Monday, January 30, 2017

What do You Live For?: Romans 6:1-14

Whatever you live for will drastically affect how you live.

Let me try and clarify that statement.  Whatever you live for will dramatically affect how you live your life and the things that you do.

In C.S. Lewis’ famous book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the white witch.  Now, the white witch is the enemy of Narnia who has made it perpetual winter.  She asks Edmund if there is anything she can get for him, and he, being cold and hungry, asks for some Turkish Delight.  As you read the story, you can tell that this Turkish Delight isn’t just any ordinary Turkish Delight.  It is bewitched in some fashion, because once Edmund eats it, he cannot stop thinking about it.  He wants more and more, and he knows only the witch can provide it for him.  The desire for the Turkish Delight becomes so severe and consumes him so much, that he betrays his brother and sisters to obtain it.  He doesn’t care that his actions put his brother and sisters in peril.  He doesn’t care that he is helping the white witch maintain her control of Narnia.  He is consumed with Turkish Delight.  He is living for Turkish Delight.  And what he is living for is drastically affecting how he lives.

Now, admittedly, this is a fictional story, but it is not far from the truth.  You yourself probably know what it means to be living for something.  You know how it effects your behavior.  If you can’t see it in yourself, I know you can see it in others.  Parents who live for their children generally helicopter over them trying to protect them from anything that can harm them physically or emotionally–sometimes working even to get them better grades or put in classes they do not deserve to be in; or it causes them to confront coaches and demand playing time–time the kid doesn’t deserve.  Living for their children affects how they behave, and most of us have seen such examples.  Some people live for their paycheck.  They work harder and harder, putting in more and more hours increasing the amount in the box.  Soon, they are getting up before the break of day and staying at work long into the night neglecting housework, children, families and friends.  Living for their pay tremendously affects their lives.  There really is no other need to delve into more examples, is there?  Can you see in our world and in our society how what people live for dramatically affects how they live?  Please keep these thoughts in mind as we turn now to chapter six in the book of Romans.

We need to recap last week’s lesson for just a moment because this book all runs together.  Paul leaps from one point to the next building on the previous point.  If you don’t understand the previous point, you won’t understand the next one.  Last week, Paul left us with representative thought.  In the ancient world, oftentimes one person represented an entire nation, and whatever happened to that one person effected the entire nation.  Therefore, in battle, if a representative lost, then the entire nation lost and was labeled losers.  If the representative won, then the entire nation won and was labeled winners.  Paul argued that there are two representatives for the world–there is Adam who represents sin, death, and condemnation, and there is Jesus who represents forgiveness, life and justification.  Those who choose Adam as their representative continue to find sin, death, and condemnation.  Those who choose Christ as their representative find forgiveness, life, and justification–even to the point where Paul says that when the law made trespasses increase, the grace of God through Jesus Christ super-abounded!

Which leads us straight away to Paul’s question to begin chapter six: “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”  Most scholars believe that Paul is dealing with an early criticism of the Gospel.  What incentive do you have for changing your behavior?  If God just forgives sin and enjoys forgiving sin, shouldn’t I just keep sinning so that God can keep forgiving?  Shouldn’t I keep sinning so that the glory of God’s grace can continue to be revealed?  One modern day critic even coined the phrase, “God likes to forgive.  I like to sin.  Therefore I should continue to sin and God can continue to forgive.  It’s a win/win proposition!”

Paul’s words are very, very strong.  “By no means!” he says.  Perhaps the English translation is a bit weak.  “God forbid!” would be adequate.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!” also would work.  “You must be stupid if you believe that!” is close.  Paul utterly rejects the idea because, as he then says, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”  In the next verses, Paul lays out his reasoning in the rest of chapter 6.  It takes the form of two arguments, and we will deal with the first one today.  Like last week, the argument is complex and wordy, so I will not be going verse by verse point by point.  Once again, I am going to try and encapsulate the argument and then show why it is important not only for Christians, but for those who might be outside the Christian faith.

Paul returns to his use of representative thought to promote his argument.  Remember, in representative thought, the thought that often dominated the ancient world, whatever happened to the representative happened to you.  If your representative lost.  You lost.  If your representative won, you won.  Paul applies this to the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ as our representative.

Paul essentially says, “Look, when you were baptized, you were joined to Christ.  He became your representative.”  Paul does not go into the details of how this happens.  He does not give us a play by play about how baptism somehow joins us to Christ.  He takes for granted that folks know this.  He takes for granted the fact that they know that somehow, mysteriously, sacramentally, when we are baptized, we are joined to Jesus Christ–He becomes our representative so that what happened to Jesus happens to us.  Let that statement sink in because it is crucial to Paul’s argument–what happened to Jesus happens to us.

