Paul, in Romans 5, has described grace so rich and free that it staggers the imagination. After describing Adams’s sin, which was counted to us, and the many additional sins that we have added to that original sin, he speaks of God’s righteousness in Christ’s obedient death and summarizes, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). But abundant grace scandalizes. It raises objections. In Paul’s day, again at the time of the Reformation, as well as today, the objection raised to salvation by grace alone is that it removes the motive for you to live an obedient life. In Romans 6:1-4 Paul carefully guards against possible twisting or misunderstanding his teaching as he explains what it is for you to be in Christ.
The temptation to sin that grace may abound may come from an antinomian who argues that if God’s grace is magnified as it overcomes sin, sin all the more. Or the temptation may come from the legalist, who objects that the teaching of salvation by grace leads to sin, and therefore additional man-made laws are needed. The legalist want somehow to be able to able to have some part of his salvation depend on what he does.
After emphatically denying that conclusion, Paul points you to (what may surprise you) your baptism. No, Paul is not one who believes that the mere act of baptism automatically saves. Jesus Christ alone saves. Paul has emphasized faith as the one way by which you are saved. But he does push you to think of what your baptism means. Your baptism is a life and death matter. You have been baptized into Christ. You have been united with him in his death. Your baptism means that you have been raised with Christ (and will be raised with him in the future, Romans 6:5).
Addressing the believers in Rome as well as those who share in that faith in Christ, he tells you that you truly died with Christ and were buried with him. That means that you are died to sin. You may not, you must not, continue in sin. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. The glory and sovereign power that worked in raising your Savior from the dead, works in your life. You now walk in newness of life. “Walk” speaks of an ongoing process, the details of living your Christian life. As part of God’s new people you now live to his glory.
John Calvin, commenting on this passage, writes, “they who imagine that gratuitous righteousness is given us by him, apart from newness of life, shamefully rend Christ asunder.” You cannot have Christ as the Savior who forgives your sin without also having him work by his Spirit giving you a new life and ruling as your Lord.
As Paul proclaims the gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ alone, he points you to the life and death character of your baptism. You have been united with Christ in his death. You are raised with him in a new life. Can you continue in sin? You answer the question!
(Reflections in preparation for the message on September 5, 2010)