2008-11-16 (pm) LD 26 Romans 6:1-14 Assurance of Baptism
Tonight, we’re going to look at a thorny issue that I have a lot of difficulty wrapping my head around. Why is it that some people respond to the grace of Jesus Christ with apparent indifference, sure they call themselves Christians, but from what we can see, they don’t really seem to be doing much growing, instead they’re just coasting through life, kinda lukewarm Christians.
Then, there are other people who seem to have grabbed hold of Christ, been faithful followers, not perfect by a long shot, but who seemingly walk away. They seemed to have tasted the fruit of Christ, but decide that there are other things they’d rather do.
Then there are people who struggle, and struggle and struggle. They barely make any spiritual progress. The same sins just keep grabbing hold of them, they don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, and yet you can’t say that they’re not plugged into the vine.
Somehow, in the teaching about Christ, we’ve emphasised one aspect and have avoided emphasising another aspect altogether. We need both. If that sentence was confusing, let me explain.
Have we allowed churches to get soft (discipline is hardly done anymore) because we’ve failed to make clear what God requires of us in the process of sanctification? What does it mean when Paul says, “I have crucified my old nature?
I mean I used to think of it as, okay, my old nature died with Christ on the cross. I should be able to do God’s will no problem.
But then, it didn’t take long and I found myself sinning again. Then I used to beat myself up, and get all angry with myself, feel bad about myself and go into a cycle of self-pity.
But then, I’d be reminded of the joy of the Lord and it would brighten my mood, and I’d try hard for a while only to sin again.
Now, when Paul talks about killing our old natures, crucifying them on the cross with Christ. He’s talking about getting at the heart of the issue.
In crucifying our old natures, we nail to the cross the sins we commit. Anger, frustration, gossip, slander, drug use, smoking, drinking in excess, lust, whatever.
That’s confession. We bring our sins before God, we confess them, we repent, at that moment we really truly want to stop sinning. But what happens a few hours later? What happens when we’re confronted by temptation, desire and vice? What happens when the pattern repeats itself all over again?
And why does that happen? Shouldn’t we be better? Shouldn’t we know better? Why do we still fail? I know, it is because we’re weak, but how do we exercise so as to get strong?
Well, one effective way to deal with temptation is to remove temptations from your life situation. This is why some people have taken TVs out of their houses, they know themselves that if the TV is there, that they’ll spend all their useful time in front of it. Others might decide to cut out the internet, not just because of the obvious temptations, such as pornography or endless conversations, or even dangerous conversations in chat rooms. Sometimes people realise that they are wasting time on the internet, and in order to control their time, they just remove the temptation.
But there is another way to flex our spiritual muscles, in order to grow. We have to deal with what is deeply rooted in our hearts.
A fourteen year old once wrote about this in her blog. She was weeding her garden after being on holidays for a while. There were a lot of weeds. Now, the easy thing to make the garden look good would have been to simply grab the weeds and pull on them. Sometimes the roots would come along too, but mostly the roots would stay in, and eventually grow as new plants again.
So, she said, in order to do a good job of it, she had to get down on her hands and knees and dig around, carefully so as not to dislodge the good plants, but nevertheless work hard so that she could get rid of the root as well. Even though it would take longer to get the garden looking really good, in the long run it would pay off, as she’d have to spend less time weeding later.
As she was weeding the garden, she realised that there were weeds growing in her heart. And it wasn’t enough of a solution just to break them off and make it look good. She had to dig at the roots and take them out. That’s a lot of hard work, and it doesn’t feel all that good, but like seeing a weed-free garden, the results are wonderful.
So, our attitude toward sin must be severe. We must not treat it too lightly. We must kill it. For if we’ve killed sin, then it has no power over us, does it. No one walks into a big game hunter’s house and gets frightened by the stuffed tiger in his living room. It’s a dead tiger, it can’t harm you.
Now, Paul tells us that not only is the power of sin defeated, we’re dead to it. You’ve heard the saying, “Dead men tell no lies.” Well, dead people no longer suffer, as Job says, in death “the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout” (Job 3:17-18). When our loved ones pass away after a prolonged period of suffering, we are comforted by this knowledge, the knowledge that their suffering is over.
So it is for us in our lives when we die to ourselves. A dead person cannot be tempted! We must be as indifferent to sinful temptations as someone is dead.
Sin does not have ownership over us. We belong, in body and soul, in life and in death to our faithful saviour Jesus Christ! All sin is able to do then, is oppress us, attack us, nag us, and try to thwart us, but we must not let it reign over us. We must work to suppress it.
We suppress it by recognising that the body seeks easy desires. The body is easily satisfied. But the body is mortal, and it was made mortal by sin. Sin has the power of death, so it is a very serious adversary.
Sin, if it has its way, will make our bodies instruments of unrighteousness. The sinful nature uses the body to fulfill the body’s desires, but our bodies do not rule us, Christ does, and he gives us His Spirit as well as his will and determination.
