Philip Casmer

What Shall We Say? 

by Philip Casmer on March 20th, 2024
Romans 6:1-14

What shall we say? That’s a very biblical question. It gets asked throughout Bible history in different ways. There’s the Moses / Joshua version: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That was followed by Joshua’s command, “Choose for yourselves who you’ll serve…” or  “What do you say?” That command rang in their ears and still in ours. There’s the Jesus version, “Who do you say I am?” He asks his disciples then and now. Paul has a couple versions – the very popular one that we take to heart frequently, “What shall we say in response to all these things (our sufferings)?” And then there’s this one we have tonight: “What shall we say, then?” 

This one comes because of our experience as sinners who have met the Holy God – and, Paul means, who have encountered in their lives his holy law and its accusations and implications. Earlier Paul had asked about our trespasses, our sins, and said that, “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (Say instead that, Adam’s sin shows itself in us and our sins more and more, as we meet God’s Law, we find out we’re sinners – this is how it is – but it’s also this way…). But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” And it’s this dynamic, this polar tension between sin and grace, that prompts Paul’s question.

See, Christians understand this tension – we’re in the middle of it. There is the glorious news that God has not left us in our sins, but has sent a Savior in his grace; and the promise that God’s grace undeserved and unbounded overflows, it doesn’t stop, it is all sufficient over every sin we have done or will; and that comes to us who believe. So, here we are, also tempted by sins and falling into sins day by day and comforted by that grace but sometimes overwhelmed by sins and confused by sins and maybe even asking perhaps, “Shall we go on sinning [because these sins and temptations are always here] so that grace might increase?” That is a real question. And Paul answers it right away, “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” And near the end he goes on, v.12: you don’t let sin govern you – asserting its will over you and directing you. And vice versa you don’t submit to it – giving your talents and your parts to that sin so it can use you like its tools.

And you know that, I think. But that Paul calls you not to do it means it isn’t only hypothetical; this isn’t a theological classroom challenge; it’s real. There are moments every single day where you ask, “What shall I say here?” There are moments where sin wants to govern you. You feel its oppressive hand – tempting you, calling you to be arrogant and selfish, to disregard people in need, to exempt God’s Word from your judgments or your politics… to just say, “I am sin’s subject. It is my master.” There are places where the square peg of your self seems to fit the square hole of temptation – it would just be natural, wouldn’t it, to… tell mom to just be quiet [don’t do that…]; or to wander to those places on the web where the vulnerable are taken advantage of and where no one ought to be; or to put in as little effort as possible at work; or… to just say, “I will become sin’s tool. I will pretend that my utility is for this…”

And here’s a thought. Maybe you’ve thought this way… “I know what God says. I know what God wants. I even want that too… But I sin and, even if I don’t, the temptations just don’t go away. It seems like the truest thing to say about me is, ‘I’m a sinner…’ so why not say that?” 

You know there was a Russian monk named Rasputin. He died in 1916. He was famous for his influence and control over the Romanov family that ruled Russia at that time. He quoted Romans 5:20, that where sin increased grace would increase. He taught the Romanovs that it was their Christian duty to sin so they could experience more of God’s grace in their lives. Sleep around, steal from the peasants, lie to the public — it was all good. As long as in confession they told God they were sorry, God’s grace would abound.

You know that Rasputin was a nutcase. And you know that his advice is terrible. But sometimes it feels like that’s the thing to say, doesn’t it? “It’s just easier to give in. I can’t win against sin – not always, maybe not most often.”  And you have glorious passages like ones we’ve considered in these midweek services, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Ac 2:38) And it might seem easier to just ask forgiveness, know grace abounds, and do it again. You probably don’t articulate that – in fact, you should not – but it’s easy to say it in how we live; even to love it.

