But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Trinity 6 – 2024

Romans 6:1-11

The Bible often emphasizes the negative side of the gospel. The negative side of the gospel, you ask? Yes.

From one angle, the message of the gospel is a pledge that God will not do certain things, because of Christ. Those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ are assured that God will not hold their sins against them. Those who have been forgiven for the sake of Christ will not be condemned.

This is an important part of the gospel. As St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, “the wages of sin is death” – physical, spiritual, and eternal death. But in Christ, and for the sake of Christ, our sins are forgiven. And therefore we will not, ultimately, die.

But there is also a positive side of the gospel. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is that part of the gospel message that tells us what will happen now in the lives of those who have Jesus as their Savior. Will having Christ in your life – forgiving you, saving you, and living within you – make a difference in a positive way? Will things be better?

The answer is a resounding Yes! And in today’s text from Romans, St. Paul explains what that difference will be – with a focus on how these positive blessings are connected to Holy Baptism, and flow out from Baptism.

Today our confirmand was asked if she acknowledges all the gifts that God gave her in her baptism. We understand confirmation to be someone’s personal and public confession of the faith that has been growing within, since baptism.

And I will ask all of you now: Do you acknowledge the gifts and blessings that are yours – or that should be yours – in and through your baptism? Those gifts are considerable!

Baptism should not be seen simply as one small piece of the larger whole of the Christian gospel. It is, rather, the whole reality, and the whole gospel, presented and applied in a specific and special sacramental form.

Baptism does not give us only a part of Christ. It gives us the whole Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” the Epistle to the Galatians tells us.

Baptism does not forgive only some of our sins, or only certain aspects of our sins, requiring works and penances from us to complete that forgiveness. It forgives 100% of all our sins. Indeed, as Christians heed St. Peter’s Pentecost exhortation, they do repent of their sins, and they are baptized “for the remission of sins.”

In the way that Jesus set things up for his church, he layers his gospel on us over and over again. And so, it is the whole gospel that is bestowed on us, in a unique way, in the preaching of God’s Word.

The whole gospel is bestowed on us in another unique way in the administration and reception of the Lord’s Supper. And the whole gospel – with all of its benefits – is bestowed on us in yet another unique way in Holy Baptism.

Baptism has the ability to bring Christ to us, and to create and elicit faith in Christ, not because of any power in the water itself – as an element – but because Baptism is “the washing of water with the word” – as St. Paul describes it in his Epistle to the Ephesians.

The saving promises of our Triune God are connected to Baptism through the Trinitarian words of Baptism. And in Baptism, those promises become personally connected to us.

Baptism is what it is, and it has the power that it has, because Baptism is a special manifestation and bestowal of the gospel. Baptism, just as with the gospel in general, unites us to Christ. It unites us to his life. It unites us to his death. And it unites us to his resurrection.

Jesus lived righteously under the law so that he could redeem us from the judgment of the law. Jesus carried our sins to the cross in order to atone for our sins by his death.

When Jesus then emerged from his grave on the third day, he was alive again – fully and irreversibly alive. When we emerge from our baptism – our baptism into Christ – we too are now alive. We are alive with a different kind of life: a higher kind of life that, in Christ, will never end.

St. Paul explains it this way in today’s text:

“We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”

The imagery of “walking,” as St. Paul uses it here, helps us to understand that, as Christians, we live in such a way that we are always moving, and always active. And furthermore, this imagery shows us that we are being brought forward by God’s grace in a deliberate and steady way, and not in fits and starts.

We are walking, and not standing still. But we are walking – on a journey through life to a specific eternal destination – and are not running around in circles.

St. Paul connects the idea of “freedom” to this walking – to this way of living, and thinking. He writes “that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”

Christ was set free from the bonds of death and the grave when he rose from the dead. We, too, are set free from the power of death and sin when we arise from our baptism.

Before Christ came to us in his gospel to set us free in this way, we were, as St. Paul says, enslaved to sin. Let’s think for a minute about what that means.

People in human history who endured bodily slavery, such as in our country before the Civil War, were never content with their situation. They were never satisfied with their lives as slaves.

They wanted to be free. And they were often willing to take great risks to try to break loose from their chains, to run away, and to become free.

The reason for this is because it was only their bodies that had been enslaved. Their minds were still free – free to dream about a better future, and free to try to figure out a way to escape from their unhappiness, and to find the liberty that they desired.

Their earthly masters might have been able to control their bodies and force them to perform physical work against their will. But these masters could never control their minds. They could never make them like slavery.

But the spiritual slavery of sin is much worse than this because it is a form of slavery that does affect our minds. Someone who is a slave of sin is a slave of sin precisely in his mind.

When the human race became spiritually enslaved through the fall of Adam, it lost much more than most people imagined. Not only did we lose our freedom from the power of sin, but we also lost our ability to be unhappy about it.

