Read: Romans 6:1-7
In the story, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, the protagonist Jean Valjean is struggling to adjust to who he has become in the eyes of others. After serving a nineteen-year prison sentence for petty theft, he becomes hardened and bitter. He is granted parole, but outside of prison, other people’s abusive reactions to his indispensable identification papers quickly teach him that his “freedom” is not really freedom at all. They distrust him, mock his dirty clothes, and send him out into the streets. He is still identified as a criminal, and so he carries bitterness and thievery as close as the papers that condemn him.
The pivotal change in Jean Valjean’s life happens when he is caught stealing silver from a bishop who shows him hospitality when no one else will. But Jean Valjean returns the bishop’s kindness with theft, acting out of his criminal identity. In another act of extravagant kindness, the bishop gives Jean Valjean precious silver candlesticks in addition to what he stole, telling the ex-convict to use them to become an honest man. After this encounter with forgiveness and grace, Jean Valjean radically changes. He takes on a new name, loses his papers, and eventually becomes the respected mayor of a city. As a forgiven man, Jean Valjean now has integrity and a new identity, even when trials and difficult decisions arise.
Jean Valjean’s story gives us an unforgettable example of how grace transforms our lives and frees us from sin. In Romans 6, the apostle Paul calls his readers to live out their new identities in Christ. Just as Jean Valjean buried his past life under a new one of courage and good character, so also, as Christians, we bury our old ways of sin by the power of the Spirit. Romans 6 uses the image of baptism to depict how we bury our sin and rise renewed in God. Because of this baptism, we can experience the victory Christ had over death. We are able to live a new life now, and in eternity we will also be resurrected with Christ.
This shift in our identity makes newness possible, starting with the death of our sinful selves. Like Jean Valjean, our criminal identity has to die so a new man can rise up and take on a life of integrity and dignity. It can be difficult to remove sin, especially when we don’t fully realize Christ’s claims about our new identity in Him. But the reward is immeasurable: real freedom from sin. Letting sin rule our lives is slavery, a prison for our souls that destroys our entire being. But since you died with Christ, you can take on a new identity of virtue and freedom. As Paul asks in verse 2, once we have died to sin and tasted grace, why would we turn to a corpse to find life?
Do you fully understand your new identity in Christ? Make a list of characteristics of your new identity as listed in the Bible. Pray through this list and ask God to show you what parts of your old identity need to die so you can be free from the slavery of sin.