Monday, October 15, 2012

Sin & The New Age

When we consider what is the Apostle Paul’s broad, Scripturally driven definition of sin, which is failing to bear the divine image that God has provided to the various covenant bearers whose stories comprise the salvation history within which Paul works and from which he takes his direction, and also keeping in mind the gracious activity of God, as in Christ as the new Adam the covenant fold is reopened to include the entire world, we can take a look into the sixth chapter of Romans, where Paul writes “What shall we say then?  Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?  Absolutely not!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life” (6:1-4).  Without here attempting an exegesis of this passage, but rather offering a “big picture” outlook, can we see what Paul is doing?

Continuing: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of His Resurrection.  We know that our old man was crucified with Him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)” (6:5-7)  The “likeness” imagery is intriguing, especially as we are mindful of “image-bearing” in relation to covenant participation, as the story of God’s purposeful creation is always in mind.  Also, Paul appears to be creating a contrast between the old age of sin and death, and the new age of life and resurrection, as a component of the move that he is here making.  On to verse eight and we hear “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.  We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, He is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over Him.  For the death He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God.  So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:8-11).

If we are paying close enough attention, we can ascertain what Paul has here achieved.  If we were to look through the first five chapters of Romans, we would see that Paul has successfully united Jews and Gentiles (all peoples) under one Lord, under the covenant, based on belief in Jesus.  He has also managed to creatively fold Gentiles into the story of Israel, going all the way back to Adam (though Adam was not a member of Israel, the story of Israel as God’s covenant people, and as known by Jesus and Paul, begins with Adam), particularly highlighting Abraham, and reaching out to include Moses (the calling of Israel as a peculiar covenant people).  This provides Jews and Gentiles with a shared history, which goes a long way towards the creation of a covenant family that will share in the responsibilities of Adam (stewardship of creation), in the blessings of Abraham (as reflected in the announcement of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis chapter twelve), and even the experience of the Levitical/Deuteronomic curses of Israel and its exile that was so crucial to Israel’s own identity and sense of place in the world.

Now, here in chapter six, Paul takes that group of people, a unified humanity that comprises the church that is to be the face (and voice, hands, and feet) of the inaugurated kingdom of God, and unites them with the person of Jesus, the embodied God that is also the crucified and resurrected one.  Not only are Jews and Gentiles now one people in covenant, indistinct from each other because of a shared faith, but those peoples are now united with the Creator God, in and through the Messiah.  This union creates a marked contrast between the old age, in which all could not help but fail to rightly bear the divine image, and the new age, in which a new and different form of life (successful image-bearing) is now a possibility, made available to all and sundry as an act of God’s grace.  Thus, as humanity enjoys and indeed exploits this union for the benefit of the world, Paul writes “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires” (6:12).  That would be a sign of the old age.  To that is added “and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness” (6:13a).  This would be more of the old age.  Rather, in union with Jesus (in much the same way as humanity has been united), and like Him, as the harbinger of the new age of the kingdom of God, “present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness” (6:13b). 

Jesus was the demonstration of God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness), announcing, representing, and making present God’s kingdom wherever He went, as should be those who call Him Lord.  How and why can this take place?  As Paul says, again contrasting the old age of covenant failure (as humanity, including Israel, voiced a resounding “no” to their call to bear the divine image) with the new age of covenant success (humanity, composing a renewed Israel, voicing a collective “yes” to God’s command to bear His image as shown forth through Jesus), as God’s intentions are made manifest through those that believe in Jesus, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (6:14).      

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