A Holy Change                             Romans 6:1-11

Baptism of Jesus                                   January 8, 2023,                          St. John, New Orleans

Well, it's a new year and that means an opportunity for a fresh start. 

And when we say, “fresh start” I think of it as an opportunity to change the parts of my life that could be improved. 

And isn’t that what new year resolutions are all about? 

We don't purposely change our lifestyle to become less healthy.

Nor do we change our habits so that we will damage our reputation, credit score, or relationships. 

And yet it seems my resolutions are always the same. 

Eat less, exercise more. 

Spend less, save more. 

Worry less, celebrate more. 

Each year I have the desire to make a positive change, 

yet, in the end, I finished the year where I started, or worse. 

And so, in January, I start all over again.

Perhaps you have been there too? 

Are you making familiar resolutions? 

Are you hoping to change your life for the better? 

Are you trying to, once and for all, make effective and lasting change and improvement? 

Or have you simply resigned yourself to the notion that change is impossible? 

“The more time goes by, the more things stay the same. 

Can't teach an old dog new tricks. 

New wine and old wine skins will cause both to be lost.”


As I've analyzed my own failures to change, I've discovered something, and I'll bet you will too. 

When it comes to making my life better, I would rather others make the needed change, not me. 

Either I rationalize why my habits are not so bad, 

or I convince myself that others are simply worse than mine. 

And when you and I can justify our present behavior through comparison to others, 

not only is the need for change much less urgent, 

but we have a whole other person to blame for the problem we experienced.

As much as we want change to happen in the world it will not come to us until we are changed ourselves. 

We must change if we are to become healthier. 

We must change if we are to become more responsible. 

We must change if we are to become more trustworthy. 

We must change if we are to be more righteous, genuine, honorable, and generous.

Now before we go any further, I want you to know I am no self-help guru, and my sermons are not Ted talks.

 I am in the same boat you are;

 struggling to live a better life and foster healthy relationships; 

I too hope to be able to retire with enough time, and money to enjoy it. 

I too worry about my health and potential sickness that runs in the family. 

And the reality is that it could all fall apart today, tomorrow, or next year for me, or for you! 

And while you and I have a vast amount of power to change our trajectory in life through the choices we make, 

the overarching reason for our frustrations, pains, and fears, in life is that we are irretrievably broken as sinners. 

In the long run the battle was lost before it had begun because sin makes us losers. 

It earns each of us eternal death. There is no sliding scale or grading on a curve. 

And so, in one sense, trying to change for the better is a lost cause. 

Because of sin, this life is all you are given, so you just must make the best of it. Right?

Wrong! That is one reality, but there is another.  One that is announced to us in the Gospel today. 

Because we are sinners, fallen from the grace of God, God sent his son to us. 

In the waters of the Jordan Jesus was baptized into a baptism meant for sinners. 

Though he was holy and perfect, he took on flesh like the rest of us, and joined himself to us in that sacred act.

And by doing so, became part of humanity like never before. 

Not just as our creator, 

but as our brother in life, and eventually, in death. 

Therefore, there is now a person capable of the change we all needed. 

But being God himself, it wasn't his life, or behaviors, that needed changing. 

Rather, by his death and resurrection he brought the change to us.

And this is what Paul is telling the Romans in chapter six of the Epistle reading. 

That, if we are joined to Jesus in his baptism, then we are joined to him in every other way as well. 

His suffering and death are ours because it was our sin for which he was being punished. 

His resurrection is ours because it is the proof that he triumphs over sin and death. 

We too will rise from the grave if he doesn't return in our lifetime 

so that we can live eternally with him in a new creation without sin or death. 

But if we go back to the first paragraph of the epistle, Paul is telling the Romans that this phenomenal change is not reserved for Jesus’ return on the last day. 

He asserts that by way of our faith and the forgiveness given to us, we are already changed. 

Moreover, this change in status to forgiven Sinner also means that we are changed in other ways as a response to that faith and forgiveness. 

More pointedly, he seems to be addressing an attitude among the Romans 

in which their change of fortune in the next life has caused them to be cavalier in this one.

because they are so confident in their forgiveness, they have embraced sinning even more. 

Because Jesus died for all their sins, why bother trying to avoid them? 

In essence, he's saying to them, 

“if you truly believe that Jesus loved you so much as to die for all of your sins, why would you dishonor that love by inflicting more pain and suffering through your continued lawlessness?”

“If you have faith your love for Christ and the eternal life he has given you would also change your behavior today. 

The ungrateful child can be disinherited, yet the steadfast love of God promises life to all who believe.

 Live like you believe.”

And that, of course, is the challenge for the believer: to show love through change of behavior, otherwise known as obedience. 

The first challenge, of course, is that it goes against our sinful nature. 

Which is why we need help in making the necessary changes in behavior. 

And that help can come from two places. God himself, and God's people. 

God helps keep us focused on righteousness through his word and sacraments, what we call the means of grace.

And his people, gathered as the church, extend love and support to encourage one another in our efforts to obey the commands of God. 

The second challenge comes when the world sees us fail in our obedience. 

Because the world assumes we are saved by our behaviors they see failure as hypocrisy. 

They misunderstand Christian obedience as a condition of faith rather than as a result of faith, 

But in reality, even when we falter, it doesn't mean the object of our faith is ineffective, 

but rather it is faith itself which is fragile at times. 

And the third challenge for believers is to avoid being so confident of faith that we fail to notice when we have let it falter. 

Like the Romans of Paul's day who were so confident that God was on their side, 

they dared to mock his gracious generosity as if they were owed it,

we too can become overly comfortable in our ivory bell-towers and beautiful sanctuaries.

So, what does this say for you and me? 

First and foremost, I believe it shows us that we need to be vigilant against pride and overconfidence. 

One of the reasons we begin each week with the confession 

is to remind ourselves that we cannot affect our own salvation 

and that we are totally dependent upon God for his mercy and grace. 

Secondly, that as baptized believers, we are not without the tools required to return our lives around. 

Bolstered by word, sacrament, and the fellowship of all the Saints, we can resist temptation to be sure. 

But they can also spur us on to good works which the Lord has created for us to accomplish. 

Lastly, once forgiven, we are no longer beggars of mercy, 

but conquerors in the Kingdom of God, 

sent out to be to spread the good news of Jesus to the world around us. 

And each of these things is very hard to do on our own because they are there are powerful forces working against us including our own bodies and psyches.

And that is why our fellowship as the church is so important.

The church exists not only to support you and comfort you, but to help you grow in faith and change your life for good. 

The church is probably the most effective change agent in history when it is on task,

 but when it isn't God withholds his favor, just as he did with Israel in the Old Testament. 

And like Israel, he never goes back on his promises, but doesn't shower blessings on those who spite him either.

So, as we start this new year together as a congregation, let's vow to make positive change which comes from following Jesus. 

Let's be more attentive to him in our worship and prayer life. 

Let's be more attentive to others by our generosity, care, and concern for those around us. 

And let's work together to become a church that our community can see loves their Lord, loves the community, and loves each other. 

And may his Holy Spirit fuel this change in each of our hearts. Amen.