Sunday, September 8, 2013

My sermon from the St. Luke's men's conference this summer

The apostle Paul, missionary to the pagans, had high hopes of one day being able to share the good news of Jesus and salvation in his name in the very center of the Roman Empire. He decided to forward to the believers in Rome a summary of his gospel, which was a good idea for several reasons. For example, what if he didn't make it? He would have at least been able to give them the core of what he had hoped to tell them face-to-face. Thankfully, this summary of Paul's gospel has been preserved for us and this morning we have read from its 6th chapter.
Chapter 6 is part of the section of Paul's letter, chapters 5-8, which contain absolutely critical information for a full experience of the Christian life this side of heaven. Roughly, one could say that chapter 5 deals with our justification - how we are made right with God, ch. 6, our sanctification - or how to live a righteous life, ch. 7, our relationship to God's law, and chapter 8, our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Now we need to understand it all to have a fully formed Christian life, but I cannot preach on all 4 chapters in 15 or 20 minutes! I've decided to jump into chapter 6 because it is the next step beyond our understanding and receiving the free gift of justification.
We who are of the Reformed churches understand justification by faith and by faith alone. We all esteem Martin Luther and his work to bring this doctrine to clarity in the Church. But how do we live out this faith that justifies us; this faith that has a living quality to it that produces a particular kind of life? This is where chapter 6 of Romans comes to play. And one of the ways I like to explain chapter 6 is to set it immediately within the context of our everyday life by asking the question: "Now that I am right with God, how do I not fall into temptation to sin? How do I live out this faith I have as a gift from God; this faith that unites me to the very life of Christ Himself. How can I have victory over my temptations?"
Paul's answer can be summarized simply in these words: "What has happened to Christ, has happened to me." Now lets unpack this.
According to Paul in these verses in ch. 6, what happened to Christ? In verse 10, Paul says he died unto sin. What does that mean? When Jesus hung on the cross, all our sins were laid on him. They were credited to his moral account before God so that, when he died, the penalty for all of our sin would be paid for. That is how God is able to forgive us for our sins: they were paid for by the death of Jesus. But Paul is adding something else here. When Jesus died on the cross, he not only died for our sins, he died unto our sins, that is, he died in his relationship to them. While hanging on the cross, he had a relationship to our sins: they were his. Once he died, that relationship was over; Jesus was dead unto all sin. He would never again have anything to do with our sins; that old relationship on the cross was gone; it was done for.
What happened to Jesus next? Paul says in verse 4: "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father," and then in verses 9 and 10, he says, "Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God." What happened to Jesus? He died to our sins and then he was raised to live a new life unto God and he lives that life unto God today.
How does what happened to Christ apply to me? How does it enter into my experience? I learn in ch. 5 how it affects my justification; how does it affect my sanctification? Paul tells us in ch. 6 by bringing in the subject of our baptism. We know that our baptism is the official occasion when we are recognized as being joined with Christ and His Body. Whether our baptism actually was the occasion of our being united with Christ - or being born again, to put it that way - it is still our badge of union with Christ. But we are not joined with Christ merely in his legal position before God so that we may be justified. We are joined with Christ so that the power and virtue of his historic death and resurrection might be a living reality in our present lives.
If I pay all my power bills, I'm in right relationship with the power company and that's a good thing. But for what reason? Just so I can feel good about being right with the power company and have good credit? I want good credit, but I want more than that. I want to be right with the power company, so that, when I flip a switch, I can have all that power in the power grid flowing through my house and lighting it all up. Now that's the kind of thing Paul is talking about here in chapter 6. Being right with God, we also now have the
Let's think about it some more, so we can be sure we understand this, because it's a challenge to our imagination. What happened to Christ has happened to us and in our union with him in baptism those things that happened to him enter our experience. But how? We weren't there in history when it happened. But God was treating us as if we were there. As far as God was concerned, when Jesus died to our sin on the cross, we were there with him, dying to our sin. When he walked out of the tomb 3 days later, we walked out of his tomb with him to live a new life. Paul says in verses 3 and 4: "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that (here's the reason why we are joined with Christ) like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of God, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Jesus died and rose two thousand years ago. But when we are united to him by our new birth, our regeneration, our re-creation - those things which baptism stands for - the power of that death and resurrection become a living reality in us; as if God is doing spiritual surgery on us. He changes us. He deals a death blow to that old nature of ours inherited from Adam, and he gives us a new self - a self that is one with the very resurrected life of Jesus. We are not the people we used to be. As Paul says in verse 6: "Knowing this, that our old man - the old self that we were in Adam - is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed (or rendered inoperative) that henceforth we should not serve sin." What has happened to Jesus has happened to us that we may no longer be slaves to sin and therefore no longer have to fall to temptation.
