We gather here today to rejoice. We rejoice because you have died. And we are truly glad that you have died, for you have died in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism. And because you have died, you have been born again. And that fact makes us even happier than the fact that you have died, for you have been united in Christ.
As St. Paul writes to the Romans, a lot has been going on in that community. Rome was a large territory with everything under the sun at your disposal. That also included every type of religious teaching you could think of. He writes his letter to the Romans as a precursor to his visit there. The Church had been in existence there in Rome for quite some time and Paul makes mention of many acquaintances there in Rome, some 26 names mentioned in the greetings to the Roman Church. But alas, things are not perfect in Rome. Pagan teaching, false teaching and the like have crept into the teaching of the Church. But what Paul focuses on in our text for today is one of great importance to the Romans, and for the entire Christian Church, for it is a doctrine of the work of Christ in Baptism.
Paul begins with a problem that many in Christianity have, and that is sin. The problem isn’t that we are sinners, but the problem is we keep on sinning. Paul asks the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” You see, the popular thought of the time was that the more you sinned, the more forgiveness you could get from God. So, if you sin a little, then you get a little forgiveness. But if you sin a lot, then you get a lot of forgiveness. But there’s just one problem with that thinking: IT’S WRONG! God does not forgive in measure of degrees. You are either forgiven or you are not forgiven. You can’t be forgiven any more or any less than another forgiven saint of God.
But when you look at our text, that’s not where Paul places the majority of his emphasis. Instead, he places it on Baptism, and rightly so. Paul speaks so much of Baptism in just a few verses, namely, what Baptism does and what Baptism means for the one who is baptized.
He begins by saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” These words of Paul are spoken in our funeral liturgy to remind us that we have been baptized into the death of Christ. In that death dies all of our sin; past, present, and future. Because Christ has died, He has defeated death once and for all. And because Christ has died to death and defeated it, He rises from the dead in triumphant victory over sin and death. That means you and I rise from the dead and walk in a newness of life, a life that is forgiven of our sins, a life that is founded in and centered in Jesus Christ and His all-atoning work of salvation for us.
We know that to be true in what Paul tells the Romans: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” That is not a statement to be taken lightly. That is not a statement to be overlooked. And unfortunately, that was what was happening in Rome. The victory of Christ over sin and death was losing to the popular erroneous teaching of the day. The life of a Christian does not end when they die. The death that we experience is a death of the body, but not of the soul, for we already experienced the death of the soul in our Baptism where our sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb upon Calvary’s cross.
Listen again to what Paul says: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Death for the Christian only leads to life, life that is Jesus Christ. When we were baptized in Christ, we die to sin. Our old, sinful natures inherited from our Old Adam are drowned. Though the Old Adam rears his ugly head, we have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and those sins sink to the bottom of the font and are washed away and the new life that is Christ Jesus rises anew in us.
As baptized children of God, you and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. We are marked as ones ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection that we are ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s shed blood on the cross that you and I received redemption of our sins. It is by Christ and Christ alone that we are made children and heirs of the Father. It is the baptized children of God that are promised full redemption, to be perfectly renewed at the Last Day and raised incorruptible to live with Christ forever.
What the Roman Church forgot and what we tend to forget is that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Here’s what that looks like. Are we sinners after our Baptism? Yes. Will we keep on sinning after our Baptism? Yes. Should we revel in our sin? Absolutely not! It goes back to Paul’s earlier statement: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”
Mankind is satisfied to live and function in this perverse thinking and doing. But Paul reminds the Roman Church and us that this kind of perverse thinking has no power over us. Our sin has been drowned. We have been set free from all these sins, not because they don’t matter, but because Jesus died for them. We are forgiven because Jesus took all these sins to the cross. When we repent, when we turn away from those sins, we no longer bear the punishment we’ve earned. We’re delivered from hell to heaven, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Baptism into Christ offers to us this new life, a life that is different because God’s name has been placed upon us. Does that mean we won’t sin any more? No, but it does mean that those sins we commit have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ.
As we see the sinful crowds along the banks of the Jordan in our Gospel lesson, Jesus does not shun sinners, but comes to be numbered among them. In your Baptism, Jesus has come to you, to number you with Him. He has declared that He does not shun you for your sin, but rather He has died to take your sin away and has risen again. He has joined you to His death and resurrection, and so you have eternal life. This is the joy that we have received because of the Baptism that Christ received, the Baptism that we have been Baptized into. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.