As we begin the non-festival part of the church year this morning with the Sundays after Pentecost and Trinity, we find ourselves dropping square into the middle of Romans chapter 6 like a parachutist who has gotten blown off his target. Since Romans is one of those books of the NT that you should read at least three or four times a year, I think it’s worth our spending some sermon time on it while letting the Gospel reading speak for itself. And so for the next few weeks, we will focus our attention on the Epistle readings from the book of Romans. Because of the way our lectionary is constructed, we drop in downstream a bit, so permit me to bring us up to speed chapter by chapter.
In chapters 1 and 2, Paul sets down the universal condemnation of humanity under God’s Law. Whether one is a Gentile or Jew makes no difference, all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God. The Law cannot save you, nor can your works under the Law save you. The Law exists to shut every mouth before God, to silence every self-justification, and to make the whole world one, big sinner. In the middle of chapter 3, Paul introduces us to the breakthrough of the Gospel, a righteousness before God that is not by what you do but by what Christ has done, namely His blood shed on a cross for you and for all humanity. For His sake, and for His sake alone, the sinner stands before a righteous God justified not by work but by faith. In fact, it is by faith in Christ, and not by works, that we uphold the Law, since Christ alone upholds the Law.
In chapter 4, Paul demonstrates this by the example of Abraham whom God declared to be righteous not by the works Abraham did but by his trust in the promise of God that through his yet to be born Seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. “Abraham believed God,” the Scripture says, “and it was reckoned/credited/accounted to him as righteousness.”
In chapter 5, Paul sets Christ alongside Adam. Jesus is the second Adam, the new head of humanity. As the first Adam brought Sin and Death into the world, so Christ, the second Adam, brings forgiveness, justification and life. As the first Adam embodied all of humanity and brought it into the Fall, so the second Adam, Christ, embodies all of humanity and brings it into life and salvation. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
That brings us to chapter 6 and Baptism. Our reading began with verse 12, so let me fill in verses 1-11 so we know how we got there.
Rom. 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
Rom. 6:5 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. 6 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
This is the sum total of the Christian life in this life. You can see why I said you should read the book of Romans at least three or four times a year. This is bedrock Christianity 101. Christ died for all, and in Him all died, because He is humanity’s second Adam, undoing the damage of humanity’s first Adam. But you hear what happens when the first Adam, our “old Adam” gets ahold of the good news that we are free of the condemnation of the law and stand justified before God for Christ’s sake alone covered by His blood. The old Adam says, “Oh boy. Let’s sin so that grace may abound! If God loves to forgive, let’s give Him lots to forgive!” And unfortunately, there are Christians, even of the Lutheran variety, who seem to agree with that sentiment. But the apostle Paul says, “No way! How can you live in Sin when you’re dead to Sin?”
That’s right. Dead. You are dead to Sin. “Or don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” This is one of the strongest verses about what God does through Baptism. You are joined to Jesus in His death. You’ve been crucified with Jesus, and in Baptism, you are now buried with Jesus by Baptism. Baptism does that. It’s the burial of the old Adam in the death of Jesus. It’s as though God, the Divine Coroner, has filled out your death certificate ahead of time. You were born to die anyway, the wages of Sin is death, so God takes care of the paperwork up front and declares you legally dead to Sin. Sin and Death no longer have lordship over your life. You are dead to them. And you are alive to God in Christ Jesus. You are at once dead and alive. Dead to Sin, alive to God in Christ. Your Baptism is at one and the same time your death day and your born-from-above day, your death certificate to this old creation and your birth certificate in the new.
But this is not yet in your possession. It is because God says it is. This calls for faith. You must believe the verdict: dead to Sin, alive to God. “So you must consider, reckon, account yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Dead and alive at the same time. This is what Luther profoundly called being simultaneously righteous and sinful – simul justus et peccator. You have two identities at once. One in Adam, the other in Christ. One by virtue of your natural birth, the other by virtue of your birth from above by water and Spirit. One brings death, the other brings life. And God in Baptism has declared you dead to the lordship of Sin and Death and alive to Himself through faith in Christ.
This has implications for you now. Don’t let Sin reign in your mortal bodies. Sin’s reign has been toppled by the sinless Son of God. Don’t put Sin back on the throne again. Don’t use your members, your bodies, as instruments of unrighteousness but as instruments of righteousness, as those who have been brought out of Death to Life. There is a promise here. “Sin will have no dominion over you.” God has seen to it. You still have the old Adam to deal with, that’s true. You still sin, that’s also true. But Sin no longer has dominion.
It’s kind of like a piggyback heart transplant where a new heart is put in the patient but the old, dying diseased heart remains in place. God has given you a new heart, the heart of Christ, but He’s left the dead, sin-riddled heart of Adam right next to it. And now the question is which of those two hearts are you going to follow? Adam or Christ? The sinner or the saint? That’s always the question every moment in our lives as baptized believers. In the next chapter, chapter 7, Paul will describe the war of the wills that is going on as Adam and Christ duke it out and you are in the caught in the middle. But that’s for next week.
For today, you have the promise that Sin no longer has dominion over you because you are not under the Law but under the grace of God in Christ. That may seem surprising at first, because we think the Law is the answer to Sin and the way to improve the sinner. But it isn’t. The power of Sin is the Law and what gives Death its poisonous sting. “The sting of Death is Sin and the power of Sin is the Law.” So God deals with Sin by bringing us out from under the Law and putting us under grace, His undeserved free forgiveness in Christ. In Christ, Sin no longer has dominion because Christ has dominion, so that now we who were born slaves to Sin are now, through Baptism, made slaves to righteousness.
Notice this: you are always a slave, either to Sin or to God. You are never absolutely free. And you are NOT free to say, “Let us sin because we are not under law but under grace!” That’s not possible. If you are under the Law, you can’t not sin. If you are under grace, you cannot sin. In Adam, we are born sinners, corrupted by Sin. We cannot not sin. In Christ through Baptism we are born saints, holy, enslaved to righteousness. We cannot sin. And in this life as baptized believers, declared by God to be dead to Sin but alive to Him in Christ, we’re both. Sinners and saints. Sinful and righteous. “Simul,” as Luther so brilliantly put it. “Simul justus et peccator.” Simultaneously righteous and sinful.
And being “simul” we have the just desserts of both. The wages of Sin is death, and no one misses that pay day. No one. Death is the ultimate clincher proof of Sin. The only way to deal with Sin is to kill it in the flesh. God did it for all mankind in the flesh of His Son, and He will do it for you in your death when He permits Sin to have its way with your mortal body.
The wages of Sin is death. No ducking it. But wait, there’s more! The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The gift of God is life in Christ. That’s yours too! Resurrection. Eternal life. Slaves to Sin receive death. Slaves to God receive eternal life, not as wages earned but as a free gift of undeserved kindness. What sweet and blessed slavery to be bound to the One who gives out eternal life as a free gift.
Adam must die; Christ must rise. What does such baptizing with water mean? It means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
“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.”
In the Name of Jesus,