MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 14, 1999 FROM ROMANS 6:12-13

 

          This morning we turn to Romans 6 once again.  Let’s read verses 12-13.  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.”  We have said before that in this section Paul gives us a battle plan to use against the power of sin that seeks to reign in us.  In this text there are two prohibitions and one command in the original language.  We have seen what is meant by not letting sin reign in our bodies.  We come this week to the command which we are to obey if we are to successfully battle against sin.  We are to “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 are to offer ourselves to God.  What does that mean?  When we spoke of  Paul’s prohibition against offering ourselves to sin, we saw that it meant that we were offering ourselves to the service of sin.  We were presenting ourselves to be enslaved by the controlling power of sin.  Likewise, that’s what it means to offer ourselves to God.  We are called to do battle with sin by offering ourselves in service to God, to be willingly enslaved to Him.  As we are presented with the two options of offering ourselves to the reign of sin or the reign of God’s grace, we are to dig our heels in the dirt and declare our unwavering allegiance to God.  We are to offer ourselves to the control and rule of God by His Spirit.  This is what Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:16. “So I say, live by [that is, be under the control of] the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want…”  You hear the same either/or option presented here just using different terms.  You either gratify the desires of the flesh or the Holy Spirit.  

          We are also called to “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”  We saw that this word “instrument” is better translated “weapon.”  That means that we are to come to God with all the instruments he has given us—natural abilities, talents, as well as spiritual gifts and give them to him as holy arrows he can pull out of his quiver to launch at the strongholds of Satan.  Our natural and spiritual capacities, when submitted to God become weapons in his hand to strike at the heart of Satanic darkness.  What a glorious notion that what God has given us he can use to bring righteousness—the very righteousness of God to bear in this dark world.  Demonic strongholds in the church and in society can be torn down as these weapons of righteousness are launched by the militant hand of God into the darkness.  Light exposes and destroys the darkness.  Casinos close.  Smut shops go bankrupt.  Drug pipe-lines dry up.  Areas can be taken for Christ as the instruments of righteousness given to the saint of God are submitted to back God for his use. 

Do we really believe this?  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  This will never happen when people view and use the church more as a social club than a context where the saints are made armed and dangerous towards the enemy.  It will never happen as long as we are more concerned about the sin of person in the pew next to us than our own issues.  It will never happen as long as we are unwilling to admit that we are not even close to seeing ourselves this way and frankly don’t want to see ourselves this way.  But to those who burn to be faithful to the call of Christ, this is reality.  This is NOT pie in the sky.  It is simply the outworking of Jesus’ command to his church to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  It is simply what happens when God begins to answer the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   Christ did not establish His church on earth to be a peripheral influence—the building on the corner where certain weak people go to find community and encouragement.  We aren’t sent here to act as a feeble roadblock to halfheartedly slow the inevitable and relentless downward decline of civilization.  NO!  We are we are put here to be agents of transformation.  To bring life to the dead, liberty to the enslaved, healing to the broken, and grace to the sinner.

Even a cursory glance at church history will reveal that when the Spirit of God begins to really move, when the church rouses from its comatose state and wakes up to begin offering herself to God, society is transformed!  If we could only see what God desires to do through us. We are weapons of righteousness in the hand of God.  Don’t we want to be potent and available to Him at all times?  We must offer ourselves to God.

          So, we are commanded to DO with God what we are told NOT to do with sin—offer or present ourselves as servants to Him.  That’s the “big picture” answer to this question, but because this is what we ARE to do, therefore it is important to know why and how we are to do it, Paul elaborates why we must present ourselves to God.  He says, “but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.”  Again we come back to this truth of the two realms.  There is the realm of sin and the realm of grace or, as he states it here, the realm of death and life.  Those who have never believed the gospel are under the reign of sin.  They are completely dominated by that reign.  In 5:21, Paul says, “sin reigned in death.”  Death is part of the reign of sin.  Those who are under this reign are dead in trespasses and sins.  But for those under the reign of grace, there is life.  Paul also says in 5:21, “grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Christ Jesus.”  Sin and death belong together on the one side and grace and life belong to the other realm, God’s kingdom.  Paul is therefore saying, “Offer yourselves to God as someone who has been transferred out of the realm of sin and death into the realm of grace and life.  Paul says true believers are, according to verse 11, “alive to God.”  That is, we are awakened to God, sensitive to God, spiritually realigned to love God, in allegiance to Him.   We see this metaphor of life and the living applied to this realm throughout the New Testament.  Both John 5 and 1 John 3 describe true believers as those who have “passed out of death into life.”  Paul in both Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2 speaks of believers as those who are “alive together with Christ.” 

