This text is used as the Lectionary Text for Year A on August 27, 2017.
The subject of the sovereignty of God can be a touchy one within the church. It raises seemingly limitless questions, with seemingly limitless answers depending on one’s subscription to any number of theologies. The nature and scope of God’s sovereignty are often disagreed upon—even to the point of contention—among Christian denominations. But the fact that God is sovereign, whatever that might look like, is a critical tenet for all who profess, “Jesus is Lord.”
The passage begins by highlighting humanity’s ephemeral nature. Not even a great man like Joseph, who had risen to a place of prominence in Egypt, can be remembered forever. What has withstood the test of time, however, are the people through whom God’s covenant with Abraham would be fulfilled. The Israelites have honored God’s creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), and their growing number was a sign of God’s presence and blessing. The size of the Israelite population has snuck up on Pharaoh, and he decides to put an end to their growth—he attempts, in effect, to put an end to God’s presence and blessing among God’s people. Pharaoh does not deport the Israelites from his land; he recognizes that they have value to him, and he attempts to exploit it by ruthlessly imposing slave labor upon them. God’s sovereignty shines through, however, as the Israelites respond to Pharaoh’s oppression by further increasing in number. The Egyptians began to loathe the Israelites—after all, as the plagues in Exodus 8 would reveal, Egyptians hate swarms.
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.