Be who you are! - Romans 6:1-14

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 29th June 2008.

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At the end of August 1946, the Nuremburg trial of 21 Nazis finished.  A few weeks later the sentences were passed:  11 were to be hanged;  8 received custodial sentences and 2 were declared not guilty.    Those who were hanged were guilty of some the worst crimes against humanity imaginable.  People like Von Ribbentrop who was involved in Hitler’s final solution.  The systematic murder of 6 million Jews. 

But what’s not so well known, is that while they were on trial, 8 of these men professed faith in JC before they died.  8 of the worst war criminals the world as ever known, became Christians.  Men like Von Ribbentrop who moments before he was hanged said this:  “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins.  May God have mercy on my soul”.    And just before the noose was placed round his neck, he turned to the chaplain and said:  “I’ll see you again”.  And if you’re a Christian here this morning, so will you.  Indeed, you’ll spend all eternity with him and those other 7 forgiven Nazis. 

And if you find that hard to accept, then let me suggest that you’ve probably not understood the Gospel properly.    Yes, of course, those Nazi were as guilty as sin and deserved God’s eternal punishment.  But the consistent message of Romans which we’ve been looking at this term is that we’re all sinners.    As chapter 3 put it:   “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”       The difference between us and Von Ribbentrop is only a matter of degree.  Because none of us matches up to God’s perfect standards.  Not Von Ribbentrop nor any of us.  We’re all guilty as sin.  We’ve all turned our backs on God and tried to live in God’s world according to our own rules.    The constant message of the opening chapters of Romans is that, left to ourselves, we’d all be facing God eternal punishment. 

But the reason Paul wrote this letter was to strengthen people in the Good news of the Gospel.  The Gospel of sins forgiven.   Let’s come back to that key verse in chapter 3 v22:

There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

J has made it possible to be forgiven.  To be justified as we learnt in chapter 4.  To have J’s take away our sins and to receive his perfection instead.  To be declared innocent when God’s looks at us, despite the reality of our sin.  How?  Because Jesus took the sin of His people upon his shoulders when he died on the cross;  when Jesus died in the place of people like Von Ribbentrop;  in the place of people like me and you.    And so we heard these words of comfort at the beginning of chapter 5:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand

Because of Jesus, the war between God and his people is over.  We’re now reconciled to God, if we’re one of His people.    And the rest of chapter s 5 to 8 are dealing with the consequences of that peace.  The aftermath of that reconciliation.  Christians are forgiven, but still sinners as Luther put it.  And so Christians still have mess in their lives in this world which needs clearing up.   

After the second World War, after the Nazis had been defeated, the victory’d been won, but Europe was still a mess.  And so the Americans put in place a plan for the reconstruction of post-War Europe.  The Marshall Plan.  And Rom 5-8, are a sort of heavenly Marshal plan for the spiritual reconstruction of believers.     But that reconstruction can’t start until God’s people are really convinced that the Dictator is dead.  If Christian’s don’t accept that sin and death are defeated enemies then they won’t grow in the faith. 

And that’s what last week’s passage was all about.  The Sin and death that Adam unleashed for us all, has been sorted out by Jesus once and for all time.  Let’s pick it up at 5:20 to pick up the thread of Paul’s thought:

20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Think about when you clean and tidy your house;  the more messy and dirty it was to start with, the more amazing the transformation seems when you’ve finished cleaning.  Lots of Jews thought their relationship with God was based on keeping the Law had given them.  Sadly lots of Christians made the same mistake;  trying to keep the 10 commandments and maybe God will let me into heaven if I reach the pass mark.   You’ve missed the point says Paul if you still think like that.   Sin and death entered the world through Adam long before the OT law was given.  

And so the point of the Law was to highlight the sin that was already there.  As Nathan told us last week, it’s like shining a torch behind your cooker;  the mess and dirt was already there, but the torch shows it up.  The primary function of the law was to expose the sin that was there before the Law even existed.  Even worse, as we’ll see when we get to chapter 7, because of our sinful nature, God’s good and perfect law even increases sin. 

