"Crucifying the Old Self with Christ"
Apr.17, 2011 Romans 6:1-14
NEEDING A BOOSTER TO ESCAPE SIN'S FORCE
This past Tuesday, April 12, marked the 50th anniversary of manned space flight - it was 1961 that Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the earth. Twenty years to the day later, in 1981, the Americans launched their space shuttle program. A fascinating part of any space flight is always the blast-off: thousands of pounds of force generated by huge hydrogen rockets. Gigantic boosters are required to generate the speed needed to overcome the earth's gravitational pull. But once astronauts are in orbit, they experience the phenomenon of weightlessness: gravity no longer exerts a hold on them.
That tremendous tug of gravity is like the pull of sin on our natural self. We know some things are wrong, yet we feel an almost irresistible attraction to trespass, to cross the boundary between right and wrong. It almost feels like we need some mighty power source like a Saturn rocket to move us away, to help counter the pull of temptation. What can free us from the draw of sin that would drag us down and destroy us?
Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous British philosopher and journalist who converted to Christianity late in life, once told of working as a journalist in India as a young man. One evening he walked down to the river for a swim. As he entered the water, he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come for her evening bath. Muggeridge immediately felt the allurement of the moment, and he was besieged by temptation. He had lived with this kind of temptation all his adult life, but until this moment he had fought it off out of respect for his wife Kitty. But tonight, he was weak and vulnerable. He hesitated just a moment, then swam furiously across the river toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. But when he was just a few feet away from her, he emerged from the water and what he saw took his breath away. She wasn't a beautiful young maiden, but old and hideous, with wrinkled skin, and worst of all, she was a leper. He said later, "The creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask." Muggeridge muttered, "What a dirty, lecherous woman!" But as he swam away from her, a sudden shock gripped him: "It wasn't just the woman who was dirty and lecherous," he said. "It was my own heart."
Swimming as if 'trying to outdistance his conscience': Muggeridge felt drawn to sin by an overwhelming desire that he realized was dirty and degenerate. In Romans 6, Paul outlines help we can receive to fight temptation: the power not of a rocket, but Christ's resurrection.
STUCK ON THE ROAD TO A DEAD END
The apostle is very clear in describing our fallen human state apart from Christ's intervention. V6, our "old self" is characterized by "the body ruled by sin", we are 'slaves to sin'. V12, before conversion, we 'let sin reign in [our] mortal body'; v13, we offer parts of ourself 'to sin as an instrument of wickedness'. V14 sin is our 'master', Paul says; 17, "you used to be slaves to sin;" v20, "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." Strong language, using terms like 'master' and 'slave', but that's appropriate to describe the power evil has over us without God's saving help.
V19 hints at some of the effects this bondage had. "...you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness..." Impurity, literally 'uncleanness'; Robertson comments, "Patently true in sexual sins, in drunkenness, and all fleshly sins, absolutely slaves like narcotic fiends." There's the term "ever-increasing wickedness", or 'greater and greater iniquity' in the NRSV: the second and the third and the fourth time, the same amount as the first time just doesn't seem enough, our appetite becomes more insatiable.
What are the consequences of a sin-ridden lifestyle? V16, sin "leads to death"; 21, 'things you are now ashamed of' - 'those things result in death!' And the famous v23, "For the wages of sin is death..." Wages are something you work for, you deliberately earn; whenever we sin, we are deadening ourselves, death is being credited to us as what we earn by our unrighteousness.
Sin has a deadening effect on relationships. An online article linked to by a Christian woman who works with adolescents talks about the pressure girls feel to be physically perfect in order to rate guys' attention. It quotes a girl whose boyfriend uses porn regularly and plays video games for hours. "Sometimes he'll just forget to call or text because he's gaming...I'm lucky to get a few minutes alone with him a week when we're not doing something sexual.But this is the way boys are - unless you're like freakin' Megan Fox, you can't expect a guy's complete attention." The pull of porn, of video gaming, claimed his attention and deadened meaningful interaction with or interest in his girlfriend.
GRACE PROFERRED: WHAT CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED
A boost out of sin's pull is available: but this boost comes, not from a rocket, but the Risen One. V4, "Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father..." Vv9-10, "Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him.The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God." The reason Jesus intervened in our sin-stuck situation was to help us break free from the bondage of wrong desires.
This significant historical event was mentioned back in chapter 5. There Paul explains that at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (5:6). God demonstrated His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (5:8). When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son (5:10). The result of that one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all people (5:18). There's one word that sums up this undeserved intervention on our behalf: that word is 'grace'. 5:15, "...how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" The chapter ends (5:21) emphasizing grace increasing all the more, so "grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Paul picks up that accent on grace later on in chapter 6: v14, "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." Grace, not sin, is our ruling principle for those who are in Christ. 6:23 highlights the gift-aspect of grace: "For the wages of sin is death [as we have seen], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We did not earn or deserve deliverance from sin's mastery, its powerful pull; Jesus' death and resurrection for us, once for all, are the grace 'booster rocket' that can free us from the penalty and guilt of our trespasses.
MAKING IT YOUR OWN: DONNING THE SUIT
The Christ-event, back in history at an opportune time, is one thing; bringing that to bear on our own situation is another. We need to somehow make the connection, the link, between Christ's experience and our own. Paul brings them side by side in vv4&11. Note the simile language: 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." He's bringing the two together: Christ's resurrection / our new life. Also v11: "In the same way" (same way as what? V10 Christ died to sin, now lives to God)..."In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
How do we make it our own? How do we hook up to the booster rocket of Jesus' resurrection to power our flight from sin? There's an ACTION and an ATTITUDE Paul describes.
First, the ACTION: Paul alludes to the act of baptism as a picture of union with Christ - v3, "...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized [sunk!] into His death." V4 continues, "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death..." in order that our new life might find empowerment in His resurrection.
Baptism by immersion, the early church's practice, presented a life-size visual of being joined with Jesus in the death of the 'old self'. Paul continues to use this 'linking' metaphor in vv5 and 8, "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection...Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Note the words 'we believe': baptism is not an action that magically or superstitiously confers grace apart from belief of the participant: it's a conscious, voluntary appeal to God to apply the benefits of Christ's substitutionary death and unique resurrection to my own life. Being joined / united 'with Him', by this symbolic action.
There's also an ATTITUDE required to 'make it our own'. Notice the verb in v11: "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." The word 'count' in the Greek means to reckon, compute, calculate. When you get your Notice of Assessment, that's how the CRA reckons you stand tax-wise. That's 'the way it is' - accept it. So with our mind, we take the view that, in Christ, we ARE dead to sin and alive to God. Shift your attitude, your thinking, to accept that, see yourself that way.
This new attitude results in different choices. V12, "Therefore" [based on what? Our counting/reckoning in the previous verse] "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." Don't allow it; get your mouse away from that hyperlink. Zip your tongue before that retort spills out. It's a conscious choice - "do not let". But it'll only work if your attitude, your counting or reckoning, is that of v11. Choices are also apparent in v13, where the verb 'offer' occurs 3 times: "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." It's a conscious, voluntary decision, this offering - willing / compelling your body members to remain on the altar of dedication to the Lord.
It'll only happen if we're tuned-in to this reality of being 'in Christ'. Galatians 3(27) says, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Paul also writes nuances of this 'clothing' metaphor in Colossians 3(9f,12): "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator...As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Stuart Briscoe writes, "When Neil Armstrong stepped...onto the moon's surface [in 1969]...he entered an environment in which it was impossible for him to survive apart from his space suit and its support systems.But because of the capabilities of his unnatural environment - the space suit - and his identification with it, he was able to regard himself as dead to his inhospitable surroundings and alive to his experience of walking around the moon.So the believer must understand that 'in Christ' he is no longer totally at the mercy of the inhospitable environment of sin but is alive to all the power and life of God Himself."
Don the special suit: get 'in Christ', else the hostile sin-space will bombard you and suck the life out of you.
THE GRACE-REAPER AND THE GRIM REAPER
Paul has a goal in mind here, benefits Christians will enjoy by their new alignment. Apparently during the French-language federal candidates' debate this past week, NDP leader Jack Layton tried to take advantage of playoff fever to score some points. He criticized the Bloc Quebecois as being purely a 'defence' team, while the NDP (he argued) 'can score goals'. To which Bloc leader Duceppe scoffingly replied, 'What goals?!'
Goals and outcomes are important. In 6:21 Paul asks, "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" What benefit? What outcome? Death. By contrast, in v22, they now reap better benefits than shame and death.
This passage holds out three benefits in particular, three positive outcomes of a Christ-centred life. First, RIGHTEOUSNESS: v16, being slaves to obedience 'leads to righteousness.' Forget 'So you want to be a millionaire': a verse in Proverbs points out that righteousness is worth more than riches; 11:4, "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death."
Second, HOLINESS: v19, "now offer [your bodies] in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness." Holiness is very valuable too, especially if you want to be with God for eternity; Hebrews 12:14, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."
Righteousness; holiness; a third benefit of counting ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ is ETERNAL LIFE. v22, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."
Spring is here; farmers and gardeners will be gearing up to get out on the land and get planting - if you want a crop to reap, you've first got to sow. Christ-centredness does reap a benefit; by our choices we are constantly sowing. Paul reminded the Galatians (6:7f), "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." Keep your goal in mind, the benefit you seek to reap: by turning from sin, relying on Christ's help, you'll reap the benefit of eternal life.
DON'T SHORT-CIRCUIT THE STILL, SMALL VOICE
It's one thing to agree with a sermon that we shouldn't sin; quite another to carry it out when temptation comes banging at the door. Martin Luther offers this counsel: "When I find myself assailed by temptation, I forthwith lay hold of some text of the Bible, which Jesus extends to me." So, you can see how a regular habit of daily Bible reading stores up ammunition that can be used to defeat temptation. There is power in the Word of God!
Playing close attention to conscience is also important. In Focus on the Family, Rolf Zettersten wrote, "A good friend in North Carolina bought a new car with a voice-warning system. At first Edwin was amused to hear the soft female voice gently remind him that his seat belt wasn't fastened. He affectionately called this voice the 'little woman.' He soon discovered his little woman was programmed to warn him about his gasoline. 'Your fuel level is low,' she said one time in her sweet voice. Edwin nodded his head and thanked her. He figured he still had enough gas to go another fifty miles, so he kept on driving. But a few minutes later her voice interrupted again with the same warning. And so it went over and over. Although he knew it was the same recording, Edwin thought her voice sounded harsher each time.
"Finally, he stopped his car and crawled under the dashboard. After a quick search, he found the appropriate wires and gave them a good yank. So much for the little woman.
"He was still smiling to himself a few miles later when his car began sputtering and coughing. He ran out of gas! Somewhere inside the dashboard, Edwin was sure he could hear the little woman laughing." Let's pray.