MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 31, 1999 FROM ROMANS 6:12ff.
The message of the first half of the sixth chapter of Romans six is that those who have been united with Christ have had their relationship with sin radically changed. Not only have they been forgiven the penalty of sin, but they have been freed from the controlling power of sin. In the second half of Romans six, Paul tells us how we walk in that freedom over sin’s power. The key to this liberty is in verse 11 where he says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” It is as a believer does that, (among other things) he can know the freedom from sin’s controlling power. In verses 12-13, Paul explains what it means to count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God and in verses 14-23, he simply expands and illustrates his explanation. That means that verses 12-13 are among the most important in the New Testament in terms of their value in teaching us how to walk a vibrant, liberated Christian life.
Let’s read verses 12-13 again and, by God’s grace learn more about what it means to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Paul says, “Therefore 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, but rather 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.” Here we see two prohibitions and one command. Two weeks ago, we looked at the process of how sin seeks to rule or reign over us. It seeks to do that through the evil desires or lusts which are in our body, more specifically in that part of us Paul calls the “flesh” or as the NIV translates it, “the sinful nature.” Last week, we brought a wide-angle lens and discussed what it means to let sin reign.
We saw that the power of sin can actually be ruling ruthlessly over us and we may not even know it. The sins which we fret about, those overt, manifest issues with which we struggle are really just symptoms of the broad power of sin at work in us to control us. We saw that the way to determine whether sin is ruling over us, rather than looking for these overt sins, is to check to see if the grace of God is manifest in our lives. We gave as one test for this the Beatitudes which point to symptoms of a life controlled or ruled by the grace of God. If, as we begin to practice this grace standard, it seems too high and forces us to see more clearly the depth of our sinfulness, then we are probably on the right track because the first beatitude is “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Those who are, by the Holy Spirit, in consistent, experiential contact with their great inadequacy and who mourn over it are blessed and they are paradoxically, the most joyful of Christians. We may not understand how that can be so in an age where self esteem is so highly touted, but it is the consistent teaching of Christ and the consistent witness throughout church history of those we would call “dynamic” Christians. In Luke 7:47 Jesus lays down as an axiom, “He who has been forgiven little, loves little.” Show me a Christian who measures themselves by how much grace they manifest and I will show you a believer who has, in their minds been forgiven MUCH and who, by implication, loves God very much.
To put it another way, we must have the right standard for our life—we must measure ourselves by whether grace reigns in our life, not certain troublesome sins. If we have the right standard, then we will have the right appraisal of ourselves—we will be poor in spirit and mourn about it. If we have the right appraisal of our lives, we will have the right love for God because we will have been forgiven much and will therefore love Him much. If we have the right love for God, we will live the right life for God for Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The logic of that is inescapable. The right standard enables the right self-appraisal, which enables the right love, which enables the right life. As air-tight as that is, so few believers live it because that life is a much harder life than using the standard of the rich young ruler (“I’m free from the overt, disgusting sin, so therefore “I’m right with God.) This is the standard most of evangelicalism uses today. And because we are greatly influenced by a culture that tells us hard things are essentially bad and cannot be as beneficial as easy things, many choose the easy and are self deceived.
This week, we move to verse 13 and this second prohibition as Paul spells out how we are to consider ourselves dead to sin’s power but alive to God. Paul says, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather 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.” Here Paul fleshes out in practical terms what he means when he says, “…do not let sin reign.” Last week, we looked with a wide angle lens at the question, “what does it mean to let sin reign in us?” This text gives us a look at the same question through a microscope. What does it mean to let sin reign in specific terms? In other words, when we are NOT choosing to allow the grace of God to rule in our lives, what ARE we doing in God’s sight? From this verse, we can pick out three things we are doing when we allow sin to reign in us and which Paul prohibits us from doing.
The first thing we do and must stop doing according to Paul is: we are offering ourselves in active service to the power of sin. This is what Paul means in the prohibition, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness.” The word the NIV translates “offer” is a very active verb. It has the idea of presenting yourself for active service. In verse 16 Paul uses it when we he says, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey…” There’s a very strong active sense there—you are offering yourself in service to someone. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy, “Be diligent to present [same word] yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” We might use the word “enlist.” When you offer yourselves to someone or something in this sense, you are enlisting yourself to actively serve it.