If we are alive to God and that is our true spiritual state, it is only consistent that we offer ourselves to God.  Paul is simply saying that we are to offer ourselves to God because that’s consistent with who we are.  We are spiritually part of the realm of those alive to God.  Since we are alive to God, it makes no sense for us to offer ourselves to sin, the realm of death.  Sin is part of the realm of death.  A living person would not take up residence in a burial vault at the cemetery—that’s the physical realm of the dead.  No, living people exist and live out their lives in the realm of the living.  When they physically die and join that death realm, THEN it is appropriate to bury them among the dead.  But if a LIVING person were to change their mailing address to a burial crypt in a cemetery, we would think it strange because only dead people belong there.

          Paul says that because we have been transferred out of the realm of the dead where sin reigns, we should no longer present ourselves to sin.  But we should present ourselves to God because we are alive to God and his realm is the realm of life.  That means when we submit ourselves to sin rather than God, we are behaving as inconsistently as a living person who calls a burial vault his home.  That is nonsensical.  It is just as inconsistent for us, as spiritually resurrected people, to present ourselves to sin, which is from the death realm we have been resurrected from.  We have been set free from that place.  We have cast off our grave clothes, the blood of Jesus has cleansed us and fumigated us from the stench of death found in that old realm and we have, with Jesus, sprung (spiritually speaking) victoriously out of the realm of the spiritually dead where we once lived.

Why would we possibly submit ourselves to the old master of death who ruthlessly and mercilessly held us in the grave?  Why would we allow him to control us, when we have a new Master, who has set us free from the brutal power of sin, who loves us and gave Himself for us?

          This command to offer ourselves to God as those alive from the dead, if we are to carry it out and LIVE as those alive from the dead, necessitates that we understand what it is to be alive from the dead.  What is it to be spiritually alive?  What are the traits and characteristics of those who are spiritually alive from the dead?  If we know that and live our lives with a deep awareness of who we are in Christ, that will help us to see when we are behaving consistently with who we are. Let’s take a look at what it means to be alive to God. 

          We can discover a major part of what it is to be alive to God if we go back to the beginning of the letter.  In 1:5 Paul is speaking about the purpose of the gospel from a broad perspective.  He says that God given him the task to “call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”  Those people who are alive to God are those God has called to obedience through faith.  Obedience has always been so much a part of God’s plan.  He is glorified as his people trust him, obey him and discover that obedience brings their joy and delight in Him. 

The prophet Jeremiah calls God’s Old Covenant people the Jews to obedience in 7:23.  God says through Jeremiah, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God and you will be my people.”  Do you hear the condition of the covenant relationship is obedience?  He says the same thing in 11:4.  He says to his people, “Listen to my voice, and do according to all which I command you; SO you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”  Once again, we see the covenant conditioned upon obedience.  People who are alive to God, who offer themselves to God are those who obey God from faith.  This has always been God’s desire.

When Paul says he has been commissioned to call people to obedience, he is consistent with Jeremiah and the Old Covenant people of God.

          The difference between Paul and Jeremiah is this.  Paul is minister of a new and better covenant than Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was operating under a covenant, though expressing the righteousness of God and his expectations of his people, the covenant did not provide for the main ingredient necessary for the carrying out of the covenant and that is a heart which would keep it.  So when Jeremiah looks around and sees the rampant spiritual heart disease, God gives him a promise of a new and better covenant which would address this weakness.

          He says to him in 32:38 (and listen to this same covenantal language. “And they [those under the new covenant] shall be my people and I will be their God.  And I will give them one heart (or, singleness of heart) and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them.  And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.  These people will not turn away from me to sin, they will not offer themselves to others, but to me.  WHY?  Because “I will put the fear of me in their hearts.”  The New Covenant people Paul writes to are alive to God.  They have hearts which have been put into them by God and they fear God-they rightly relate to God.

          God tells Ezekiel the same thing about this New Covenant people.  In Chapter 36:26-27 he says, “…I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and CAUSE you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” The heart of stone, that heart which hears the command of God and is dead to it is GONE.  Newly installed is a heart of flesh which is sensitive and responsive to the call of God.  It says that he will CAUSE us to walk his statutes.  He will cause us to obey.  Now, he will not fight against us, but if we are truly presenting ourselves to God, we have the promise of God that He will cause us to walk according to his will.  And the reason is because we have this magnificent spiritual heart transplant.

