In launching the new title for this blog series, we will be watching how the Cycle of Perfect Unity illuminates the distinctive behaviors of unity and disunity that flow from the biblical Epistles and Revelation.
Paul finished Romans 5 with the proclamation that brought us to the continental divide between the Law of Moses and the grace of restoration and forgiveness in Jesus Christ:
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:18-21).
Paul begins Romans 6 with the fact that this grace does not come cheaply and that it depends heavily on our behavior:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:1-4).
Paul is saying, in effect, “How then shall we behave?”
- We have died to sin.
- We have been baptized into Jesus’ death.
- Our sins have been buried with Jesus and us.
- Jesus was raised from the dead.
- So too we have been raised from the death of sin.
- We walk in newness of life!
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his; we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5).
This is why baptism in the name of Jesus may be the ultimate statement of perfect unity with Jesus and God. But the question remains whether our behavior going forward truly reflects this miracle of transformation. This is why the Cycle is a Cycle and not a straight line to glory, given our tendency toward sin even as we are experiencing grace.
When we mess up, is our repentance sincere? Is there a noticeable improvement in behavior?
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now 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. For 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” (Rom 6:6-11).
Again, are we improving in repentance or relying on cheap grace?
At this point, Paul launches into a key distinctive we will see throughout his letters: commands using imperative verbs to clarify this upward spiral we must develop between sin and the redemptive behaviors of repentance.
I choose to list them in bullet form for emphasis:
- “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
- Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, …
- … but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life …
- … and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
- For sin will have no dominion over you, …
- … since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:11-14).
Because in perfect unity, grace abounds obedience to commandments all the more!