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Sermon for Trinity 2

Read or listen to a sermon on Romans 6:1–11, the second in a series on Romans, by Revd Aron Donaldson.

Read or listen to a sermon on Romans 6:1–11, the second in a series on Romans, by Revd Aron Donaldson.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Now 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.

For 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.

Romans 6:1-11

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6:5

In today’s reading from Romans chapter 6 we have probably the most obvious articulation of the idea of union with Christ. This is good news for us because we get an opportunity to grapple with an idea that lies at the heart of Paul’s theology. It is important because, for Paul, being ‘in Christ’ is what it means to be a Christian. Nowhere in Paul’s letters will you find the word Christian used to describe members of the Church. Instead you will find us referred to as being ‘in Christ’.

So, union with Christ is important. But how does it hold the most important parts of Paul’s theology together? Well, all the things we discovered last week:
that we are justified,
that we have access to God,
that we have a hope of glory,
that we can rejoice in our suffering,
that we are objects of God’s love,
that we are saved through Christ
and that we can rejoice in God…
All depend to a greater or lesser degree on being ‘in Christ’.

As one theologian put it:

Being ‘in Christ’ is the essence of Christian proclamation and experience…Without treating the ‘in Christ’ motif we miss the heart of the Christian message.

Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians p.159

Union with Christ is foundational to grasping hold of the Gospel. However, few preachers preach on it because it tends to resist our attempts to trap it in simple sentences and put it in a box. 

Even John Calvin, a theologian well-known for his ability to articulate and systematise the expanse of Scripture, came to the limits of his understanding when he pondered the mystery of union with Christ. He wrote:

For my own part, I am overwhelmed by the depth of this mystery, and am not ashamed to join Paul in acknowledging at once my ignorance and my admiration … whatever is supernatural is clearly beyond our own comprehension. Let us therefore labour more to feel Christ living in us, than to discover the nature of that [indwelling]. 

This quote from Calvin is helpful because even though he admits that such a concept is beyond his comprehension he doesn’t let that be a reason for despondency. Rather, Calvin calls on us to focus on what is within our power: he calls on us to feel Christ living within us. 

The other day I was watching a documentary on creatures that live in the sea. At one point the narrator said something that strikes me every time I hear it: we know more about the surface of the moon than we do the depths of the ocean. Now, there is much about the deep that we don’t know about. But that doesn’t become a reason not to dip our toes into the water when we go to the seaside or go for a swim (if we’re feeling brave). In a similar way, there is much about our union with Christ that is mysterious; but we shouldn’t let it be a reason not to wade out and enjoy that union.

In the verses we have before us today, we’ll see what enjoyment we can have from our union with Christ.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it.

Romans 6:1,2

In this verse, Paul is anticipating a possible objection to what he said at the end of the previous chapter. In chapter 5, verse 20 he said: ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’ Now, some people may be tempted to think that this means that because of Christ they can sin as much as they like. After all, where sin increases – grace abounds. Paul sees exactly where this is going and heads it off before it can gain any traction. 

He confronts his listeners with one of the outcomes of being united with Christ: we have died to sin; how then can we still live in it? 

To say ‘we have died to sin’ may seem esoteric at first glance… After all, what exactly does it mean to die to sin? Well, it is possible that Paul meant two things. Firstly death implies a decisive shift in one’s status. As I’m sure you will agree, the change from being alive to being dead is sharp and considerable. Therefore to say we have died to sin is to say that our relationship with sin has changed definitively and emphatically. 

Secondly, to have died to sin evokes the death of Jesus. An event as central to the faith as the death of Christ would have always been in the back of Paul’s mind and in the minds of those who he was writing to. As we will see in the following verses, Paul fleshes out in what way the death of Christ relates to our own death to sin.

So in this verse, Paul says ‘we have died to sin’ because in some way, Christ’s death has resulted in our own death to the power of sin.

