Alive to God

How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2, CSB)

Why do Christians still sin when we have all of these wonderful promises about Jesus overcoming sin in our life? Paul offers several truths in Romans 6 to give a more robust theology of sin. Being armed with this perspective, we can better face our daily rebellion.

Our Sign of Hope

The first truth that Paul offers is the sign of baptism. Most Christians don’t see their baptism as a help in overcoming sin, maybe because it’s not rightly understood. Baptism is meant to be a sign of hope for us in this life. When we are baptized “into Christ Jesus,” we symbolically participate in his death. And in the same way that Jesus was raised “by the glory of the Father,” that same power lifts us from our way of death into a “new way of life.” Baptism is a beautiful sign for a Christian, but it is not the true resurrection, right? We still have to go about our daily life. We will still die, but we have a hope for true resurrection in the future.

For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:5, CSB)

This sign, along with the hope that faith grows in us, is a tool for subjugating our sinful, mortal bodies. Much of the Christian life is about looking towards the promises of the future to overcome the everyday.

Our Weapons of Righteousness

We are now able to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11). But how do we move beyond the knowing to the doing? One of the problems that I see with Christian sin management is how we only concentrate on not doing something bad, rather than being intentional about doing good. Paul is pressing this point in Romans 6:12-14. He says that you shouldn’t obey the desires of sin or offer any part of yourself for its use. Instead, we are to offer our whole self to God as tools/weapons/instruments of righteousness.

“Paul teaches us that faith doesn’t so free us from sin that we can be idle, lazy, and self-assured, as though there were no more sin in us.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

Our Promise

Jesus’ conversations with religious people were often very heated. He had a problem with their devotion to the rules of God and their lack of devotion to God and people. The law was the chief end of their existence. If they suppressed their sin and kept the rules of their religion, they might obtain righteousness. But our great promise is that when we could not obtain righteousness, Christ purchased us. He did not sin. He did not break his relationship with God. Now, sin cannot rule over us, because we are not under the law but grace (6:14). God bought us with a great price and now our only hope in life and death is that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

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No law, no sin?

In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13, CSB)

This verse has made me pause for a long time. Recently, I was shown the differences in the Bible’s words for sin, trespass, and iniquity. A casual definition of sin (hamartia) is missing a given target or standard. Since there was no codified law given by God, sin by definition could not be counted against people. This is why Paul says repeatedly that the law of Moses makes everyone aware of their sinfulness.

The other word that Paul uses here is trespass or transgression (paraptoma). Before the law, God established relationships with people. These relationships were always defined by an agreement, sometimes more formal like a covenant. Just like two neighbors agreeing on a shared land boundary. When relationship agreements are broken, trespass occurs. Breaking agreements in a relationship always lead to damaged trust and separation. Being separated from a life-giving God means death. Betraying an agreement made with a holy God is so egregious the punitive damages earned can never be paid. We need some way to reconcile this relationship so that the damage can be repaired. In human relationships, this type of reconciliation is near impossible. In divorce, counselors and lawyers have to be brought in either for reconciliation or termination of the relationship.

In ancient near eastern culture, a mediator would be brought in to settle family disputes and feuds between neighbors. We have the perfect mediator in Jesus Christ. His death paid the retributive cost of our trespasses. The grace shown to him in the resurrection is extended to us. We have the beginnings of a restored relationship now to such an extent that we are called ministers of reconciliation! And we have hope that helps us endure in this life until the relationship with God is perfectly restored forever.

“Christ, a second Adam, had to come in order to make us heirs of his justice through a new spiritual birth in faith, just as the old Adam made us heirs of sin through the old fleshy birth.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

Guiltless Joy

I was reading Zechariah 3 the other day and I was struck by this beautiful picture of guilt being removed from the high priest, Joshua (whose name means “Yahweh Saves”).

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Isn’t this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the Angel. So the Angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes!” Then He said to him, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So a clean turban was placed on his head, and they clothed him in garments while the Angel of the Lord was standing nearby. (Zechariah 3:1–5, HCSB)

This message was given to Zechariah while the Jews were still in exile. The 70 year exile was a punishment earned, in part, by failures in the leadership, the priests in particular. God is showing the steadfast love that he has to offer by defending Joshua before Satan, removing his quilt, and blessing him. Later he promises that this purifying is not just for Joshua, but he will “remove the iniquity of this land in a single day” (3:9). God does this not because of the goodness of Joshua or the people but for his own glory.

I am quick to neglect the beauty of God’s redemption. And I am quick to remember the times that I have failed. The Bible shows us over and over that God has removed, cleaned, and forgotten our sins, and we must now live in joy over this blessed, unearned Read More »