Sin and Grace

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.

Romans 6:1-11 NRSV

I am sure you are familiar with the scripture passage, take up your cross and follow me. But what resonates with me is what this passage in Romans conveys. I think of it this way:

         Come out of your tomb and follow me.

         Come out of your tomb and follow Christ.

         Come out of your tomb and live as people of the resurrection.

To understand more fully what that means, I want to explore some of the key concepts in this passage. Starting with sin. Sit for a moment with that word hanging in the air. It’s a heavy word, a small word that packs a big punch.

Sin. Wrongdoing. What we have done that hurts others, hurts ourselves, hurts our relationship with God. Sin means to violate God’s law, so when we sin, we create a breach in this most important of relationships, our relationship with our Creator. And also our relationship with our community.

Sin is a word that invokes shame, guilt, maybe fear, and maybe dread. It brings us down under its weight. It is a concept that most of us prefer to avoid if we can. It is hard to take that word in and wrestle with it.

Yet look around at the state of the world today and the evidence of the sin of humanity is rife. And take a look closer to home – the region and the town where you live; your community, your friends, your family. What are the signs of sin that you see? What about when you look into your own heart?

The word that is translated “sin” in this Romans passage means:

To miss the mark.

To be without a share in.

To err. To be mistaken.

To wander from the law of God, you, me, as individuals;
and us, collectively, as a community.

It’s not a happy thing, is it, to be reminded that human nature includes this hurtful tendency to do wrong to one another, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes, yes, with full intent. And yet, that is unavoidably part of who we are as individuals, as a faith community, and as a world community. That is part of who we are as children of the Living God: people who make mistakes. People who miss the mark. People who hurt each other.

Another key concept in this passage is grace. Grace is such an amazing notion that most of the time it seems way too good to be true. Grace is a word that invokes joy, pleasure, delight, loveliness and ease. Grace opens us to God’s mercy and kindness – and more than that, even, Grace is a word that conveys unequivocally how unconditional God’s love and mercy are. Grace is as much a part of the human condition as sin is. We are born with God’s grace abundant within us, and it is something that we are never without. It may feel sometimes that God’s gift of grace is absent – yet the truth is that grace abides within us – deeply, profoundly, eternally.

This, I think, is one of the core messages in the Romans passage. Grace is ever present, and it frees us from the sin that separates us from our Creator. And the way to that freedom, according to this passage, is the way of death. Such a paradox! One that maybe stirs up anxiety and a little fear, because who wants to deal with death? But look again at what Paul says:

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

So think about this for a bit. Death as a baptism. To be baptized means to be immersed, to be soaked in, to be sunk. To be buried.

Death comes in many forms. We certainly have many reminders, both in the scriptures and in our lived experience, of the ways that sin leads to death – maybe literal death, maybe the death of a relationship; maybe the death of joy, of love, of the deep center of good that God creates in our souls. But the death of Jesus Messiah is a different kind of death. On the outside it may look the same as the definitive death from which no life emerges. Yet we know that Jesus’ death was different. Paul calls it a BAPTISM, of all things! A baptism into death, where we are buried with Christ. Have you experienced anything like this? In what ways have you been buried with Christ?

It seems to me that every time we choose the way of Christ – the way of Love – we are immersed in the death of Christ, because it is then that sin and our false selves are buried, and grace grows. As it is written in the Gospel of John: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” You and I are the seed. You and I are the ones that must fall into the earth and die. You and I are the ones, that, if we die, will then bear much fruit.

That is the wonder and mystery of Christ’s death – it leads through hopelessness and despair into the miracle – the MIRACLE! – of life fresh and new and unimaginably joyous. A life of resurrection. United with Christ, and free from sin.

Can you imagine what this is like? Living in grace, free from sin. United with Love. This is what Paul knows to be true: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Do you know it to be true? Are you free by grace from the dominion of death and sin?

The answer is: yes, you are. Yes! You are! It is time for us to live more fully in the Love and Grace that is here for us, now. Here for each one of us. It is time for us to share that good news – that new life – with others in our lives. It is time for us to live free of sin in the promise of the shining light of our Creator – the One who calls each one of us “Beloved.”

All we need to do is come out of our tomb and follow Christ.

Adapted from a sermon preached at Adirondack Friends Meeting, South Glens Falls, NY, June 22, 2014.