Paul’s word is a warning tonight. And we could say that there are certainly consequences of sin – natural, physical, worldly ones – getting fired, having no friends, death. These aren’t really the worst though. Rather, worst of all is this, “If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth [there is] only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume all [God’s] adversaries.” (He 10:26-27) And, Paul doesn’t even deal with this question that way. His dealing is more like this…

The story is told of a guy who visited a nutritionist and said, “I need your help changing some dietary habits.” The nutritionist said, “OK, what’s the problem?” And the man said, “Well, every time I go to the grocery store I find myself inexplicably drawn to the dog food section – longing to eat dog food. When I’m there, I find myself staring at the pictures on the dog food bags and thinking about how much fun it would be to play around with those doggies. And then I’ll just rip open one of the bags and eat a scoop. Sometimes I get so excited I bark and howl and I’ll lay on my back and try to get people walking by to scratch my belly.” The nutritionist says, “Well, sir, that… that certainly sounds like a dietary challenge. How long has this troubled you?” And the man said, “Ever since I was a puppy.” Some things require more than behavior modification, don’t they? Some things go back to how you see yourself. 

And that’s what Paul does. He says that living in sin, giving in to sin, as though grace will abound and abound so that more sin can be done – that’s ignorant. He asks in v.3, “[D]on’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And what significance that brings! Look at that middle section: vv.5-10 – Paul reasons like this: Christ died, in baptism you did too; people who die are free from sin – it doesn’t master them anymore – you either; even better, if Christ died and rose to life, so will we (yep, at the end, but even now…); death doesn’t master Christ – he died to sin and lives for God… Same for you. Just as Christ was raised from death to new life, “so we too may live a new life.” Or, have a new identity. Do you know who you are? 

Do you remember the Chronicles of Narnia? The story of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie. They discover a wardrobe in the house where they’re staying that leads to the magical land of Narnia. The Pevensie children help Aslan, a talking lion, save Narnia from the evil White Witch, who has reigned for a century of perpetual winter with no Christmas. The children help to defeat the witch and establish the Golden Age of Narnia. How? Part of the story – a parable of sorts of Christian life – is that the children recognize who they are – they were the kings and queens of Narnia all along. They had all the ability and all the power, they’d just forgot.

We daily fall into sins. Get caught up in all sorts of things that would define us. And with the psalmist we say, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” (38:18) And Peter is right, when we repent, in our baptism we know that our sins have been forgiven. Baptism isn’t just for forgiveness, and Jesus’ work wasn’t just to destroy the power of sin and to stomp on death till it was dead. No… it was also to give you a whole new identity. You are not ones about whom people may say, “Look at those people dead in sins.” Rather, you are those of whom it is said, “They are alive to God in Jesus Christ.” St. Paul is saying “that’s who you are.” And even more, since in Baptism the Holy Spirit dwells in you, his great power resides in you too.

Paul’s kind of arguing about that kind of power from the greater to the lesser. If God can reanimate Jesus’ dead corpse, which Easter proves he can do, why would we think he couldn’t help us to change our lives, to live as his people, not be ruled by sin, but exercise righteousness? What is more difficult, to make the dead rise, or to help someone to control their tongue… or to avoid the abuse of alcohol… or to be responsible on the Internet? Perhaps on our own we might conclude some temptation was too great to resist. But we aren’t on our own – we’re in Christ Jesus. If Jesus was raised through the glory of the Father, then clearly, we too may live a new life by the power God unleashed within us in our baptism.

We were not just saved from things: sin, death, Satan, hell. We were saved for things. Baptism not only saves us from that which is bad, it enables us to do that which is right; the very things for which we were created. It enables us to live the “new life.” Listen to St. Paul in some other places: 

  • it’s [being] made new in the attitude of your minds; [putting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ep 4:22-24) — a new attitude, and new self to put on daily – as you go out, you wear the holiness of God and you put it into action. 
  • It’s “[living] your lives in [Christ Jesus], rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith…and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Co 2:6-7) — daily life lived in Christ – drawing power and life from his work, overflowing not with sin but with thanks to God – shown in all the ways you each have to show it…

Recall your baptism each day and recall this… The word Paul uses in this section is “to reckon” or “to account” ourselves. He’s calling us to check the facts about us – to look at the books – to see the reality – so that we know exactly what to say in response to whatever temptations come, with regard to what sins we’ve done, and about life itself. “What shall we say?” We’ve sung it every week. “God’s own child, I gladly say it.” Saved, comforted, sure; and capable, by God’s power, to live for righteousness. All because, “I am baptized into Christ,” and so are you. 

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