Walking in Newness of Life
"Therefore we have been buried with him 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" (Rom.6.4 NRSV)
The characteristic 'therefore' with which Paul begins the answer to his own rhetorical question in v.3 means that we really must look back at the earlier context. Paul asks the Roman Christians if they are not aware that they have been baptized into Christ's death. But we must go back a little further to the question about sinning "so that grace may abound".
First, let us look at what the letter to the Church in Rome is all about. In the first two chapters Paul describes sin in the world and the terrible state that it is in. In chapters 3-5 Paul discusses how God has a provided a remedy for sin. He explains the spiritual life in chapters 6 ‑ 8. Paul then seems to diverge a little into how God makes choices ‑ how he elected to take natural Israel as His own, and in a similar way to take Christ's Church. Chapters 12-14 are about practical ethical issues.
So in chapter 6 Paul begins to sort out the subject of 'living in Christ' but is disturbed by an idea that some Christians of that time actually held. It may seem impossible that anyone should think that 'grace would abound' by them deliberately sinning. Some in every age have lived as if they believed that, even if they didn't actually say so. In any case, why sin? Sin is illogical because sinfulness destroys itself and everything it contacts. Sin is disobedience to God and this has dogged the human race for most of its existence. It has caused the human race to live chaotic lives and to create chaos in the natural world until it has brought the environment to the verge of destruction.
'Grace' has had various definitions but Norman Snaith in his valuable little book 'The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament' regards 'grace' in the New Testament as the equivalent of the Hebrew word 'chesed'. This word is translated consistently in the RSV as 'steadfast love' which seems to be described very well in the beautiful hymn by Thomas Chisholm 'Great is Thy Faithfulness' ‑ God's faithful covenant love.
But how can grace abound if sin is multiplied. Grace can only abound to the sinner who repents of sin, whose heart is contrite and who wants to avoid sin. Those who deliberately sin cannot expect God's compassion. Paul discusses a similar problem in Rom.3.5-8 concerning justice and wrath.
Paul in verse 2 of this sixth chapter, shows the contrast. We have died to sin ‑ or to put it another way as he does in Ephesians 2.5 "God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" Professor
Barclay explains that when a proselyte (that is a Gentile who was being accepted into the Jewish faith) was baptised at the beginning of his new life, he totally undressed, had his hair and nails trimmed and was accepted into the new faith as if resurrected from the dead. He genuinely started a new way of life. So it is with a Christian being baptized into Christ. He is leaving behind forever an old way of life, never to go back to it. Later in the letter to Ephesus (4.22) Paul writes "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." So we must ask what was that 'former way of life'?
In Galatians 5, before Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, that which must grow in us. He lists the characteristics of the 'flesh' which is the old nature, our former way of life. These not only have no place in our active outward life, but they have no place in our thoughts and words. But that is not all. "For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Rom.14.23). Whatever does not in our thoughts, our words and our actions come from a complete trust in God, is sin. Bringing thoughts into subjection to God's will is a little harder and can only become a reality when we really do trust and are prepared before God and our brethren to acknowledge every deviation from that trust.
"We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." The clay jars are the human bodies that we have inherited from the sinful human race along with the controlling brain which so often, almost involuntarily, causes us to do, say and think the wrong thing. This is the proud and wilful self and before Christ can be demonstrated in our life style , our very self must die. It is death to our will, as it was death to Christ's will in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in us it is a proud and wilful 'I' that must be broken. We must become constantly aware of God's direction. The irritable, envious, resentful, critical and worried self must come to the foot of the Cross and in utter repentance leave its burden of sin there. Each time these characteristics of the human nature become even slightly apparent, we must return to the cross. This kind of repentance does not conflict with the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 6 verse 1 when he says "not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith towards God." The writer there is referring to our initial repentance as we come into Christ and find faith to be saved from our sins. We are in an 'earthen vessel' for the whole of our Christian walk and John writes "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 John 1.9). In theory this should decrease as we move toward the goal of our hope in Christ Jesus. In practice we become more sensitive to sin, and in the words of the hymn writer we find it 'a pain to feel it near', therefore we are more aware of what is wrong in our lives.
All this takes place in Christ and not only do we become sensitive to His correction, we also become more sensitive to His direction. When our frail humanity directs us the wrong way, or more likely makes us say something that would be better left unsaid, we are aware of His inner direction in our hearts. But this is only possible when we walk with Him in newness of life. The old nature has what Jesus called 'hardness of heart'. He challenged the Pharisees about this hardness of heart and later spoke to the disciples about it as they sailed across the lake (Mark 8.14-21). Hard hearts and deaf ears are insensitive to the Master's correction and the old nature, if not stopped will gradually dominate the new life in Him. Fruit is not grown by self discipline but by self being disciplined by Jesus and having His power within us.
