The Time is Now

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on September 10, 2017

Romans 6:5-7

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As you’re being seated, please take a Bible and turn with me to the book of Romans. We’ll be in chapter 6 tonight; you’ll find that on page 952 if you’re using a pew Bible, 952. As we continue our studies in this wonderful doctrine of union with Christ, we find ourselves in Romans 6, chapter 6 verse 5. Before we read God’s Word together, let us pray.

 

Father, we are Yours in Christ, and because of that wonderful union, we know that You will speak to us in Your Word and that we will have eyes to see and ears to hear. But we are so often dull of hearing. We need so much help, Lord, so would You send it by the power of the Holy Spirit tonight. Make Your Word living and active in our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Romans 6, beginning at verse 5. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:

 

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

 

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever. Amen.

 

Back in 1999, my dad had to have some serious heart surgery. And one of my great memories growing up with my dad was grilling steaks with him and eating ribs. That all went away! After heart surgery, he had drastic changes to his diet. But I've been interested in that ever since, and I read a study recently from Dr. Edward Miller, who is the CEO and medical dean of John's Hopkins University. And he did this vast study of folks who had had bypass surgery and knew that the surgery was costly, it was time-consuming, it was painful, and they also knew that if they made changes in their diet they would likely not need to come back for surgery and would get better. And so he thought these changes would happen, but here's what he wrote. "If you look at people after coronary artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle. And that's been studied over and over and over again. And so we're missing some link here. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason they can't."

 

Change is hard. It's hard when it comes to our diets and it's even more so in our spiritual lives. Why? Well, think about your diet. When you go to Lou's and you order the #7 Burger with its fried green tomatoes and bacon and glorious sauce that they put on it, that is a whole lot more attractive to you than thinking about cholesterol and points and things like that. And in our spiritual lives, we have those sins that stick around, that don’t even seem to get better, that are difficult, if not impossible for us to defeat. And we get discouraged and we wonder, “Will I ever change?” And what Paul is going to tell us tonight is that union with Christ gives us the most astonishing hope for lasting change.

 

Let me set the context for us quickly. Romans – the book that Paul begins as an argument and carries it all the way through 16 chapters; the most prominent church in the ancient world. He wants to give them the Gospel in its fullest sense, and so he does. Chapters 1 through 3 teach us about our plight; what we are before God. We're all lost. He tells us that in chapter 3. Chapter 4, he goes back to the Old Testament. He goes first to David, then to Abraham, and tells us that the Gospel he is teaching them, the Gospel that says we are justified by faith and by faith alone is not a novelty; it's not something he made up. It's right there in the Old Testament. And then in chapter 5, he goes and proves his point even further. It goes back before Abraham; it goes to Adam. And that language that you find in chapter 5 of being "in Adam" or "in Christ" sets us up for the rest of his letter. And for Paul, that's the only type of people there are. There are two types. There are those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. And Paul says if you're in Adam, you're lost. You'll die and face the wrath of God. You don't have His grace resting upon you. You're not united to Christ by faith alone; you're still in Adam. And then he says if you're in Christ, the free gift that God gives us – that wonderful language he uses – then you're freely justified from everything.

 

And then naturally, Paul anticipates a question in Romans 6 verse 1. He anticipates people saying, "Well Paul, if Jesus does everything and our union with Him means we're saved from everything, then let's go live however we want to. We can do whatever we want." And Paul answers that and says, "No." And so we find him in the middle of that argument to kind of flesh out why "No" is the answer to that anticipated question. And as we think about this tonight in the context of union with Christ, what we talked about last week was this. That union with Christ means that by faith we are united to the resurrected Son of God so that everything that is true of Him is true of us. And there are two words that summarize union with Christ – representation and participation. He represents us; we just heard the prophet, priest, and king. And, we participate in His benefits that He has gotten for us through His obedience to God. So representation and participation.

 

And the main point of the verses before us tonight is this. In union with Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of sin in our lives is broken forever. In union with Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of sin in our lives is broken forever. And we’ll look at this under two heads. In verse 5, the basis of freedom from sin’s power. The basis of freedom from sin’s power. And then in verses 6 and 7, the reality of freedom from sin’s power. The basis and the reality of freedom from sin’s power.

