Dan Popp
Reports of my death were not exaggerated
Romans: The most important book ever written
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By Dan Popp
January 20, 2011

The first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans are devoted to humanity's root problem: rebellion, which brings wretchedness, religiosity and ruin. The next two-and-a-half chapters reveal God's solution: a revolutionary kind of rightness, and reconciliation. Here at the Romans Book Club we're ready to explore the next section, Chapters 6-8. In this part, Paul gives instructions about the new identity of believers. We may have switched sides in the spiritual war, but we're still in combat. We won't survive without some "basic training." To continue my silly alliteration, we're going to find out about reckoning, wrestling and reassurance.

Here are the verses we read to close Chapter 5:

And law came in that the offense might abound; and where the sin did abound, the grace did overabound, in order that, as sin established its reign by way of death, so God's grace might establish its reign in righteousness, and issue in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [YLT, NEB]

Chapter 6

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! We are dead to sin, so how can we continue to live in it? [NKJV, KJV, Jerus]

This is the second time Paul has denied the charge that the message of free forgiveness encourages sin. In Chapter 3, verses 5-8 he condemns that allegation as slander. Here in Chapter 6 he takes time to explain why it cannot be true.

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. [RSV]

Baptism is a symbol of our identification — no, our participation — in the death of Jesus. Paul teaches this to another church in 2 Cor. 5:14,15. To the Galatians he writes, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20 KJV)

If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. [NIV] ...For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. [NKJV]

Some translations have the word likeness in the first part of Romans 6:5, and again in the second. Some have it in neither place. But according to the crude tools I have, it seems to belong only in the first clause. Through baptism (the likeness of His death) we become sharers in — not the likeness of His resurrection, but in the resurrection itself! Only a few versions render it this way, though:

For if we have been grafted into the likeness of His death, so shall we also share His resurrection. [Con] ...For, if we have become planted together to the likeness of his death, [so] also we shall be of the rising again. [YLT]

I like the word planted (which also occurs in the KJV) because it seems to correspond to the word buried in the previous verse. We are growing into union with Christ because we have been grafted or planted together — planted by baptism. Long-time Christians who have not been baptized are a walking contradiction. Why would we expect that promises made to those who have been buried with him by baptism, would apply to those who have not been so buried?!

knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with. [NKJV] ...We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body, [which is the instrument] of sin, might be made ineffective and inactive for evil. [Amp] ...might be destroyed. [Int]

A week and a half has passed since you and I read about Adam, but for Paul's primary audience it was only eight sentences back. Remember that "Adam" means "man." I believe that the old man is our native, broken nature inherited from Great-great-great (etc.) Granddad. That self is gone, crucified, pronounced dead at the scene 2,000 years ago — as of the moment we believe the good news.

But here I have haplessly whacked a hermaneutical hornet's nest. Theologians disagree as to whether Christians have two natures, or one. I encourage you to read both arguments and to "search the Scriptures," because it's impossible for me in this series to do justice to both viewpoints. The "one nature" theory seems more straightforward, but one of the main challenges to that idea is this: It seems really easy to sin, if sin no longer comes naturally to me! We'll grapple with that in Chapter 7.

One further note: Christians have never taught that the human body is, in and of itself, sinful. The term body of sin is clarified by the Amplified version: our body, which is the instrument of sin.

that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. [NASB]

That's clear, right? Dead men sin no sins. Does this sound like Paul is promoting wicked behavior?

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. [NIV 2010]

My mother used to tell her children — emphatically — that something was going to be settled "once-and-for-all." Her meaning was quite clear: "for the last time; never to be a problem again." Jesus has died once, and as a real human, that is the maximum number of times He could die. It is appointed for man to die once, teaches Hebrews 9:27. Romans asserts positively that Christ will never die again. If Jesus were still dying today, then the scripture would not be true that death no longer has dominion over him; Christ would be the slave, and death would be the master.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [ESV]

Just as God reckons rightness to those who believe His Son, we are to consider or regard ourselves dead to sin. Literally: reckon yourselves to be dead indeed. This is not a mind game. Believers are truly and, as the little fellow sang in Oz, "really most sincerely dead."

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness [NASB] ...you must not let any part of your body turn into an unholy weapon fighting on the side of sin; you should, instead, offer yourselves to God, and consider yourselves dead men brought back to life; you should make every part of your body into a weapon fighting on the side of God. [Jerus]

The stream of little choices that we all make moment-by-moment is a Very Big Deal. As we choose the easy path we're actually fighting for the wrong army. But our enlistment in hell's battalion expired when we "expired," on the cross with Jesus. This death has freed us from all our former obligations to that unholy kingdom; and our new, victorious General has granted us the power to reign over ourselves.

For sin can never be your master — you are no longer living under the Law, but under grace. [Phillips]

As we know, the Thou Shalt Nots cannot rescue us from sin's consequences. Neither can they free us from sin's slavery. Paul has shown that grace — God's generous gift — is the only thing that can reboot us to become Version 2.0 people. But first it has to shut us down. Only death will stop me from sinning. But that was God's plan all along — or half of it.

© Dan Popp

 

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