Sermon on Romans 6:1-11 for the Baptism of Our Lord, January 11 & 14, 2018
- Maybe you’ve had this thought when hunting or fishing, or maybe when you really wanted to borrow something: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.” That’s a saying that’s been around—and I think it should be banned because of the impact it may have on our thinking about our Christian lives. St. Paul asks much the same question: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (that is, we can sin all we want, live selfish lives, indulge our desires, and get forgiven later.) 2 By no means! We are those who have 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?” To that way of thinking, Paul says, “By no means.” “Absolutely not.” Remember who you belong to! Remember the connection that God himself made to you! When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. That means, in baptism, Jesus and his death and everything that means was connected to us. John the Baptist was talking about that when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:28). The word “lamb” meant “one that would be sacrificed.” The purpose of that sacrifice was to take away the sin of the world. Long before Jesus’ death, John was preaching about it, and what it would do. In baptism, we are freed from sin, not freed to sin. Forgiveness is pardon from God himself. It doesn’t make the sin okay. It declares that God has taken the sin away and looks at you as his own. We are baptized into his death, that is, connected to his death, and to everything his death means. Forgiveness. When we look at our life—deeply and honestly, we see mistakes, failures, and worst of all, failures to do what our God wants. Baptism says, you have that blood of the Lamb of God covering you. When you feel guilty, remember, Jesus took that guilt. When you feel worthless, remember, Jesus has given you a much higher worth by purchasing you with his own blood to be his own. When you feel alone in the world, remember what your baptism means. You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, along with all Christians of all time—part of God’s family.
- If we look at baptism or at forgiveness in general as a license to do as we please, we are taking the precious gift of God and giving it the lowest value. And practically, as it works out in our lives, it usually means that we walk away from the freedom God gives with his forgiveness, and walk back to sin, guilt, and the pain sin brings to our lives. Worst of all, we’re stepping outside the limits of God’s grace. Now God’s mercy endures forever. His grace is infinite. The opportunities he gives us are not infinite. That’s why all of scripture talks about God’s grace also with urgency. “Seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). St. Paul says it in a more positive way. “We died to sin. How can we live in it any longer.” “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a]that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
- So with Christ, we die to sin. Our sin went with him to the cross where he paid for it all so that we could be forgiven and free. You know that the death on the cross was not the end for Jesus. His death on Good Friday was followed by resurrection on Easter. We are connected with him there, too—doubly. St. Paul says, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Those bright Easter Alleluias and trumpet blasts are for you and me, too. Because we are baptized into Christ, we’re baptized into his resurrection, too. One Easter hymn says “Could the head rise and leave his members dead?” (CW 167:2). He is the one who said “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11).
- We are connected to Jesus and to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. But we have something even now in this life. Again, St. Paul says, “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.” That means that new life is yours now. In our Catechism, this passage is connected to “What does Baptizing with Water Mean?” “Baptism means that the sinful nature in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and all its evil deeds and desires be put to death.” So when you wake up in the morning and pray, “Keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you…” …you are reliving your baptism. When you go to bed at night and pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” or “Forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong,” review your failures of the day and put them at the Lord’s feet, you are reliving your baptism. Forgiveness is yours because of him. It’s connected to you in baptism.
- The power to live as a child of God is not yours alone—that it comes from within you. If it did we would sputter and stop like a car running out of gas. And that’s exactly why that happens sometimes. The Christian’s life and the Christian’s faith are like a car—we need fuel in the tank. It doesn’t self-generate. The words and promises of God are our fuel. And we are connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His gospel promise and the message of his victory over sin, death and the devil—that is our power for life, because it tells us who we are (children of God). It tells us what our purpose is (that we live to serve and glorify him in this world). It tells us where we are going (we are heirs of heaven). That is our fuel for faith and life and our power for living.
- This lesson closes, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Many times in the Bible we see words like “life” and “death” used to talk about a connection. Think back to Genesis 3—“The day you eat from the tree you will surely die.” They didn’t fall over dead. The apples weren’t poisoned. But they died to God, and the holy image of God in them died—and we’ve been suffering from that separation ever since. In Baptism, God reconnects us to himself. He does it through the holy life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He clothes us with Christ and counts us as his own. Worthless, wretched sinners no more, but redeemed children, washed and cleansed, bearing his name before the world. Living in him—with the hope of living in his presence forever.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have 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 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free 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. (NIV 2011)