 

The Basis of Freedom from Sin’s Power

Look there again at verse 5. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Last time, as we looked at the book of Ephesians, we looked at union with Christ in eternity, and now we’re looking at union with Christ in history. And Paul has, just prior to these verses, been teaching us about the significance of baptism. He says that baptism is a picture of a death to an old way of life. And then to flesh that out, he says, “How did that happen? How did we die to an old way of living?” And he says that the way that happened was in union with Christ on the cross 2,000 years ago. That’s how the old “us” was put to death.

 

And when Paul says that, it’s not just a useful metaphor for him. He’s not just saying, “I’m thinking of a way to describe to you what’s happened, and I think a good metaphor, a good way to really drive the point home for you is to say that you died with Christ.” No, he’s saying there is a reality to our union with Christ in space-time history when He went to the cross and died in our place. That our union with Him that the Father had predestined before the foundation of the world and wrought in space-time in our lives by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, that union happened in history. It happened 2,000 years ago when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Therefore, His death becomes our death. Remember our words – representation and participation. He represents us. And there is no union with Christ, beloved, without crucifixion and death. There’s no union with Christ without crucifixion and death. First of His crucifixion and death, and ours in union with Him. So Paul says if we have been united with Him “in a death like His.” His death is emblematic of our death in Him.

 

The Certainty of Our Resurrection

And then he has this note of certainty in the latter part of this verse that will ring throughout this entire section. He says, “Then we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Paul says not only that we are dead to sin because of our union with Christ, but that we now have the power of resurrection life working within us. So there’s been a death and now there’s the power of life within us. There’s been a power exchange in our lives. And because of the work of the Holy Spirit, which Paul will detail in chapter 8, that resurrection life that he’s describing here begins to become ours more and more on a daily basis. This is why we can say one of the center verses of Paul’s theology is in 2 Corinthians 5 when he tells us our “outer man is wasting away but our inner man is being renewed day by day.” He’s not just referring to our souls there. He’s saying that the entire reality of resurrection life is ours more day by day by faith.

 

And notice his language again – “we shall certainly.” Why would he put that in there? Why didn’t he say, “We shall certainly be united in a death like his”? Why a certainty of resurrection? Because for Paul, in the entirety of his writings, here’s the center – one of them at least – of how he’s thinking about life, daily life, how you live the Christian life. And it’s very simple. He will tell us that the key to lasting change in your life and in mine is lasting hope. For Paul, the resurrection represents a real event. It is! It happened in space-time history. And in union with Christ, that becomes ours and that gives us unshakable hope for the future. And that hope leads to change.

 

A Lasting Hope

All of us hope in something. Hoping in something is inevitable. You would not have gotten out of bed this morning if you didn’t have some shred of hope. And the question then is, “What are you hoping in?” And here’s maybe another question. “How do we discover what we’re hoping in, where our hope truly lies?” Ask yourself this question, “What am I terrified of losing?” If you sit here and think tonight what terrifies you the most of losing, and that’s what you’re hoping in. And what we hope in is what we are saying to this hope, “You’re my savior. You are the one or you are the thing that is going to deliver me.” And what God is doing here is inviting us to get rid of false hopes. He’s telling us that every other hope is going to let you down. Health, wealth, beauty – whatever it is, it’s all going to fade. It’s going to let you down. And he says, “Here’s a hope that lasts, that’s based on the certainty of an empty tomb. Hope in this!” That’s where he’s going with us tonight.

 

So Paul starts off by telling us that sin’s power has been broken and replaced by a superior force – the power of resurrection in union with Christ. That’s the basis for freedom from sin’s power.

 

The Reality of Freedom from Sin’s Power

And then he turns our attention to the reality that we enjoy in union with Christ – of freedom from sin’s power. Look there at verse 6. “We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Now there’s that note of certainty again that we just noticed. We know, we know that our old man was crucified with Him. Again, not a metaphor; reality! This happened! And here’s his logic. Our old man – what does that mean? Some translations have it as “our old self.” What Paul means by “our old man” is our entire lives lived in this world beginning in our union with Adam that the – can we put it this way? That the Adamic life that all of us have when we’re born, that’s our old man. And Paul says that’s the thing that has been put to death. You are no longer that. You are no longer in Adam. You are no longer subject to what all of that brings by being in Adam. We know that our old man was crucified with Christ.

