Friday, March 12th
This reading commences with a rhetorical question. To understand chapter 6, you really have to put it in the context of what was said in chapter 5. It boils down to the idea that God’s grace covers our sins. The more sin, the more grace needed to cover it. On face value, this could lead to a misinterpretation of Paul’s message with the idea that more and more sin is better as it would lead to more and more grace. Chapter 6 seeks to set this right.
With that context in place, look now at some translations of the opening of Chapter 6. “Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God?” (J. B. Phillips New Testament). And, “So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving?” (The Message)
The answer, of course, ends up being “No”—but how does Paul get there? He uses the term “death” to explain the situation, but he is not talking about literal death. Rather “death” is a substitute or synonym of sorts for the “Big C” word: CHANGE.
Here is a medical example. Take a diabetic patient who refuses to follow the correct diet (sin). I can always prescribe more insulin (grace). More carbs. More insulin. On and on. The problem, and most do not know this, is that insulin in high doses is toxic. Poison. Sin works that way, too.
So, my diabetic patient needs to let the bad diet “die”—which means a permanent change. We are not talking about giving up Cokes for Lent. We are talking a forever diabetic diet. A healthier new life follows that. Other examples would be a smoker permanently giving up cigarettes or an alcoholic permanently giving up the juice.
Move ahead to a look at the closing: “In the same way look upon yourselves as dead to the appeal and power of sin but alive and sensitive to the call of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Phillips New Testament) Also, “From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (The Message)
I accentuated the word sensitive above. This goes back to the diabetic example. The reason we have to use more and more insulin in a diabetic is that the body becomes resistant, i.e. less sensitive, to insulin. The correct diet and weight loss restore the normal sensitivity. God does not work through insulin. His prescription includes Jesus crucified, baptism, and grace. For this Lent, I need to get to the spiritual pharmacy and take my medicine.
Like a hammer repetitively driving a nail, this is yet another Lenten reading instructing me that I should somehow come out on the other side a different person. The problem I have with this “giving up something for Lent” business is that it seems transitory. That’s not what we just read. Paul isn’t talking about temporarily giving up chocolate—he is talking about an eternal change. Are you coming out of this season of Lent with a permanent change? What will it be?