Living in Christ
If you have your Bibles, Id invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 6. As you do so, I want to remind you of a fact that may catch you off guard. For six and a half chapters, the apostle Paul has been writing to us about various things. If you notice, that not one time has he told you do anything. Isnt it interesting that for six and half chapters, the apostle Paul hasnt told us to do a single thing. Now, you may have been wanting that a little bit. "Paul when are you going to get finished with justification." You may be saying, "Ligon, when are you going to get finished with justification?" But, the apostle, for a very specific reason, has not commanded you to do anything yet. Because it is more important, he believes, that you understand first, what you were, then, what God has done for you; then, what God has done in you, and then, what God has made you to be. Only then are you ready to hear and respond to His commands.
In the Christian life grace must be operative before obedience is a possibility. Gospel obedience flows from the realization of Gods work of grace on our behalf. And so the apostle Paul has been belaboring your previous condition apart from Christ, what God has done, what God has done for you, what God has done in you, what God has been making you to be before He gives you a command. And so we get almost into the second third, even close to the second half of the book of Romans before he gives his first command. I want you to bear that in mind, as we come to this passage, because in and of itself, it is a sign of Gods grace. We remember Augustins words from his Confession when he prayed to the Lord. He said, "Lord, command what You will, but give what You command." In other words, Lord I know what Your law commands me to do, but I dont know how to do it unless You give me the grace to do so. And Paul is stressing that very point in the way he lays out the book of Romans.
And so as we move from Romans 6:10 to Romans 6:11, we move from that section of Romans which is stressing what God has done for you in forgiving you, to what God is doing in you and how you respond to the grace of God. So lets hear Gods holy and inspired word here in Romans, chapter 6, beginning in verse 8:
"If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. Knowing that Christ having been raised from the dead is never to die again. Death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lust. And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin, as instruments of unrighteousness. But present yourselves to God, as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
Amen, and thus ends this reading of Gods holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Lets pray.
Father, this is Your Word. We pray that by Your Spirit, we wouldnt just be interested in it or made curious to understand it intellectually, but that we would be transformed by Your word, that we would respond to Your word by loving it, by desiring to be conformed to the description of Your purposes contained therein. We pray Heavenly Father, that in any of these things if we are unfamiliar with Your grace, that this would be a day of grace for us, and that we would come to know Jesus Christ savingly. But in all this, we pray that Your people would be instructed and those who were not Your people, would be drawn into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. These things we ask in Jesus name, Amen.
I. In faith union with Christ, the believer is not
only dead to sin but also alive in Christ.
And you see this emphasized by Moses even in the giving of the Ten Commandments. Turn in your Bible to Exodus, chapter 20, verses 1 through 3. In those verses, we have a beautiful display of how grace enables law in the Christian life. Or to put it another way, how the grace of God working in us, gives us new life, and thus the ability to be obedient to and to desire to be obedient to Gods law. In Exodus, chapter 20 verse 1, we read, "And God spoke all these words. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me." Now note the order of verses 2 and 3. It does not say, I you will obey the command, you shall have no other gods before Me, then I will be the God who brings you out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage. No, its the other way around. Ive already brought you out of the land of Egypt. Ive already brought you out of the house of savery. Now, therefore, as My children, this is the family law. This is the parental law. This is the fatherly law given to My children. Obey it. You see, the law does not redeem Israel out of Egypt. Gods grace redeems Israel out of Egypt. The blood of the shed Passover lamb redeems Israel out of Egypt, but the law then is given in response to Gods work of grace. What we are precedes what we are to do in Christian experience. What God has made us to be by His grace, enables us to do what He has commanded. Lets go back to Augustin again. Oh Lord, command what You will, but give what You command. Lord, what you command is right, but give me the ability to do that which is right. Paul stresses that beautifully by spending six and a half chapters to tell us about the indicative before He ever comes to tell us one time about the imperative, about the command, about the mandate. The first key to your understanding of Romans 6.
Secondly, you need to see this. In the Christian life, justification and sanctification are a package deal. As God grants us forgiveness in salvation, so He breaks our bondage to sin. Gods plan of salvation is that we would be delivered from both sins penalty and its power. In justification, He forgives our sins and accepts us as righteous. And in sanctification He imparts new life to us through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and enables us to become that which He intended us to be from the beginning. As God grants forgiveness in salvation, so He breaks our bondage to sin.
