Reflecting on Romans 6:1-14

The text we are studying for Sunday, May 1 – Romans 6:1-14 – is a concise Pauline image of how Christians ought to understand their relationship to sin, death, resurrection, and the new life in Christ, in the sacramental life of the baptized. That’s a lot, eh?!

It seems to me that we might have two main tasks with respect to this text. One is understanding it – that is, looking closely at what the text says, and unpacking how that relates to what we have learned about it – that is, this text specifically – and also what we have learned more generally about Christian freedom from sin over the years. Those might be two different things. The other, if we want to go there, would be to look closely at our own experience of what Paul is describing. Do we have the experience of having “died to sin”? Do we have the experience of “considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ”? Is our experience something other than this? How does this seem to be working for us, personally?

A few notes on the text are here. Another one is below, along with a couple of more specific questions.

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What is our general understanding of how Christians relate to sin and death through baptism, and through Jesus, and through the church? Where have we gotten that general understanding? [This probably sounds like a big question, but we probably all have a version of a story we tell about this, that we have learned at church over some longer or shorter period of time, and reviewing that – looking at it – might be a good first step as we study this text.]

How does this text seem to fit into that story? Does it go right along with it, or does it modify it in any way? How? Can we look at the relationship of this text to the story we usually tell about Christians (or, ourselves) and sin and freedom from sin?

[More to the point, maybe] Does this text make us ask ourselves any questions about our usual story? What questions? Why?

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When we think about or talk about baptism, what’s our story? Does our story about baptism fit the story Paul is telling in the first few verses of this text: that is, baptism is dying with Christ, dying to sin [or at least to obligation to sin], and rising with Christ, to newness of life? What does the “newness of life” seem to mean to Paul here? [In particular, what’s the sense we get from verses 11-14 about the role of “considering” and “presenting your members as instruments” and, in general, the role of human volition?]

[More personal] How do we, ourselves, experience or relate to our baptism? Is it meaningful to us? Or not that meaningful? How do we think about it or feel about it? Why is that, do we think? What’s our personal story of our own baptism?

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Here’s one more note on the text – a grammatical one: Verse 6 seems important in Paul’s vision of the relationship of baptism and of dying to sin to subsequent Christian living. The story seems to me to be in the grammar of the sentence, and in particular in the story told by the indicative and subjunctive moods of the verbs.

The sentence begins in v5, “For if we have been/become [indicative] grown together/united in the form/likeness of his death, for sure also of the resurrection we will be [indicative] [implied, I think, grown together/united in the form/likeness of that resurrection];”.

So then, it continues: “knowing this, that our old self was co-crucified [indicative; I kind of made that word up, but the verb “to crucify together with” appears to have been an existing word in Greek, because Paul is not the only NT author who uses it. Just think about what it would have been like to live in the world in which that verb was ordinary language! Gruesome. The “with Him” that everyone adds in here is implied, carried over from verse 5.] so that the body of sin might be made inoperative / annulled / (NRSV uses “destroyed” but that seems not quite precise here) [SUBJUNCTIVE], no more to serve us [accusative first person plural] as slaves [indicative, and an active not a passive verb, and an infinitive] to sin.

[Have I mentioned ever before that I hate Greek? So, so much.]

The idea seems [to me] to be that the [old] body was simply enslaved to sin along with us, but now, with that co-crucifixion with Christ, through baptism, something different becomes a possibility. The subjunctive mood of that verb “might be annulled” communicates that it is possible, but not a simple fact. So there’s still a good deal of volition involved in the practice of newness of life, because that “body of sin” can now go either way.

[Note that this reading has some additional implications for the meaning of chapter 7!!]

So – the question for us – how does this text affect our thinking about this whole relationship of baptism into dying and rising with Christ? And, what does it seem to say about our responsibilities, choices, freedom, and so forth?

[A lot more personal] What’s our experience of that? What’s difficult about this, what seems easy about this, what works and doesn’t work for us … ? Why, do we think? Where do we go from here?

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I think this text hits right at the heart of a lot of popular Christian theology. Talking about sin, in particular, is challenging these days – a sensitive subject, a lot of baggage, many conflicting thoughts and feelings about it, etc. So, we will have our work cut out for us to think about what this text might mean for us.

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two women in antique dress reading

Image: “La Pensadora,” photo by ÁWá, cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “Reading,” Alexander Moravov, 1913, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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