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.
The gospel of God’s grace, when grasped fully, poses a serious question about sin. If God has forgiven our sins on the basis of Christ’s death in our place, why shouldn’t we keep on sinning? Why should we live differently? Indeed, why not sin more so that God’s grace can increase? Paul anticipates these questions in Romans 6. Faced with this challenge he does not retreat at all from his confidence in our standing in God’s grace through Christ. Rather, he points his readers back to their baptism and reminds them that it was a re-enactment of the gospel, a tangible parable of death and resurrection. We died with Christ and now we live a new life with Him.
Paul’s teaching is sometimes misunderstood. How can he say that our old self is dead? If that’s true, why do we struggle with sin at all? Doesn’t Paul write elsewhere (e.g., Galatians 5) about the struggle between the flesh (sometimes translated ‘sinful nature’) and the Spirit? How can that struggle exist if we are crucified with Christ? The answer lies in the distinction between what Paul calls the old self and the flesh (or sinful nature). The old self has died (Romans 6:6), meaning that the person we were before we came to know Christ is no longer our identity. We are no longer defined by our cultural or family background, our life experiences or even the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. We are now included in Christ, part of the new human race that begins with Him, the second Adam (see Romans 5). That is our identity and that seals our destiny (see Romans 8). We are freed from sin like slaves redeemed from a ruthless master; liberated and able to serve God and righteousness.
Yet the flesh is still a reality for us. The Spirit, who is the foretaste of all we will be, is alive in us, but so is the flesh. Our selfish inclination towards sin persists and will do until we are glorified when Christ returns. We must choose to surrender ourselves to God and to follow the way of the Spirit. To return to sin is as crazy as a liberated slave going back willingly to serve the master who used to possess him. Yet sin still has its appeal – it masquerades as the key to fulfilment, satisfaction and painless pleasure. It offers life, but is the bearer of death. It promises peace, but breeds guilt. It offers joy, but deals out dissatisfaction. Why would we, who belong to Christ, give ourselves over to this cruel master?
Baptism is a sign of God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus. When we are tempted to give ourselves over to sin we should remember our baptism. The new life to which we are called is a life of service of God and of others. It is a life of righteousness, led and empowered by the Spirit. The wonderful thing about this new life is that is ours afresh every day. You may have struggled and even fallen into old sins yesterday, but that sin is no longer your master. It does not own you and it cannot control you. That’s not who you are any more, thanks to Christ. Glory is in store. The past is past. Today is an opportunity to live a new life in Christ.