Romans 6 is a book which written 2,000 years ago. It is a remarkable supernatural Book. I want to give you an example of how the Bible corrects so much of our thinking.
For a long time, the world has been pushing the importance of self-esteem. And I have always had mixed feelings about self-esteem, because the Bible says that we should have a proper estimate of ourselves: not too high, not too low. And I was given recently, from the newspaper, an article from researchers in London and the United States who have decided that self-esteem is overrated. They say people with low self-esteem seem to do just as well in life as people with high self-esteem.
In fact, they may do better because they often try harder. Last year alone, it says, there were three withering studies of self-esteem released in the United States, all of which had the same central message, people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem. Of course, books, schools and therapists will take a huge ‘hit’ if self-esteem is re-examined. But maybe we should be discussing and preaching self-control as the primary peg which we should reach for.
There are therapy programmes that teach self-control, but, predictably, they are not great money makers, and they certainly do not attract the bulk of therapy consumers, the upper middle-class. The writer of this article goes on to say, We blame Freud for a lot of things, but we can’t blame that cigar-smoking Victorian for this particular cultural obsession. Freud never claimed that we should be happy and he never claimed confidence was the key to a life well lived. Freud was staking a claim for an effort at honesty. Self-appraisal.
And we go back to the Bible, and Romans 12 says, ‘Have a proper estimate of yourself; not too high, not too low.’ And so we ask ourself the question – why did we ever leave the Bible and go off down the road of high self-esteem, which is unhelpful to many? Well, that is just one of many examples that I could give you this morning of how the Scriptures help us to understand the world and ourselves accurately.
The letter of Romans is a description, from start to finish, of how you can have a friendship with God and live in the world, as His friend, and go beyond this world. And if you were to read Romans 1-3, you would discover the explanation for the problems of the world, which is basically, ‘All have sinned.’
If you were to read Romans Chapters 3-5, you would discover God’s solution to the world, which is the rescue work of Jesus Christ. If you want to know how to connect with God, read Romans 3-5 and discover that the key to connecting with God is what is called ‘faith’, and we could replace the word ‘faith’ with the ‘000-call’ which means that you come to a point where you have to actually call on Him and ask Him to be Saviour and Lord.
I spent a long time this week with somebody who has come to this Church for a long time, has heard everything I have to say from the pulpit, has heard everybody else speak but had never got to the point of actually saying, ‘Be my Saviour, be my Lord.’ They might have thought it. They might have thought they had done it. They might have wished they had done it. They might have hoped they would do it. But they had never actually done it.
When you get to the end of Romans 5, and you come to this lovely verse that sin increased, but grace hyper-increased you could, at that point, say, ‘Well, let’s finish the letter’. It’s a lovely place to stop. God has made provision for our sin. Let’s finish the letter. Let’s make it a little letter, like Galatians and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians. We will just have Romans 1-5. Perfect.
But the letter goes on to tell Christian people how to live, how to walk in a balanced way. And Romans 6, 7 and 8 give us the basics for walking the Christian life.
Chapter 6 tells you, if you are a Christian, don’t try and bring sin, like a third party, into the marriage with Christ. It’s very simple.
Do we need to be told, ‘Don’t bring sin into the Christian life’? I mean, isn’t it obvious? Wouldn’t everybody, whether they are in Church or outside, imagine that some preacher is going to get up and say, ‘Don’t sin’. And therefore, we imagine that sin, of course, is off-limits for Christians. More disturbingly, we might ask the question – if we have become Christians, isn’t it that we don’t like sin anymore? And this is where we need the Bible, which is going to be permanently helpful and accurate for us because the Bible reminds us that sin is a wily part of the Christian life.
It’s true the Christian has been given a new nature, a supernatural nature. It’s true the Christian now has a struggle going on in the heart – old nature / new nature. But the old nature is very real and very crafty and incredibly devious. So, it is a wonderful thing, when you are a Christian, to realise that God has justified you (or has made you clean forever, as far as He is concerned) and that He patiently changes us, slowly but surely, until we become more godly.
Some friends in the congregation, who are probably here this morning, gave me (for taking their wedding) a cake of soap. I don’t know where this cake of soap comes from, but it says on the box, ‘This soap washes your sins away and removes 98% guilt’ and a whole lot of other things. And underneath the box, it says – ‘With a tempting do-it-again fragrance’. Now, that soap is very accurate in the second, but not the first, of the claims: that is, when you become a Christian, it is not soap that removes your sin, it is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ. But when you become a Christian, there is still the temptation to do it again, to sin again. And we who come to the Church here at St Thomas’s are not pretending we have moved from failure to perfection. We are not pretending that we have moved from sinful to sinless. We are claiming that we have moved from being lost to found, and even as found, people who continue to sin.
