Choosing Life

By Michael Smith

A Reading from Romans 6:12-23 

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No 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. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Paul’s words in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans remind me of Moses addressing the chosen people before their entrance into the Promised Land: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). Paul is almost systematic in presenting the options available to human creatures. Whether we like it or not, we will be slaves to something, to the “one whom you obey.” Will we be servants of sin which leads to death or servants of righteousness which leads to life? The “correct” decision is obvious, but why is it so difficult to make?

Part of the answer may be found in the story where this all started, back in the Garden of Eden. There, to disrupt the good relationship between the Creator and our first parents, the evil one in the guise of a serpent plays a trick on the creatures causing them to second guess God’s commands and doubt the consequences of a breach: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5).

It was a lie, but they fell for it. I think all of us have experienced that people are prone to believe what they want to believe, especially if there is the possibility of possessing something which they crave. Like parents, like sons or daughters, like us. This Lent we pray for clarity of thought, taming of desires, and discerning spirits so that we might choose life and live — truly live.

Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

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