Walking in Newness of Life (Romans 6)
Although God’s grace has come into the world to bring reconciliation and justice, there are still evil spiritual powers at work opposing the life-giving power of God’s grace (Rom. 6:14). Paul often personifies these evil spiritual forces, calling them such names as “sin” (Rom. 6:2), “flesh” (Rom. 7:5), “death” (Rom. 6:9), or “this world” (Rom. 12:2). Human beings must choose whether, through their actions in daily life, to partner with God through Christ or with these evil forces. Paul calls choosing to partner with God “walking in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He compares walking in newness of life to Christ’s new life after being raised from the dead. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). In our lives here and now, we can begin to live—or “walk”—in reconciliation and justice just as Christ now lives.
To walk in newness of life requires us to abandon our judgmentalism and to do God’s justice rather than continuing in our self-serving habits (Rom. 6:12–13). As instruments of God’s justice, believers act in ways through which the life-giving power of God’s grace builds up people and communities in Christ. This is far more active than merely refraining from bad behavior. Our calling is to become instruments of justice and reconciliation, working to root out the effects of sin in a troubled world.
For example, workers may have fallen into a habit of judging management as evil or unfair, and vice versa. This may have become a convenient pretext for workers to cheat the company, use paid time for personal activities, or fail to do excellent work. Conversely, it may be a convenient excuse for managers to discriminate against workers they don’t personally like, or to evade safety or workplace fairness regulations, or to withhold information from workers. Merely following the regulations or refraining from cheating would not be walking in newness of life. Instead, walking in newness of life would require us first of all to give up our judgments of the other side. Once we no longer regard them as unworthy of our respect, then we can begin to discern specific ways to restore good relationships, reestablish just and fair dealings with one another, and build up one another and our organizations.
Making this kind of change in our life and work is exceedingly difficult. Paul says that sin continually seeks to “exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” However good our intentions, we soon fall back into our broken ways. Only God’s grace, made real in Christ’s death, has the power to pry us free from our habits of judgment (Rom. 6:6).
Therefore God’s grace does not cast us “free” to wander aimlessly back into our old ills. Instead he offers to strap us into new life in Christ. The bindings will chafe whenever we begin to wander off course, and Paul admits that walking in newness of life will feel a lot like slavery at first. Our choice, then, is which kind of slavery to accept—slavery to newness of life or slavery to our old sins. “You are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness [justice]” (Rom. 6:25). “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification [newness of life]. The end is eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). The advantage of walking in newness of life is not that it feels freer than slavery to sin, but that it results in justice and life, rather than shame and death.
What does it mean to be a “slave” of God’s grace in our places of work? It means that we do not make decisions at work based on how things affect us, but about how they affect our master, God. We make decisions as God’s stewards or agents. This is actually a familiar concept in both Christian faith and the secular workplace. In the Christian faith, Christ himself is the model steward, who gave up his own life in order to fulfill God’s purposes. Similarly, many people in the workplace have a duty to serve the interests of others, rather than their own. Among them are attorneys, corporate officers, agents, trustees and boards of directors, judges, and many others. Not many workplace stewards or agents are as committed as Jesus was—willing to give their lives to fulfill their duties—but the concept of agency is an everyday reality in the workplace.
The difference for Christians is that our duty ultimately is to God, not the state or shareholders or anyone else. Our overarching mission must be God’s justice and reconciliation, not merely obeying the law, making a profit, or satisfying human expectations. Unlike Albert Carr’s claim that business is just a game in which normal rules of ethics don’t apply, walking in newness of life means integrating justice and reconciliation into our lives at work.
For instance, walking in newness of life for a high school teacher might mean repeatedly forgiving a rebellious and troublesome student, while also seeking new ways to reach that student in the classroom. For a politician, walking in newness of life might mean drafting new legislation that includes input from a number of different ideological perspectives. For a manager, it might mean asking the forgiveness of an employee in front of everyone who is aware of the manager’s transgression against the employee.
Walking in newness of life requires us to look deeply into our patterns of work. Bakers or chefs might easily see how their work helps feed hungry people, which in itself is a form of justice. The same bakers and chefs might also need to look more deeply at their personal interactions in the kitchen. Do they treat people with dignity, help others succeed, bring glory to God? Walking in newness of life affects both the ends we try to accomplish and the means we use to do so.
Albert Z. Carr, “Is Business Bluffing Ethical?” Harvard Business Review 46 (January/February 1968).