Formations 03.10.2019: Renaissance

Romans 6:1-14

Seal of the City of Detroit. The mottoes read “We hope for better things” and “It shall arise from the ashes.”

Five years ago, the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. At that time, the city’s debt topped $18 billion.

Today, not only is the city out of bankruptcy, it is experiencing a rebirth. Detroit is issuing bonds backed by its own credit, not by the state government or insurers. Detroiter Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has invested or allocated $5.6 billion in about a hundred Detroit properties and moved his Quicken Loans mortgage company headquarters to the downtown area.

The turnaround is a feat that few experts believed could have happened so quickly.

And yet, challenges remain. So far, most of the investment has been targeted to the greater downtown area. The surrounding neighborhoods have not seen anywhere near the same level of development, which is one reason some experts still see Detroit as an iffy financial proposition. Many Detroiters are barely making ends meet, and they fear the city is only interested in attracting new, upscale residents.

The enduring challenge to transforming Detroit is more basic than simply attracting new businesses. According to Luther Keith of the nonprofit Arise Detroit, “The real issue…is not gentrification, it’s poverty. Poor people. We need jobs, we need investment, so folks can take care of themselves.”

Though the city still has a long way to go, many believe they are finally headed in the right direction.

The central image in today’s text is dying and being raised to new life. In our everyday lives, we might note many kinds of resurrection: restoring a struggling city, mending a damaged relationship, or rebuilding our lives after a terrible catastrophe. All of experiences point to the rebirth of hope when it seemed all hope was lost.

We know what it means to die and live again. In Romans 6, Paul says this is what the life of faith is like. We have died and been raised with Christ, of which baptism is a symbol. Paul urges believers to embrace this experience of dying and rising as central to what it means to be a Christian.

On this first Sunday of Lent, let us explore this apt metaphor for the spiritual life.

Quinn Klinefelter, “Detroit’s Big Comeback: Out of Bankruptcy, A Rebirth,” NPR.org, 28 Dec 2018 <https://www.npr.org/2018/12/28/680629749/out-of-bankruptcy-detroit-reaches-financial-milestone>.

Discussion

• Other than your spiritual conversion, what experiences of death and rebirth have shaped your life?
• What realities from our daily lives do we die to?
• What do we gain by being united with Christ in his death?
• How do we experience Christ’s resurrection in our everyday lives?
• How does the practice of Christian baptism embody these truths?

Reference Shelf

A New Allegiance

Beginning with chap. 5 there is a major change in focus [in Romans]. Paul is here pointing his readers to the meaning of transformation or the way of growing in holiness. Because of our justification, we have peace with God, a great hope; and our calling is to live the life of suffering love (5:1-5). Indeed, even though once we were sinners, we are justified and we have the expectation of being saved from God’s final wrath (5:6-9). Because of our reconciliation, we need to reflect his saving power in our lives (5:10-11). We are neither to follow the pattern of Adam’s successors who could not handle sin nor consider the situation hopeless because of the requirements of the Law, as in case of the successors of Moses. But we are to accept the reign of life which has been brought in Jesus Christ and realize that grace abounds in the life of Christians.

Are we then to continue in the way of sin? Of course not! When we were baptized, we took on a new allegiance and our task is to conduct our lives (walk) in this new way (6:1-4). Just as Jesus was raised from the clutches of death, our call is to abandon the deathly way of sin because the power of sin does not have the right to claim us as its adherents (6:5-14). We are no longer to be enslaved to sin because God has set us free on the road to sanctification or holiness (6:15-19). If we are enslaved, it is to be to God’s sanctifying process which will conclude in our ultimate hope—eternal life (6:20-23)!

Gerald L. Borchert, “Romans, Letter to the,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 773.

Deliverance from the Power of Sin

In chapter 6 the emphasis is on our deliverance from the power of sin! Older Protestant commentaries often contended that Romans 1–4 deal with justification understood as acquittal from the guilt of sin while Romans 5–8 deal with sanctification viewed as deliverance from sinning. That Romans 1–4 focuses on sin pardoned and Romans 5:12–8:39 on sin subdued is correct. It is erroneous, however, to assign the first of these two aspects of the divine remedy to justification and the second to sanctification. Justification in Paul encompasses not only forgiveness (Rom 4:6-8) but also deliverance (Rom 6:7) and empowerment for righteous living (Rom 5:19). Likewise, sanctification in Paul’s letters is often used as a synonym for conversion (e.g., 1 Cor 1:2—“sanctified” is used in synonymous parallelism with “called to be saints”; 6:11— conversion is described with three synonymous terms: washed, sanctified, justified; 2 Thess 2:13—God chose the readers to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit). If justification here emphasizes the being set free from sin, sanctification focuses on the being set free for God.

Verses 8-9, the second part of the exposition of vv. 3-5, offer an explanation of vv. 4b-5, which focus on resurrection and new life.

If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (cf. 2 Tim 2:11-12). We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

If Christians share Christ’s death, they will share his resurrection. That event is future, however. In the present, we walk in newness of life. There is no over-realized eschatology here, rather there is an eschatological reservation….

For Jesus to die to sin was for him to die rather than sin. For Christians to die with Christ to sin means for them to identify with Jesus’ bringing to an end all the ties and relationships to the values of Adam’s world because of his (Jesus’) commitment to God. This identification does not mean merely that Jesus models an act for us to repeat. Nor does it mean that when Jesus died to sin at the cross we were in him and so died to sin at that time. Rather, Jesus is the pioneer/leader who has opened the way for others to follow. The experience is ours but it is ours only because he has made it possible. For Christians, to be crucified with Christ means the sinful Ego or the old self dies.

Charles H. Talbert, Romans, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 162–63, 165.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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