No one wants to deal with a person who is two faced. It is an unpleasant revelation to learn that when we are with a person they act as if they like us, but when they are apart from us they are saying negative things about us. Trust is betrayed when we learn that we can’t take a person at their word and that they aren’t honest with us. We find ourselves in the uneasy position of having to play a role. Just as the two faced person is friendly with us, so we need to be friendly when we are around that person. And yet we know the whole time that it is a sham, and that when the individual goes off elsewhere he or she will run us down.
As we listen to our epistle lesson this morning, it is easy to wonder whether Scripture is two faced when it comes to describing us. On the one hand, what we hear this morning from the beginning of Romans chapter 6 makes it sound like we can stop sinning. But by the time you read further and get into chapter 7, it sounds like we can never avoid sin. So which one is true? And what does this mean for how we live life as Christians?
Our text this morning is a response to what Paul has just said at the end of chapter five. In that chapter he had described how the sin of Adam brought sin and death to all people. He writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” However, the good news is that since the sin of Adam trapped all people in sin, God responded by sending a second Adam to undo all of this. Paul says, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”
At the end of chapter 5, the apostle has described God’s grace like a rising tide that envelopes sin. He says, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
For the person who is troubled by their sin, there cannot be any better news that this! It is not possible for your sin to outstrip God’s grace, forgiveness and love. There is nothing you have done; there is no mistake you have made, that is too big for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross he bore every sin and received God’s judgment against it. This was God’s way of being just and also justifying the ungodly.
God did not cease to be holy. He did not cease to be a just judge in dealing with sin. He did in fact condemn your sin in the flesh. But he did it in an utterly unexpected way. Earlier in Romans Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
This is the comfort of the Gospel. Whenever we confess our sin and believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we are forgiven. We are justified. We already know the verdict of the Last Day now. There is no sin too heinous for God’s forgiveness. The repentant child molester is forgiven. You are forgiven.
But as long as you are dealing with sinners, there are problems. And the problem is that we are tempted to take advantage of this. Paul has just said that God’s grace abounds and overwhelms sin with forgiveness. And so in the first two verses of chapter six Paul asks a rhetorical question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
As many of you have heard me say before, the Christian life does not work this way: “I like to sin. Gods likes to forgive. This is great!” Paul attacks this idea by going to the foundational event of your life as a Christian – by going to baptism. He says in our text, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Paul assumes that, yes, they do know this. He draws upon a common shared belief of first century Christianity that in baptism a person shares in Jesus Christ’s saving death. In the water of baptism we died with Christ. We were buried with Christ. Through baptism we receive the forgiving work of the cross and so we confess in the Nicene Creed “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
But notice what Paul does here. The subject at hand for him is not forgiveness of sins. Instead, he is focused on avoiding sin. His point is that through baptism we have died to sin and sin no longer rules us. And his thinking on this is grounded in the Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Now if you listen carefully to this, you will find that it doesn’t go where we expect. Paul says that Jesus died and in baptism we have shared in Jesus’ death. Then he says that Jesus rose from the dead. We expect him to say that we too will rise. But instead he says that because of baptism, “we too might walk in newness of life.” This life is Christ, but it is also the way we live because of Christ. Only after saying this does Paul give us what we expect to hear as he goes on in the next verse to say, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Paul connects Jesus’ resurrection and the fact that Christian live in ways that are dead to sin. The reason for this is the Holy Spirit – something Paul makes clear in chapter eight as he writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is in you because of baptism. That same Spirit will give you a share in Jesus resurrection on the Last Day. Yet the Spirit isn’t just “hanging out” until that happens. Instead, the Spirit is the resurrection power of Jesus Christ already at work in you now.
Paul says that something big happened in your baptism. He writes in our text, “We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” The apostle says that because of baptism we are no longer enslaved to sin, and so he concludes our text by saying, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
It all sounds great! But then in the verse right after our text the apostles writes: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” And this is when Paul starts to sound two faced. Because if I have died to sin and am no longer enslaved to sin, why is he having to tell me, “Don’t let sin rule you”? And before we know it in chapter 7 Paul is saying (using the pronoun “I” no less!): “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
Yet it is not Paul who is being two faced. He is just being honest about our spiritual condition. Instead, we are the ones who are two faced. We live in the now and the not yet. In Christ we are a new creation through the work of the Spirit – we are new man. But until Christ returns, the old man – our sinful fallen condition – still clings to us as well. And these struggle against one another.
This is a reality that we must recognize as Christians. Struggle will be a defining feature of the Christian life. Because of Jesus and the work of the Spirit we will find ourselves struggling against sin and its temptations. If you are going to be a Christian, you can’t avoid it.
As we think about what Paul says in our text, and also about the other side of things – the old man still present within us - I want to leave you with three thoughts. First, recognize that the struggle is a good thing. You sense the struggle because of the salvation God has given you in Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit. In fact, growing and maturing in faith will probably make us perceive the struggle even more, not less. The truly frightening thing would be if we didn’t sense it – if we were simply carried along by sin.
Second, remember what was said earlier in this sermon. Whenever we confess our sin and believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we are forgiven. We are justified. There is no sin too heinous for God’s forgiveness. There will be times when you fail. There will be times when you fall. The important thing is how we view that sin. Do we see it as no big deal, or do we confess it as sin so that we can take comfort in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
And finally, understand that Paul really means what he says in our text today. The old man is present and we must contend against him, but the two sides are not equal. By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death. That same power is now at work in you through his Spirit. This is what gave you rebirth and made you a new creation. This is why you are new man. Because of the Spirit you are on the winning side and so you can win. Your baptism is the continuing source of this ability to win. It continues to be nourished through all of the Means of Grace.
Let me leave you with this illustration to help you think about our life. The relation of new man and old man is like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs this season. This season – and mind you, the illustration only applies to this season – the two teams are not equal. The Cardinals are the better team. Over the course of the season they will win more games and win the division. That doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t a difficult opponent. There are days when the Cubs sweep the Cardinals in a double header. There are times when a dramatic late inning homerun is needed just to split the series. But it would be foolish to think that because those occasions occur the Cardinals should just stop trying. They are better. They are the winning side.
That is how things are for you. The Spirit of the risen Christ is more powerful than sin. Because you are in Christ through the work of the Spirit, you are on the winning side. So take up the struggle against sin. Find peace in Christ’s forgiveness on those occasions when you fall. And know that the Spirit you received in baptism gives you the ability to put to death sin, and to live as what Christ has made you to be, as you look for the final victory and transformation when Christ returns.