The problem is many Christians want forgiveness, but they dont want holiness. Now youve heard the prayer, "Sanctify me, Lord, but not yet." I dont know where these emails come that tell these stories about childrens prayers, but I get about one a week. I dont what the key source is on that. But a few weeks ago, I got one and I read this childs prayer, and I said, "Aha, that will work for Romans, chapter 6." And the prayer went something like this: "Lord, make me a better boy. But if you cant make me a better boy, its all right because I really like the way I am." Well, that is precisely the feeling of many Christians. They are perfectly happy being forgiven but not holy. They are perfectly happy being accepted, but not righteous, forgiven but not sanctified. And the apostle Paul does not consider that to even be a possibility if you are in Romans, chapter 6. Justification and sanctification are a package deal. Gods forgiveness and Gods delivering us from the dominion of sin in our lives, is a package deal. God doesnt just save us so that we can be forgiven and go on in our bondage to a life of sin, He saves us to deliver us from that life of bondage. Thats what Paul is talking about here in Romans 6 and especially here in verses 8 through 14, as He begins to set forth these imperatives, this becomes very apparent. And Id like to walk through the passage with you today.
Now in order that you can follow me clearly, let me tell you where were going. Verses 8 through 10, were going to look at how resurrection gives us new life, and it doesnt just give us new life then, when He comes again and we are raised again and united with our spirits, but it gives us new life now.
Then, beginning in verse 11, Paul gives the first of four commands for imperatives. The first command in verse 11 is know who you are. The second command in verse 12 is be who you are. The third command in verse 13, the first part of the verse is dont allow yourself to be used as a tool for sin. And the fourth command in the second half of verse 13 is give your whole being to God as a tool for righteousness. And then he gives a word of encouragement in verse 14. Thats the outline of what were going to do today. Lets look at verses 8 through 10 first.
II. In faith union with Christ, the believer is not
only dead to sin but also alive in Christ.
Paul has been teaching in verses 1 through 7 about what it means to be dead to sin. Now he wants to emphasize the positive side of being united to Christ. Were living in newness of life, were walking in newness of life because of Jesus resurrection life. Jesus resurrection life is the source for the new life that is in us. Have you ever wondered how exactly is it that a person is reborn? Nicodemus once asked that question to Jesus. Jesus talked to him about the nature of the new birth and He emphasized what? The work of the Holy Spirit. When Paul talks about that in Romans, chapter 6, he emphasizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ which provides for us a source of new life. And in this newness of life we experience a radical break with sin. You remember what Paul describes us as before we became believers or apart from Christ in Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 1? What does he call us? He says, "Remember you were dead." You were dead in sin. Well, in Romans, chapter 6, in order to emphasize to us how radical this transformation work by Jesus Christ is, what does He say? Not that were dead in sin, but that were dead to sin, and that were alive in Jesus Christ. So its a total contrast. Hes saying that Gods grace is a radically, transforming power. We are not justified by that new birth. In other words, God doesnt accept us because of the new life. He accepts us because of what Jesus did. He accepts us because of Jesus righteousness. And when He accepts us, He always gives us new life, too. In other words, they are a package deal. Forgiveness and the new birth come together. And so we are justified by grace through faith, but along with that we are given a new birth which enables us by Gods grace to walk in a newness of life. In Gods plan of salvation, He plans not only to forgive us, but to change us; not only to justify us but to sanctify us. Not only to free us from sins penalty, but to release us of the bondage of its power. And thats what Paul is talking about here in Romans, chapter 6. When he gets to the imperatives, it is important that we understand that particular principle. Gods grace perceives our ability to obey the imperatives, but in Gods plan He not only wants to forgive us, but to change us, to transform us, to make us like Him; to make us godly, to made us like the Lord Jesus Christ. Now having said that, lets look at each of these four imperatives.
