Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, in whom we are baptized, and in whom we live. Amen.
I’ve told you before about my failed attempts to grow grass. You see, I’ve been trying to grow an “Eco-lawn” in front of our house for about five years now. I was determined to do it without any chemicals, or pesticides, or fertilizers. I wanted it to be all-natural, the way nature intended. So I spread out a layer of new soil, and a layer of compost, and then spread the Eco-lawn seeds. And sure enough, the lawn started to grow. But the weeds grew faster. And soon, there were huge portions of the lawn that were filled with weeds.
So every year, I get down on my hands and knees and pluck out all the weeds. I spend hours and hours and hours weeding. I hate weeding. And every year there are these big bald spots in the lawn, and its not long before more weeds come up. And year after year, it’s the same thing.
So this year I gave in. I went to the garden centre, and I bought a bottle of Killex. I went home, and I got ready to do battle with those weeds. I was all ready to go, and then a thought occurred – maybe I should at least find out what’s in this stuff. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. First ingredient: 2,4-D. According to the EPA, 2,4-D is moderately toxic to birds and mammals, and the ester forms are highly toxic to fish.
Great. Now I’m picturing all the cute neighbourhood bunnies coming to eat my weeds minutes after I spray them, or robins and blue jays hunting for worms on my lawn and slurping up a nice, toxic dose of Killex. I’m picturing becoming the neighbourhood bunny killer. I paused for a moment. And then I put on my rubber gloves, and my safety goggles, and my respirator, and I went out, and I sprayed those weeds.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring Paul’s letter to the Romans. Last week, we learned that God has reconciled us to Godself through faith, as a free gift of grace. Not because of anything we’ve done, but simply because God loves us. As we turn this week to Romans Chapter 6, we find Paul asking the question, “Now that we know that we are justified by grace through faith, how are we to live?” And more specifically, what is our relationship with sin, now that we are justified by grace?
Paul puts the question this way: “Should we remain in sin, so that grace may abound?”
Or to put it another way: “Can we use God’s grace as a ‘Get out of jail free’ card?”
Am I free to say, “I can use all the chemicals I want on my lawn! Killex, Roundup, Agent Orange! Who cares about the environment? Who cares about the bunnies and the blue jays? God will forgive me! I’m saved by grace!”
Right? It’s like James Bond has a “license to kill.” Does grace give us a license to sin?
Paul is quick with his answer: “By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life.”
So what does Paul mean then? That once we’re baptized, that’s it? We’re free from sin? That we have no temptation to sin, that everything we do is good and wholesome and pleasing to God? Is baptism some silver bullet, so that Christians no longer have to struggle with sin?
If only that were the case. But you know as well as I that that is simply not true. The fact is that every day we’re faced with decisions, and those decisions have consequences. Sometimes there is no easy answer. Sometimes, no matter what path we choose, someone or something will be harmed. And sometimes, no matter how long we’ve been a Christian, or how much we pray or read the Bible, we still get caught up in those patterns of sin that never seem to be far away. No, baptism is not a silver bullet, is it?
So grace doesn’t cause sin to disappear. And neither does grace give us a license to sin. So we come back to the question: how are we to live?
Well, it may be true that baptism doesn’t cause sin to disappear. But baptism does transform our relationship with sin. Luther puts it this way in the Small Catechism:
“Baptism signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
And then Luther points us to this very chapter, Romans Chapter 6. “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
So this is the life of faith, the life we are called to as Christians. That daily we are called to return to the waters of our baptism, to confess our sins, and to receive God’s promise of forgiveness. That’s why we have the order of confession and forgiveness at the beginning of worship, so that we can name our sins before God, and we can receive God’s promise of forgiveness, again and again.
And this promise of forgiveness frees us to live our lives, not as slaves to sin, but in service to our neighbour. So that daily we can be free to love our neighbour as best we can.
And as we walk in this way, we will make mistakes. We will face decisions that have consequences. We will fall back from time to time into old habits of sin. But as often as we need to, we can return to those waters of our baptism, and once again confess our sin, and once again hear God’s promise of forgiveness for us.
So the good news is that in Christ we have been reconciled to God by grace through faith. And more good news is that through baptism we have died to sin and been made alive in Christ. And even more good news is that we can daily return to the waters of our baptism to receive God’s promise of forgiveness of sins.
And there’s even more good news yet: that God doesn’t leave us to navigate the murky waters of life alone. But in baptism we also receive another gift: the gift of God’s Spirit, who accompanies us on our journey of faith, and who guides us in our decisions, and who empowers us to live lives of love and service for our neighbours.
And that’s what we’ll explore next week, as we turn to Romans Chapter 8… and coincidentally, as we celebrate Pentecost!
Until then, may the grace and peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.