But the more sin and mess we see in the world, the more amazing it is when we see God’s plan to clear up that mess.  Or as 5:20 put it:  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,

The more sin there is in the world, the bigger our appreciation of God’s grace becomes;  or at least it should do.  A grace so amazingly big, that it can cover the sins of someone as bad as Von Ribbentrop.    That’s the right response to hearing about those Nazis who became Christians.  Not:  that’s outrageous;  how can God forgive them.  Rather, that’s amazing;  God’s grace is big enough even for them.    Or as Wesley’s famous hymn puts it:  His blood can made the foulest clean.  And thankfully that includes me. 

But there’s a problem with God’s amazing grace.  If God grace covers all His people’s sins, the more sin the more grace.  And for some people it immediately raises the question in 6:1:

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

In one sense, it’s the same issue Paul was tackling back in 3:8:

8Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.

And Paul’s answer in 6:2 is basically ‘no way’;  by no means or more literally:  ‘certainly not’.   When I was a new Christian, that’s certainly how I thought:  Oh, I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, that’s great – so I can carry on living like I was before and it doesn’t matter.  Well it didn’t take much Bible reading for me to work out what God thought of that.  But, I want to suggest we all do this, even if we’ve been Christians for a long time.    When you’re battling against whatever sins are a particular issue for you at the moment;  maybe it’s gossiping, lying, swearing, complaining, grumbling or whatever;  and when you’re tempted to give in yet again, don’t you get a little voice saying:  don’t worry:  you can always be forgiven next time you say your prayers.  You’re a Christian;  you’re forgiven;  you’re safe from punishment;  so it doesn’t matter;  it’s only a little sin after all.    

And God says in v2:  yes it does matter.  “We died to sins, how can we live in it any longer.”

We’re back to God’s spiritual Marshall plan.  He didn’t just overthrow the dictator Sin and then leave us to carry on in the mess.  We’re not justified and then left to live as we were before.  No, God wants to clean us up so the reality of our lives matches the ‘not guilty’ verdict we’ve already received if we’re Christians. And so the main point from today’s passage is to get us to ‘be what we are’:  we’ve been forgiven;  we’ve been declared not guilty;  we’ve had J's righteous given or imputed to us.  So now we’ve got to start living up to that;  our lives need to change to reflect that reality.  We need to ‘be what we are’.  Righteous and holy in His sight that is.     

1.   We are new people united to Christ (v2-10)

 

So first of all in v2-10, we see that we are new people united to Christ.    We’re a new people united to Christ.    Last week we saw that, if we’re Christians, then we’ve swapped teams.  Like someone who’s changed from supporting Cambridge united to Hull City.  As Christians, we’ve moved from Adam side to J’s side.  We were corporately in Adam, but now we’re in Christ. We’re now united to Christ.  And this means that what’s true for Jesus is true for us. Jesus is righteous – therefore we’re righteous.  That’s the point Paul was making in general terms last week.   

And in v2-10 he’s carrying on with the same theme.  As Christians, we’re united with Jesus both in his death and resurrection.  Jesus died and rose again.  And so have we.   Look with me at v3:

3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Paul’s using baptism as a proxy for conversion.  Whether we’re baptising the infants of Christians or Christians themselves, baptism involves the profession of faith in Jesus.  It publically signifies the turning away from our old life and going J’s way;  it symbolises being publicly united with Christ. With the Jesus who was crucified on Good Friday but was raised to new life on Easter Sunday.    And when we become Christians, we’re joining J’s team;  we’ve left Adam’s team behind and joined J’s team.  We become united to Jesus who’s already died. And because we’re one, Jesus’ death is reckoned by God to be our death.  And so God now declares that there’s no longer any death for us to die.  Why?  Because the penalty for our sin has already been paid by Jesus.    So in v2, we can say that we’ve died to sin, to the penalty of sin that is.    Sin and its consequences no longer have any control or mastery over us, if we’re Christians.  And so just like Jesus, v5 is saying physical death is not the end for the Christian.  And that’s unpacked a bit more in v8-10. 

