Study on the Epistle, Romans 6.1-11
There are a number of occasions in Paul’s letters where he seems to be answering specific questions addressed to him, to which he proceeds to respond. The opening sentences of our passage provide a good example of this. “What shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” The question reflects a misunderstanding of the relationship between sin and grace. Sin is impossible because in Baptism we die to sin – “We who have died to sin, how can we live in it? Or are you ignorant that so many as have been baptised into Christ Jesus have been baptised into His death?”
This mystical union between Christ and the baptised can be better understood from the imagery associated with baptism in the early Church. After long and careful instruction the candidates assembled at the entry to the font. Each in turn went down into the water which was deep enough for total immersion. When the newly baptised emerged from the water they were dressed in a white robe, symbolising the removal of sin and the purity of the new Christian life. The going down into the water symbolised the death to sin; the baptised die with Christ and rise again to a pure life in union with Christ.
In the early Church there was a fear of post-baptismal sin. This led some Christians to delay their baptism to a time near to their death. It is likely this was the reason that the Emperor Constantine delayed his baptism until he was dying. As Emperor he must have been faced with many difficult decisions which would compromise his Christian faith.
Dying with Christ is an arresting way to express the struggle we all have to overcome sin. I came across the following footnote in a recent commentary: Chrysostom expressed the moral challenge presented by baptism in the memorable sentence, ‘if then you have died in baptism, stay dead’. John Chrysostom became Patriarch of Constantinople in the late 4th century. He was given the name because he was a great preacher – it means ‘Golden Mouth’. Imagine a huge church packed with people standing and making a noise, and a preacher able to make himself heard without the aid of modern electronics. That is the context of John’s preaching. An arresting remark would be well received by his congregation. Through baptism we too may stay dead to sin. It is a lifelong struggle.
Reverend Dr Calum Gilmour