August 30, 2011

Wednesday after the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 44, 1 Sam. 20:24-39, Lk. 20:9-26
Evening - Ps. 39, Micah 6:1-8, Rom. 6

Commentary
Romans 6

Chapter 6 teaches two essential parts of what it means to be justified by faith. First, found in verses1-13, believers are dead to sin, and alive to Christ. Second, verses 14-23 teach that we are under grace not law.

Dead to Sin: Alive to Christ, Rom. 6:1-13

Verse 1, shall we continue in sin? If Christ died for my sins, and my sins are forgiven, and I if can't earn my way into Heaven by doing good things, why should I try to stop sinning? And if God's grace is shown by His forgiveness of our sins, why not sin in abundance in order to show the abundant grace of God? These are questions often voiced by people who do not understand the Gospel, and, maybe, don't want to. They are usually either debating gambits used to discourage Christians who try to talk to them about Christ, or they are simply the self-delusional excuses of people who want to believe they are going to Heaven but have no desire to know and love God or to live holy lives as part of the Family of Christ. Paul's response to such foolish rebellion is, "God forbid." Let it not be. Yet there is a need for those who do know and love God, and want to live holy lives in the family of God, to know the relationship between sin and continuing in Christ's salvation. In other words, does it matter if a believer sins? Or, as Paul states the question, should we continue in sin that grace may abound?
This question refers back to 5:20, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." The reasoning goes; if grace abounds where sin abounds, should we sin more that grace may abound still more? Paul's answer is essentially that we are the servants of whatever we devote ourselves to. If we are devoted to sin we are servants, or slaves, of sin. If we are devoted to Christ, we are servants of Christ. The service of sin is death. The service of Christ is life.
Verse 2, we that are dead to sin. Paul uses the word "dead" to describe the relationship of Christians toward their former lives. He is saying they lived a life of sin in the "world" of sin. In that life they were completely alienated from God. But now they are dead to that life. They have died, and passed out of that existence, just as a person who dies physically passes out of this worldly existence. According to Paul, we are dead to sin and cannot live in its "world" any longer.
Verses 3-4 show that Christians died to sin when we were united to Christ in baptism. Verses 3-6 are some of the most quoted and least understood verses in Scripture. They have been used to justify baptism by immersion, often being quoted during the ceremony. They have also been used to justify baptism by sprinkling. In reality the verses are not a commentary on the method of baptism but on the result of baptism. Its point is that baptism, when coupled with true and biblical faith, unites us with Christ. When we become united to Christ, we are united to His death and His resurrection, so that, spiritually, we died with Him and we were resurrected in Him. His death becomes the means of our death to the "world" of sin. His resurrection becomes the means of our resurrection to new life in the "world" of Christ. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. His life becomes our life. Those "baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death." Thus, we are "buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Verse 5 uses a surprising term to refer to being buried with Christ. It says we are "planted together in the likeness of His death." The Greek actually uses a word that means to plant. And it means to be united to in the sense of growing together. It is to become united with Christ in death in the sense that His death effected our death to sin. That being so, we are also united to Him in His resurrection, which secures and effects our spiritual resurrection to a new kind of life in the realm of the Kingdom of God.
Verses 6-7 use the image of death as the means of the end of slavery. To be dead to sin is to be released from its service. No matter how absolute the bonds of slavery may be during life, a master has no ability to control a slave who is dead. Death, whatever else it may do, ends the tenure of bondage. So, for us to be dead to sin is to be released from its bondage. We were slaves to it. Sin owned us and controlled us. It directed our thoughts and actions, and sealed our destiny forever. But in Christ we have died, and being dead, we are no longer its slaves. "For he that is dead is freed from sin."
Verses 8-14 shift the emphasis. The previous verses have focused on death; united to Christ in death, death to sin, death as the release from bondage. In verse 8 the emphasis changes to life. "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (vs. 8). "Death hath no more dominion over him" (vs. 9). "In that he liveth, he liveth unto God" (vs.10). "Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (vs. 11).
The Bible necessarily has much to say about dying to sin, and about the sacrifices that are required of us if we are going to follow Christ. It has to say much about this because our natural tendency is to turn God into a life-enhancing commodity. Instead of thinking about Christ as dying to give us new life as new and different kind of people, we reduce Him to dying to improve life as it currently is. We live in a soul killing world of alienation, loneliness, stress, strife, and evil. But Jesus died to take us out of that world and into a world that breathes life into the soul, a world of beauty, and freedom, and peace, and fellowship and acceptance, and God. And we would rather have Him fix up the old world a little and leave us there. It is like we are being slowly tortured to death in a dungeon and Christ is offering healing and freedom and life, but instead of accepting freedom, we ask Him to paint the dungeon a more cheerful colour. Christ is offering to take us out of the dungeon, to free us from, the chains, the bars, the torture, the suffering, the darkness, the disease, and the vermin. He is offering to take us to a palace of unimaginable beauty, a place of healing and health and joy and light. He's not offering to fix up the dungeon.
So when He calls us to die to sin, He is calling us to come out of the dungeon. He is calling us to stop torturing ourselves with things we thought were fun but were really killing our souls. He is telling us to put those things behind us as a dead man has put the world behind him. But He is also inviting us to be born into a new world. He is telling us that in the new world we will be new and different people. He is telling us that, as bad as things were in the old world, they will be that good and better in the new one. When He calls us to die to sin He is simply calling us to die to the things that prevent us from being alive to God (Schaeffer, Finished Work, p. 157). When He calls us to come out of the old world, He is just inviting us to come into the new one.