          The command to obey is still there.  Paul says he is charged with calling people to obey God.  But the heart is different.  This new one is soft and malleable, sensitive to God and desirous to follow him.  Many Christians live as if the difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the New Covenant is unconditional and that means that we do not have to obey God.  The wonder of grace for many is the freedom to be a spiritual hypocrite.   The New Covenant IS unconditional, but the reason is NOT because obedience is optional.  That is a perversion!!  The New Covenant is unconditional because obedience is provided for with the new heart which seeks to walk after God.  The New Covenant is unconditional because obedience comes with the package through the Holy Spirit.  This is the wonder of grace—the new heart which, through the Spirit seeks to obey God. 

This is why when Paul says he is charged to call people to the obedience that comes from faith, he is really just calling people to enter into the New Covenant which is a relationship with God marked by obedience from faith.  The reason I treat this issue this way is because perhaps the quickest way to see what it is to be alive to God—to be those who have been brought from death to life, is to examine what God has promised through the prophets these people would be like.  These people have new hearts, hearts of flesh and are those who God causes to obey his commands.  The question becomes, “If this is who the New Covenant people are and I am a New Covenant person, why do I see little if any of this in my life?”

          In closing, let me give one reason which comes right out of Romans 6:12-13.  The first reason why many people under the New Covenant don’t present themselves to God for obedience is:  They don’t believe the truth about who they are under the New Covenant.  This gets back to the point that we are to present ourselves to God, “as those who have been brought from death to life.  The plain and simple truth is that many believers live spiritually as if they were still dead because perhaps, they don’t believe they have been given new life and they don’t see themselves as those who are alive to God back from the dead.  Here is a typical scenario.  They come to Christ and it is glorious.  The old things have passed away, the new has come.  They delight in God, they share their faith, they worship spontaneously and God gives them a special measure of grace.

          Then, somewhere along the way, they shockingly rediscover that they are sinners.  They stumble and fall in areas they thought for sure they would never have to do battle with again.  If, at this point they would go to God and seek Him out on this, they would see that He is allowing them to see they need to completely depend upon him.  Their failures would, over time only serve to strengthen their trust in God.  What happens to so many however is quite different.  Instead of going to God, they listen to the enemy who is more than happy to interpret the reason for this sin for them.  He says things like, “See, you haven’t changed.  This Christian life is just not that radical a change.  Do you really see anyone else who keeps their joy and lives in obedience?   Just settle down into spiritual reality sister.  You will go to heaven, but don’t get your hopes up about living supernaturally.  That’s a fairy tale.  It is a dead end street and if you seriously pursue that kind of life, you will know nothing but frustration.”  And tragically, because most of the rest of the church IS busy lounging in mediocrity—there simply aren’t the model saints and there is not the clarion call for radical obedience.  So, after they spend some time mourning the loss of their idealistic vision of the Christian life, they settle in with the rest and scold themselves for being such a wide-eyed idealist.

          The truth of the matter is this.  We are called to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.  If we are true believers, the promises of Jeremiah 32 and Ezekiel 36 are ours to claim and realize.  Our problem is, we have been lulled by a lukewarm Christian culture into unbelief.  That’s why Paul says he calls people to the obedience that comes from faith.  Part of that faith which underlies the obedience is the faith which is willing to believe that we are alive to God and therefore we must present ourselves to God. Part of this faith is believing what God says about us as people of the New Covenant of Christ.  Do we believe that God has given us a new heart and will cause us to obey Him?  Do we really BELIEVE that?  That’s true, if we are born again by the Spirit of God.

          We are not called to PRETEND that is true.  It IS true.  Do we believe it?  Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  If you aren’t free, perhaps the reason is because you don’t KNOW, really KNOW the truth about who you are in Christ.  Jesus said, “He whom the Son has set free is free indeed.”  Do we believe we have been set free from the enslaving power of sin?  Do we believe that we have passed from death to life?  Do we believe that we have been transported out of darkness into the light of God?  Do we believe that as part of our New Covenant relationship, God has given us hearts to obey Him?  Do we see ourselves as weapons against the darkness in the hand of a militant God?  Do we believe that?  This is what it is to be a Christian.  We need to allow God to write these things in our heart.  Andrew Murray, in his marvelous book “The Two Covenants” pleads with the church, “Let us beseech God earnestly that He would reveal to us by the Holy Spirit the things that He hath prepared for them that love Him the things that have not entered into the heart of man; the wonderful life of the New Covenant.”  May God give us the grace to know the truth so that we may live as people free and alive to God from the dead.

          

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