2008-07-13pm LD 16 Romans 6.1-14 Life After Death
This is very important. Many Christians don’t understand this passage. Christians talk about God’s love and God’s grace, but they don’t understand this passage at all. Again, as much for myself as for all of us, we need to be reminded of God’s truth.
If you are familiar with Romans 5 and 6, you may or may not know what’s going on. Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul showed that all people are guilty of sin. Then, in chapter 5, Paul tells us that wherever sin increased, grace increased. He said this so that people would not despair.
For some people, having come to know Jesus later in life, might have worried that their sins might be too many or too heinous for God’s forgiveness. But Paul wanted them to know that grace was able to cover over all sin.
Now, when people hear that grace covers all sin, they take that to mean, even though Paul clearly says it does not, they take that to mean that they can live their lives any old way they want.
We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? We live by grace now, not the law. Why read the law, we have grace. We’re to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will teach us how to live. We just have to go with the flow.
This attitude, is, a reaction to a conservative, so-called stifling upbringing. They’ve longed for freedom from rules and regulations, and they are using grace to get it.
But that isn’t what Paul means, and deep down, those who say otherwise must know it too. The problem is, we often get confused on the subject of grace. For there are two facets to grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. And Christians often confuse justification and sanctification.
Romans 5, is justification. No matter how many sins, no matter what kind of sins a person has committed, by grace through faith, God forgives them. God wipes them away.
Romans 6 is about sanctification. Sanctification is about dying to the old self, that is the old, sinful nature, and being raised with Christ, and living according to the new living nature, the holy nature that Christ has given to us.
So, it is true, that in Romans 5, in describing our position in Christ, we are fully justified. We are eternally made right with God. We are no longer under the law that leads to death; we’re under the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8.2).
But does that mean we are free from commandments? Did not Jesus command his disciples and us saying, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).
So, doesn’t that clearly imply that we can’t simply do whatever we want to do, but that we are called to do what Christ has commanded us to do. And since we know that Christ is God, and God never changes, therefore we hold to God’s law, even as it is revealed in the Old Testament, but as it is explained and understood in the New Testament. For example, the NT has shown us that the ceremonial law has been perfectly fulfilled in Christ, but the moral law still applies to us.
So, what Paul is telling us here, in Romans 6, is that we must maintain a close association to the moral law. We are not permitted to go on sinning! We must be on guard against sin. We must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit! We must follow the teaching of the Bible.
What Paul is talking about here is faith formation. We have been raised with Christ, and we, through the Holy Spirit are being formed into His image.
There are some leaders, myself included, who lament that the church in North America is becoming more and more Biblically illiterate. Even in our church, I’ve seen some of this reality. Some of our teenagers can’t find some books of the Bible without looking at the index. Not only do they not know the books of the Bible, some of them don’t even have a general idea of whether a book is in the New Testament or the Old Testament.
I don’t even dare to ask for a show of hand of who has read the entire Bible, even going from cover to cover. I can honestly tell you it is not as hard to do as Satan would have you believe. Surely it isn’t simply a discipline problem that has prevented people from learning as much about this book as they can. Of course, there is also a spiritual dimension to not getting the job done.
But this past week, as I began preparing for the leadership training seminar I’ll be giving to all the teachers and GEMS/Cadets/Youth leaders in August, I came across the following statement. “Not only is there a lack of Biblical knowledge, there’s a lack of Biblical living knowledge as well.
In other words, Christians no longer know how to live as Christians anymore. Christians have lost the ability to distinguish between positional grace, and progressive grace, between justification and sanctification. So rather than shaping culture, they’re allowing culture to shape them.
So, getting back to those two things, justification means that we are eternally made right with God, on account of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Sanctification is the process by which we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Why does Paul say, with fear and trembling? It is because we can so easily be distracted, we can easily be made lazy by the very thing that he’s warning us not to do, that is, keeping on sinning so that grace may abound.
That’s what is happing in churches all over. People keep on sinning. Didn’t Jesus tell the adulterous woman to go, and sin no more? In the grace movement, people think Jesus said, “Go, and sin some more!”
But that’s the opposite of what Paul is telling us here. He is saying, that because of our being justified in Christ, we’re on the path of sanctification. And we’ll be slogging our way down this path until Christ returns or until we die, and then, as the catechism says, we will attain perfection. But until then, we participate, alongside the Holy Spirit, in our sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming holy, of becoming more and more like Christ, of attaining perfection. Don’t be fooled. We won’t achieve perfection in this life, but we strive for it all the same.