8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Because Jesus was raised to life, he’s conquered death.  And the point is that, if we’re united to Christ, that will be our experience too.  Like Jesus, we still have to go through the experience of physical death, but eternal life is on the other side.  Our resurrection on Judgment day is guaranteed by J’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.    For those in Christ, physical death really is like going through the entrance door to heaven. 

That’s in the future, but if we come back to v4-7, we see it’s got implications for the present.   Because in v4, we’re told that X’s resurrection means that we’re to lead new resurrection lives here and now even before we get to heaven.  And v6 & 7 make the point even clearer:  when we were united with Christ at our conversion, the old self, literally the ‘old man’ the old nature we inherited from Adam that is, all that was crucified with Jesus.  And so we’ve been freed from sin; from the tyranny of sin;  from being slaves to sin;  not just when we get to heaven, but starting here and now. 

So what does that mean in practice then?  Well it doesn’t mean that as Christians are free from all sin – our experience continually reminds us that despite our union with Christ, we still sin.  We continue to be selfish, proud and disobedient individuals and no doubt we’ve all had the experience of being deeply hurt by the sins of another Christian.  However, our new identity does mean we shouldn’t continue to delight in sin or treat it lightly;  we shouldn’t be harking back to our old life;  the mess of being in Adam that is;  the downward spiral of depravity we saw back in chapter 1.  A dog returning to its vomit as the Apostle Peter puts it.  No, we’re new creations, new people united to Christ, the man of righteousness. Therefore we should live now in the light of who we are.

Over the past week, we’ve had Mike Walton with us up here at SF and Riverside – if you haven’t already met him, the please say hello during the refreshments.  Mike’s training to be a vicar and is on placement from OHC.  And so Mike’s had the pleasure of have a couple of meals in the Peters’ household.   And one regular feature of meals at 892BR is my son Daniel doing something annoying like banging the table with his spoon.  So he’s told not to do it, but then my daughter Bethan joins in and does the same thing and gets sent to the bottom step as a punishment.  And I can almost predict what the response will be:  that’s not fair, Daniel did it, so why do I get sent to the step.  And the answer is:  Daniel’s 2 and you’re 7.  You should know better.  You need to act your age and set a good example to your younger brother not copy him and go back to his level. 

And Paul’s saying something similar to those of us who aren’t bothered about our sin:  Stop drifting back to Adam.  You’re a Christian;  you’re in Christ;  you’re a new person so don’t behave as if you’re still enslaved in sin. Act like the person Christ died to make you.  Be who you are:  a Christian!     We won’t be perfect in this world, but God’s plan is that, through Christ’s resurrection power, we begin to sin less and less and become more and more like Jesus.  

 

2. We need to behave as new people united to Christ (10-14)

So in v2-9, we’ve seen that we’re new people united to Christ.  And then in v10-14, we’re commanded to behave as new people united to X:  behave as new people united to Christ.    And in these 5 verses, Paul outlines 3 practical ways we can start behaving as new people united to Christ. 

a) He says there is something for us to recognise

First in v11 he says that there’s something for us to recognise.    Look with me at v11:

V11:  “In the same way count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.”

We need to count or reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. In other words we must get into the habit of recognising and recalling who we are. We’re united to Christ and we need to keep this truth about ourselves in mind all the time. If we don’t, then we might forget and slip back into thinking and acting as if we were still united to Adam – the man trapped in sin.

One of my favourite authors is John Grisham.  And I recently read his 18th book called ‘The Broker’;  it’s all about a man who serves his time in prison and then get released with a new identify;  he’s given a new name, a new look and even a new country to live in.  But he found it hard;  he kept slipping back into his old ways;  he kept forgetting that he was a new man with a new identify.  But if he didn’t live up to his new identify, then his life would be in danger, so he needed to keep remembering who he was meant to be.