Now, it is important to emphasise that this is not to say that true Christians are perfect. We who are united to Christ still sin from time to time. Again, as we saw last week, the old realm and the new exist simultaneously this side of the resurrection… And we will see in the coming weeks that Paul himself continues to struggle with the latent sin that remains within him. To say that we no longer live in sin is to say that we are no longer completely under its dominion. We have clearly and decisively moved outside its realm. Therefore we are not enslaved in habitual unrepentant ruts of sinning. We do not have a lifestyle of sin. We may lapse every now and then, but when we do we regret it and we return to Christ. We also strive to sin less and less in our lives. Because we have died to sin, we know that it cannot take a final hold on us. In these ways we are dead to sin; we cannot continue to live in it.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:3,4

As we now see, the idea of death that we looked at earlier links up with the death of Christ; the reason we have died to sin is because of our union with Christ. Baptism is mentioned here because it symbolises the moment of conversion; the moment when we become united with Christ as we repent and believe in Jesus. 

We are united to Christ by faith. Christ died, therefore we died. On the cross, Christ died on our behalf. We have died to sin; we are no longer under its power. We no longer belong to the old realm. We have passed with Christ into the new realm that read about last week: the realm of grace, hope, life and glory. In verse 5 we see the theme of union with Christ elaborated further.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6:5

In this verse Paul comes out and uses the word ‘united’ to describe our relationship with Christ. In this verse, the idea of being united governs the entire sentence. We are united to Christ like two elements of oxygen unite to make the O2 we breathe in from the air. We are united to Christ like the oxygen that enters our lungs and becomes part of us. We are united in such a way that where one goes the other follows… The outcome of this is that when Christ died, we died. When Christ rose from the dead, so will we rise from the dead. We inevitably follow the one with whom we are intricately entwined.

As we know, this is another mystery to be experienced rather than understood. Mystery is not unfamiliar to us: interactions with mystery form the backdrop of our everyday lives. For example, who among us fully understands the complexities of our own consciousness; or the vastness of the universe in which we are situated; or even how the mysterious force of gravity works as it holds our feet on the ground. To experience what we do not understand is a fundamental part of our everyday existence.

Paul clearly experienced the presence of Christ acting upon him and moving within him and his fellow believers. In the same way we too can find moments where we experience the profoundly personal presence of Christ within us and around us. We can experience the presence of the one that travelled through death into life as he leads us by the footprints he himself left behind. 

The union between Christ and the believer is a profound mystery that results in the believer’s death to sin and their eventual resurrection in glory. It is an idea that has been and continues to be a source of much peace, hope and joy for those who contemplate its riches.

Once we accept our union with Christ, the verses that follow fall into place.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Romans 6:6,7

As seen earlier, we who are united with Christ have died with him. Specifically we have died to the power of sin and it no longer enslaves us…

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Romans 6:8

Again, the connection between us and Christ is such that we go where he goes. In this case we follow where he has gone – the new realm of eternal life.

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

Romans 6:9

Here we get a glimpse of the hope we have in Christ. In a subtle call-back to last week’s passage, Paul highlights how Christ brought the new era into the old. In taking a body and living in the world, Christ came under the influence of the powers of the old era: namely sin and death. In his resurrection Christ triumphed over these powers and heralded the beginning of a new reality free from the powers of death. In this resurrection, we get a taste of things to come. Christ’s death and resurrection points towards the general resurrection and the freeing of all things into a new life and the glory of God.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

Romans 6:10

Again, we see a similar thought to the one we heard expressed in verse 2. In Christ’s death he died to sin. Though he had no sin, Christ entered the old age, the realm of sin and death, by becoming a human being. When he died, he broke free from the powers of sin in a similar way to those united to him in verse 2. He died once, for all. 

Paul also repeats the theme of this passage: that death is the gateway to life. Christ died and now he lives for the glory of God. And as the natural outcome of our union with Christ, that future is ours to look forward to, as verse 11 says:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus

Romans 6:11

Paul concludes the thought he’s been developing throughout this passage. Because we are in Christ Jesus, we ought to consider ourselves simultaneously dead to sin and alive to God as we await the final hope of glory.

And so I pray that we would bring this mystery into the centre of our lives, that we would experience and enjoy the reality that we are united with Christ in a death like his and we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Amen.