III. Appreciate your union with Christ. Know who you
When Paul says, "know who you are; realize what God has made you to be in Christ" let me tell you what he does not mean, because every mystical heretic in the history of the church has misunderstood this passage. First of all, Paul is not saying, "Go take a Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale "Positive Thinking" course and think positively about yourself. Hes not saying, "Look, okay, I know youre a sinner, but think real positive thoughts, have a good positive attitude about yourself, and then lo and behold, that will have an attitudinal affect on you and then youll not be a sinner." Paul is saying, "This is what you are. You are dead to sin. I want you to think about what God has made you to be, dead to sin." Hes not saying, "If you have a good positive attitude about it, maybe that will become the case." Hes saying that "It is already the case, and I want you to reflect on it."
Secondly, He is not saying in the manner of a new age guru, visualize yourself as dead to sin. If youve been in business or in sports sometime in the last ten or fifteen years you have suffered through some sort of seminar where they told you that you needed the art of visualization. You know what Im talking about. When Rocket Ismail ran that touchdown back from kickoff in a Notre Dame game a number of years ago, Sports Illustrated interviewed him, and he said, "Well, you see, I visualized that touchdown ahead of time. I stopped, I paused, I saw myself breaking through the line and going 100 yards for a touchdown; and, therefore, I made it happen." But the apostle Paul is not saying that. Hes not saying, "Visualize yourself as person who is dead to sin, and then maybe youll become one. Youll break through the line and become a person dead to sin." Notice he is saying this already is a reality. You are dead to sin. I want you to consider it. He is not saying to live in denial. He is not saying see yourself as dead to sin and, therefore, never admit that you sin.
Let me illustrate this in a conversation. Mother and daughter are having a conversation. Daughter says to mother, "Mother you were horrible to Barbara this morning. You were so mean to her." And mother says, "Oh, Im dead to sin. It was not possible that I could have been horrible to Barbara this morning." This is not what Paul is saying. Hes not saying that we should deny that we ever sin. Hes saying, recognize that you are dead sin, the power of sin, the dominion of sin, the bondage of sin in your life has been definitively broken. He is, furthermore, not saying that we should always think of ourselves as forgiven. You know, someone comes up to us and they say, "Well, Ligon, you know youve really sinned again me today, and Id like you to think about that." And you respond by saying, "Oh, Im already forgiven, and God looks at me as forgiven; so you need to look at me as forgiven, too." Now thats not what Paul is saying either. Paul is saying, by Gods grace He has made you to be dead to sin. He has destroyed the dominion of sin, the reign of sin in your life, and you need to realize it. Its like a young man whose been single a long, long time, and hes married a wonderful bride, but hes having a hard time remembering that hes not single any more. And hes doing things like going out and making major purchases without consulting his wife. And hes making social plans without consulting his wife. And an older and godly man pulls him aside and says, "Son, you need to consider that you are married." You see, its not that the guy has to sit there and say, "Now if I think hard enough, Ill be married." He already is married; he just needs to live like he is. Its like a woman who has grown up in the setting where she really hasnt been loved with devoted, caring, nurturing love; and suddenly, shes in a relationship with a man who is her husband who loves her. She really has a hard time taking that in. Its hard for her to believe that because she hasnt experienced that growing up, and a wise and godly woman takes her aside and says, "You know, he really is crazy about you. You need to think about that, and take that in."
Paul is telling you about a reality that God in His grace has already done for you, and you need to pause and reflect on what He has done. Consider yourself dead to sin. Know who you are. You are dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ. Its not only that Paul is saying, "Realize what the purposes of Gods grace are, to cause us to be made like Him, to be godly and righteous. But Hes saying, realize what Gods grace has already actually made you to be in the here and now. You know I think some Christians believe that God saved us back then, and that Hes going to save us in the future when He comes again in the great bodily coming of Jesus Christ, but in-between its kind of were on our own. And Paul is emphasizing that many of you never stop to think about what Hes done. Youve got this glorious gift, and you never, ever stop to think about it.
IV. In light of who you are, dont live like a
slave to sin! Be who you are.
