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 text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.
Romans 5 emphasizes the free gift of boundless grace through Jesus Christ available to any who place their trust in him. In just three verses (vss. 15-17) Paul mentions this “free gift” five times. Comparing Adam to Christ, we are reminded that the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of grace that followed many trespasses brings justification. This discourse culminates with the promise, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Left on its own, Romans 5 could be interpreted as a free pass to intentionally live in sin, so as not to diminish the full potential of grace in our lives and world. With that in mind, Paul follows his discourse on boundless grace in Romans 5, with a direct question in Romans: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
This question posed by Paul to the first-century church resounds in our churches today. While many pastors are exceedingly comfortable preaching a sermon on grace, few tackle the realities of sin on a consistent basis for fear of sounding too harsh, too judgmental, or too impractical. We are more comfortable inviting folks to “come as you are because God’s grace is immense,” than we are challenging folks “not to dare leave unchanged because God makes us a new creation.” While the church is still into sinning, we are not really into talking about sinning. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous description of cheap grace, he says we have become masters at, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer speaks into what Paul feared might happen. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is free and abounding, the people of Christ might be tempted to take it for granted. When the preacher introduces this text, it will first be necessary to remind the church that we do sin indeed, and that is indeed a big deal. Only then can delve into the relationship between sin and grace together.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 18, 2017.
In Romans 1 and 2, Paul emphasizes the universality of human sin, claiming that both Jews and Gentiles fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3 and 4 show God’s response to humanity’s desperate condition. Because of Christ’s righteousness, we are now justified by God’s grace. Romans 4, however, is not the happily ever after ending of this letter. In chapters 5 to 8, Paul addresses the “now what?” of faith. What are we to do while we wait to stand before the throne of God, permitted access by the grace of Christ? We ask this because while our justification is indeed very good news, in this world, Christ has redeemed sin and suffering still remain. Romans 5:1-8 begins a section of the epistle that speaks into how we live faithfully in the present while putting our hope in the future.
Already the justified have peace with God and access to his grace because of Jesus Christ. Already, through faith in Christ, we are reconciled in our relationship with God. Already we are redeemed. Therefore, whatever comes our way is powerless to shake who we are and to whom we belong. With that comes the gift of peace today. And yet, we wait for the day we will share in the glory of God. We hope for a future day when we will see him, know him, and reflect his glory and goodness unhindered and undeterred. While we walk in a world still plagued by sin and suffering, we have peace that today we have access to God’s grace. And we have hope that one day we will be delivered from all sin, suffering, and shame, while we reflect his glory forever. Both this present peace and future hope give us what we need to put one foot in front of the other on the journey of faith.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 11, 2017.
The benediction in 2 Corinthians comes after Paul’s passionate defense of his ministry in chapters 10-13. Though he had visited the church in Corinth numerous times, in his absence super-apostles moved in claiming Paul’s teachings were inferior to their own. The work of this rival group had proven divisive in the church. The congregation was fractioned and fractured. Thus, Paul was considering a return visit in light of a likely schism in the church.
Congregational conflict is not new to churches in the twenty-first century. The first-century church knew all about it. There was sexual immorality, idolatry, cliques, false teachers, and disunity in the Corinthian church. It was a mess. And God met the congregation in their mess. Likewise, struggles in ministry aren’t new either. Paul loved the church in Corinth so much that their unhealth caused him physical grief. “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4) Pastor, has your love for your congregation ever brought you to literal tears? Have you ever gone to great lengths to help your congregation grasp God’s dreams for them, only to be met with blank stares and indifference- or worse, criticism and rejection? You are walking in Paul’s shoes. Ministry can be a real struggle. And God meets pastors in their struggle.