Given that understanding, do you hear what we do every time we refuse to let grace reign and therefore allow sin to reign. Paul says, we are approaching the power of sin and actively enlisting in its diabolical service. Here again, we go back to what was said last week. Either the controlling power of sin reigns in us or the grace of God reigns in us. There is no neutral territory and both of these spiritual powers are seeking to rule in us. Here, Paul says that when we allow either sin or grace to reign in us, we are actively enlisting for service with one or the other. Again, we aren’t use to this black and white, proactive thinking about sin. We tend to think that, although there are those rare moments when we rebelliously and willingly choose to directly sin against God, most of the sin in our lives happens by accident-acts of carelessness or even ignorance. That may be the way WE see it, but that is NOT the way God sees it and therefore that is not the way it is.
How can Paul say that when we allow grace to reign in our lives that we are actively offering ourselves in sin’s service? How can that be? Paraphrasing Paul’s answer from the rest he would say, “You are slaves, created for servitude. Therefore, when you refuse to actively serve God by grace, you are de-facto serving the power of sin.” The language of enslavement permeates this section. Paul says in verse 16, “…you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to life.” We need to reiterate this point because it is a presupposition upon which Paul grounds his argument here. We are by nature, slaves. God created us to be slaves of him. When Adam chose to rebel against God, he did not choose autonomy or self rule. He may have THOUGHT that’s what he was choosing, but he wasn’t because that option was not open to Him. Humanity is created to be a servant race. It is not possible for us to be anything other than servants. And there are only TWO masters who vie to rule us—God, through his grace and the power of sin. We will serve one or the other. The fact that we may not LIKE that very limited set of options is perfectly irrelevant. That’s the way God has set things up.
Jesus, in John chapter eight pointed this out to the Jews. In verse 31 he says, “…If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” They [the Jews] answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendents and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is slave to sin.” The Jews thought that because they were genetically related to Abraham then they were free, but they were enslaved to sin. Paul points out in Romans six, we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience. Because of this slave nature we have, that means whenever we refuse to let grace reign , we are therefore, because of who we are as slaves actively offering ourselves in service to the power of sin. You may say, “But I am not consciously offering myself in service to sin when I carelessly say something or do something sinful—I would never do that!” To that, Paul would say, “You may not realize you are doing that, but that is precisely what you are doing.” If tonight as you watch the Super Bowl, your spouse comes into the room and tries to raise an important issue with you and you stare, transfixed at the screen and say, “sure honey, whatever you say,” you may not realize that you are dismissing him or her. You may not realize that you are clearly telling them that they and their issue is not as important as that game is, but that is precisely what you are doing—make no mistake about it.
When we refuse to let grace reign and therefore allow sin to reign, we may not realize that we are offering ourselves in active service to the power of sin, but make no mistake, that is precisely what Paul says we are doing. Part of the nature of sin is its deceptive nature. It enslaves us and then makes us think we are not enslaved. In that way, it’s a trap. But if we are refusing to let grace reign in us, we are enslaved. Now, do we think about our sin in those terms? Do we see ourselves willingly allowing the power of sin to shackle us down and hold us hostage? Several months ago we compared sin to a hunter’s live trap. By failing to choose to allow God’s grace to reign, we find ourselves in sin’s open field, caught in a live trap. And Satan, the roaring lion is on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour—he’s checking his traps. Is that where we want to be? In the reign of grace there are no traps, only a loving God who delights to bless us with every spiritual blessing.
If we do not view sin this way, then we are at variance with the word of God. If we were to think rightly about what we are actually doing when we fail to let grace reign. If our thinking were to be guided by truth rather than by the subtle lie of sin, we would by God’s grace be on the road to refusing to let sin reign in us. Think about it. When you meet with the coffee clutch and, in your conversation begin to tear down someone else or gossip about them, you aren’t simply being careless or allowing your desire to be sociable to get the best of you. That’s a lie! What you are actually doing is presenting yourself in active service to the power of sin. You are, in effect saying to sin, “I choose to serve you—please put your shackles on me and keep me here under your control.”
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