 

The Body Matters

Why? “In order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” That is the only time Paul uses that phrase in all of his letter – “the body of sin.” Why would he put it that way? Because sin affects our embodied life. We need to do just a quick detour on this. One of the unique features of Christianity is its high regard for the human body, beginning in Genesis. We’re made in God’s image. Our bodies matter! When you look through the rest of world religions, almost without exception you find that the body is something that needs to be escaped. The body is evil. Bodily appetites are evil. And you find just the opposite in the Bible. You find God describing heaven in feasting terms. Let’s think about it this way. God delighted to make things taste good. God is overjoyed when we enjoy the bounties of His creation. That’s why we like #7 cheeseburgers from Lou’s. That’s why those fried green tomatoes taste so good, because God designed it that way. He made it that way. And yet, because of Adam’s sin, our bodies are now enslaved to sin.

 

Haven’t you felt that? Don’t we all have painful experiences of that? We don’t need to look very far in our own lives or in the world around us to see that our embodied life here is enslaved to sin. Sexual sin, pornography – these things that so easily entangle us. We see the power of the bodily appetites God has given us. What about food? That’s one of those things – we can talk about pornography and sexual sin, and we should because it’s such a plague today and we’re so often enslaved to it and we need to find freedom in Christ there. But the sin, as Tim Keller put it that very few of us ever talk about is gluttony. Guilty! I don’t need to keep eating #7 cheeseburgers. But when I have that put before me, the temptation comes.

 

One of the most important sentences I've read in the past few years from Paul David Tripp, who is a Christian counselor, is this. "If you ever want to understand the mind of an addict, try going on a diet." Right? Try saying no to that food you love, that second serving, that third serving. Why? Because our bodies are enslaved to sin. And what about addiction? Don't we see that as our bodies become addicted to substances where we have to have another drink, another line of cocaine, whatever it is? Another opioid. Another pill. We're enslaved to these things. And for Paul, what we do in our bodies matters. It matters more than we could possibly imagine. This is why when you go to the book of Revelation and you look at what Jesus is constantly saying to His churches to beware of, it's sins of the body! And Paul will say things like, "Because of these things, because of sins in the body, God's wrath is coming." So what we do with our bodies matters.

 

And yet, here’s the glorious good news here. Jesus was resurrected in the same body. Do you want to know how dignified the human body is? Think about that. The Son of God rose in the same body that went into that tomb. Glorified to be sure, but He came out of that tomb and He guarantees our bodily resurrection in the same way. That’s why we have such a high regard for bodies, dead bodies, in the Christian faith. Because Christ dignified them in His resurrection. Our bodies are now going to live forever in union with Him. This is why! I’m just fascinated by this. In our Westminster Confession of Faith, in the last chapter, where it talks about our bodies, when we die "are still united to Christ." Isn't that wonderful language? Because when we die, and death and decay come to us all, that body will be raised. That body, in union with Christ, will be alive forever to enjoy glory with Him. And it all begins, Paul says, because the body, now the embodied life we live, died with Jesus 2,000 years ago in union with Him. So our past union with Christ has ripple effects in our lives today.

 

Free from Sin

And that’s why Paul finishes where he finishes. He draws a conclusion. “For” or “Therefore, one who has died has been set free from sin.” The original reads actually, “has been justified from sin.” Has been declared righteous. Sin enslaves us, brings about death, brings about addiction, brings about heartache, brings about all the tears in this world that we shed, but Paul says that when we come to Christ alone in faith alone and are united to Him, we are set free, we are justified, from the effects of sin. Isn’t that glorious? Declared righteous. That’s the only way to be free.

 

Aren’t you craving freedom tonight? Whatever it is, don’t you wish you could say “No”? How do we do that? Let me say a couple of things here by way of application. Here is what Paul is saying to us. And I have a dear friend and we talk about this all the time and I need to hear it all the time. He’ll remind me, “Old Gabe is dead. Old Gabe is dead.” And we can say the same thing about all of us who are in Christ tonight. The old you is dead! And you say, “I don’t feel that.” And Paul says, “Don’t focus on that. Come back here. You died with Him! Sin’s power has been broken forever! It will not get the mastery over you, no matter how long the struggle is, no matter how terrifying the struggle is, no matter how many times we fail in that struggle. The old you died with Christ!”

 

Basis for Identity

And therefore, we come back to the whole question of identity. How do you think about yourself? Do you look to your looks? Those fade, don’t they? Do you look to your money? Do you look to vacations or cars or zip codes or school or athletic accomplishments or SAT scores or ACT scores and say, “This is who I am! I’m a straight-A student! I’m a great employee! I’m a great employer! I fit into size 0 jeans!” Is that how we look at each other and is that how we look at ourselves? What Paul is doing for us tonight is saying, “Get rid of all the old identity crises you’ve had. They’ve been crucified with Christ. Old you, who would hope in those things – ‘I’m worthwhile and valuable as long as the size 0 jeans fit. I’m worthwhile and valuable as long as people think I’m a great employee, a great conversationalist, a great guest at a dinner party. That’s how I’m valuable.’” And those things go away and we’re crushed and we lose our identity. Paul says to us tonight, “All of that old identity stuff is dead and buried, crucified with Christ. Put your new identity into practice!”

 

Dead to Sin

When temptation comes, you must do what Paul tells us to do there in verse 11. Reckon yourselves, consider yourselves dead to sin, he says. When temptation comes, it starts there in our thinking. “I don’t have to give into that anymore.” And we’ve got to take hold of ourselves and fight! It’s urgent! We’ll come to that in a moment. It’s urgent. We’ve got to grab ourselves by the lapels, as it were, and say, “No! That’s not who I am anymore! I’m not marked out by that sin! That doesn’t define me! I’m a new man in Christ. I’m a new woman in Christ. I’m a new boy in Christ; a new little girl in Christ. I’m new! No! I don’t have to say ‘Yes’ to that anymore!” We start there. “I have died to sin with Christ.”

 

Union with Christ

And secondly, we orient ourselves around union with Christ’s death daily. We’re all in patterns of thinking, in patterns of talking to ourselves, and Paul says, “Put those to death.” When the narrative starts of who you were and how you’re going to fail and give in and lose again, Paul says put that to death. Get rid of it. You have a new identity and a new story now in union with Christ. That’s what you need to tell yourself.

 

Urgency of the Fight

And then thirdly, we have to understand the urgency of this fight. Here's where it's so wonderful to be a Christian. There are so many ways it is, but this is one of the best. When we become Christians, the old man dies, with Christ, 2,000 years ago in principle. He's done. But then we all know the painful reality of trying to follow Jesus and it's hard. Isn't it? You want to give up. You keep giving in. You wonder if you really have changed at all, if it's real, if the Gospel even matters. And the glorious thing about being a Christian is, when you know you're in the fight, you're only in the fight and you only have that desire because God's at work within you. Before I was a Christian, I could have cared less about fighting sin. That language was hokey to me. I didn't want anything to do with people who told me about it. And now that God has worked in my life and opened my heart to the Gospel and I'm united to Christ, I see my failures and my sins and every day that I grow older – some of you are looking at me right now going, "You're so young. What do you mean about growing older?" But as I walk with Jesus, I see more and more how desperately far short I fall. And it discourages me. And yet, we come back to what Paul is saying here and he's saying, "You're only in the fight because God, by His grace, has put you there. Therefore, fight! Don't give up!" There's an urgency here that matters.

 

And if you’ve grown slack fighting sin, Paul invites you to come back into the fray and says, “Don’t stand on the sidelines. Sideliners never win in this fight. You’ve got to be in the battle. No matter how painful it is, He says, ‘I will be with you. I am at work within you. And oh, by the way, that power that you think will always be dominating over you is dead, gone with Christ!’” Therefore, the new you in Christ has all you need, all I need for lasting happiness. Do you want to be happy? That’s a silly question, isn’t it? I’m reminded of the words of the great French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, a philosopher. He said this. He said, "Every man wants to be happy, even the man who hangs himself." All of us want to be happy. And as one scholar put it this week – I thought this was so wonderful – he said, "Adam brought the two great enemies of human happiness into the world – sin and death." The two great enemies of your happiness and mine and our children's and our grandchildren's and the well-being of this world – sin and death! And Paul says both are answered here in union with Christ. Sin put away at the cross. His death becoming our death so that death no longer threatens us permanently. That same victory that Christ won is ours, and the only way to have happiness, friends, is to answer these two things. To find freedom from the enslaving power of sin. The only way to lasting happiness is through lasting change. And the only thing that can give you lasting change is the Gospel that tells us about union with the resurrected Christ. 

 

Death is Not the End

And we also have to know that death is not the end. Isn’t that, isn’t that what makes life hard? The power of sin – we want to change and we can’t. We find ourselves at war and we get discouraged. And Paul says that’s all been done away with in Christ. You’re going to be okay. “I’m going to be with you,” Jesus says. “I’m going to walk with you.” And then we say, “But it’s all going to end!” Did you feel that this weekend? I mean you step outside – I’ve only lived in Mississippi a couple of years; y’all have heat that makes South Carolinians sweat and go, “There’s some place hotter than Columbia, South Carolina and it’s Jackson, Mississippi!” Okay, so we’re all kind of going, “It’s really, really hot!” And then we’ve got this fall weather. And I was just thinking last night. It was one of those moments – ball game on, kids eating dinner, talking, South Carolina winning! Life is good! Callie had made a beautiful meal for us. And it’s at those moments where you go, “Thank You, Lord, that I get to be alive and experience this.” And yet the hardest thing is that Saturdays always end. Right? In the background is the whisper, always, of death.

 

And so the only way to know that all the goodness we experience here, all the joys are not just fleeting and meaningless is to know that death is not the end. It is to answer the whisper of death with the thunderous shout of resurrection victory which is what Jesus did in His resurrection. Death defeated forever. Unshakable hope. Certain hope leading to lasting change. Because we died with Him, you can be happy forever. And it all comes back to our identity in Him.

 

I’ve said before, the way we do movies at our house – Callie chooses one; I choose one. Mine are usually, you know, American Sniper, but one we did agree on was Cinderella Man. 2005 movie starring Russell Crowe about James J. Braddock who was one of the great boxers of the 1930s. Love boxing; grew up watching it with my dad. Did a little bit of it; love it. Love this movie for that reason, but also because the story was so compelling. Braddock is this boxer who loses everything in the Depression. And against his wife's wishes, he can't find work, he's down and out, he gets back into the ring and it turns out he's still a really, really good boxer. And so he fights his way to the championship match with Max Baer. Now, Baer, this is historical, he killed two men in the ring. He hit them so hard they died. So as you're working to the pinnacle of the movie – spoiler alert! – you're going to this pinnacle and his wife is worried for him; the nation is worried for him. Baer has been taunting him the whole time leading up to the match just saying he's going to destroy Braddock. And there's this wonderful scene where it shows what Madison Square Garden would have looked like back in the 1930s. And his wife comes into the bowels of Madison Square Garden and she finds him and she says this to Braddock before he goes out to fight. She says, "Remember who you are. You are the bulldog of Bergen and the pride of New Jersey. You're everybody's hope and our kid's hero. And you are the champion of my heart, James J. Braddock." And he takes that, and you can see it in his face. Crowe does such a wonderful job of portraying that. And he goes out and he wins the match.

And that’s what Paul is saying to us tonight. Jesus is our champion. He is our Hero. He is the One who wins the fight in our place. And Paul says when you go into that match, when you’re facing an opponent like a Max Baer, when sin looks like that in your life, Paul says, “Remember who you are. You died with Him. You’ve been resurrected with Him, and therefore you are victorious in Him.”

 

Let’s pray.

 

Our Father, we are so grateful for a Gospel that teaches us that we are not united to impersonal benefits but a Benefactor who ever lives and reigns forever and ever, who freely bestows His benefits upon us because He loves us. Help us to die to sin this week. Help us to live to righteousness. If we’re discouraged, give us hope. And may the reality of resurrection inform our everyday lives, beginning tonight, and continuing for the rest of our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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