So Romans 6 is going to help us, as Christian people, who struggle with sin and maybe even play with sin and going to give us some help as to what to do about the sin which stays very close. There are three things this morning. There is a new status, which God has given us. There is the new fight, which He has brought us into. And there is the new outcome, which we will one day see perfectly.
First of all, the new status. Look at Chapter 6, Verse 1. Paul says: well, what shall we say? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?
Now, at its best, this is a very noble question which sounds a little bit like this: wouldn’t it be a good thing for me, now that I am a Christian, to sin a bit, and then God’s grace will cover the sin, and everybody will be impressed by God. Underneath, of course, is a more sinister question which goes like this: now that I am a Christian, can I sin anyway, and it’s God’s business to make sure that nothing goes wrong for me. And every Christian, if I am not mistaken, has jumped, at one point, from the Good News, ‘Great, now I’m forgiven’…to … ‘Great! Now I am going to do what I want.’
Paul’s answer, in Chapter 6 Verse 1, is ‘How can we?’ Notice the word we. He doesn’t say, how can you. And he wants to show that we have a new status by being Christians, which should make sin more difficult. It is as if we have been chosen to represent our country, which brings a new responsibility as well as a new privilege. And you will see the language he uses in Chapter 6:2, he doesn’t say, ‘Come on now, you believe… start behaving.’ He says: you believe (Verse 2), you died to sin.
Well there’s a shock, isn’t it? What the Apostle Paul is saying is that as soon as you believe and belong to Jesus Christ and you are united with Christ, you have joined His journey. Has Jesus Christ won 50 gold medals? By joining Jesus Christ, you have 50 gold medals, as far as God is concerned.
Verse 2: we died to sin because Christ died to sin
Verse 3: we were baptised into Christ, we have a brand new status
Verse 4: we were buried with Christ because Christ was buried
Verse 4: He was raised, we have a new life
Verse 5: We have been united in His death, we have been crucified with Him, we have even died with Him. It’s a very remarkable way to describe the Christian life. And so the privilege of belonging to Jesus, is that His victory is shared with us. God sees us as having a new status, the status of a victor.
Now each of these three things we are looking at this morning has a comfort and a challenge. Let me tell you what the comfort is. The comfort is the realism that this brings. Many Christians have read Chapter 6 Verse 2 and seen those little words ‘died to sin’ and they have assumed that their sinful nature should be dead. And some preachers have even preached this way. There have been holiness movements, historically, where preachers have got up and said, ‘You have become a Christian? Your sinful nature is dead.’ And they have gone on to say something like this: your sinful nature is a bit like a dog, that when you became a Christian, the dog died. Now you can run a cat called ‘temptation’ passed the dog, and the dog won’t even respond. Sin can go passed, and you won’t be interested anymore. And the effect of that on many Christian people was that they either got terribly depressed because said, ‘Well, that’s not like me’ or they got dishonest, and they said, ‘Yep, that’s me’ when it wasn’t.
Our sinful nature, says Paul, is not dead, but our old status is dead. What he says in these verses is that we are no longer cut-off from Christ. We are no longer unforgiven. We are no longer heading to meet Christ unready. We are no longer outside His fellowship. Paul is not arguing that our sinful potential has died. My sinful potential is alive and well, and so is yours. But if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we have a new status. Therefore, if we have a new status, says Paul, how can we pretend that is nothing? If God sees us as His children, how can we pretend that is nothing? It’s not impossible, of course, to sin. It’s just inconsistent. And that’s why he says in Verse 11: count yourself, or reckon yourself, or think of yourself, as far as God is concerned, dead to sin.
Now the challenge of this new status is the responsibility that it brings. It brings a very great responsibility to be a Christian. I am not pretending that gratitude for Christ transforms our behaviour the way it should. I wish that it did in my life. I wish that I was so grateful that I was quite sinless. But the question that we have to ask is that if we go on in deliberate sin, what is going on? Either we don’t belong to Christ, or we haven’t grasped our position. It’s as if we are grovelling in the mud when we have been given a brand new white coat. And you will notice in Verse 4 that the status is not just a coat, but it is a new life, that ‘we may live a new life’, He says in Verse 4: we have been given new resources, new attitudes, new strength. So the real Christian who asks the question (and we all ask this question every now and again), ‘Can I sin?’ should rethink and say, ‘Look, if I belong to Jesus Christ, and I have a new status, what a comfort that is, the way God sees me, and what a challenge that is, the way God sees me.’
