Experiencing true life in the church, already now
This morning I am back at Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, MI again, preaching in the morning on Romans 6:1-11 and in the evening on Psalm 32. One of the advantages in preaching in many different churches is that you can preach some of the most impressive passages in Scripture multiple times. Romans 6 is one such passage. It is a tight argument about the unbreakable connection between union with Christ in baptism and a life that is lived eternally unto God, already in this life.
When Christians talk about the gospel or about salvation they are often thinking of the forgiveness of sins, or about attaining to heaven or the resurrection from the dead. What we appreciate less often is the degree to which the gospel works life in us even now, in this age. Far too many times I have heard Christians, including pastors and elders, explain unchecked evil in the church as just the way the church is in this life. No, those two brothers have not reconciled. No, we will not seek to call that woman back to her life in Christ. Yes, we will just have to divide, to go our separate ways, that is the way life is in this world. Sometimes we just have to sin, knowing that grace will abound. Sometimes Matthew 18 is just not practical.
In Romans 6 this is just the spirit that Paul is concerned about. “Why not sin that grace may abound?” His answer is that those who think about the church in this way have no understanding of their salvation whatsoever. Over and over he declares that believers have died to this life and to sin and been united to Christ in their baptism. Over and over he insists that this means we must begin to walk in new life in this life. We may never use our sinful nature as an excuse for injustice, greed, bitterness, or division in the church because we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.
There is a fear among some Christians that emphasizing the power of the gospel to change our lives is a form of legalism. Oddly enough, Paul assumes that it is the opponents to this sanctification who are the true legalists. As he concludes, after all, “we are not under law but under grace.”
The bond of unity, love, peace, and reconciliation that the Spirit creates among believers is an essential part of the life that God gives us. As the New Testament declares over and over, those who claim faith but have no works, or no love, are liars. He who refuses to reconcile with his brother in the church has no reconciliation with God. She who refuses to forgive her enemy has no forgiveness from God. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
It is tragic that so often as Christians we act as if we still consider ourselves dead in sin and alive to this world. The Gospel liberates us from this futility. Jesus promises us that in the church he is making us into that people and into those individuals whose lives together consist in love, and justice, and peace, whose God is the Lord, even now. That is an awesome promise.