There are three things in that sentence I want you to lock on to. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body to obey its lust. Look at those three components. This is a very important passage. Its clear that Paul is not saying, "Okay, as a Christian because youre dead to sin, you should never, ever sin again. And if you ever sin again youre not a Christian." He doesnt say, "Do not ever sin again." He does say, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body." You are not under the dominion of sin. Your life is not characterized by the addictive, controlling bondage of the desires of sin. It does not mean that you do not struggle with sin, if you dont believe me, look at Romans, chapter 7. Paul, by the way, wouldnt have to be saying this to us if we werent struggling with sin.
There are two things that you need to understand to understand verse 12. The first thing is this: that it is really true that sin does not reign over us as believers. The second thing is this: that believers really do struggle with sin. Paul wouldnt have to be telling you not to let sin reign if you werent struggling with sin. Think about that. If all Christians in the church were sinlessly perfected, would Paul have had to tell them "Do not let sin reign in your body"? No. So the very fact that he has to say that lets you know that you are a believer struggling with sin. So whats the issue? Dont let sin reign. Your life is no longer controlled by the desires of sin. Its no longer controlled by this agenda of sin. You are not under the addictive power of sin. Your new life in Christ has brought you new desires and new godliness and new birth.
Isnt it interesting that Paul realizes that before you can tell a Christian do what God says here or do what God says there, they have to recognize who they are. Pauls ethics are always like this. He never says become who you are not. He says rather, be who you are. Live what God has made you to be. And thats very important if youre not a believer today. Were not saying to you, become what youre not. Were not saying youre not a righteous person. You really ought to work at it. Were saying that you cant be a righteous person apart from the grace of God and Jesus Christ. And if youre not a person who is trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only thing you can do is recognize your own need of His mercy and cast yourself upon that mercy, trusting in Him alone for salvation. Then, He imparts to you a new life because being a Christian is not making a new start in life, its receiving a new life to start with. And so the apostle Paul is saying, "Be who you are." Hes not telling you become what youre not. Hes saying act like what God has made you to be. Live in accordance with what God has made you to be. So sin is not going to reign.
Now I mentioned three phrases. In your mortal body to obey its cravings or lust. Lets take the last one first. Look at the end of the sentence. To obey its lust. Paul is pointing here especially to the realm of desires. I think it is very important to understand what he is saying when he says, "Dont let sin reign." One of the first ways that we know that God is doing a work of grace in our lives is that we no longer desire to live a life of sin. We desire to live a life of godliness. We desire to be like the Lord. We desire to see those things that are good and pure and beautiful. We desire after godliness. We can say then with the psalmist, "How I love Your law, O Lord." And Paul is saying that one of the evidences of sins reign, is that your desires are totally captive to sin. But when grace comes, you are liberated from that captivity to sin. New life brings a decisive break with the desires of sin, and it brings an advent of desires for righteousness. Now we dont always follow those new desires consistently. But thank God we dont always follow those old desires consistently either. And thats the evidence of Gods grace. Sin is not king any more, Paul says. Christ is King. God is King in your life. His grace is reigning in your life. So remember who is boss now. Sin is not reigning any more.
Notice also, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body." Paul is very aware that the body itself can become a conduit for sin that affect our desires. The cravings of sin often utilize the body in order to make their interest. Lust, greed, pride, untruthfulness, strife spreading, and worldliness. Oftentimes the body itself provides a conduit for these sins in our lives. And so Paul says, "Dont let sin reign in your body."
V. In light of who you are, dont be a tool for
Men, your eyes can be a portal for sin. Pornography, whether it may be written, whether it may be in video form, whether it may be on television, whether it may be on a move screen, whether it may be on the internet, it can become a portal for sin. And Paul is saying, "Do not let the members of your body become a portal for sin." In the same way the eyes can be a gate for adultery, or the lips can be the gate for the abuse of alcohol. And so the apostle is saying guard against the members of your body as instruments for sin.
Women, the eyes can be a gate for jealousy and envy. When we look around, we see someone who has things that we dont have, and we really desire to have those. Someone who has friends that we dont have, and we really desire to have them. Someone who has status that we dont have, and we really desire to have it. Someone who has acceptance in relationships that we dont have, and we really desire to have them. Jealousy can come in through the eye. Or perhaps the besetting sin is money or pride or clothing or status.