We lost our ability to think in a free way and to want to be free from sin. The natural man, who knows neither Christ nor the Baptism of Christ, lives under a heavy cloud of devilish lies. He thinks he is free, even when he is in the deepest state of subjugation to forces that are cutting him down more and more every day.

It is true, of course, that even unbelievers are able to dislike the overtly harmful consequences of sin. They don’t love the pain and suffering that come as a result of their spiritual slavery, and they try to avoid that pain and suffering.

But they cannot see the root cause of this misery. So, they continue to love their sin, embrace it, and walk in it, even as that sin continues to destroy them and their relationships more and more with each step they take.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ brings an end to all of that. It opens our eyes. It opens and liberates our minds. It allows us to see how foolish we have been. And it fills us to the brim and even to overflowing with the resurrection life of Jesus.

To be sure, our baptism, and the gospel in Baptism, does not free us from temptations. But the gospel does free us from the illusion that temptations are actually opportunities.

Our baptism gives us the ability to be honest about what we have been, and about what we have done. The freedom of the gospel opens the way for honest self-examination and reflection.

The gospel allows us the privilege of feeling miserable over how stupid we have been – but for just long enough to then see and appreciate the forgiveness that Christ has earned for us, and that Christ freely bestows upon us.

With that forgiveness comes a chance for a new beginning – for a new life. This new beginning is shaped by the risen Christ, who now indwells us. When the resurrection life of Jesus becomes a part of your life, the way you think about everything begins to change.

The often misguided opinions of other people about how you should conduct yourself become less and less important, and God’s opinion about such matters – as revealed in Scripture – becomes more and more important.

You become more secure in your sense of who you are. That is, you are less concerned about what you think you need to do to earn acceptance from other people, and instead, you grow in your appreciation of the wonderful truth that in Christ God has already accepted you, and will continue to accept you.

You begin to understand more and more clearly that you don’t have to earn your way into God’s favor. Jesus has already done that for you. Your righteousness before God is an established fact – built on the immovable foundation of the Lord’s righteousness, which he has credited to you.

In Christ, our desire to achieve good and positive things is therefore not driven by a compulsion to try to become someone special in the eyes of others. We are already special, in the eyes of the one whose thoughts about us count the most: God himself.

So, in Christ, our desire to achieve good and positive things is not motivated by pride or personal insecurity. It is prompted instead by a selfless desire to enjoy the love of God, and in love to meet the needs of others.

According to the new nature that God births in us through Baptism, we know that, in our individual vocations, God has called us to stations in life in which we have responsibilities for other people: children, spouses, parents, fellow Christians, and fellow citizens of our community.

Those are the people we are thinking about when we are working hard to accomplish something worthwhile. And the fact that we do what we do in order to serve and help them, and not in order to prove something about ourselves, will give shape and direction to what we do, and to how we do it.

A Christian, as a Christian, is not consumed by his work. He knows that his work, whatever it may be, serves a higher purpose. Love for God, and love for the people whom God has brought into our lives, is to be what consumes us.

But even there, perhaps “consumes” is not the right word. Because when you live a life of love and service to others in the name of Christ, you don’t become consumed, or depleted. In Christ, as you are energized and led by his Spirit, you never run out of the love that you are continually giving away.

The more you give to others in the name of Jesus, the more you are continually filled and refilled with God’s grace. When you spend yourself for others in Christ, you never become spiritually bankrupt.

All of this is a part of what St. Paul is talking about when he says that, because of your baptism, you are now able to walk in the newness of life. This is what happens to you when the power of the resurrection begins to work its way through you, and when it eventually seeps into every seam and crevice of your life.

When you find yourself slipping back into an old, backward way of thinking and living, or when you sense that you are once again falling in love with sin, catch yourself, and remember what you have become in your baptism.

It’s a deception – a demonic deception – when your old nature tries to woo you back to a life without Christ, with the false allurement that this is the better life. It is not!

You have been set free from that bondage of heart and mind. Your eyes have been opened. Don’t allow yourself to be enslaved, and blinded, once again.

You have become a new creature in Christ. Therefore renounce any thought, any word, and any action that would deny or ignore this fact. Do this every day.

And if your departure from the life and faith of your baptism has become a total departure, so that you are actually lost and mired in the darkness of unbelief once again, your baptism calls you back. It calls you all the way back to where you belong: in the embrace of your Savior, and on the pathway on which your Savior would place you.

In repentance and faith, receive the free and cleansing forgiveness that Jesus offers to you in “the washing of water with the word”: for every blunder, for every misstep, and for every failure. And then press forward once again, with a thankful confidence in God’s goodness and faithfulness, to the life and freedom that he gives you.

And know that as you do press on, and live, in Christ, Christ is living in you. Christ is animating you, orienting you, and guiding your steps.

As St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” And again, as Paul says in today’s text from Romans:

“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Amen.