2012 - Vol. 57
from Sin and Death
By Jeanne Kun
freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit
again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)
incarnation, sin and death ruled over humanity’s fallen nature and no one
could break their stranglehold on us. But Christ took on our human nature
– becoming flesh and blood like us – “so that through death he might destroy
the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those
who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews
anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed
away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We were alienated
from God and death and sin infected humankind through the disobedience
of Adam: “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through
sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
But this infection was counteracted by the obedience and righteousness
of Christ. For, “just as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation
for all, so one man’s [Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to justification
and life for all” (5:18). His act and its significance are so profound
that Jesus is frequently called the “new” or “last” Adam, the beginning
of a new creation and a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45).
By his crucifixion
and resurrection Christ delivered us from the power of Satan, slavery to
sin, and fear of death. When we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection
through baptism, we actually experience this freedom, for we enter into
communion with Christ, are buried with him, and rise to newness of life
with him (Romans 6:3-4). As St. Basil the Great explains, spiritually we
Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this
kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it
means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life,
and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born
again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so
until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach
the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they
can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse
the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the
end of one life and the beginning of another. (On the Holy Spirit)
“Christ has set
us free” (Galatians 5:1). Now we are “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
However, there is a difference between knowing these truths and seeing
them applied in our lives. Concretely experiencing this freedom and newness
of life depends upon our allowing the cross to do its work in us, breaking
the strongholds of sin and replacing them with the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
It is as we remind ourselves that “our old self was crucified with [Christ]
so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved
to sin” (Romans 6:6) that the power of the cross is released in us. It
is as we place our faith and trust in Jesus’ cross that our slavery to
sin – our bondage to anger, jealousies, and lying, to immoral patterns
and harmful addictions – is broken.
To live a life
filled with the power of the cross and with baptismal grace – a life in
which “sin will have no dominion over [us]” (Romans 6:14) – we must let
go of our past way of life and open ourselves to God’s grace and transforming
power. Although our dying is spiritual and symbolic – we have not been
physically nailed to the cross as Jesus was – it is not simply theoretical.
In a real way, we must commit ourselves to enact and actualize the “death”
of our baptism daily, allowing our sinful nature to be crucified with Christ.
In other words, baptism is a crucifixion of our sinful condition, so that
the “old self” no longer controls our behavior. And the fruit of baptism
is “a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal
sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the
Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, 1279).
declaration in Romans 6:3-11 is proclaimed each year at the Easter Vigil,
following the seven Old Testament readings that recount our salvation history.
The third reading in particular – Exodus 14:15–15:1, which describes Israel’s
deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh through God’s miraculous
parting of the Red Sea – foreshadows our deliverance from sin and
death and the transformation effected in us by baptism. It is also, fittingly,
at the Easter Vigil that the waters of the baptismal font are blessed,
catechumens are baptized – dying and rising with Christ – and received
into the Church, and the faithful renew their baptismal vows, rejecting
Satan and all his works and empty promises as well as sin and the glamour
of evil and resolving to live with Christ.
1. In his Homily on Romans, St. John Chrysostom notes: “So as
to stay dead to sin after Baptism, personal effort is called for, although
God’s grace continues to be with us, providing us with great help.”
Reflect on the effects of the Sacrament of Baptism in your own
life, and ask God for his grace and help in making the personal effort
“to stay dead to sin” that John Chrysostom urges.
2. Read and meditate on the following passages to increase your awareness
and appreciation of how God has set you free from slavery to sin through
the sacrifice of Christ:
|Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death
came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned –
was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there
is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those
whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the
one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through
the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the
free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the
judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift
following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one
man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely
will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness
exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so
one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so
by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came
in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased,
grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in
death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading
to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)
[T]he message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
[When] you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,
erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set
this aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise
shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all
their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
|In the Spotlight
to the Power of the Cross
this imperfect world, we often find that theory and reality don’t always
see eye-to-eye. For instance, we can know in a theoretical way that our
old life of sin was crucified with Christ and that through faith in the
cross we can be set free from the power of sin. But when it comes to the
reality of our daily lives, we can find ourselves subject to the same kinds
of sins over and over again. Here is the story of a man who made the connection
between theory and reality –
experienced the power that flows from Jesus’ cross.
twenty-five years, Jim had been a chain smoker. For most of that time,
he tried countless strategies to kick his habit. He tried self-discipline.
