Weekly Meditation - 25th June 2017
I used to be a 'Jehovah’s Witness'. I was very familiar with Romans 6:7 because it was used as the basis for a particular doctrine. We were taught that anyone who had died was acquitted of his sins, so that in the resurrection he had a second chance, a new start with his slate wiped clean. I never questioned it, until I came to read the entire Bible from cover to cover. When I reached Romans 6, understanding Paul’s argument as I read, I suddenly came up against verse 7 like a five-bar gate in my way. What I had been taught regarding that verse did not fit the rest of the chapter. I can remember returning to the beginning of the chapter and having another run at the 'gate'. I still could not clear it – not until I allowed its real meaning to dawn on me.
This chapter, part of Paul’s book-long argument regarding the righteousness that comes through faith, is about not physical death but spiritual death - dying to one’s old self. Paul is showing the seriousness of sin. It is not enough to say we will stop doing it. Nor should we say it doesn’t matter, that we can carry on doing itbecause God has met us with his grace (6:1). We have to die to sin. Paul reminds his readers that that is what their baptism symbolised (6:3-5).
Certainly, baptism is like being washed clean from sin. Some churches have baptisteries where new Christianscan be fully immersed. Not only do they look like baths, though; they look like graves, and they would become graves if the baptismal candidate was not lifted out after being immersed. That is the image Paul is using here – being buried with Christ through baptism, dying and being raised to a new life.
'Jehovah’s Witnesses' are wrong about this chapter – they miss the point completely. Wrong also are Christians who teach that becoming a follower of Christ is an easy option, a ticket to a trouble-free life. It is quite evident from Romans 6:3-6 that the Christian life can be one of suffering – being united with Christ in his death (6:5-6) – and also one of painstaking care to avoid the sin from which Christ has saved us, not taking advantage of his grace (6:1-2, 11). We must be 'dead to sin'; in this way we live with Christ, 'alive to God' (6:11).
We Christians must know and understand our doctrines, not taking them for granted, not being passive – even bored - but actively involved in assimilating them and living by them. The cost of doing so can be high. Jesus warned his followers that they were no different from him, in the sense that since he had been persecuted, they also might expect persecution (Matthew 10:24-25). Nor had Jesus come to bring peace, 'but a sword' in that there might well be strife between family members, some of whom served Christ and some of whom did not (Matthew 10:34-36). He nevertheless called his disciples to proclaim his word fearlessly (10:26-28), taking up their cross in confidence that even to lose one’s life in his service is to find it eternally (10:39).
Written by Susan Thorne