buried in the normal way. The act of coming up out of the water represents our rising from the grave just as Jesus was raised from the dead. That is how we are identified with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection.
It is our old, sinful self that is ‘buried’ in that water and our new Spirit-filled self that is raised up out of the water; our old self is dead and buried whilst our new self is risen and alive, never to die again. All of this happens through the grace of God our Heavenly Father and it is in this way that we exchange our sinful life for Christ’s resurrection life.
The few verses at the end of Romans 5 and beginning of Romans 6 highlight the differences between a life of sin and a life of grace. God bestows His grace upon us when we come before Him in repentance and seek His forgiveness. We should thank Him by living in that grace and not returning to our old sinful ways.