One sin leads to another. For example, King David, sinned by retiring to his palace instead of leading his men into battle. Then, bored at home, or at least open to temptation, he went out on his roof. From his vantage point, he was able to see a beautiful woman bathing. Instead of turning right around and walking away, he contemplated having her for himself. So, he sent his servants to fetch her. They slept together, she became pregnant, and in order to hide that obvious sin, he tried a series of cover ups which resulted in the indirect murder of her husband, Uriah.
We must be wary of sin, then. We must, at every opportunity, nip it in the bud. But that’s only half of the way to deal with sin. Perhaps it is the way that some people focus on too much, so that they seem like they are always struggling, never finding peace in this life. Or perhaps people are not struggling with that enough, not exercising, or flexing their spiritual muscles, in dealing with sin and temptation.
The other half of dealing with sin is the coming to life, the living to righteousness.
Is it enough to simply avoid sin? Shouldn’t we expect that we must also do righteousness? I mean, the moment we’re sitting around patting ourselves on the back for having avoided that sin again, we have to be asking ourselves, well then, what can I do with my time? What does God require of me?
We are to organise our lives, our hearts after God. With a new heart, newness of life streams out. Everything must be new. New rules, new goals, new leaders, new friends. Old things are crucified, new things are sought. A Christian is what he once was not, and he now does what he used not to do.
Someone asked me, “what should I do, go to church or go to a play?” Now, is there anything inherently evil in going to a play? Is church attendance absolutely necessary? The answer to both of those questions is no. What has to be asked is this, which will be more beneficial? Will going to a play be more beneficial than going to church?
Paul tells us to be alive to God through Jesus Christ. This is demonstrated in having a close, intimate relationship with God. And to have that kind of an intimate relationship, we have to work at it. We have to spend time in prayer. We have to spend time in God’s Word. We have to spend time in church.
But this is still externals, this is not the goal. We need do more than regiment our lives away from negative things and toward positive things. We need to actualise our goal, the glory and honour of God.
We organise our lives around honouring and glorifying God. We also discipline our hearts and our souls to contemplate the goodness and glory of God. Our living is unto God, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We live to God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our mediator. Have you ever wondered why we need a mediator? Without the mediation of Christ, without His intercession, his prayers on our behalf, we would die. We are not yet made pure, there still lingers sin, and nothing unholy can come before God.
But Christ is more than just our mediator. Christ is also the author and sustainer of this life. Christ is the head of the church, and the head of our lives. He influences our lives, our decisions, our direction. We are to fully yield ourselves to him, in everything.
Now this is not something that happens quickly. Sometimes in some people, it does happen quickly. But usually, there is a process by which we become more and more dead to our trespasses and more and more alive to Christ.
Last night at Alpha, we discussed this a bit. We asked why do we still sin. And one answer I gave is because we do not desire God enough. We still desire other things too much, even though we know that there is no satisfaction in them.
In the meantime, how can we best serve God? How can we best serve one another? How can we encourage honesty? How can we encourage one another to deepen our faith? How can we share our experiences in a way that has positive results?
The first thing we acknowledge is that all of us are where we are through the grace of God. God has willingly risked everything, even rejection and mock acceptance and indifference. We must, in winsome ways, encourage people to accept and live according to this amazing grace.
We must be very careful though. It is very easy to compare ourselves with others, and think less highly of others than we ought. Paul tells us to rather think less highly of ourselves than we think of others. Do we do this?
And we must, in everything, consider the benefits. Paul says, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12).
Allow me to conclude with these helpful guidelines from Pastor John Piper. This is a set of questions that he suggests a person asks when considering a new job. We can just as easily substitute activity for the word job.
Some Questions to Ask When Considering a Job
1. Can you earnestly do all the parts of this job “to the glory of God,” that is, in a way that highlights his superior value over all other things? “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
2. Is taking this job part of a strategy to grow in personal holiness? “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
3. Will this job help or hinder your progress in esteeming the value of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord? “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7).
4. Will this job result in inappropriate pressures on you to think or feel or act against your King, Jesus? “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
5. Will this job help establish an overall life-pattern that will yield a significant involvement in fulfilling God’s great purpose of exalting Christ among all the unreached peoples of the world? “Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
6. Will this job be worthy of your best energies? “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
7. Will the activities and environment of this job tend to shape you or will you be able to shape it for the Christ-magnifying purposes of God? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
8. Will this job provide an occasion for you to be radically Christian so as to let your light shine for your Father’s sake, or will your participation in the vision of the firm tend by definition to snuff your wick? “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
9. Does the aim of this job cohere with a growing intensity in your life to be radically, publicly, fruitfully devoted to Christ at any cost? “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
10. Will the job feel like a good investment of your life when these “two seconds” of preparation for eternity are over? “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
11. Does this job fit with why you believe you were created and purchased by Christ? “Everyone who is called by my name…I have created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7). “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
12. Does this fit together with the ultimate truth that all things exist for Christ? “For by him all…have been created by [Christ] and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
So, with these guidelines, let us endeavour to live in the reality of baptism. Being dead to sin, and alive to Christ. Amen.