Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Romans 6:1-4
Remember what it means to be in someone. Recollect how the Philistines were in Goliath as their champion against Israel. And recall how Israel was not in Saul, but rather Israel was in David when he slew Goliath. These are example of a weak participation. But there is also a strong participation. Every little girl that is born into the world is born with all the eggs she will ever have. Her eggs participate in her life, in fact they could not live without her life. They go where she goes. If she goes swimming, they go along. If she become ill, they live with it. Now think of how Jonathan and David made a blood covenant with one another and how the blood covenant bound them not only to one another but also to their unborn children who were within their bodies. And don’t forget how David honored his promise to Jonathan by loving and saving Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, a child who wasn’t even born when the promise was made. Another way of saying this would be to say that Mephibosheth participated in the covenant because he participated in his father Jonathan. “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” which is to say he was in a covenant with God because of his faith. But it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was participating in Abraham. Again, Abraham’s seed participated in the promise God made to Abraham because his unborn seed was in Abraham. And now it is in light of that narrative history that we are to understand the first question of chapter 6: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
At the end of Romans 5 Paul says that, “sin hath reigned unto death,” which is to say that death constitutes a kingdom, a regime that has invaded God’s creation. The goal of the insurgency is to the separate the creature man from the God who is God. The beginning of the rebellion is described in Genesis chapter 3 — the old familiar story of the Garden of Eden. Paul reviewed the wreckage that follows from Genesis 3, in chapters 1, 2 and 3 of Romans. This is the human condition according to Paul; humanity, indeed creation itself, participated in Adam and when he entered the insurrection against God he took us with him. We are born part of the insurrection. Our world and we are lost in Adam.
The Kingdom of Death continued to have dominion over mankind. Then at the right time, God called Abraham to fight back, not by giving him another commandment, but by making him a promise. God promised him that He, God, would somehow use Abraham’s family to redeem all of creation and to bring about such a beautiful, blissful blessing upon every creature and every man, woman and child in the world, that it beyond man’s imagination. And Abraham believed God and that established the promise that Paul is constantly referring to in his epistles.
But before the Seed of the Promise, Jesus Christ, was born, the Mosaic Law was introduced and it was obviously after that the Israel took the Law to be the gift of God for conquering sin. So Israel took the Mosaic Law as God’s path of salvation and rather than bringing God’s blessing upon her it lead them further and further away from the promise God had made to Abraham. As long as one attempts to please God through the Mosaic Law, and I believe we can frankly extend that to anything in the world other than believing God’s promise – any form of Law taken as a means of salvation as opposed to the faith of Jesus Christ and his life giving sacraments only leads back to participation in and greater bondage to the Kingdom of Death.
So think of the phrase “Shall we continue in sin…” not only to mean to continue doing sin, but also to continue to participate in Adam, continue to participate in the dominion of sin, to live as a child of Adam, an offspring of Death.
“Let us continue in sin that grace may abound,” was almost certainly a slogan hecklers used against Paul in order to discredit him before the Church. Paul addresses this sort of libel in his letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians and so the statement and its source was probably known by the Christians all over the world and that includes the Roman Christians.
Let us abide in the regime of Sin and glorify God.
It is of course a ridiculous statement and like all political sloganeering it is supposed to be ridiculous because it is meant to smear an opponent by reducing his statements to absurdity. But Paul had been down this street before and he quickly turns the tables on his enemies by taking the slogan as a serious theological statement to which he gives the answer:
How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Know ye not, that so many of us as were
baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
What Paul is saying is that we have been moved from one kingdom into another kingdom by the faith of Jesus Christ and our baptism into Christ. How is that possible if we originally participated in Adam and the insurrection against the Creator? Paul believes that the promise God made to Abraham, the really critical one, is that all the nations will be blessed in Abraham; that is all nations will participate in Abraham’s blessing and thus benefit from Abraham’s faith. “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” but it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was in Abraham. These words also apply to all of us; we who are baptized into Jesus, we too are reckoned righteous, we too are children of Abraham and feed upon his faith. We are not in Adam nor are we participating in the Kingdom of Sin and Death. We fight as Christ soldiers against that Kingdom. We have died to that kingdom because we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and made members of his Body. We are true children of Abraham, we participate in his Seed, Jesus Christ who by his faith founded the New Covenant. And like David who loved Mephibosheth as though he was Jonathan himself, so the Father loves us with the same love he has for Jesus. And all of the promises the Father made to Jesus apply to everyone who is in Jesus and just as the Father raised him from the dead, so that promise belongs to us as well. Paul goes on then to draw out the implication of our new position in Christ:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Romans 6:12-14
Christians, because we are in Christ, do not have to sin — we have died to sin and death. By our baptism we have been grafted mystically into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been buried with Christ in baptism, we have died to the regime of sin and death and, we have been raised to his moral life. For that reason Paul says:
Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness untoGod. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.