Second thing, the new fight. Look at Verses 12 and 13. He says, ‘Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body. Don’t offer the parts of your body to sin.’ His second argument is to learn to fight if you are a Christian. Now, this would be a very depressing message – learn to fight – if you have been fighting and losing, fighting and losing, and you feel as though you are completely on your own. But we will discover if you keep coming to the next couple of Sundays, that we are not on our own in the fight but God is at work in us and through us, to help us in the fight. So we don’t have to fight the Christian life alone, but we would be crazy to think that we can live the Christian life without a fight.
It would be like saying to a football player, ‘Look, I would like you to join this football team’, and then the footballer turns round and says, ‘Is it okay if I conduct myself in such a way that nobody touches me, nobody hits me? I don’t want to have to train.’
Or, somebody joins the army and says, ‘Is it okay if I just wear the uniform. I don’t want to have any threats. I don’t want to have to sweat or bring any hardship upon myself.’
Or, a person says, ‘I would like to have some kids, but I don’t want to have to make any sacrifices, I just want the kids.’
And the Apostle Paul says, ‘If you have become a Christian, it means training, and it means discipline, and it means to sacrifice.’ And there is something a little bit crazy about us because we look at the footballer and say: if you have become a footballer, it’s going to hurt. And if you have become a soldier, it’s going to mean training and hardship. And then we look at the Christian life and say: I’ve become a Christian. I would like it to be easy. I want it to just drift my way.
Paul says (Verse 17): thanks be to God, that though you used to be a slave to sin (which means that you had no relationship with Jesus Christ and you had no service for Jesus Christ) but now (Verse 18) you have been set free from sin, which means that you are now able to choose.
When you are a non-Christian, you only have one choice to make, haven’t you, which is: will I or won’t I? When you become a Christian, you have a brand new question to ask yourself, and it goes like this: will I, or will He, have the last word? And Paul says (Verse 17), when the teaching arrived, a message or gospel, or the information of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you believed it, you became a brand new person. You were set free from that one-way road – downhill. And he goes on to say that it is the obligation of the Christian to keep thinking who is master.
So you can walk out of this building today, and you can get in your car, and somebody in your car says something pretty terrible to you, and you have a choice on your hands at that point. And the natural thing is to just do the natural thing. But we have a choice, and we can say, ‘Well, who is the master at this point?’ If I decide that I’ll be the master and I will do exactly what I want, well Paul says that will lead you downhill. But if you decide that Jesus Christ is the Master and you decide that you will do what He says, it will be a blessing to you and those around you.
In other words, God has given me some eyes and God has given me ears, and God has given me hands and God has given me a mouth, and God has given me feet, and I have to say to myself, ‘They are at His disposal’. Now the comfort of this new fight that we have been brought into is that we are aware of it.
The non-Christian (whether the non-Christian is nice or nasty) doesn’t even know there is a fight going on; they are just having a terrific time or a terrible time, and often, they are much calmer than the Christians because they are not even caught up in all this tension of what is the right thing to do. They just do what comes naturally. But the Christian feels the fight, the anguish. And the reason is that God brought you out of sleep and out of slavery and He has taught you the importance of the spiritual battle. And you may be very tired of some areas of the spiritual battle. I am too. But the fact that you desire to go on fighting and struggling and being faithful is a proof that He has given you a new life. And that’s a very great comfort.
But the challenge of this is that you have to make choices. There is no point in drifting along in the Christian life and thinking to yourself, ‘Well, I am a train. I am on tracks. I have to go where the tracks go.’ Or, ‘I am a train, and I have an engine, and I have to go where the engine pushes me.’ That is not the way to think of the Christian life. The Christian life is much more like driving the car. You have choices to make. You can go left or right. You can go straight or stop. And so don’t fold your arms in the Christian life and say, ‘Well, the track made me’ or ‘The engine made me.’ God’s Word says that at the end of the day, the car goes where you choose to go, and the paradox of the Christian life is that if you yield yourself to yourself, and think, ‘Oh, now I will be free if I do what I want’ it ends up in slavery. And if you yield yourself to Christ and think, ‘This will be a slavery’, it ends up in freedom. It is quite remarkable.
I want to give you an illustration which I read this week which I think cuts to the heart and it’s very relevant for us today. It’s from an editor of a journal of biblical counselling. He tells a story of a girl, a Christian girl, who came to him for counselling, she had a fantasy life. Whenever she felt lonely, rejected or disappointed, she would retreat to her secret world, which was a world of lesbianism. Now she was a very popular girl at Church; she was very vivacious. Nobody knew the battle that was going on, and she was torn in two, because she had this double-life and she thought, ‘If people knew what I was like, I would be rejected, and I wouldn’t be as popular as I am.’ Probably a thousand people in Churches every day, thinking the same. The therapist whom she had seen in the past had accepted her and had helped her understand the reasons for her secret life, and the reason seemed to be that her father had been an alcoholic and had abused her and she had learned, therefore, not to trust men. And counselling had helped her to understand the way that she was and that she should go and find her support and her comfort with women. And as she said, ‘My counsellor helped me to learn that only God can fill the void inside me, and to be honest.’ Now the editor of the journal of biblical counselling, David Powlison, asked this question: has the girl been helped if the cause has been attributed to someone else? It’s a very popular thing to do, isn’t it?
When people come to see me, and I imagine when people go to see a counsellor, the pressure is on to say, ‘You are great. The problem is someone else.’Now the job of the friend or the pastor or the counsellor may be to explain the context of what caused the present situation. What are the roots of the problem? Maybe the person can explain the context. But David Powlison asks the question: has the person helped the person in need if they say that the cause is someone else? Powlison says the therapy that teaches the heart as essentially empty and not willful too runs counter to Bible and reality.
In other words, there comes a time when a faithful friend, or a faithful counsellor, or a faithful pastor will say, ‘Yes, the context may have been a very sad and difficult childhood. But the heart, which is wilful, makes choices and choices and choices, and there needs to be an obligation to recognise the context and the cause – the other person and self. There needs to be a certain amount of forgiveness for the past, the person, and there needs to be some real confession for the personal contribution to the patterns.’
Romans Chapter 6 is a challenge for us to recognise the fight. It is popular, and it’s flattering to say the problem is someone else. And the someone else may be contributing, but the real solution will be only found when the real honesty of my part in the problem is faced up to and confessed.
The last thing this morning is that there is a new outcome for Christians who are in the fight. The theme of the Chapter is that the Christian has to learn to put sin off the agenda, and not just keep putting sin on the agenda.
We are to remind ourselves that we have a new and incredible status. We are to teach ourselves that we have a new fight. We are also, thirdly and lastly, to make ourselves see that there is a new outcome for the Christian. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it, that the Christian is not given up on by God. It’s wonderful, isn’t it, that God is so patient with us.
God goes on patiently, patiently looking after us because we stand in grace. Nevertheless, says Paul, don’t let sin be brought into the marriage with Christ. It would bring pain to Him and pain to you. And one of the ways to help yourself is to focus on the outcome of the old life (Verse 21) and the outcome of the new life. Look at Verse 21: what benefit did you reap from the things that you are now ashamed of? In other words, look back to the old life when you were not a Christian, and you indulged yourself, and you sinned quite happily, what came of it? Well, the answer, says Paul, is shame and death.
But now, he says (Verse 22) you are one of God’s slaves, and you are able, by His grace, to produce a holy life and to enjoy eternal life. The comfort of this is that it is a wonderful thing, with God’s help, to live a holy life. He has not asked us to do the impossible. He has not asked us to be perfect because the Bible says that he who says he is without sin deceives himself. We continue to sin. But it is possible to seek, and in some measure, to live a holy life. And that, of course, when we live a holy life, is very dear to God, it’s a great blessing to other people, and it is very valuable to us.
The great outcome of believing in Jesus is eternal life which he says (in Verse 23) is impossible to win. It’s not a trophy. But it is a gift, and it is held out to us through Jesus Christ. If you want to know how to have eternal life, it is a gift. It needs to be taken, not won. That’s the comfort. But the challenge of this new outcome is that we are called to be holy. And it is a very sobering thing to realise that in the past, many people came to Church and the unholiness of the last week were the big burden on their heart. And when they considered the week that they had just lived and the lack of holiness, it caused them to weep and to weep and to weep, and to ask God to help them to be godly, to be holy. People in the past were so serious about a holy life. Now it’s very difficult to find anyone who takes a holy life seriously. We have changed our adjectives. We now want happy lives, easy lives. But the saints of the past were committed to a holy life. And the challenge of the Christian life is to seek to be holy. It’s one of the really serious problems with the Church today, is that there are not many people serious about being serious before God.
And Romans 6 is, therefore, a challenge to us, not to be spiritual adulterers and to go and sleep with any sin that just comes along. But it’s also a very comforting Chapter because it reminds us that even if we are weary in the battle, that God has given us a new status, that God has brought us into a new fight, and God will give us a new outcome in glory.