Scripture: Romans 6:1–14
Something special happens at church summer camps. When kids—or adults—are able to take time away from their daily routines and responsibilities, spend time in nature, experience new activities, hear good words and have meaningful conversations about God, faith and life. I was a full-time camp counselor for five summers and I saw a lot of different types of campers. There were the campers whose parents somehow didn’t realize they had sent their kids to a church camp for the week. There were campers who didn’t care much about God but really enjoyed the other parts of camp. There were campers who just went through the motions of being a Christian. There were campers who already had active faith lives and used camp as an opportunity to experience God in new and deep ways. Then there were campers who had conversion experiences while at camp, and came on fire for God as the week went on.
But as the summers went on, I would see some of these same campers have the same conversion experiences every year. Some even talked to me about how they used camp every year as an opportunity to make themselves right with God but didn’t really do anything with God the rest of the year. These campers loved the catharsis of camp, the opportunity to express their emotions and regrets and have the happy, mountain-top feeling of getting right with God and feeling God’s love, but those experiences stayed on the mountain top of camp and rarely went back home with them.
If church camp happened in Paul’s time, these are the campers he would be addressing in this text. The campers that came every year and re-accepted Jesus into their hearts, and then went about a different life the other 51 weeks of the year.
Paul is saying that this doesn’t make sense, and as a camp counselor, I felt the same way. Yes, experiencing God’s grace is amazing, but Paul says you don’t need to keep sinning to experience it, you don’t need to have a yearly conversion experience…you can live your life camped out in God’s grace, you can be surrounded by God’s grace all the time. When you become a Christian, when you are baptized, Paul says you die to your former life of sin and have a new life in Christ. And once you have experienced life in Christ, how could you want life anyplace else? In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this by saying,
“If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Romans 6:1-5 MSG)
These campers who re-accepted Jesus into their hearts every year didn’t get this. They didn’t understand that they were welcomed into a new life with Christ that went beyond the one week at camp every year. Or some did understand it, but didn’t feel ready or didn’t think it was worth it to make changes in their lives to reflect the love of Jesus.
But then, there were the campers that got it. Who heard the good news of Jesus at camp, experienced God’s grace, and then went home and lived life differently, knowing they were a part of a new life in Christ. And the next year, they would come back to camp and you could see how their faith had grown over the year, that they had entered the new country, the new life of grace in Christ and didn’t turn back because they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else once they had experienced that life of grace.
Working at camp also taught me a lot and one thing it did was it helped me learn to live a slower-paced life. I was able to experience living in God’s country of grace without the distractions of strong cell phone signals, social media, and Internet access. Working at camp gave me a schedule with built-in quiet time for God multiple times a day and the opportunity to be surrounded by nature. While at camp, the speed of my life was only as fast as my legs could carry me. Working at camp helped me know and imagine what life camped in God’s grace could look like.
Then I read the book An Unhurried Life by Alan Falding. There are some books that you read that give you language you had been searching for and resonate deep in your bones. An Unhurried Life has been one of those books for me. Because between my summers working at camps, where life was slower, quieter, and yes, grace-filled, I had school, which tried to give me another pattern of a life to live that focused on productivity and achievement, that glorified a lifestyle of busyness, that pushed me to take the hardest classes while trying to achieve the highest GPA while also being a part of several extracurricular activities to boost my resume, this lifestyle tried to tell me my worth was based on how well I did these things. In the midst of all of this, I came across this book that helped me bridge my camp life and my school life and Falding calls it an unhurried life. Here is what Falding says: “Hurrying puts us at risk of running past God’s way for us. We somehow think that rushing about will put us on a fruitful path to God, but the opposite is usually true. Taking the unhurried way enables us to be attentive to God’s presence and guidance. I want to learn to live at that pace of grace. No slower and definitely not any faster.” (15) I latched onto this idea of living a “grace-paced” life.
This is what I think Paul is welcoming us into in Romans 6. Paul is reminding us that our life does not have to be and should not be dictated by society. Instead, our life should be in Christ surrounded by grace. Now, Paul is not saying that after we start following Jesus we will live sin-free lives, but he does say that sin does not need to have power over our lives any more because in a life with Christ, grace abounds, grace has the power…if only we let it. and Paul says, why wouldn’t we? When we can choose between a life powered by lies of sin or a life powered by grace…why wouldn’t we choose grace once we understand it? A life powered by grace means that when we mess up, when we sin, when we make mistakes…we know that is not what defines us, we know that God’s grace is present and has the final say.
But in order to experience God’s grace, we must make room for it in our lives, we need to have time and space to be able to hear God’s grace speaking. Our culture is driven by productivity and achievement, where busyness is normal and even good…but these are lies of sin. God calls us good and beloved before we do anything. God is our parent and loves us unconditionally. We understand that when people become parents, they love their child right away. They don’t look at the baby and say, “Little one, once you start achieving, once you are a productive member of society, then I will love you.” No, healthy parents love their child right away. So why would we think God would be any different? Especially when God created us. Genesis 1 says God created us in their image and Genesis 2 describes God intimately forming creation with their hands like an artist. If we were formed out of God’s love, then there is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less. But if we try to live into our culture’s fast-paced life centered around productivity and achievement, we will miss out experiencing the grace-paced life that our baptism has gifted us with.
A grace-paced life looks different for each person, but here are some principles that I believe a grace-paced life is centered around.
- A grace-paced life says no to busyness and productivity culture ruling our lives and measuring our worth. A grace-paced life says we are not defined by what we do but that we are beloved and good simply because we are God’s.
- A grace-paced life will mean saying “no” to good things to say “yes” to space for grace. There are so many wonderful opportunities and activities in this world and we cannot do them all, so we need to choose wisely and try out different things to discover what activities make us come alive. We need to leave room for quiet times in our daily lives. If we are always busy doing something, it will be much harder to hear God’s reminders that we are covered in grace and love.
- A grace-paced life includes (but is not limited to) the spiritual practices of sabbath, rest, play, and making space.
- Sabbath. God doesn’t just call pastors to sabbath, God calls all of us to sabbath, to take one day a week and set it apart from work, to spend time with God and each other and be reminded that we are God’s. It’s in the 10 Commandments.
- Rest. We don’t need to earn our rest. In the Bible and still in Jewish culture today, the day begins in the evening with sleep. Sleep isn’t something to earn after a long day of work, it is something to nourish us before our day begins.
- Play. Play isn’t just for kids. We all need to play, in our own ways, to do more than just work and find activities that bring us joy.
- Making Space for God. This looks different for all of us. For instance, take your two pastors. For me, it’s having quiet time, sitting in silence, and journaling, whereas for Pastor Matt, it’s going running and taking pictures. Experiment and take notice of what places and activities help you notice and think about how God is at work in your daily life.
Lastly, I want to say that grace-paced life is not a lazy life. It is not sitting around and doing nothing all day. Living a grace-paced life takes work. It is living intentionally with God at the center of our lives. It is choosing to be like Paul and say no to a life of sin and yes to a life of grace in Christ.