Under Grace, Not Law Romans 6:14-23

Verse 14. I said earlier that Romans 6 contains some of the Bible's best known and least understood words. Some of those words are found in verse 14, "Ye are not under the law, but under grace." These words have been thought to teach that the people in the Old Testament era had to save themselves by keeping the law, while people in the New Testament era are saved by grace. But, as we have already seen, the Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith from Genesis to Revelation. There has never been, and never will be a sinner who can make up for his sins by keeping the law. All have sinned, and the wages of sin is death, for everyone in every era, Old or New Testament. These words have also been thought to teach that we are free to sin as much as we want, because we are under grace, not law. But the whole intent of verse 15 is that we are not to sin for the very reason that we are not under law but under grace. This leads us to a very important point of Bible understanding, namely, that our understanding of any verse or book of the Bible must always agree with the teaching of the Bible as a whole. The Bible is not just a collection of unrelated sayings for us to appropriate and use as seems best or useful to us at a given moment. The Bible is the Word of God and it conveys a message. Every word in the Word is given to convey that message, and must be understood in light of that message.

Verse 14 begins with the striking statement, "sin shall not have dominion over you." If you are truly in Christ through Biblical faith, sin no longer controls your destiny. When you were under its dominion it sealed your fate. It made you liable for the consequences of your own sin, and consigned your soul to hell forever. But now you are free from its power. You are free to have a different destiny. In addition, it no longer rules your life. Its power is broken. This is done by the transformation of your heart by the Holy Spirit, who enables you to want to stop sinning. He changes your desires, your hopes, your values, and your goals. This is absolutely necessary to holy living. We will never live holy lives if we don't want to, and, in our natural, fallen condition, we don't want to. So God has to change us in our inner being to enable us to want to turn away from sin and embrace holiness. This change is what enables us to believe in Christ, but it continues throughout life. It is a process of growing in grace, growing in Christ, growing in faith.

Since being a Christian is a process of growing, we should not be surprised that it takes time, or that we are not perfect now. In John 3 Jesus spoke of becoming a Christian as being "born again." If we combine Paul's image of dying to sin with Christ's image of being born again we get a clearer understanding of both. We are dead to the life of sin, but born again into a new life of righteousness. When we are born again we are infants. Infants don't know much, and can't do much. We need care and nourishment, and love, and guidance and teaching and discipline. We need to grow in our spiritual life as we also had to grow in our physical life. Thus, Peter wrote "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2), and Paul said "strong meat belongeth to them that are full of age" (Heb. 5:14). So the Bible is showing us that there is growth and maturation in the Christian life. We enter into it by being born again, and are, at first, newborn babes requiring the milk of the word. But as we drink the milk of the word, meaning, as we "feed" on Christ through Scripture and the means of grace, we "grow thereby." As we grow we move on to solid food, meaning a deeper understanding of Scripture and a more mature Christian life. It is expected that we will continue to grow, moving on to strong meat and maturity in Christian understanding and living. This growing process continues as long as we remain on this earth. Only when we live in Heaven will we reach full maturity and be beyond the reach of temptation and sin. Down here we are continually pressing toward that goal (Phil. 3:14).

We often refer to Christian growth and maturation as "sanctification." Sanctification means to grow in Christ, or to become like Jesus. It literally means to become holy, or, sanctified, and it is an essential part of being a Christian. Christ did not simply die to keep us from going to hell. He died to bring us out of a life of sin, and into a new life of holiness. And He demands that we grow and mature in this new life. One of the major obstacles to sanctification today is the popular idea that Christ is just another life enhancement product to give life meaning, or to protect us from trouble, or to make life fun. This view dominates the contemporary Church, which is why so many churches major on entertainment rather than worship, and why they present Christianity as a series of emotional thrills rather than a life of holiness. Contrary to the emotional, experience based faith that prevails today, the Bible tells us "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). There is content and meaning in Christianity, and real faith is a response to that content. Thus, Christ, after saying, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" asked Martha, "Believest thou this?" (Jn. 11:25&26). Jesus was not talking about physical life, He spoke about the new life of righteousness in God, and He was saying that the new life is received by believing the message of the Gospel. He did not ask if this made Martha feel good. He didn't ask her if she "felt the Spirit moving her." He didn't ask her to join hands and sing "Majesty." He said, do you believe this message? Faith is believing the message of God. Faith allows the message to transform our thoughts, and our lives. The more we believe it, the more it transforms and matures us in our new life in the realm of Christ. The more we feed our souls on the message, the more freedom we give it to transform our lives into holy, godly, sanctified lives. The message feeds our souls with the spiritual food of Christ. The more we drink its sincere milk and eat its strong meat, the more it works in our souls and produces godliness and spiritual maturity in us.
Verses 18-23 return to the images of servants and slavery. They tell us we were the slaves of sin, but are now the slaves of Christ. Doesn't this mean we have an obligation to serve Christ? We were created by Him for Him. Our rightful place in life is to serve Christ, just as your pet's rightful place in life is to serve you. But the service of Christ is different from the slavery to sin. Where sin kills, Christ gives life. Where sin abuses, Christ gives wholeness and wellness. Where sin binds, Christ frees. Where sin pays us with death, Christ gives life freely. His service, as we say in Morning Prayer, "is perfect freedom." Being servants of God, we have everlasting.