Now as our Pentecostal brethren are wont to say, this is shouting ground! You do not have to serve sin any more! What happened to Jesus has happened to you. Your old relationship to sin is dead and gone; you are not who you used to be; born in Adam. You now are born anew in Christ and a new creature. You are free from sin and you have living in you the power of the resurrected Christ; indeed the resurrected Christ himself makes his home in your heart by the Holy Spirit. And you don't have to be afraid of the wages of sin in your life anymore; you can be free of it, because you are free of it. Praise the Lord! What a wonderful Saviour! He has not only saved us from the penalty of our sins, he has saved us from the power of sin over us. Thank God for his wonderful Gift.
So lets go back to our question: "How can I have victory over temptation?" The answer is based on what we learn here in ch. 6, vs. 1-10 and, if you will, Paul next gives us 3 steps to deal with temptation in verses 11-14. First of all, you have to believe that these things we have been talking about are true. The first step in the face of temptation is to take a believing stand. Paul says in verse 11: "Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." You simply believe that all we have said at this point is true; you say to yourself, "I don't have to do this anymore! I am dead to sin and alive to God, because what has happened to Christ has happened to me, and I'm not going to give into that temptation anymore." You take a believing stand.
The second thing Paul tells us to do is to refuse the sin you are tempted with, to say "No" to it. He says in verse 12: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof." Paul is putting it on you, because you are now free in Christ to resist, and so you can do it. So, you refuse to go that way; you refuse to do that thing; you refuse to continue in that old habit, because you are dead to it in Christ.
And the third and last step is to get busy doing what is right. Paul continues in verses 13 and 14: "Neither yield you your members as instrument of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you." Turn from the negative and get on with the positive, and you can, because the power of a new life lived for God is yours.
Now this process, - this response to temptation - can break down at any of the three steps. You can forget about what has happened to you through your union to Christ, and so you don't bank on it in step one. You can also fail to really believe that these things about you are true, and step forth into your future with the Lord by faith in step three. But I find step 2 to be the one that is the most difficult.
Paul says you have to not let sin have its way in you; you have to say "No" to the thing. Here's my point: the whole process breaks down in step 2 unless you really mean it. You have to really mean it when you say no. Our problem is that we tend to not mean it because we love our sins. We like the pleasure they bring to us. We like the way it feels when we put someone down. We like the way it feels when we get back at someone or when we get our way regardless of what it means to others. And we do not want to give up that pleasure.
Friends, this is where we enter into the truth of our union with Jesus on his cross. Jesus took up his cross and died to our sins; we must take up our cross and die to our sins as well. We must allow the death dealing work of the cross to kill our sins, and so we must be willing to live without their pleasure. This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5, that passage parallel with this one in its truth, when he says "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and its desires," and only then can we walk in the Spirit, as Paul says in Galatians, which is the same thing as living out the resurrection life of Christ in Romans 6. We must fast from the pleasures of our sins if we are to be rid of their destructive influence in our lives. We must follow Christ in dying to sin and its pleasure, as he says in Mark 8: "If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." That is the only way to having victory over our temptations.
We should be happy enough to lose the pleasures we have in our sins in light of all that Jesus has done for us, but he has a whole world of blessings for us that are beyond our comprehension to motivate us. If we wonder, "What will I do if I can't have that pleasure any more," then look to the pleasures that the Lord offers us. We could go all over Scripture to find them, but we could simply look again at that parallel passage in Galatians where Paul explains that the alternative to all the miseries that our old, sinful nature brings us, are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. My goodness! What a universe of happiness can be found in those qualities! And they are ours, if we are willing to give up the temporary, miserable, and decaying pleasures of sin, which ultimately lead to death itself.
Perhaps we should dig a little deeper and ask: why do we want to have victory over temptation? Is it because we are afraid of losing a good reputation if we are found out that we have done this or that? How poor. How sick. How beneath our calling as the children of God! Jesus fasted from all the pleasures of heaven and went to the cross in hope that one day he might share with us that very same joy that he now sets before us.
Let's give up the straw and dust that sin offers us and enjoy the beef and beer of a righteous life! What has happened to Jesus has happened to you! What is going to happen to Jesus is going to happen to you! You are going to share his glory and joy forever! And in the meantime you can begin to taste the glory of that new life you will have on the Resurrection Day by the power of the risen Christ in your heart, if you will reckon yourself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, say no to the pleasures of sin for a short season in this life, and get on with the business of walking that narrow road - that road of love and joy and righteousness - to the glory that is to come. Amen.

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