I very much like the idea of God’s grace but I’m pretty sure sinning more to get more grace is not how this works. Apparently, there were folks in Paul’s day that did believe sinning more to receive more grace was a good thing because Paul had to explain that they were looking at this with a bit a warped perspective! Paul takes it upon himself to straighten this out. It cannot be said that we are supposed to sin more so that grace abounds!
He makes his point with a debate technique called the diatribe. Putting it more contemporary terms, Paul is letting his readers in Rome know what he thinks of their warped logic by asking in a fairly direct and strident tone, “Are you kidding me?” There has been some discussion back and forth in the previous chapters that seems to indicate a mindset that since grace is great, we’ll sin some more so we can have more grace.
This is problematic in a couple of ways. In the first place, you can’t use grace as an excuse to go sin some more. As far as that goes, spoiler alert, there is nothing you can use as an excuse to sin some more. No, the devil did not make you do it and no, you can’t get more grace by sinning more.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The younger of two sons asks for his share of his father’s inheritance and when he receives it he goes on and squanders all of it on cheap living. When his money had run out and he is eating with the hogs he decides to return home. When he gets there he is welcomed with forgiveness and feast. All is well, all is forgiven, and grace abounds! How well would it work if after 6 months the Prodigal Son decides that worked so well I think I’ll try it again! No, of course that defies logic.
Which leads into the second problem area with thinking more sin equals more grace. And that is there is no such thing as more grace. Grace is already total and complete. There is no way to get more of something that is already total and complete. That is part of Paul’s message here and that is for the Romans, and Paul is speaking to us as well, to understand a fundamental thing about grace. As a gift from God, it is all encompassing and there is no escaping it. Just because we ignore it when we choose to do so doesn’t mean that grace has left the building. Grace very much surrounds us, whether we’re paying attention or not.
Paul explains how this works and it is all tied into our baptism and it’s kind of a big deal. We’re pretty explicit in how this works in our baptism liturgy which is in large part based on Paul’s writing to the Romans. The baptismal rite begins, “Our God, who loves us beyond measure, gives us a new life through the sacrament of baptism. The power of sin is put to death in these waters, and we are raised with Jesus Christ to new life. We are united with all the baptized in the one body of Christ, anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and sent out in mission for the life of the world.” The power of sin is put to death in the waters of baptism.
That’s pretty cool in it’s own right. If we’re baptized then sin has no power over us and sin has no control over us. But there are other far reaching implications to that idea and that is the ultimate big deal Paul is working out when it comes to our thinking of sin and grace in light of baptism.
Vers3 three begins his thought, “3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” I don’t know about you but at first glance this doesn’t sound so great. I mean, we’re all going to die at some point but being baptized into his death? When I first thought about this I thought I’d rather be baptized into something better than death. Surely there is something a little more appealing. Right?
Apparently this concern was not unique and anticipating this kind of difficulty, Paul answers the question in the next verse, V4, “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.” Aha! If we were baptized into Christ’s death and he was raised from the dead then this is sounding like a better deal. The death thing was freaking me out a little bit but this life thing is sounding much better! If we have been baptized into Christ’s death then we have been baptized into his resurrection. That’s the ultimate hope that each of us share in our baptism. Death no longer has any hold on us because of Christ’s resurrection and our joining with Jesus in our baptism. If you’re not baptized and want to talk about this, please let me know!
Paul then goes onto explain the implications of this. We no longer need to focus on sin, as in focusing on avoiding sin, but instead can focus on what it means to be freed from sin. Putting that another way, we can focus on grace and what it means to live as a people whose lives are under grace. Take a few minutes occasionally this week and think about that. How is your life opened up if you think in terms of embracing grace rather than avoiding sin? Then ask yourself, how will you use that freedom to bring Christ’s Love to Life!