We refer to the writings of Paul as epistles—a literary form that uses a letter format. Paul’s epistles are meant as teaching tools to be read aloud in the early church. Paul’s work masterfully draws on other Greek forms, like the diatribe—a rousing speech that carries a sting of rebuke.
In this epistle, Paul adds a form of writing reminiscent of a legal argument. He begins with an impossible, outrageous question: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” Like a great attorney or a teacher in a classroom, Paul wants to raise eyebrows in order to set up his argument. Should we sin intentionally? Well, of course not! But isn’t sin inevitable? Well, yes. So how do we resolve this tension?
Now that he has our attention, Paul carefully contrasts two competing forces: sin and grace. He reminds us that death claimed Christ, but resurrection released death’s hold. In the same way, sin might have a hold on our humanity; in our baptism we have new life. Can death claim Christ again? Certainly not. Can it claim you again? That question may not be as easy to answer, but it certainly provokes a useful conversation about living the resurrected life. What does freedom from sin look like? How do we know it? Carry this question with you today. Look at the forces of death and life at work in our communities, our churches, even our own bodies. Where do we feel relaxed and confident? Where do we feel anxious? Where do we see God at work? Where is God calling us to be the body of Christ, bringing resurrection power to bear on difficult circumstances?
In you alone, Lord of life, do we live and move and find our being. Empower us to choose the freedom for which you made us so that we can bear witness to your incomparable grace. Amen.
The story of Isaac and Ishmael resounds through human history down to today. According to Genesis, tensions between the descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael go back to the lifetime of Abraham himself. These are complex issues, and we are wise to understand them theologically, not just politically. The psalmist calls out to God from a place of desperation, yet even in desperation there is confident hope in God. Paul attacks a theology of “cheap grace” in Romans. Yes, God forgives us; but this does not give us license to do whatever we want. When we are joined to Christ, we die to ourselves. Jesus tells his disciples that following him is a sort of death. We sacrifice a life under our own control yet find something much greater.
Read Genesis 21:8-21. Consider an action you regret or wish you’d handled differently. How might a daily examen practice help you correct or move on from your mistakes?
Read Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17. With whom do you need to reconcile? How might this psalm help you begin that process?
Read Romans 6:1b-11. Consider the author’s question, “What does freedom from sin look like?” Allow the author’s suggestions and questions to guide your searching for an answer.
Read Matthew 10:24-39. How do you see the tension Jesus identifies between inclusion and separation in your Christian life today?
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