What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
John M G Barclay describes the grace of the life of Christ as incongruous with the condition that believers are in (Paul and the Gift, Eerdmans, 2015, p.494).
We see this incongruity in the opening of this passage as Paul wants to know what he is to say and he questions whether we are to remain in sin so that grace may abound. That is the incongruity. Of course we are not going to remain in sin – we are to die to sin.
Christ has died and it is through our baptism that we identify in his death, indeed we have been buried by our baptism into death. We don’t only identify with Christ’s death, we will be raised with him, as we enter the new life of Christ.
United with Christ in death, we will be united with him in resurrection.
The language is a metaphorical language, Paul is not literally writing of dying but his shocking words emphasise the radical break with the past signified by baptism. It is heightened still further when he writes of being crucified with Christ.
When Paul writes of dying with Christ, he is writing of a past experience, when he writes of being raised to life he is referring to a future experience. Not yet, but also now. The new life is experienced now, with a change of moral behaviour and open to a whole new set of loyalties and a new community.
We begin with grace and end with grace. Sin will not dominate for we do not live under the law but under grace.
John Barclay indicates we have not been liberated from authority, but there are new allegiances and responsibilities ‘under the rule of grace’ (op. cit. p.497).
O God, In Christ We experience your grace, Reaching out to all.
May we live a new life under grace, Taking our new responsibilities seriously, With new allegiances, Part of a community, Bound together in Christ. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr David Whiting, retired minister living in Sunderland