In this reading, Paul instructs an audience complacent in its’ belief that merely adhering to ‘“the law” is sufficient for their justification in the eyes of God. In his methodical, logical style, he gently chastises them with rhetorical questions. Like many other parts of Romans, the depth of meaning increases with each reading.
In fact, in perusing my records, I note that I wrote a devotional on this selfsame passage three years ago. In that piece, I noted Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross as being symbolic of the death of our own sinful life, and his resurrection as being symbolic of our “new” selves, walking in His way. Upon re-reading this year, I find meaning which, at least to me, is deeper.
I will be brief . Since this is a popular reading, I will not resort to citations from the text.
The point of Paul’s message is not only that we should not persist in sin so “Grace can abound”, but, more importantly, that this symbolic death of sin is a transformation. That is, however dead our sinful past, we are still flesh and blood, and, while hopefully abated, our sinfulness is still, due to no fault of our own, a persistent interruption to our existence.
The sins of Adam die hard. While God’s Grace is free, it can only be for naught if we do not strive to live up to the ideals we profess, or have professed for us at our baptism, whether by water. or by the fire of our own reckless pasts. This means work. This means striving to keep our mortal bodies from occasionally being the instruments, (if not the seats) of sin. This means prayer.
Paul’s conclusions are obvious. Of course Grace will not abound by the persistence of sin. But why? Simply because liberty from sin is not license to sin. Our transformation from our old, sinful selves which began with the crucifixion of Jesus is, for each of us, a work in progress. Paul reminds us that we have to “think of” ourselves as living for God. God can’t do that for us. It takes effort and energy. It is a lot to acknowledge, but with the Holy Spirit in play, we will always have the upper hand on the Devil.
(keep Mr. Newton’s tune in mind as you read the following):
A Metamorphosis in Grace.
My sins died on that ruddy cross
With our God’s only Son,
How strange that His death paid for sin,
When of sin he had none.
And as I ponder this sweet Grace
This priceless treasure pure
I find the strength and will to face
The next temptation’s lure.
For I’m forgiven, but not free
From Satan’s clever ways
And I must live so God can see
His Son in all my days.
I must be steady; strong and brave
I must not His Grace test.
And I refuse to be a slave
To sin He put to rest.
Though I’m not what I wish I was
Nor what I ought to be,
I live my life in hope, because
I’m not who I used to be.