This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 2,2017.
Romans 6 has traditionally been divided into two sections, with verses 1-11 viewed as the justification passages and verses 12-23 as those dealing with sanctification. The first eleven verses are packed with indicative statements about God’s work of reconciliation. They emphasize God’s declaration that a sinner is not made righteous by anything the sinner has done but only because of God’s decision to count the righteousness of Jesus Christ as belonging to the sinner. The second half of Romans 6 is filled with imperative declarations to live as righteous people. This is in line with sanctification- the process in which a sinner is regenerated into righteous living. Both justification and sanctification are gifts of grace.
While the first half of Romans 6 may lean more towards justification, and the second half more towards sanctification, it is important to note both themes show up in both passages. Paul’s discussion of “walking in new life” in verse 4, hints at the regeneration that is a theme of sanctification. And in verse 14, Paul says the baptized one has moved from the dominion of sin to the dominion of grace. That is a statement of justification. When the passage is neatly divided into two theological parts, we are in danger of missing significant truths. Namely, there is a human role in justification. That is seen in the call to accept Christ’s free gift of grace. And there is a divine role in sanctification. If Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, the branches only come to new life by staying connected to the vine. The sanctified life is not merely an obligation imposed on those who have received the gospel. It is an essential part of the gospel. We were made for holiness. Becoming righteous is our deepest longing and greatest joy. Verses 12-23 should not be preached as imperatives for living that the baptized just need to suck it up and get after. Instead, sanctification should be preached as a beautiful, compelling invitation to become who we are most created to be.
This might seem to be a difficult sale at first. One of the things Americans value most today is personal independence. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We even prefer to believe that we think for ourselves on most matters. This is all good and well until you come to a passage that equates us with slaves. Paul preaches the idea of surrendering your life to another’s control, giving another your ultimate allegiance, loyalty, obedience, and service. This would not have been an offensive command to the Roman church. Slavery was a normal part of life in their society. Truth be told, slavery is just as prevalent in twenty-first century America. We all are slaves to something. If you want your congregation to recognize who their master is, give them some time in the sermon to reflect on how they spend their time and money. Are they slaves to exercise? Work? Wall Street? Entertainment? This passage invites us to ask the question, “Whom do you serve?” And it offers only two possible responses: righteousness (God) or sin (everything else). There is no “a little of this, and a little of that.”
Paul is calling on the church to remember that they have already chosen whom they will serve. Now it is time to live like they meant it. They are to offer their loyalty to God alone, and in so doing, the baptized will find this is the only form of service and surrender that leads to liberation and life. I have a friend who has a deal with her teenage daughter. If the teenager is ever in a situation in which she feels uncomfortable, but she’s afraid of losing her peer’s respect if she steps out of the situation on her own, she can text or call her parents with a code word that lets them know they need to call and tell their daughter to come home. That way the teenager can tell her friends she has to leave because her parents said so. She saves face and is protected in the process. The teenager surrenders a bit of her own control to her parents so she can be free to do the right thing without a significant struggle. Paul’s understanding of salvation is kind of like that. God is on our side. God knows our hearts, and God has our best interests in mind. If we surrender ourselves to God’s will, becoming as slaves to God’s ways, God will lead us into abundant life. This is the only kind of loyalty that liberates. As this sermon falls on the Sunday before Independence Day, it would be a great opportunity for the preacher to focus on freedom through surrender.
The preacher may instead choose to focus on the theme of a living faith. Throughout Romans 6, Paul is adamant that baptized Christians start to walk the walk and actively live for Christ since they are now dead to sin and alive in him. This new life does not happen automatically but is a daily choice, “no longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but to present…your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Through baptism into Christ, God has given us the possibility of doing the right thing, but every Christian must choose each moment whether or not he or she will do it. It is not our words or beliefs but our actions that reveal our true allegiance. “You are slaves of the one whom you obey.” (v. 16) The sermon might invite the congregation to review their actions over the past seven days. If someone was walking in your shadow, who or what would they declare is your hope? Where would they assume your affections lie? What would they say is your aim in life? Who would they say is your god? Are we obedient to our own self-interest, to our schedules, or our reputations? Or are we obedient to our God? Our actions will tell.
Each day, just as a soldier dresses for battle by covering up the most vulnerable parts of his body, the Christian engages the cosmic battles against sin and death by refusing to clothe him or herself in destructive patterns that weaken him or her. If Christians prepare for the battle against sin with the weapons of righteousness, nothing will prevent them from receiving their compensation- eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Pastor of Belfair Community Church
Tags: sanctification, freedom, surrender, slavery, living faith