And on an infinitely bigger scale, as Christians, we’ve got a new identity.  We’re no longer on Adam’s team heading for death and hell.  We’re in Christ.  But we still need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact.  Because if we don’t, then we’ll slip back into old habits and we won’t live as God intends us to. We won’t be who we are.   Something to recognise then.

b) There is something for us not to do

And the second practical help is in v12 and 13a.  There’s something for us not to do.  ‘Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.’   ‘Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness.’

We must understand, as I’ve already said, that while we’re dead to the penalty and power of sin – sin itself is not dead and never will be this side of heaven.  But our responsibility as new people united to Christ is to fight that sin and make progress in the battle.

So what does this mean practically? Well it means that we must flee from sin before it gets a foothold in our lives. When those thoughts of pride, envy and impatience enter our minds we need to ask God for the strength to dismiss them before they develop into a cancerous growth or yet more sin.  We mustn’t get back on that slippery downward spiral.  We need to strive to make sure that the parts of our body don’t become instruments of wickedness.  We need to draw on God’s help to develop sexual self control.  When something we’re watching or reading sparks our lustful or materialistic desires, we need to ask God for the power to resist and turn it off.  When we find ourselves tempted to join in gossip and grumbling, we need to ask for God’s help to keep our conversations positive and encouraging, seasoned with salt as Jesus put it.   Whenever we find ourselves getting into a situation that’s spiritually dangerous, we need to draw on God’s strength to withdraw and get out.  

There’s something to recognise.  Remember who we are.  And there’s something not to do:  play with sin.

c) There’s Something for us to do

And thirdly in v13b, there’s something positive to do.   Look with me at the second half of verse 13: …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’re not just to draw on Christ’s resurrection power to stop giving in to sin’s temptations; no we’re also meant to ask him to use us as instruments of righteousness.

A friend of mine was telling me about Christian he’d heard about, who every morning, said ‘Good morning Lord, what are we going to do today – these are your eyes to see with, your lips to speak through, your hands to work with.’

Now that might seem a bit quaint to us – but this Puritan man had understood union with Christ. He’d realised that he was no longer ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’;  and he’d realised that his life was Christ’s life – a life for Christ to be used as an instrument of righteousness for X’s sake. I wonder if we see reality as clearly as that man did. I wonder if we’re as prepared as he was to be the people that we actually are in Christ.   Are you willing to offer your eyes, your mouth, your hands, your tempers, your thoughts to Christ daily for His use, to the glory of God.

I used to be more involved with youth work and when sex and relationships came up, there was always one question that always came up: “How far can I go”.  But actually, it’s the wrong question for a new people united to Christ.    Because whether we’re teenagers or older, as new people untied to Christ, the question isn’t how far can I skate near the edge of a cliff without falling off.  No the question is:  how can I live to please the Lord who died for me and lives to give me new life, both here and into eternity?

We’re to be who we are.  We’re a new people united to Christ in his death and resurrection.  And so we’re to behave as new people united to Christ, remembering who we are;  fighting against sin, and living to please our new Master; our new Master who bought us with His blood.  Or as v14 puts it:

 ‘(For) sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace’.

So as we close, let me ask you:  are you united to X?  Are you fighting against sin?  Because if there’s no battle with sin in your live, then maybe there’s no new resurrection life in you.  But maybe you’re battle weary?   You’ve fought with sin the past, but now you’re slipping back into Adam?   And if that’s you, then you need to wake up before you get to that cliff edge.  But wherever we’re at, we all need J’s resurrection power at work within us;  to keep us on the right track and to bring us safely to that eternal city;  to the celestial city where dust and ashes have dominion.  If we’re truly Christians, we're united to Christ and nothing can take that away.  So be who you are.  Don’t give up and draw the strength you need from your new Master who died to save you.   Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that you brought your children from death to life through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And thank you that, if we’re already Christians, we can look forward with absolute certainty to that day when we’ll be made fully perfect and spend overnight with you in our new resurrection bodies.  But Lord we’re so weak and we keep slipping back into our old ways.  Give us the strength to be aware of the danger, to keep up the battle against sin and to give glory to you as we lead lives that are slowly transformed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For our eternal benefit, your ultimate glory we pray.  Amen.

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