By Mark Scott
Jesus specializes in bringing life out of death. To the widow’s son at Nain Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” (Luke 7:14). To Jairus’s daughter Jesus said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41). In front of Mary, Martha, and others, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). Life out of death—that is the gospel message and also Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Rome.
Die to Self in Baptism
Baptism is death before death. Paul reminded the Christians of this truth so that they would not presume on grace. Romans 5 ended with Paul affirming the need for grace because of so much sin. Someone in the church must have argued that one way to get more grace was to sin more. Paul countered such thinking by reminding the people of their baptisms. Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! Paul could not say no in a stronger way. No wonder the King James Version says, “God forbid.”
Baptism marks the public declaration of our death to self. No wonder when the evangelist Juan Carlos Ortiz baptizes someone he says, “I kill you in the name of Jesus.” Immersion not only announces our death to self but also holds out the promise of resurrection.
Offer Self in Body
Since our old self was crucified with Christ, which is symbolized in baptism, we are no longer enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6). But we are not totally done with sin as long as we are in this world. (This is Paul’s argument in Romans 7.) We still have to count ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11). This is a daily task.
In the rest of the lesson text Paul used several metaphors to make his point: a dominion metaphor (slave and master), a material metaphor (payment and gift), and a temple metaphor (offering and instrument). The temple metaphor is dominant. This practice of the resurrected life is made effectual by daily offering ourselves to God in our physical bodies (instruments). We cannot let sin reign in our bodies. Otherwise we might obey its evil desires. Paul will use this offer language three times in this paragraph. We are not to offer ourselves to wickedness, but we are to offer ourselves to God and to his righteousness. The instrument of wickedness is contrasted with the instrument of righteousness. If we do not understand this offering of ourselves to God, it shows that we do not understand grace.
Free Self Through Bondage
The Bible is full of paradoxes, and this is the most paradoxical part of our text. We are set free from sin only to return to slavery. But it is the blessed slavery of a change of allegiance to God. We participate in and appropriate the grace of God by obeying the pattern of teaching that is in the gospel. This makes us slaves to righteousness. Estimates range from one-third to one-half of the city of Rome were slaves. The recipients understood this metaphor all too well. Paul urged literal slaves to obtain their freedom if they could (1 Corinthians 7:21), and commentary author Kenneth Boles noted, “Paul planted seeds by which slavery would finally be destroyed.” Yet slavery became a fitting metaphor for Paul to describe our resurrected state.
Paul traced the results of this new slavery in contrast to the old slavery. The old slavery was filled with impurity (uncleanness) and ever-increasing wickedness (lawlessness leading to more lawlessness). The old slavery gave birth to sin and its siblings, shame and death. There was no way the old slavery could lead to righteousness. But the new slavery results in righteousness leading to holiness (sanctification, mentioned twice in the text). The new slavery results in eternal life.
Paul closed this section with the material metaphor: sin’s payoff is death. In contrast, eternal life is a gift. Jesus specializes in bringing life out of death.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.