Are You Alive or Dead (Romans 6)
This morning, as we look at our Lord's Baptism and its importance to us, we'll also look at four quotations from the Church Fathers of the second through sixth centuries. All four quotes have been printed out on the insert. I invite you to follow along with those as we go through Paul's discussion of Baptism in Romans chapter 6.
As we begin our discussion, we look at Ambrosiaster's Commentary on Paul's Epistles, written in the fourth century, around the same time as the Nicene Creed was finished. As he looked at Paul's words, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?", he wrote:
- The believer who returns to his former way of life rejects the kingdom of God's grace and returns to sin, i.e., to the pattern of his previous life. For we have received mercy for two reasons: first, that the kingdom of the devil might be removed, and second, that the rule of God might be proclaimed to the ignorant, for it was by this means that we came to desire this dignity.
St. Paul refers back to the end of chapter 5, where he writes, "Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Before people could believe that we've been forgiven so that we can do whatever we want, Paul nips it in the bud. No one should see themselves as above the Law simply because their sins have been forgiven. As a forgiven sinner, you have left your former life behind. It is no longer part of your life. You left it behind at the font. It has been drowned in God's water. Why would you want to go back?
Ambrosiaster points out that "the believer who returns to his former way of life rejects the kingdom of God's grace and returns to sin." A baptized, forgiven believer who returns to his old, sinful way of life basically slaps Jesus in the face and says, "I don't want your gracious death!" Having been baptized, you have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God's marvelous light . Jesus calls you the light of the world.. Why would you want to give that up? Why would you want to go back to the darkness after being in the light?
That's exactly what happens when we forsake our Baptism and return to the darkness of our sins. By returning to our sinful ways, we reject God's grace and thereby lose the Holy Spirit who came to us in Baptism. The gift of the Holy Spirit is free to all, but it can also be freely rejected. If you believe that Baptism covers every sin no matter what, you risk throwing away your salvation. Throwing away your salvation, you throw away everything that God has done for you. You tell God, "Your gift of eternal life is nice, but I think I'll go exchange it for something I like better." Returning to your sins is just as silly.
Ambrosiaster points out the great amount of mercy that we've received through our Baptism. Mercy has been granted to us for two reasons. The first and primary reason is so that "the kingdom of the devil might be removed." Mercy was shown to us in our Baptism by the expulsion of the devil and his evil minions from our soul. Many ancient Baptismal rites begin with an exorcism. The unclean spirit that inhabits our carnal, sinful nature is cast out. The soul is cleansed so that the Holy Spirit may move in. Then the Holy Spirit washes the soul clean with the water. So our second merciful reason may come to the forefront.
"The rule of God might be proclaimed to the ignorant." Those who come to the font are truly ignorant of the great blessing that is about to come to them. As an infant, we understand this. But for the adults who are instructed in the faith before Baptism, it's the same thing. We can memorize everything that the Bible and the Confessions say about Baptism, but that knowledge won't tell us everything. There's so much more to Baptism than we can ever understand with our human reason. But the promises are still proclaimed to everyone. The free promises come from God's mercy and Light. The Light that causes Christ's branches to grow.
That's the image Origen, the second century Church Father, has as he looks at "For if we have been united with His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." In our Baptism, we are united together with Christ. We are engrafted into Him as the eternal vine. Jesus says, "I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." Through Jesus' death, we are supplied with Life. "By some new and lovely gift of God His death has become for us the Tree of Life." "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Jesus died and gives life to all who believe in Him. Those who believe in Him are engrafted into Him. He becomes their Tree of Life. The same Tree of Life that Adam and Eve were barred from eating after the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
We are not only planted into the Tree of Life through Jesus' death. Origen reminds us we must "also be planted together in His resurrection." It's not one or the other. It's both. You cannot be planted together in Jesus' death if you aren't also planted together in Jesus' resurrection. Jesus' death means nothing without His resurrection. Baptism covers both. We are baptized into His death and His resurrection, as St. Paul tells us.. Just as every plant in the ground "awaits the resurrection of spring," we await the resurrection of the Last Day. The Day when the harvest comes to show our fruits to be the fruits of righteousness.
Your righteous fruits come forth even as you reach God's limit upon sin. "For one who has died has been set free from sin." St. Irenaeus, second century Bishop of Lyons, used this sentence in his book Against Heresies: "God set a limit to man's sin by interposing death and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh." The only way we stop sinning is by dying. Unlike what our Baptist or Eastern Orthodox friends believe, we cannot come to a point where we no longer sin in this life. We were born sinners. We'll die sinners. But we're only sinners while we're alive. Theodoret, the fifth century Bishop of Cyr, once commented, "Whoever saw a dead man sleeping in some harlot's bed, or bloodying his hands with murder, or doing anything else which is sinful?". No one sees a dead man going around sinning. Because dead men don't sin. The only way to be completely rid of sin is to die. Paul tells us the same thing, "So you also must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ."
We're dead to sin because we have died with Christ. As dead to sin, we cease to live for it. We live for Christ, as the Canticle with which we close our service will remind us. Our entire life is from Jesus, in Jesus and through Jesus. Without Jesus, we are nothing. With Jesus, we are everything. We are everything we were created to be. We are everything God wants us to be. We are forgiven. We are on the road to the place where we'll be without sin. Finally, once and for all, we'll be free from sin through death. Not just our death, but His death.
As we approach our fourth and final quote from the Church Fathers, we go to the man who is credited with the revision of much of our worship even today: Gregory the Great. In one of his Dialogues, he links the benefits of Baptism to the Sacrament of the Altar: "He is again immolated for us in the mystery of the holy sacrifice. Where His body is eaten, there His flesh is distributed among the people for their salvation. His blood no longer stains the hands of the godless but flows into the hearts of His faithful followers" . Jesus' sacrifice is remembered in our Baptism but also in the Lord's Supper. St. Paul later goes on to say, "As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.". No longer do the Jews cry out, "His blood be upon us and our children" in murderous rage. Now, His brothers and sisters say, "His blood be in us and in our children" in grateful and wonderful praise.
As we look back at our Baptism, there's one question to ask: Are you alive or dead? Being washed with the rebirth and renewal, you are alive in Christ. Death has no more power over you. Sure, you certainly face the reality of your physical death; but you need not fear it because you know what's on the other side of your departure from this earth. Your risen Lord and Savior stands there. Waiting for you to live with Him for all eternity in the Paradise He has prepared for you. Amen.
- Romans 6:1
- Commentary on Paul's Epistles
- Romans 5:20
- 1 Peter 2:9
- Matthew 5:14
- Romans 6:5
- John 15:5
- John 12:24
- Genesis 3:22-24
- Romans 6:4
- Romans 6:7
- Against Heresies 3.23.6
- Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans
- Romans 6:11
- Dialogues 4.60
- 1 Corinthians 10:26
- Matthew 27:25
- Titus 3:5