MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 28, 1998 FROM ROMANS SIX
This week, we return to the sixth chapter of Romans. To refresh our memories, we have seen that Paul argues in Romans five and six that the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s magnificently comprehensive tool of liberation. The gospel liberates people from sin. Paul argues that the grace of God brought by Christ is far more powerful than the sin and death Adam brought into the world. This victory of grace over sin is two pronged according to Paul. First, the grace of God is able to break the penalty of sin in the life of a true believer. No person can have so much sin, that the grace of God is not able to totally cover it and bring complete forgiveness. But the victory of grace in the gospel not only defeats the penalty of sin, it also defeats the controlling power of sin. This is the argument of chapter six. Just as Christ died to sin (that is, he was transferred out of its controlling dominion after he had submitted himself to its worst on the cross), so too has every believer been liberated from the controlling power of sin.
This is a wondrous and often neglected truth in the church today. All true Christians understand that the grace of God brings the offer of forgiveness from sin, but far fewer understand and live out the truth that this same grace also offers them a life out from under the control of sin’s domination. Those who have been truly born again have been given all they need by God’s grace to be liberated from the controlling power of sin. Although they are not free to be totally sinless, the gospel offers all true Christians the opportunity to be truly godly people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Last week, we indicated that in addition to being freed from sin’s controlling power, Paul indicates that those who are in Christ have been granted what he says in verse four is, “newness of life.” We saw the New Testament is filled with promises and explanations of what it means to have this new life in Christ. We saw that the life given to believers is an ABUNDANT life. That is, God has offered to those who are truly in Christ an abundant (literally), life left over life--more than we need--enough to give away to others. Not a “running-on-fumes” kind of life. God gives this life extravagantly to his children.
This life is a NEW life. That is, people who are in Christ should be dramatically different than those who are not in Christ. There should be a manifest, qualitative difference between them and those who are not in Christ. We are not simply wallpapered-over versions of our former self. There is new growth, new life coming from Christ who lives in us and who is the source of our lives. We saw that out of this life comes ministry or service to Christ which is GLORIOUS. That is, it reflects the very nature of Christ himself. It reveals God to others.
This life is a RENEWABLE life. It is like a fountain deep within us that God keeps supplying--a fire that God is continually stoking. A fresh supply is available every moment so we can have this life flowing from us to other people. Finally, this life is a GOD-CENTERED life. That is, it is alive to God, not primarily self. All the activities or pursuits of this person’s life are just hubs on a wheel which are connected to the center of their life which is Jesus Christ. This life is not a life which shoves God to the periphery and makes time for him when it is convenient. NO. This life revolves around Him, his priorities, his plans, his agenda. It is God centered because it is the very life of Christ.
That is a broad summary of Paul’s argument in the first 11 verses of Romans chapter six. In verse 12, he begins the second half chapter with “Therefore...” The next 12 verses are devoted to what believers are to do so as to manifest this kind of life in Christ. Paul is saying, “in light of the fact that you have been freed from the penalty of sin and its controlling power and God has given to you this new life in Christ, now here’s what you need to do to see that what God has given you in the gospel becomes part of your experience. In order for these blessings to move from promise into our reality, there are things we need to do” The rest of chapter six, seven and eight discuss what our part is in living out this life Christ has purchased for us--what our part is to realize this freedom from sin’s controlling power.
We will begin this section in two weeks when I get back from vacation, but this morning I want to treat a number of other issues which need to be addressed in order for us to live out this newness of life provided for us in the gospel in addition to these truths in chapter six. Let me give two of the reasons I approach this in this way. First, I don’t want to begin this section of text and then have to skip a week. There needs to be continuity here for us to understand this. Second, although what Paul gives here in Romans six is indispensable to living out this life of Christ, it is not sufficient. By that I mean, Paul in chapter six does not give all the truths necessary for a person to live out the gospel of Christ.
There is much here Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit simply doesn’t address in this section. This morning, I want to touch on some major causes as to WHY many Christians do not walk in this new life, but which Paul doesn’t discuss in this section of Romans. If we were to perfectly understand Romans six, there would still be other biblical truths we would need to live out to manifest this Christ life as we are called to. Given the constraint of not being here next week, it seems best to give some of these other crucial factors which impinge on Paul’s treatment of this here. Here are five truths which, though vital to our sanctification, are not directly treated by Paul here.
First, we must cultivate a hatred of sin. This is something Paul evidently assumes will be true of his audience. His whole argument implies that he believes that he is writing to people who see sin as their mortal enemy, and work to subdue it in blood earnestness. When he tells us in verse 12, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” he is clearly presupposing that his audience has a profound hatred of sin. Yet, we know that many of us do not have this intense hatred for sin in their lives. Sin can be enjoyable and far too often we are more than willing to let it hang around. That is the attitude of most Christians as it relates to certain areas of sin. And if that is our attitude, we may be able to understand Romans six impeccably but it won’t do anything to help us live out the life of Christ because it assumes we have a hatred of sin.
In Colossians 3:5 Paul says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” Sin is our mortal enemy and as such we are to engage it in mortal combat. John Piper in his book “A Godward Life” says, “This is mortal combat: Sin dies or we die...we go on killing sins as they attack us from day to day. We do not settle in with sin. We fight and we kill” In a press conference near the beginning of Operation “Desert Storm” General Norman Schwartzkoff told the world what the allied armies were going to do to the Iraqi military. He said, “We are going to cut off its head and kill it.” That is graphic, but that is exactly the way a military leader must think about his enemy if he is to have success. There is no room for mercy which is one reason why war is so wretched. That same take-no-prisoners attitude is no less appropriate for a believer as it relates to sin. We should never be anything less than completely at war with the sin in our lives.
This sin seeks to destroy us--it may present itself harmlessly enough and with strong enticements, but make no mistake--it is authored ultimately by Satan and is purpose is to “steal, kill and destroy.” If we had a person following us who had clearly stated that their intent was to kill us, we would react with the strongest defensive and adversarial measures. But we often fail to do the same with sin. Piper is right. When it comes to sin, “We fight and we kill.” Christians are called to mercilessly hate sin and kill it, NOT play with it every time it attacks.
Another truth vital to our living out the life of Christ is we must place ourselves in vital Christian community rather than trying to live it out alone. By community, I mean, we must have people around us who will assist us as we seek to live out the Christ life. If we understand Paul’s principles of sanctification perfectly, yet do not have several believers who will strenuously and steadfastly encourage us in our pursuit of the Christ life, then we will be dismal failures. By living in a vital Christian community I do not means simply attending a local church. That’s the first baby step and it is important, but it is not enough.
Living in community means having people around you who know you like a book--who know your struggles, your besetting sins, your vulnerabilities and who will pray for you in those areas and who will hold you accountable in those areas. We know this is the kind of community required for a solid Christian life for at least two reasons. First, all those one another commands in the New Testament clearly imply relationships that are much more than the superficial, “I’m OK, you’re OK” which is so typical of people in the church who are a really a spiritual mess, but don’t want another soul to know about it. The most common “one another” command is “Love one another.” That command appears 14 times in the New Testament. This is agape--God-like love. This love is not blind to a person’s weaknesses and sin issues, it loves in the midst of those issues. This kind of love, expressed through God’s people provides the spiritual warmth necessary for the seeds of this Christ life to burst into bloom.
Another reason why we need this kind of community comes from who we are and how God made us. God made us in His image. Part of that image is his triune nature. God is constantly in community. He never lacks perfect fellowship. God created us to be in community. He said of Adam, “It is not good that he should be alone.” That was not just about marriage, but about community. If you are a sincere Christian who for years has been trying to live out the Christ life in a vacuum without success, at least one of the issues which MUST change (I repeat MUST change) is you must have some people around you who will love you, admonish you, encourage you, bear your burdens and pray for you. Paul doesn’t mention that here in Romans six, but it is in many ways as crucial as anything he does say here.
A third truth necessary for us to live out a vital Christ like life is We must be a good steward of our minds. Our minds are the entry point, the gateway to our souls. The mind is THE battle ground for our souls. In 8:5 Paul says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” This is a remarkable text because it seemingly simplistically claims that the difference between whether you are living out the fleshly, carnal old life or the vibrant, Christ life of the Spirit centers around the issue of what you set your mind on. What do you think about? Satan knows this all too well. The center of his plan is focused on the mind. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
The degree of vigilance we are to exercise over what comes into our minds is astoundingly high. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We are to guard our minds with extreme care even to the point of taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. If you don’t exercise care over your mind, it doesn’t matter how well you understand Romans six, you will never crawl out of the carnal hole most so called believers find themselves in. How different taking every thought captive is from many believers normal relationship to their thoughts.
They go to a movie, for instance because they saw a promo that looked intriguing. They don’t do any homework by asking around about the movie before they go or trying to read a respected Christian review, they just go. When they get there, (surprise, surprise) they are confronted with language and themes and explicit scenes which pollute their minds and in to poison their soul. And MAYBE they sit and think about walking out but they almost never do because, after all, they have, without doing their homework(!), just plunked down six of their hard earned dollars to sit there and allow themselves to be defiled. As if their measly six dollars even approximates the value of a clean mind! This is bad enough, but many people replay this scene over and over again going to movie after movie until after awhile, they aren’t terribly bothered by the filth and have actually become quite adept at rationalizing their guilt away.
We can do the same with television which is by far the most effective tool in poisoning our mind. They sit in the privacy of their home and something objectionable appears, but you know--they are awfully tired and besides, this section of the program will be over in just a little while anyway. Does this sound like vigilance? If prison guards exercised this kind of sloppy vigilance over the inmate population, we would be over run with escaped prisoners. If you aren’t a good steward of your mind, all of Paul’s treatment in Romans will only serve to frustrate you because you will know it, and yet wont be living it out. The life of Christ will not flow through a mind that is clogged with the waste and filth of a depraved culture.
This is not legalism. This is not imposing an absolute where there are no absolutes. This is not saying that all movies or all television is evil. It is merely holding us to the absolute standard of Scripture. A media outlet should pass the test of encouraging us to, in Paul’s words “think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” That is the standard we are to use when deciding whether some bit of media is appropriate to enter our minds. If it passes that test, then feel free. If not, obey God. That is not legalism, its obedience.
A fifth truth which will enable us to live out this life found in the gospel is related to this last one. We must be a good steward of our bodies. God made us in such a way that we are body, soul and spirit and each part of our nature has a strong effect on the other parts. You are more susceptible to mental depression if you are fatigued physically. This is simply the way God made us. We must understand that we may intently seek to be godly, but if our bodies are filled with toxins caused by lousy diet, no exercise or a pour sleeping schedule, that will have a strongly negative effect on our spiritual life.
By being a good steward of our bodies I am not advocating a massive physical fitness regimen. Paul tells Timothy, “physical training is of value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” There is a difference between being a good steward of our bodies and being a “Hard body” but we should be in relatively good shape so the life of Christ doesn’t have to climb over a lot of preventable physical weaknesses to come out. Now, if for some reason it is impossible for us to be in better shape due to illness of other factors, then God’s grace will be sufficient, but for most of us, our sedentary lifestyle is no friend of grace.
A fifth truth which is necessary for us to live out this life of Christ is: we must free ourselves from ever encumbrance which reduces our access to God. If Christ is the source of this renewable life, then we will need to be in regular and prolonged contact with Him if we are to tap into the source of life. Frankly, the enemy of our souls has worked quite diligently at influencing our cultural value system to the point where, unless we are interminably busy, we feel like a failure. This intense busyness is cancerous to developing the Christ life. Grace sink deep roots in the context of quietness and rest.
You know what I am talking about. If we are parents, we are trapped into feeling that we are guilty of child abuse if we do not allow our kids to fully exploit every talent and even potential talent they may possess. This produces parents who chase children to and from lessons, rehearsals, recitals, performances, games, debates, concerts until they are so busy, they don’t have time for anything but their children. And all the while they think, as they drift off to spiritual oblivion, they are being good parents to their children. How can we be good parents when we are dying on the vine, spiritually?
Even more clever is the Christian culture which equates busyness in ministry with spirituality. We run from this conference to that seminar to that bible study to that teaching, all the while with the tape player or radio blaring Christian music in our ears which, if listened to in excess, keeps our minds numbed and basically inaccessible to the still, small voice of God. There is nothing wrong with Christian music, but it is no substitute for solitude which is absolutely necessary for growth. The Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.” yet most believers avoid it like the plague.
All this activity produces a person who, because of their ministry experience may feel very useful and capable, but who is, due to their inattention to their own soul’s need to feast privately on God, actually withering away spiritually. We can easily buy into the lie that busyness and ministry equals maturity, when in fact as it relates to ministry, God, as a rule of thumb calls us to do only a few things and do them very well. When we do that we have time to feast on God and we are not doing a ministry out of a misplaced sense of obligation that God actually has assigned for someone else.
Paul has much to say in Romans six, but the issues we have looked at he doesn’t touch on directly. These are vital--cultivating a hatred for sin, getting into vital Christian community, being good stewards of our minds and bodies, and freeing ourselves from the life-sucking busy-ness which draws us away from God. May God give us grace in the New Year to live out these truths for the glory of God.
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