“For we know that our old self was crucified with him [Christ] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin… Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” Romans 6:6-7, 12-13
In the Daily Office that I follow online ( TheTrinityMission.org ) my attention was drawn this morning to the verses above from the New Testament reading in Romans 6. I could not help but reflect upon them in the light of the time I have spent this week with the bishop and clergy of the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of Quincy, as we met for a clergy leadership retreat at the Redemptorist Retreat Center (Roman Catholic) near Nashotah House. In the hallowed and holy places of the chapel and the retreat center, in the lives of the bishop and clergy with whom I was privileged to spend time, and in Romans 6, I am reminded that at the heart of following Jesus is the call to holiness of life.
We spent a week talking about the challenges of leading a local church as a rector (senior pastor), vicar, interim or church planter. We spoke at length about how churches grow– and how they move from incline (growth) to recline (plateau) to decline and even death. We shared at length about the kind of leader Anglican churches need to move from recline and decline to a new season of incline. As leaders, we shared at even greater length about the temptations to sin in the process– to live less than the holy life that Christ calls us to lead– by personalizing church conflict instead of staying focused on God’s vision for our churches, in our communities, at this time for mission rather than maintenance. We ended our time thinking about the way that Jesus himself led in times of great conflict. His was a “holy” pattern of life for us to follow as we seek to lead others in his footsteps.
I’m realizing that the call to live a holy life, just as Jesus lived, is precisely what is at stake in the great conflicts within our Anglican realignment. Whether we are talking about church growth, church litigation, the promotion of varieties of sexual practice and expression outside of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, or the crisis of false teaching within the global Anglican Communion, we find common in all these conflicts the challenge of the Bible to live a quality of life that Paul describes in those verses above from Romans 6. We call it holiness of life– and it is quite simply living our lives with the same holy commitment to God and his purposes that Jesus lived.
In his commentary on Romans, John Stott poses the question “Have we never caught ourselves making light of our failures on the ground that God will excuse and forgive them?” I certainly have: how about you? Stott goes on to lay out the argument in Romans 6 that Paul makes regarding why we have no freedom to do so:
1. We died to sin– so how can we live in what we have died to? (6:2)
2. We died to sin when in our baptism we were united to Christ in his death (6:3)
3. We don’t stop with sharing in his death– we also share in Christ’s resurrection life! (6:4-5)
4. Our former self was crucified with Christ in order that we might be freed from sin’s slavery (6:6-7)
5. Both the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ were decisive “once and for all” events: He died to sin once for all, but he lives continuously unto God (6:8-10)
6. We must realize as followers of Jesus Christ that we are also now what Christ is, “dead to sin but alive to God” (6:11)
7. THEREFORE since we are alive from death, we must offer our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness (6:12-13), AND
8. Sin shall not be our master, “because our position has radically changed from ‘being under law’ to ‘being under grace’. And grace does not encourage sin– Grace outlaws sin. (6:14)
In other words, as followers of Jesus Christ, baptized into his death AND resurrection life, you and I actually have a choice– we can actually choose NOT to sin! We can actually choose “to offer our bodies [our mouths, our minds, our will to every action] as instruments of righteousness.” In other words, we can actually will to choose to live our lives as Jesus Christ would in every situation we find ourselves. Period.
It’s a stunning invitation and challenge isn’t it? But this call to holiness of life is truly at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And there is certainly no room for boasting or self-righteousness, for it is a call that can only be lived out in and under the grace and transforming love of Jesus Christ.
No wonder we have such conflicts in the Anglican Communion today over what the Bible means by “sin” and “baptism” and who Jesus really is. For it is this quality of life in Christ, holiness of life, that is at stake.
As we approach this Lenten season (which begins next week on Ash Wednesday), may we recommit ourselves to the call to a holy life– to life IN Christ alone– both as a church, as followers of Jesus Christ, and as leaders who have been called to lead others in His footsteps.
Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.