In the previous article, we reviewed the hypothesis (which is perhaps semi-logical on the surface, but is shown to be clearly irrational when we think about it) that more sin is good because sin leads to grace, so therefore more sin leads to more grace. Paul continues on in Romans 6, to explain why this is such a bad idea (especially for those who have chosen to follow Jesus).
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.
Romans 6:3-4 NIV
Once you’ve gotten out of a futile, hopeless life without God, why would you want to go back? Proverbs 26:11 talks about those who repeat their folly being like a dog returning to its vomit, and 2 Peter 2:22 (when talking about false teachers) reiterates this proverb, along with an example of a washed sow returning to mud.
We might think that smart people don’t go back to what hurts them, but I suspect that – for most of us – a review of our own struggles confirms that we sometimes do the same thing. In fact, we are each fallen human beings, and even those of us who have direct access to God’s help (as we are made into a new creation; see 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) sometimes get stuck in sins that we thought that we had beaten. I liked the interpretation that a commentator (Cottrell) describes this as: a battle that our body continues to wage (even after we have given our lives to Jesus), but one which we are given a fighting chance to win once our heart is made new in Jesus. That is, for those who follow Jesus, there’s still a battle with our flesh, but at least our spirit is no longer on the side of evil.
Regardless, there’s a difference between losing a battle here and there, and intentionally going over to the other side. Our old life – before following Jesus – was bad, but Paul doesn’t just describe it here as something that we “try to avoid returning to”, or just “seeing if we can avoid sin”. Instead, four times in Romans 6:2-4 we find references to death. The slavery to sin, and the life that we lived for ourselves (rather than for God), isn’t just supposed to be pushed aside: it is to be put to death. And, this is not so that we ourselves stay dead, but so that we can have a brand-new life. For instance, 2 Corinthians 5:17 mentions a “new creation” (see also Galatians 6:15). Just as we can look forward to a new heaven and a new earth (see Revelation 21:1-5, as well as Isaiah 65:17-25), we can look forward to new lives.
However, while this cursed, broken world that we know may have to wait a little longer to get a fresh start, notice here at what causes us to die to our old lives: our baptism. Now, some theologians might suggest that this refers only to baptism by the Holy Spirit, rather than the example of water baptism that Jesus and the early church practiced. To be clear, I’m not saying that Christians don’t receive the Holy Spirit; however, the simple act of being baptized through immersion in water seems like an awfully good fit for this illustration of dying with Christ, and being brought back up out of the water certainly seems to fit the example of Jesus being raised to life again.
Regardless of how we interpret that point, though, I think that we could help new believers by teaching them not only that their new life in Christ leads to salvation, but also that their old way of life (the messed-up stuff that was caused by sin) is gone! It’s easier to move forward when you’ve let go of things that should stay behind you, after all.
I hope that you have found this new life, and that you’re not so frustrated with the battle against sin that you are tempted to go back to it. Trust me: fighting the battle does take a lot of work, but that’s trivial compared to the cost of surrendering to sin. And, when it get’s tough, notice how Jesus was raised: “through the glory of the Father”. In the same way, we can look to God’s glory for our hope, as well.
May you be encouraged today, even if there’s still a fight going on. Once you’ve allowed Jesus to make your heart new again, you’re not alone – neither from heaven nor on earth!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 6, 2022
- The Lookout, March 6, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.