He made bets with his friends. He wore a nicotine patch. He even went to
a retreat to help him quit. Eventually, after years of failed attempts,
Jim resigned himself to being in the grip of this ugly habit.
of years ago, however, a routine X-ray revealed a spot on one of Jim’s
lungs, and he grew worried. He didn’t want to go back to the old failed
attempts, but he knew he had to do something. That’s when his wife, Janet,
told their parish priest about Jim’s X-ray. The priest told Janet that
Jim didn’t have to feel hopeless. He told her about Jesus’ cross and about
the freedom that Jim could experience if he turned to the Lord. He even
gave her a simple prayer that she and Jim could pray: “Lord Jesus, we believe
that you died to set us free. We ask you, by the power of your cross, to
free Jim from his addiction. Jesus, we trust in you and in your love for
and Janet prayed this simple prayer every morning and night. Jim also prayed
it every couple of hours at work –
when the urge to smoke was strong. As he got closer to the Lord through
this prayer, Jim felt his desire to smoke gradually diminishing—to the
point where it has been fifteen months since his last cigarette.
story has a message for anyone who struggles with addiction, whether to
cigarettes, alcohol, food, or even sex. Whatever the bondage, simple prayers
like the one Jim prayed can be very powerful weapons to help break the
grip of addiction. God doesn’t want to see his children in bondage. He
is waiting for us to turn to him, to trust in the power of his cross, and
to ask for the grace to be set free.
Word Among Us, Lent 2007
Life-Giving Power of the Cross: Sharing in Christ's Victory, by
Jeanne Kun (The
Word Among Us Press, © 2011). Used with permission. This book
can be ordered online.
Kun is President of Bethany
Association and a senior woman leader in the Word
of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism
into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory
of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly
be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self
was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and
we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from
sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live
with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die
again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died
to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also
must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey
their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of
wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought
from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but
According to St. Paul, how are we “united with Christ in a death like his”
(Romans 6:5)? What are the consequences of this?
Note all the expressions that Paul uses to describe the effects and fruits
of being buried with Christ in baptism. What dominant theme do you find
in all these expressions?
Why does death no longer have dominion over humankind (see Romans 6:8-9)?
Do you think that Paul’s statement, “There is a new creation: everything
old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17),
is an apt description of what is accomplished in us when we put our faith
in the power of the cross? In what way do you think that Paul had personal
experience of this truth?
Explain in your own words what Paul means when he says that we are to ”no
longer present [our] members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present
[ourselves] to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and
present [our] members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
What happens when we follow Paul’s exhortation?
into Christ's Death
baptized into the death of Christ means having Christ dwell in us, now
glorious and raised “through the glory of the Father.” In his power we
are able to die to sin. The word sin refers not primarily to our individual
acts of sin but to the whole regime of sin, that complex of human rebellion
and inhumanity that finds expression in the structures of the whole mode
of life that characterizes “the world.” When we die to sin, we are free
of the power of that complex of social, political, cultural, economic,
psychological, and spiritual forces that rule the world.
individual acts of sin are the ways in which we connive in and yield to
these forces. We appropriate sin and make it our own. Paul tells us [in
Romans 6:6-11] that we are free from this power if we consent to the new
power at work in us. Jesus Christ, by his love and obedience in death,
died to the forces that make up sin in the world. Because he lives in us,
we, too, have been transferred to a new realm of existence. We can experience
this, not as a theory but as an actual fact, if we call upon that power
when we are faced with those memories and habits of sin that keep us slaves
Martin, The Fire in the Cloud: Lenten Meditations
Choose several adjectives that you feel characterize you as a “new creation”
(2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ. What word best explains what has been accomplished
in your life through the Sacrament of Baptism?
In what areas of your life do you most need or want to experience God’s
power setting you free? How might God help you (perhaps through prayer,
confession, spiritual direction, a trusted friend, professional help, etc.)
to break a sinful pattern or overcome an habitual failing?
In what concrete ways have you already “died with Christ to sin” and broken
with your old life? In what ways has Jesus set you free? How can you best
nurture this new life in you?
How often do you turn to the cross to be set free from habits and attitudes
that, although not sinful in themselves, keep you from experiencing new
life in Christ? What are some things that particularly plague you (maybe
excessive anxiety, fear, pessimism, negativity)? When you are beset with
such attitudes, how could turning to a crucifix help you?
Why is it significant that the church celebrates a renewal of baptismal
vows with the congregation each year during the Easter liturgy? How can
this renewal help us to deepen our relationship with Christ?
aside an hour or two of time to rest in a quiet place where you will not
be interrupted by others. Clear your mind of distractions, and in the silence
and stillness recall as many of the ways that Jesus has freed you from
sin and healed you as you can.
a mental or written list of the victories Christ has won for you and how
he has transformed you. Then, in response, pray in your own words a “litany
Is a Symbol of Christ's Passion
were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down
from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of
you was asked, “Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit?” You made the profession of faith that brings salvation,
you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolized
the three days Christ spent in the tomb.
our Savior spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth,
so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your
first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see,
but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the
water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose
it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and
were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother. .
was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these
things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ
who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all this has
been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain
salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ’ undefiled hands
were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain,
no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants