Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 25, 2023

Romans 6:1b-11 Commentary

“The baptized Christian has, in an important sense, already died.  The baptized Christian has already made her ‘final exit’ and has come through on the other side.” Fleming Rutledge makes that perhaps startling profession in her lovely sermon, “The Final Exit of the Baptized” (Not Ashamed of the Gospel, Eerdmans, 2007). The Spirit could use that assertion as an “on-ramp” to a preacher’s proclamation of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson.

Romans 6:1-11’s Paul talks so much about death that 21st century western culture may reflexively turn away from it. After all, we try to “hide” death behind the walls of our care facilities, hospices, hospitals, crematoria and funeral homes. We try to disguise death by making corpses as presentable as possible.

Paul, however, refuses to either flinch at or turn away from death. He, in fact, uses some form of the Greek word thanaton (“death”) no less than ten times in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson alone. Throw in at least two more forms of the word nekron, and you’ve got a whole lot of death going on in this text.

Much of the death to which the apostle refers is, of course, Christ Jesus’. That death is, of course, a historical reality. All four gospels report that Jewish religious leaders convinced the Roman authorities to execute Jesus just outside of Jerusalem. Some of Jesus’ friends didn’t even just watch him die. They also watched some of his other friends bury him.

So Christians find little that’s particularly remarkable about Paul’s repeated references to Jesus’ historical death. What is nothing less than stunning is his reference to the ongoing significance of Jesus’ death. Quite simply, the apostle insists that when Jesus died, something in his friends also died. We weren’t just there, as we sometimes sing during Lent, “when they crucified my Lord.” Christians were also, in a real sense, crucified with Jesus.

Paul’s assertions about our death with Christ are startling. We have been, he insists in verse 5, “united (symphytoi) with him like this in his death.” “Our old self (palaios anthropos),” the apostle continues in verse 6, “was crucified with him (synestaurothe).” In verse 8 he simply professes, “We died (apethanomen) with Christ (syn Christo).”

This is mysterious language that defies easy interpretation. Yet the Spirit can help preachers say some things about it. No Christian is alive today who was alive when the Romans crucified Jesus. None of us could have physically died when Jesus died because we weren’t yet alive.

What’s more, Paul link Christians’ death with Christ to our baptism. In verses 4 and 5 he speaks of Jesus’ followers as people who “were baptized (epibasthemen) into his death” and “buried (synetaphemen) with him through baptism into death.” Whatever else the apostle may mean by this, he at least seems to say that God graciously links those whom the Church baptizes to Christ in his death. What’s more, people whom that Spirit equips to faithfully accept baptism’s promises identify ourselves with the crucified Christ.

It is, however, always tempting for Christians to identify more with the resurrected, victorious Christ than with the suffering and crucified Christ. But before Christians hurry to Jesus’ empty tomb, it’s almost as if the apostle insists that we first linger for a while at Christ’s cross. After all, because Christ was crucified, something in his friends must also be crucified.

What must be put to death in us, says Paul in verse 6, is “our old self” (palaios anthropos). In fact, he treats not just Jesus’ but also our crucifixion as an accomplished fact. Our old self, the apostle insists, “was crucified.” “Our old way of life,” as The Message paraphrases this, “was nailed to the cross with Christ.”

As a result, Paul goes on to write in verses 6 and 7, “we should no longer be slaves to sin (literally “we have been freed from sin”) – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (dedikaiotai apo tes hamartias). Christians profess that those who are in a faithful relationship with Christ no longer sin after we physically die.

Here Paul alludes to Christians’ mysterious cooperation in the Spirit’s crucifixion of our old selves. The Spirit baptized us into Jesus’ death. The Spirit crucifies our sinful selves. As a result, we can resist sin, Satan and death’s iron grip on us. Jesus’ friends can live as those whom the Spirit has freed to be in many ways like Jesus our Savior.

Paul, however, in a sense, expands what it means for Jesus’ followers to die even before our hearts stop beating. He insists that those who have died with Christ no longer have to sin. Those who are baptized into Christ’s death can’t claim that the devil (or anyone or thing else, for that matter) makes or will make us do anything.

After all, God’s dearly beloved people haven’t just, in a very real sense, already died. God has also raised God’s adopted children to new life – a life of loving obedience to God that manifests itself in our loving service to God and our neighbor. We are no longer walking dead people. Christians are resurrected people.

In verse 4 Paul says that we were buried with Christ Jesus “through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (en kainotete zoes peripatesomen).” Here the apostle implies that just as we were crucified and buried with Christ, God also raises us with Christ to a new life that’s no longer sin and Satan’s slaves, but God and our neighbor’s servants.

Yet our union with the resurrected Christ doesn’t just speak to our past and present reality. It also points us ahead to an almost unimaginably glorious future. “If we have united with him like this in his death,” Paul sings in verse 5, “we will certainly also be united (symphytoi) with him in his resurrection.” Just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago, God promises to raise God’s adopted sons and daughters from the dead at Christ Jesus’ return.

“If we died with Christ,” Paul continues in verse 8, “we believe that we will also live with him (syzesomen auto)”. Christians don’t, in other words, just now live a “resurrected” life of loving service to God and our neighbor. By God’s amazing grace, we will someday also live a resurrected life completely unscarred by sin and suffering in the new creation.

This assertion draws Christians’ attention back to Fleming Rutledge’s assertion: “The baptized Christian has, in an important sense, already died.  The baptized Christian has already made her ‘final exit’ and has come through on the other side.”

Since Christ was raised from the dead, “he cannot die again (9).” In baptism God links God’s dearly beloved people to this crucified but risen Christ. Since we’ve already died to sin’s power over us, we can’t really any longer die any more than Christ can. Jesus’ friends and followers can only simply pass with him from an earthbound life into life in God’s eternal and glorious presence.


One of memorable Flannery O’Connor’s most memorable short story’s most memorable characters is The Misfit. A Good Man Is Hard to Find is the account of a pair of criminals and his ambush of a vacationing family somewhere in the state of Georgia.

After The Misfit murders the rest of her family, the grandmother starts chanting, “Jesus. Jesus.” The Misfit claims that he’s like Jesus, except that Jesus didn’t commit a crime. The grandmother then begs him not to commit another crime by murdering her.

This sends The Misfit into a rant about Jesus’ resurrection: “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.” His voice, O’Connor writes, “had become almost a snarl.”


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