But God is saying to us, thought the apostle Paul, Christian, look at how the body itself can be used by Satan as a portal for sin, and dont let that happen; because youre not under the reign of Satan anymore in sin. You are under grace. And that means we are going to need to know our weaknesses, and were going to need to recognize our temptations, and were going to have to confront sinful practices that we know we have. And were going to have to stay away from known sources of temptation. And were going to have to invest time in good habits and activities and were going to have to consciously depend upon Gods grace to do it because we know the power of sin, and how it can bring us into bondage. And so well have to strive in order to say no to sin. And Paul is saying here, "Dont allow any part of yourself to be used as a tool for sin."
VI. In light of who you are, give yourself to God.
Paul knows that people will use that phrase, "youre not under law, youre under grace," as an excuse not to follow after the way of righteousness. And so he puts it the other way around. He says, "Why is it that we present the whole of ourselves to God as tools righteousness?" Well, the reason that we do it is because were not under law, were under grace. What in the world does he mean? He means this. The law doesnt have the power to enable you to do that, but grace does. The law tells you what you should do, but it doesnt have the power to help you to do what you should do. Grace gives you the power to do what the law tells you to do. And because youre not under law, and youre not under the condemnation of the law, therefore youre not under the opposition of the law and the conviction of the law because youre under grace. Youve been redeemed, youve been forgiven, youve been empowered. Do what the law tells you to do, because youre not under the law, but because youre under grace. So in light of who you are, give yourself to God. Live life in the conscious gaze of God. He is witnessing everything that we do. We live before his face.
This is so important both for our witness and for our assurance. Think about that for a second. Let me promise you this. Youre a believer. Youve been forgiven by God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are living in such a way that you are not pursuing this new walk of faith, this new life in Christ. I promise you will struggle with assurance. When David was in the midst of that nine-month sin with regard to Bathsheba, he tells us in Psalm 51 that "his bones waxed old." He was under the conviction of sin. Did he have assurance? No. God didnt want him to have assurance. He loved him too much to let him have assurance in a situation like that. If youre not pursuing after this new life, I promise you youll struggle with assurance.
But secondly, let me say this. This is so important for witness, because this new, this transformed life is crucial to our witness of the truth of the gospel. I had the privilege of eating supper with Eric Alexander last night, and I was asking Eric, "Eric, how did you become a Christian?" And he said, "Well thats very interesting that youve asked because theres no one in my family who was a Christian. My parents werent Christians, my grandparents werent Christians. As far as I know, my great grandparents werent Christians." I asked, "Did you come under the influence of some faithful, evangelical preacher?" "Well, actually no. Initially the influence was three friends in school who were Christians, and I could see in their lives that there was something totally different about them. They were different. God had done a work in them, and they were different. And then my brother was saved. And when I saw him again, I realized he was different, and that was what God began to use in my life. Transformed lives of Christians as a witness to Jesus Christ." It was very interesting. He went on to tell us that when he was twelve years old, a young man named William Still came to be the associate minister at their church where he had grown up. Eric was twelve years old, and already by the time he was twelve, he had decided he wanted to be a medical doctor. He did eventually go to medical school at the University of Glasgow. But there was a lady in the church who had a crush on Mr. Still, who was single. And she would find any excuse she could to get into a conversation with Mr. Still. So one day before Sunday School, she was talking to Eric, and she saw Mr. Still walking by, and she said, "Mr. Still, I want to introduce you to Eric Alexander." And so she drug him over to speak to little twelve-year old Eric. "Mr. Still, this is Eric Alexander, and when he grows up hes going to be a doctor." And Mr. Still leaned over, and he put his hand on Erics head, and he said, "Eric Alexander, whatever you grow up to be, I hope you grow up to be like Jesus." Isnt that interesting that thats precisely what happened, and its precisely these friends, who were like Jesus, that God used to bring Eric Alexander into a saving relationship with Jesus. You see, being transformed by the grace of God is a crucial part of our witness, and if we dont have the desire to walk in that newness of life, it is a definitive evidence that God is not doing His work of grace in us, and we need to seek that grace. May God grant that we would be both forgiven and transformed. Lets pray.
Our Lord and our God, we bow before You and praise Your Holy Name. We ask that You would enable us to walk in newness of life by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, Amen.
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