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Romans (Series 1)

Identification with Christ

Romans  6

Paul, in this passage, tackles the heresy of the Antinomians. Roughly put, their argument goes as so:

“You say that when I sin, God’s grace covers me?”

“And the more I sin, the more grace abounds?”

“Surely having God’s grace increase is a good thing?”

“Then just as surely, we should sin all the more vigorously!”

(I’ve heard my children make the same kind of argument).

Let’s see how Paul tackles it:

(Rom 6:1-11 NIV) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? {2} By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? {3} Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We 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. {5} If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. {6} 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-- {7} because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. {8} Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. {9} For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. {10} The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. {11} In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The argument is indeed a mystical one. Please remember that in this time a mystical argument was considered just as valid as any other. But there are certain principles we may dig out of here before considering the mystical side.

·         for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”[1] We will return to this argument a little later.

·         We cannot continue in sin and expect forgiveness {if you think not, try running off to Tahiti with Tandeleya -- and calling your wife long distance to ask for forgiveness}

·         The issue we have before us is one of Lordship.

To understand this, we must see the mystic side of the argument.

Consider a very common object in animist religions: the voodoo doll. Most of us have seen it used humorously, but to the animist it is very real. The idea is simple: whatever happens to the doll, happens (in a similar but not identical) fashion to the person the doll is supposed to represent.

Nothing is ever a total loss; it can always be used as a bad example. The voodoo doll is a case of Satan imitating (for the purpose of deception) a spiritual principle proclaimed by God. That principle is identification. We use that word today in a number of ways:

·         It can mean that we wear something or do something which proclaims our membership in a group; for example, school colors identify us as supporters of the football team. We “put on” the school colors.

·         It can also mean that we sympathize with, and have been through a similar experience to another human being.

·         In Scripture, it means that we symbolically take upon ourselves the attributes of Christ, and in so doing state that we have been given those attributes by God. Here are some of those identifications:

·         In baptism, going under the water is an identification with the death and burial of Jesus Christ. It’s a very good picture (“under” and stop breathing).

·         If that’s a picture of death and burial, then coming up out of the water is a picture of Resurrection.

·         Death also implies a release from slavery; from obligations of all sorts. We proclaim our release from the slavery of sin.

·         Before baptism, we are identified with Adam; afterwards, we are identified with Christ -- somewhat like wearing the right school colors.

The point is artistic. We are painting a picture of Christianity by what we do.

Note, however, that Paul amplifies this symbolism. He says that Christ died to sin, and lives to God. The phrasing occurs nowhere else in the Bible. What does this mean? It is a form of identification:

·         He died to sin; that is, by dying sin had no more power over him (just as death cancels slavery).

·         He lives to God, that is, unhampered by our sin. The sacrifice is finished.

·         Note that the combination is important. It is not sufficient to “get rid of sin.” It must be replaced with something.[2]

There are some simple lessons we can gather from this mystic writing:

·         To become a Christian is to become a new person, free from past bondage to sin.

·         It is not permissible to trade upon the mercy of God.

·         It is not sufficient to reject sin; you must embrace God as well.

The problem with such passages, taken alone, is that they are “mountain top” -- deep in meaning, thrilling in their scope, and of no particular practical assistance. Paul takes it down from the mountain top to the valley of life:

(Rom 6:12-14 NIV) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. {13} Do 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. {14} For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Note the pragmatism of the passage: “your mortal body” -- no mysticism here! We’re talking about Brother Ass.[3]

It’s well to point out some distinctions that Paul makes:

·         We offer parts of our body to sin; we must offer all of ourselves to God. We are so good at the trick of offering the part. Have you ever heard, “Sure, I’m a drunkard, but at least I’m not a ... like ....” We imagine that if we offer part of us to sin, the rest will be acceptable to God. It is not so. {A hard saying, John}

·         The offering of our body parts to sin uses a continuous tense in the Greek; as if to say, “do not continue to offer...” but when we “offer.. to God” it is an instantaneous act. It is a change of direction -- they call it repentance.

“Do not let sin reign....” How does sin gain dominion over us?

·         Fear is one great weapon... we are afraid of what people will say; we are afraid of death..

·         The “I want” in all of our lives -- the sins of the flesh and the sins of the world.

·         Pride, the cancer of sin.

But see how God counters each of these:

·         But perfect love drives out fear,[4] and we need that perfect love.

·         If we desire Jesus, what else can we desire? (Note the principle of replacement)

·         Is there pride? Look at God, and learn humility.

Finally, note again the replacement: Grace dethrones sin, and enthrones God.

Slavery

I told you we’d return to it: a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. We know this in our own lives. Have you ever heard, “He’s a slave to that ...” garden, woman, motorcycle, hobby, job, etc. Paul is using a similar metaphor (see verse 19) in this passage:

(Rom 6:15-23 NIV) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! {16} Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? {17} But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. {18} You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. {19} I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. {20} When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. {21} What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! {22} But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. {23} For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Note that we are not speaking of slavery in the negative sense which is common in America. Slavery was a very common economic status in this day, and it did not carry with it the connotations we have today).

Paul here is countering a weak (but very pervasive today) form of Antinomianism: “Hey, let’s be cool about this Christianity thing. God will forgive; and I’m not out to be a spectacular sinner; what’s the problem?” The argument is, in essence, “why should I try to be righteous? It doesn’t make any difference.” Yes indeed it does:

·         You’re a slave to whatever masters you. If sin masters you, then you are a slave to sin. Which would you rather be slave to? God, or sin?

·         Consider the fruits of each. When you’re a sinner, what do you get for your troubles?

·         Even more, note that sin earns death; but grace gives life.

The issue is one of lordship. Who’s in charge of us? If we answer “me,” we answer in pride -- and we answer in sin. Note how Paul puts it to the Romans when he tells them they have done the right thing:

·         “Thanks be to God” -- not “congratulations on being so righteous.”

·         Note the words form of teaching -- it implies a visible impression in the Greek. It’s as if we have been pressed into God’s mold.

·         and the form is “to which you have been entrusted.” Again, it is not what the Romans have done, but have been done “to.”

In a real sense, we have the “hard and easy” of Christianity. We are freed from sin; we are the slaves of righteousness. Righteousness is very hard, indeed impossible -- except by the grace of God.


[1] II Peter 2:19

[2] Luke 11:24-26

[3] St. Francis, or was it Augustine?

[4] I John 4:18

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