Drowned to Life
Prepare yourself for next week's bible study by reading Romans 6. How many sins do you make a day? What would it take for you to turn completely away from all of those sins?
The words of Paul have been at times hard for me to swallow over the years. I’ve often found myself wondering if he is expecting too much of new Christians in his passionate epistles. Romans 6 in particular has always puzzled me. Why is he so flabbergasted? I’ve been a Christian for 25 years and have listened to great pastors and teachers all my life and yet I believe I have just started to get a tiny comprehension of how we share in the crucifixion and the resurrection. Not all of us experience the same kind of radical encounter with Jesus that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. I’ve always used this as an excuse from mirroring Paul’s level of passion in the Christian life. Looking at followers such as Mary Magdalene and Paul who sinned so greatly, it seems understandable as to why they were so “on fire” since they were forgiven so much. So why does Paul expect people to understand and emulate the complexities of the doctrine presented in Romans 6? He asks, “Do you not know?” as if he is astounded. I think it is because the doctrine is not nearly as complex as we want it to be. Often when we read or hear teachings on Romans, we regard it as poetic and inspiring language that we hope will one day make sense. One day, we will learn the great secret behind it all. There is, in fact, a great secret that we sadly spend most of our lives trying to learn. The secret is that it’s all true. It means what it says.
Paul goes to great lengths to illustrate how we are “dead.” He starts off with the concept of baptism which we often think of only in terms of being cleansed of sin. It most definitely is a cleansing, but it is also far more extreme in nature. When I was baptized at the age of 6, I remember being afraid that the pastor might say a prayer while holding me under water and that it might go on too long. I think that simplistic concern of mine might have been closer to the actual context of baptism. Baptism is drowning. Whenever bodies of water appear in scripture, they are usually indicative of the all-consuming nature of God. Safe passage is always required in some form for Gods people when they encounter a sea or river. The waters are raised when the Hebrews cross the Jordan and the Red Sea, Noah and company crusade in the ark, Jonah catches a big fish, and Moses floats in a basket. Jesus is the perfected image of this as he both walks on waves and calms the storm. Jesus himself is the safe passage. Baptism is the concept of us drowning in God (killing anything that is not of him) and rising from the water alive and clean. We are new people. The people we were before drowned in the water. Paul says we were “baptized into His death.” How is this so? What does accepting Jesus have to do with us dying with him? When we receive him by faith, our lives become fused with his. Our past, present, and future, is tied to his presence, holiness and victory. Where the enemy traps us is convincing us that we are not truly, completely free. D.L. Moody once used the story of a post-civil war slave woman who was freed, but her former owner kept telling her that there was a mistake and she still belonged to him. She didn’t know who to believe and thus spent more time as a slave. “Shawshank Redemption” is another great example of prisoners who gain there freedom, but often miss their jail cells because that is the life and identity they were used to. Paul is so exasperated because for various tragic reasons, we can live our lives ignoring what Jesus has already accomplished for us. We live as if we are still slaves or that we have to fight to earn our freedom. It is amazing to think that though we belong to God, we can still yield to the devil to be used as “instruments” (or weapons). When we consistently obey someone, we make them our masters. Sin is no exception and the wages we get paid for all of the hard work we do for the devil is death. There will be more on this and how unbelief consumes our Christian lives in the next summary. So what actual difference does this make in our daily lives? How can we walk in more victory and stop obeying masters who can’t actually make us do anything? Step one is to actually believe the news of freedom that God has already given us. Usually when we sin, it’s because we are doubting God’s goodness or we think we are destined to eventual failure and have no other real choice but to sin. This is nonsense. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. Every second of every day. His grace is available to us. His love is in our hands. His strength already uplifts us. If we are joined with him, we have access to his gifts. We often doubt this and spend too much time asking him for things we already possess or wondering if we have them. If you are in a shootout and you believe your gun has no bullets then you are much less likely to use it and it is therefore useless. Faith is what activates Gods presence in our lives. If we are not aware of him, then we are not fully enabling him to move in our circumstances. God is always victorious and we are always joined with him even if we do not feel or believe it. He is always exacting his will and purpose, but if we want to share in them more fully, we have to believe. The old dead person we once were did not dwell with Christ. We do.