1Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we, who died to sin, go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? 4Therefore 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.
5If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. 6We 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, 7for whoever has died is freed from sin; 8but if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God;11so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.
Since we know that, whatever we do, the all-forgiving God will forgive us, should we be concerned about the sins we commit? It’s tempting to think that all we have to do after thinking something we shouldn’t think, or doing something we shouldn’t do, is to ask God for forgiveness and He will give it to us. Wrong!
The introduction to the confession in the Book of Common Prayer (1662/1928) says: “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways …” Saying “Sorry” just doesn’t cut it. Repentance involves turning our backs on the sins we have committed, with the intention of not doing the same again. If we say “Sorry” and ask God for forgiveness, but make no effort to lead a life closer to what God wants of us, then there is one person who will rub his hands in glee, because he has won another convert from worshipping God. So many pictures of Satan, over the centuries, have had him with horns, wearing red, and carrying a pitch-fork. I don’t know many people who would be attracted to someone like that. It’s far more likely that Satan will be in disguise as someone who might be thought of as being trustworthy: in no particular order and just as examples, a lawyer, a teacher, a priest, a bishop, a good politician, or a bank manager. The Hebrew Scriptures are littered with warnings to beware of false prophets, because the devil masquerades as someone who is giving good advice.
Paul is quite adamant that we cannot sin more just because grace will abound more. I love the Greek phrase he uses here: μη γεvετo (may guenneto – short ‘o’ at the end), which could easily be translated as “God forbid!” or several other expressions of similar ilk. If we are with Christ, and accept that He died to save us from our sins, then how can we deliberately sin again, and, more importantly, how can we respect that relationship we have with Christ and with God if we make no effort to amend our sinful ways? In Paul’s way of thinking, when we just carry on we crucify Christ all over again. When we have been baptised we are part of the life of Christ, and that includes His death and resurrection, so by putting aside our sins we can walk in newness of life.
Those words from the BCP are so close to this teaching of Paul as to be very useful and challenging. If we are “in Christ” then we will make every effort to turn away from sin, ignoring the calls from those who might be false prophets, we will have unconditional love for our neighbours – that doesn’t mean we have to agree with them or love their sins – and we will have an expressed desire to walk along paths prepared for us by God.
How true it is that when our mortal bodies no longer house our souls, in other words we depart from this mortal life, we are free from sin, but since Christ has already died for our sins we can enjoy a life free from sin while we are still here.
For me, understanding this passage is not difficult, but being sure to apply its teaching poses all sorts of questions relating to not being led astray by false prophets, and as I look around I find plenty of evidence of them having been at work. I don’t ask who I should be following; I just ask what Christ would do in the same situation as I find myself facing. In the words of the Anglican baptism services, “Do you turn to Christ?” I’m far from perfect, so I try to turn to Christ every time I find myself not facing Him. How about you?