Sin doesn’t win and doesn’t own you... and there’s no going back
This week’s sacred story comes from Romans 6:1-16, where the people of God wrestle with how to make sense of ultimate grace and freedom as well as the reality of brokenness. Read the full text here.
I wonder…How would you live if the weight of all the broken parts of you had fallen away? If you no longer had to carry fear or shame or guilt? Can you imagine it?
If someone loved you so perfectly? In all the ways you long to be loved? If someone loved you so much that they gave their entire life for you?
Receiving that kind of love and generosity….What would that change in you? What would that change in how you interact with others? What would that change in how you move through the world?
This is the breadth and length, and height and depth of the love of God. The apostle Paul will write of this to the Ephesians. Ephesians 3:16-19 says:
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
We can’t quite comprehend a love this expansive, certainly not on our own, not without the Spirit of God to reveal it to us over and over again.
But I find we don’t need much help imagining or comprehending the brokenness of ourselves and the world. And without God, we will get stuck there, trapped, dwelling not in hope, but in the expansive and seemingly ultimate power of sin. It seems reasonable to buy into the illusion that is constantly before us that the world’s crap is just too powerful, too pervasive, that it’s too late, that there’s no overcoming it, no point to even try. Without God, we are slaves to sin, to this kind of outlook. We’re talking about sin that isn’t just a bad deed, an act that harms and separates …it’s our communal condition. It’s an overarching cloud throughout creation that makes everything foggy and dismal. Sin isn’t just that you took that thing from the corner store or said that nasty thing, it’s the system and the lies that make us believe that’s just the way it is, but it’s not really THAT bad. It eats at our souls.
Sin is a cruel taskmaster, keeping us bound. Telling us what we can’t do, what we can’t be, lies to make us think that that the broken bits are all there is, that there’s no other way, that we shouldn’t even bother to escape.
In the death of Christ, it is not only Jesus who dies, but the power of this condition of sin that claims to own us. Notice that Paul does not say that sin is dead but that we have died to it (Romans 6: 2). Sin still exists, but it belongs in the world from which we have been freed. And as Christ rises from death and all the ways of death into new life, so too is a new way of being given life in us. Our baptism washes us once and for all in Christ’s death and resurrection and creates a new way of being in us, a new dynamic between us and God and the world.
It’s not a divine “I saved you, now you owe me” kind of obligation. Or “you better be good, or I’ll take it all back.” But more, now that you’re free, how could you go back to living like a slave? Now that you’ve heard that sin doesn’t win, doesn’t own you...there’s no going back. It’s like once you’ve seen it, once you know…you can’t un-know or go back.
Like…once you realize Thomas Jefferson apparently always looked a little like Harriet Tubman. Or…once you’ve tasted real butter over the imitation stuff, the former just isn’t as satisfying.
Once you know…there’s a giant floating island of plastic trash in the ocean that is now twice the size of Texas…TEXAS, y‘all!... it changes the way you consume and discard things.
Once you recognize that the group of people you thought less of and feared or kept your distance from, that they are beloved children of God…once you know their names, look into their eyes, and see that reflection of God in them…you can’t go on ignoring that divine light or stay silent about it.
Once you’ve received grace and love from God who knows you, all of you, and still says that you are worthwhile and good…your heart can’t truly accept all the voices that say you’re not good enough.
It’s always been true and always will be true, and Christ helps us to see and experience how profoundly true it is.
Where before we might feel like giving up or giving in, God causes us to rise up, breathes new life into us as from the beginning, and gives us capacity and courage to live into a new way that is defined by love over law, generosity over obligation, people over policies, connection over isolation. We are still imperfect, still human and limited, but also beloved and liberated. And that changes us in ultimate, eternal, practical ways that can’t be undone, even when I think we sometimes wish for that. Thanks be to God. Amen.