This past Monday, Eugene Peterson, longtime pastor and best-selling author of “The Message” Bible passed away at the age of 85. Though I never met Peterson, I felt that he was a long-time friend through his writings. I first got acquainted with him in graduate school when I read his book “Working the Angles,” which sharpened my understanding of the importance of vital prayer and Scriptural engagement as a minister. As a novice preacher, his book “Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer” helped me engage with the Psalms in a much deeper and personal way. Over the years I also benefited from his writings on the life of David, the Psalms of Ascent, and the story of Esther. Peterson combined a lively faith, a pastor’s practicality, a poet’s specificity, a scholar’s love for etymology, and a prophet’s sharp edge.
At a time when I was memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, I opened “The Message” Bible to see how Peterson had paraphrased Jesus’ most famous sermon. Having memorized the more formal Revised Standard Version, Peterson’s paraphrase leaped off the page, giving Jesus’ words a more street-wise and earthy feel. And while it’s true that sometimes Peterson took some liberties with his paraphrasing, I often have found that “The Message” provides me just the fresh perspective I need on a familiar passage.
For example, you may be familiar with Paul’s discussion of sin, baptism, and new life in Romans 6. This passage has long been a favorite of mine because it connects the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection with our personal stories of sin, baptism, and new life. So in honor of Eugene Peterson’s passing, I share with you his paraphrase of Romans 6:4-14.
That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.
Love in Christ,