Similarly to the way Paul juxtaposes “one” and “many” in Romans 5, he juxtaposes “life” and “death” in Romans 6. When I hear those words, I think of giving birth to my two precious kids and of the funerals of all my grandparents. I think of everlasting life in heaven.
But I’m not sure that’s how Paul means for us to read “life” and “death” here. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Dying and rising again are the image for baptism. We symbolically die to sin and our sinful lives in baptism, and we symbolically rise to a new life. This “new life” isn’t about living forever on a cloud wrapped in a white toga; it’s about living a new life right here right now.
Some churches teach and preach in a way that makes it seem like Christianity is all about life and death—meaning what happens when you die, i.e. that you get to live forever in heaven with Jesus if you are a Christian. Paul is teaching and preaching that it’s all about life and death—meaning metaphorically dying to sin and living for God.
I get excited by the kind of life and death Paul is talking about. He says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) I don’t get excited about biding my time on this evil, sinful earth for another 50 years, staying focused on the joyous afterlife I’ll have in heaven. That doesn’t do it for me. Getting to be alive to God, the author of life itself—yeah, sign me up for that. Getting to live a new life that’s defined by God, not by my mistakes and flaws—I want that. I want to joyously live the next 50 years, focused on this beautiful earth and the good and perfect gifts God’s placed on it.
Romans gets quoted extensively by Christians who approach strangers with, “If you died today, would you go to heaven or hell?” As I read Romans, I see so much about this life and how lively it can be. Now, that’s good news, or Gospel, and isn’t that what we’re supposed to be preaching?