There is no passive acceptance here. We have responsibilities! We have died to sin! Sin no longer has any real hold on us.
I’ve heard that people who have had limbs amputated sometimes experience something called phantom limb. They believe that the missing limb is still there, they experience pain in the missing limb. In one experiment, the tester told the patient to reach for a hot cup of coffee and grab it with his phantom limb. Just at the right moment, the tester yanked the coffee cup away. The man with the missing limb, yelled, “Ow, don’t do that!” “Why,” the tester asked. “That hurts, I just about had the cup in my hand and some coffee spilled on it.” Now, the cup was real, the coffee was real, but there was no hand reaching out for it!
If the Christian life has a phantom limb, it is the sinful nature. We still are pushed and prodded by our dead nature. We still feel compelled to follow it and obey it, even though it is dead and has no hold on us.
Therefore, we need to steep ourselves in God’s Word. That way, we will know how to recognise these phantom sinful nature moments and be able to resist them.
Paul says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” There’s a lot of information in this single sentence. First, sin is going to come into our lives. We will be tempted. Paul warns us that it is going to happen. But, he says, don’t let it reign over you; don’t let it have dominion over your body. Don’t let it rule over you, Christ is your Lord, sin is not.
Second, do not obey sin’s evil desires. That’s not going to be easy. This is where we participate. But we’re not alone. Christ is our example, we’ve been promised a great reward for following Christ’s example, and Christ gives us superhuman strength, through the Holy Spirit, to deny sin and its evil desires.
Paul goes on. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather, offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
We have to watch what we do. We cannot do whatever we want. This is an example of a black and white issue. Either the members of our bodies are being a sacrifice offering to sin, or a sacrifice offering to God.
Is your eye looking at others lustfully? Is your hand communicating things in less than appropriate means? Is your tongue praising God or cursing Him? Are you blessing or cursing others? Are you building up idols for yourself, or are you daily giving your life to God?
I was listening to a very challenging question and answer lecture from the New Attitude 2005 lecture series. Joshua Harris asked C.J. Mahaney to describe his spiritual discipline of Bible reading. C.J’s answer went something like this:
“My alarm clock is on the other side of the room. It is there because it forces me to get up to turn it off. Furthermore, it is set to play a country music radio station because I hate country music and that encourages me to get up and turn it off even more quickly. After I’m actually up, I have to resist the temptation to go back to bed. I force myself to move downstairs to where I read my Bible. All kinds of thoughts come into my brain, like, “you’re too tired to read. You’re not awake enough yet, go online and check your email, or check out the latest on ESPN. Go make some coffee. Don’t spend so much time working on that, do something else.
Those are some of the things that go through C.J. Mahaney’s mind in the morning. It is a battle of wills.
It is no different for any of us. We all struggle. Nothing comes easy. There is not formulaic prayer you can pray that will make it easier for you to do the Godly things you know you have to do. Your sinful nature will want to distract you from the very important task of starting your day with prayer and Bible reading.
This wasn’t easy for Jesus. He suffered in his body; we looked at that last time we were together. Jesus had to take time to be alone, to pray, to spend time with His Father. He knew how short His ministry was. He knew He had a lot to do. But He maintained His discipline. He didn’t give into pressure. He made sure He took time out of His busy schedule, morning and evening, to be with His Father.
And He’s the pattern we follow. The apostle Paul followed Him and he describes what that following is like, what following Christ demanded of Paul, and what it should demand of us.
He lays it out in 1 Cor. 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
So, how’re you running? Trust me, being here is good. This is good discipline. It is beneficial to hear God’s Word, to have fellowship and to be encouraged in the faith. But how are you doing the rest of the week? Do you have a reading plan? Do you set aside time during the day for personal devotions, for reading God’s Word and prayer?
I realise that there are many sins we can look at, many areas of weakness. But I want us to concentrate on a positive, on personal devotions. In what ways do you beat your body into shape and make it your slave, in order to spend time in God’s Word? And if you’re blessed to be disciplined enough to regularly study the Bible, what other areas of weakness do you have?
Think about how you can discipline your body, make it your slave, rather than being a slave to it, to the desire to sleep, to the desire to yell, to the desire to lust, the desire to drink too much, to gossip, to put others down. Think about it, and then act on it. Plan it out. Set up a schedule and then stick to it. Get up ten minutes earlier. Get reading, get praying. The Holy Spirit is at work, you can do it. You are alive and not dead! Amen.