What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Let’s be honest—uncertainty is hard for us. We like to be in control of things. Fear, at the root of it, is the admission that we’re not in control. I have a fear of heights, but it’s not really a fear of heights. It’s a fear that whatever height I’m perched upon might somehow give way when I am upon it, leading to a fall to my death. If you could guarantee that I wouldn’t fall from whatever perilous height we were talking about, I wouldn’t be afraid of it.
When we’re not in control, our minds have a tendency to trend to the worst. School ended this week, and whenever I think of the end of the school year I am forced to remember the end of 5th and 6th grades. It was a bad two year run for me. The last day of 5th grade was supposed to be a celebration of leaving elementary school. This was before they had graduations for absolutely everything—our day care even has graduation—so we were just going to spend the day playing. Instead, we spent the day huddled in the school basement as a tornado passed by far too close.
Then, in 6th grade, I spent the entire night before the last day of school terrified because I hadn’t bothered to do a book report on Anne Frank. I don’t remember the exact details, but it was a hectic last week of school and I hadn’t bothered to do this report, and this led to me in bed in the middle of the night terrified that I was going to fail 6th grade, stay in middle school forever and never make anything of my life. We can safely say I carried this just a bit too far. In both instances I was not in control, and I was scared.
We don’t have a lot of control in this life. Often, things just happen. I went to the dentist the other week and ended up having a biopsy done on something that was growing in my mouth. I went from worrying about flossing to worrying about dying pretty quickly. As it is, the biopsy was negative, so Rachel can stop looking for better options, but it doesn’t take much for us to realize how little control we have.
The storms in Moore, Oklahoma are just another reminder to us of how little control we have. They are terrifying, and every parent’s worst nightmare is being away from your kid and not being able to shield them from harm. Just the pictures from Oklahoma are terrifying. This is a mile wide tornado with winds of 200 mph that was on the ground for 22 miles. It will make you feel pretty out of control pretty quickly.
In times like this, we look to the heavens and we wonder. We know that God is in control, and so we wonder how and why all this happens. We wonder what the big picture is, what the answers to our questions are. We long for certainty and confidence with which to face our fears.
When we talk about baptism, I think it’s healthy for us to talk about fear and uncertainty, too. Church isn’t a place where you aren’t allowed to be afraid. We don’t tell the greeters at the door to turn away anyone with any fears. We don’t look down on you because you’re uncertain. What we can do is dive into the Biblical text and see what it teaches us about fear, to listen to its words about uncertainty, to learn about the root of our fears and look to the One who created us and who we believe is bigger and more powerful than anything we fear.
One of the best ways to defeat fear is through knowledge. When we don’t know we’re afraid.
What’s scarier than a spider in front of you?
A spider that was just in front of you, but now that you can’t see.
You don’t know where it is. That creates fear, because you imagine the worst. When I learned that it’s incredibly rare to die from a spider bite, even a poisonous spider, my fear of spiders lessened. When the doctor tells me that the disease I have isn’t that serious, my fear lessens.
So notice the tenor of Paul’s words here in Romans.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.
Paul has confidence in his theology, and with good reason. When Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, he received direct revelation from God. God has given him the wisdom to write this. God has revealed himself to Paul so that Paul might enlighten others. In going blind, Paul had the eyes of his heart opened, and his knowledge now dispels the fear of others.
We all fear death in some way, shape or form. This is the fear that finds us when we’re waiting on lab results. This is the fear that lingers close in the middle of the night. This is the fear that lurks in times of natural disasters. We fear the end.
So what Paul is telling us here is that, in baptism, our understanding of death has changed. In Christ’s death and resurrection, the landscape has completely changed. Death no longer has power over us—rather, God has demonstrated his power over death.
So what happens in baptism? We are joined with Christ’s death. This is the awful, horrible scene at Calvary, when Christ endured pain and suffering that he did not deserve and died the death that we deserve. What Paul is saying is that in baptism, that becomes our death, too. We join in with him in his death, and what that means is that we, too, are dead to sin. It doesn’t have power over us. It doesn’t determine our fate.
Because we are joined into Christ’s resurrection, too. Just as we are united with him in his death, we are united with him in resurrection, too. In baptism, your eternal life has already begun! You have already died, and therefore, you need not fear death. And Paul says that we know this!
There is no uncertainty to fear. There is no ambiguity about what we do when we are baptized—we know that we know that we know that our old self, the self caught up in the chains of sin, has been nailed to the cross to die. We also know that we know that we know that Christ’s resurrection is for us, too. We are free from sin and free for eternal life. Paul says that whoever has died is free from sin. And if we’re dead to sin, that means we’re alive to God. We have been buried, and now we truly live.
So each and every one of you who has been baptized has died. On the cross, Christ died the death you deserved, and you joined in with him in your baptism. Then, when Christ was raised from the dead, you, too, walked out of that tomb into new life.
So you don’t have to fear death. You’ve already been there. You can’t go back.
Paul closes out with a little paragraph that starts with the word ‘therefore’. This is what should follow, Paul says. You shouldn’t ever be comfortable with sin—don’t let it in. Don’t let sin guide you to places God doesn’t want you to go. You have been saved from eternal death—let your life reflect your gratitude to God. Be an instrument of righteousness. You are under grace. Let grace guide your steps. Follow God’s will, not out of fear, but in gratitude. Let hope and wonder and worship lead you. Give your life back to God and offer yourself to your neighbor.
Live in the joy of the empty tomb, rather than in fear of the death that once lurked within. Death has been destroyed. In baptism, you have been raised to eternal life.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray