“Go ahead. Do what you want. It’s fine, no really, I don’t care. Do whatever.” As a child, as a teen, you may be heard words like that from your parents – Do what you want! – and you thought to yourself, “Cool. Dad or mom is fine if I stay out all night.” And, then you do…but then you come home late, and you quickly realize mom and dad weren’t fine with you doing whatever you want. As you get older you get a little wiser about these things. Married guys you maybe know what I’m talking about. When your wife tells you, “It’s fine, whatever, do what you want.” You’ve probably quickly learned that means: It’s not fine. It’s not whatever, and you most certainly can’t do what you want. It’s this idea of “Go ahead; do what you want” that Paul address here in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans.
Paul, he asks a question. He writes, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Or, to say it differently, Paul asks can we as Christians who know the love of Jesus, who know that he is a God who worked a reversal in our lives bringing us from death to life, a God who died for you and me even while we were powerless, ungodly, sinners, can you and I not show this world just how incredibly loving and forgiving God is by sinning, by doing what we want?
And, this is a logical reasonable question. After all, if God reveals His glory not in punishing sinners but in showing mercy is it not to God’s glory that we go on sinning, so that He would be glorified in showing us mercy? Or, if God is righteous, not in that He condemns the wicked, but that He justifies the ungodly would not our continued sinning prove to the world that God is righteous, a just God and a Savior, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? So, as Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Shall we all just do what we want?
Now you and I know the answer and Paul too says it right away, “Absolutely not, by no means!” But, why not? Why can’t we go on sinning? How would you answer that question? Why don’t we sin? Why shouldn’t we sin? I know I’ve on many occasions answered that question by saying something like, “Well, we love God, and God hates sin so out of love for him we obey his laws, his commands, and we do our best not to sin.” And I think that’s a pretty common answer that we give, but that’s not the answer Paul gives us here today. What he actually says is quite shocking. He says we can’t sin. Don’t believe me? Take a look.
In verse three, he tells us we were baptized into Jesus’ death – we will talk about that more in a moment. In verse six he says it even more clearly, “our old self was crucified” with Jesus “so that the body of sin might be done away with.” And then, in verse seven, “anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Finally, in verse 11, Paul tells us to count ourselves “dead to sin.” So, you tell me, how can we possibly sin if, as Paul says, we are dead to sin. You can’t!
Yet, if you’re like me, you’re sitting here thinking to yourself, “Well, I sin all the time” So, what in the world is Paul talking about? This must by hyperbole. Paul must be exaggerating. Except he is not. Go back now to verse three. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Did you know baptism killed you? Did you know your baptism was a baptism into death?
That’s what happens up here when a child or an adult has that water sprinkled on the forehead in the name of the Triune God. That person dies. You died. Paul says it well in verse six, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him, with Jesus, so that the body of sin might be done away with.” But here is the problem, so often baptism, our baptism is seen as something that requires effort on our part to make it work, to make it hold, when the reality is that our baptism is all about trust. Trusting that God has done in these waters exactly what he promised. Paul isn’t here trying to motivate us to NOT sin, but he is instead inviting us to believe what God has done through baptism. If you are baptized into Christ, you really are dead to sin. “But I’m not dead to sin,” you say. “I keep living it.”
I heard this story once of a toddler that was adopted and brought to the US. Her new parents fed her Cheerios for breakfast, but she was so used to going without food that she held on to those Cheerios in her little hands all day. They would give her a bath at night and open her hands, and she would still have these soggy little Cheerios in her hands. Although she lived in a land of abundant food, and hadn’t experienced hunger since moving to the States, she still considered herself famished. What was actually true hadn’t yet become really true in her life. You know, so often when we think of ourselves, what do we do? We focus on the flaws, the sinful habits, the guilt – we identify with that. I have a short temper, I’m sarcastic, I lust, whatever. We have a tendency to identify ourselves with that area of sin – to say, “That particular sin is a part of me.” Paul says, “Don’t do that. See yourself as dead to sin.” This is a different way to think about sin. Treat sin as a separate entity. It’s not me. I am not sin. See sin as a separate entity that’s trying to get control of you, rather than sin as part of your character, because it’s not. It’s been buried.
Have you ever been at a gravesite of a loved one and heard that sound of dirt falling on that casket as they were buried? It’s a haunting sound to hear that dirt as it falls into that gaping hole. It rings with the sound of finality. It’s over. It must have been just as haunting at the tomb of Jesus for those women who watched from afar as that stone was rolled into place hiding Jesus’ body from view. It was over, until it wasn’t. Until that rock of finality was shoved aside and Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found. Death did not, could not, hold him. That is what happened when you were buried with Christ in baptism. It’s over for you and for me. Sin and death were defeated, destroyed! And now, as Paul writes, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too may live a new life.”
Do we understand what that means? It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever sin again, but that you know what to do when you do sin. You run to Christ. You go back to your baptism, the place where God killed you and brought you to life. To the place where God said, “You are dead to me,” and those were the five most glorious words ever spoken, because they meant life. A new life where the hands of sin have no grip on you; the tongue of sin is stilled; the eyes of sin shut.
It’s a life where God tells you and me that we can do what we want, and we don’t hesitate. Not to jump back into a life of sin, not to sin all we want because we figure God has to forgive us, no, we learn to leap willingly into our new life with Christ. That is how we identify ourselves. We are Christians. And we now live a life where we learn to die to sin and die to self and die to the world and all those things that would lure you and me away from the love of our Savior, Christ Jesus.
Why? Because these are the rules? Because we are scared of a vengeful God and the hell he would send us too? Not all, but rather because sin is truly dead to you. And this isn’t just true for some of us, some super-Christians among us. Go back to verse 3, “All of us who were baptized.” Paul says. Were you buried with Christ? Were you baptized? Is he Savior? Then that’s you. Baptized into Christ’s death. Baptized into Christ’s life. As much as sin can no longer touch Him, so too are you forever free from its guilt and its grasp. It’s dead. You’re alive. By the love of God, this is who you are from now until eternity in heaven. Amen.