As "The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine." (John 15.4) so the new nature only grows within us as we abide in Christ and listen to His voice. The Word of God is our touch stone. As we read it in our daily Quiet Time, we must meditate upon it in such a way that previous interpretations do not prevent us hearing what the Lord is saying to now us from Scripture. So as our old nature dies, we grow in grace and in that true knowledge of Him who died that we might live. If we would worship God in our time with Him each day we must be sure that we are totally reconciled to our brother or sister in Christ. Roy Hession in his so valued book Calvary Road suggests that the log in our eye that prevents us from seeing clearly the speck of dust in our brother or sister's eye is our own unloving reaction to the speck of dust.
Unwillingness to listen to Christ's correction and direction reminds us of the rich young synagogue ruler who came to Jesus aware of something lacking in His life and He asked the Lord what he could do to obtain eternal life. Jesus did not adversely comment about the young man's self assessment that he had kept the commandments, but He did clarify the issue of what really mattered. "Sell all you have and follow me" would mean that the young man could no longer try to buy salvation by being a good boy, in keeping the Law. He must unload the old way of life and find a new life in Christ. Following Jesus might mean exclusion from the synagogue, even suffering ‑ perhaps death. Jesus was beginning to make it clear that it was 'a thorny path to the stars'.
Paul wrote that "I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal.2.20).
He later wrote in the same letter "far be if from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." (Gal 6.14). Had Paul heard one of Jesus' sayings "He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt.10.38)? Much of the interpretation of these verses depends on what we mean by being crucified. There have been very great differences of physical suffering that Christ's various followers have endured. Reference to the two sons of Zebedee is sufficient evidence of that fact. James was slain by the sword on Herod's orders, relatively early in life, perhaps not long after Stephen's murder. His brother John lived into old age ‑ around the 100 years mark. Both had stood with Peter on the 'Holy Mount' when the Lord was transfigured ‑ both had said that they could share the Lord's baptism and drink His 'cup'. Every true follower of Jesus who has surrendered his or her life to God and genuinely sought to know and do His will, has shared in the crucifixion and gloried in the cross.
For some it may have meant that they were but door keepers in the house of the Lord in a community of God's people in the land of their birth. For others it has meant forsaking homeland and family and trekking across half the world in order to do God's work. Some have faced great hardship and danger, and endured great physical suffering as did the martyrs from the fourth to the seventeenth century, and on into the twenty-first century. Others have lived more peaceful lives untroubled by violence. To follow Christ we need a have a resolute determination to do God's will whatever the cost and be ready to take whatever God sends to us.
Paul writes to the Philippians that our Lord set the pattern by emptying Himself, becoming a slave and humbling Himself in obedience to death. In the same letter Paul regarded his Jewish heritage as rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus, his Lord. He so much wanted to share in fellowship with the Master's sufferings and thus be made conformable to His death, so that he could know the power of Christ's resurrection in his life now.
Jews gloried in formal religion and outward piety but that could not save them from their sins nor free them from slavery to sin. Like humanism today it may be a satisfactory intellectual exercise but it can't cope with sin. The world today thinks it knows so much ‑ that it can achieve so much ‑ but its conceit stimulates sin. The church in Galatia boasted of keeping the Mosaic Law and Corinth boasted of its wisdom and gifts but all was not well with the ethics of either situation.
Paul's description in Romans 7 tells of the conflict in his own life, either before conversion on the Damascus road or even afterwards . His intellectual ability and his religious zeal could do nothing against the habits and 'instincts' of his old nature. That must die and be replaced by a living faith in Christ.
Where do our affections lie? Paul in Colossians 3 tells us that if we are risen with Christ then we must set our affections on things 'above'. Obviously he is contrasting the things of Earth and with Christ in Heaven but its interesting to note that the word 'above' comes from a Greek words associated with the diaphragm ‑ that huge muscle which separates heart and lungs from the digestive arrangements in the body. It is as if Paul was telling the church at Colossae to make sure the seat of the affections is in the right place and not upon a mundane instinct like food. He also uses the homely illustration of removing a garment, "you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator"(Col.3.9,10 NRSV)
So we come to those words in the text "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so we too might walk in newness of life." Perhaps we are helped to understand what 'the glory of God' is by Paul's words to the Corinthian, "seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of to another glory of the Lord are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.".(2 Cor.3.18). These texts contains a humiliating thought ‑ we are being changed into the Father's glorious image now. And this is being done because our eyes are fixed on Jesus. His words and actions shown to us in the Gospels reveal what the Father is like and what we must become. It is so easy to look away at the glittering tinsel of this world and miss a step with the Lord. Human philosophies have good intentions but they fail. It is so easy to become addicted to the habits of this world especially with modern technology and all its wonderful electronic inventions. Fast cars, TV games, computer pastimes are remarkable for wasting God's time. Even Christian service and interesting Bible interpretations can distract from the main issues ‑ being with Him and like Him. Is there anything in our lives which is separating us from Christ ‑ preventing us from becoming more than over-comers?
This is but for a moment compared with eternity
Moment by moment I'm kept in His love
Moment by moment I've life from above
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine
Moment by moment O Lord I am thine.