I know that this is strange thought.  I know that it is tough for us to get our minds around this. We generally don’t think in this fashion.  It involves a shift in our thinking.  It means giving up power and control of our lives.  It means placing our entire life and being in Jesus.  We generally don’t like that. We generally like to hold onto our own lives and identities.  But Christianity isn’t about self-preservation and self-affirmation.  It’s about dying to self and rising to new life.  And Paul makes this point.

For he lays out what happened to Jesus and how it also affects us.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, and then on the third day, He was resurrected.

Let’s work through this trying to get our heads around it.  Jesus was crucified and he died.  Paul says this means we have died as well.  Now, this is not a literal death for us.  Obviously, we are still walking, living, breathing, and moving.  So, this must mean we have died in some other fashion, and Paul lays this out by saying, “When you have died, you are freed from sin.”  Now, be careful here.  Last week, I reminded you that sin is not just the things we do.  Sin is also a power that moves and corrupts the world.  Everything is under its influence.  When you die, this power no longer has a hold over you. This power can no longer corrupt you.  This power can no longer influence you because, well, you are dead.  Nothing can actually harm you or otherwise.  Yes, you are dead, but you are free.  If Christ as your representative has died, then somehow you have died as well.  Therefore, you are freed from the power of sin.

Of course, this does not mean that you don’t sin.  You are not under the power of sin, but that power is still around.  It is still trying to exercise authority over you.  It is still trying to corrupt and warp you, but Paul asserts that it cannot dominate you if you don’t let it.  This is why Paul says in verse 11, “Consider yourselves dead to sin...”  The Greek is better translated, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin...”  This is an accounting term.  It means to add things up.  “If you are joined to Jesus, add it up.  See that he died.  See that you died.  See that death renders sin powerless.  Know that sin has no power over you unless you allow it.”   This is now why Paul also says, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness.”  Paul says you are no longer blindly under sin’s influence.  You can see it coming.  You can resist it.  But the key to resisting it also has to do with what you now live for.

This is the second part of Paul’s assertion here because not only have we been crucified, died, and buried with Christ. We have also been resurrected with Him.  Again, we need to see that Paul’s words have a dual function here.  They do not only point to the future.  They do not only tell us what will happen to us on that day when God the Father makes everything new.  They do not only point towards a future resurrection.  They also indicate that we experience resurrection life right now!  Just as Christ was raised–we are raised.  And Paul is very clear about what kind of resurrection life Christ lives.  “The life he lives, he lives to God.”  Paul is saying unequivocally that the resurrected life is concerned with God–adoring God, seeking God, growing in God, striving for the things of God, living for God.  And, with Christ as our representative, what happened to Him, happens to us.  We share in the resurrection life of living for God.  We strive to adore God, seek God, grow in God, strive for the things of God, and live for God!

Now, let me ask you this question: if you live for God, do you intentionally seek to sin?  If you live for God do you intentionally seek to do the things that He hates?  If you live for God, do you want to break His commands and statutes? Of course, you don’t.  You want to serve God.  You want to please God.  You want to do anything and everything in your power to promote Him and His kingdom.  This is what is at the heart of Paul’s final admonitions, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”  Why?  Because in doing so, you are living for God!  And if you are living for God, you don’t seek to sin so that grace may abound.  You seek to avoid sin because you know God abhors it.  If you are living for God, the last thing you want to do is sin because that dishonors the One you live for!

Before I go into why this is important, let me make a brief comment about verse 14.  Paul makes a bit of a shift here as he says, “14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”  One would expect that Paul would have continued his representative thought here and said, “since you are not under Adam but under grace.”  But he doesn’t.  There is a reason for this, and much of that reason will be outlined and dealt with in chapter 7.  We will wait until then to address it.  For the time being, let’s return to living for God, because this is crucial.

When you live for God, it means much more than simply that you no longer desire to sin.  Remember, what you live for drastically affects your behavior.  And when you live for anything else besides God, you will eventually find yourself in dire straights.  Now, I know that some of you would readily agree that there are certain things that if we were to live for then, that would lead to destructive behavior.  We have plenty of examples of such things: people who live for arguing; people who live for drugs; people who live for filling every selfish thought and desire.  But what about living for things we consider to be good?  What’s wrong with living for them?

Early on in this sermon, I talked about living for children and living for a paycheck.  Now, neither one of these things are bad.  In fact, kids are great.  I love mine dearly and would die for them.  I also love earning a paycheck.  I like being able to buy things.  I also love justice. I love peace.  I love people.  I love food and drink.  These are all good things.  But what happens when you make them the ultimate things?  What happens if you elevate them to the status of an idol?  I talked about that earlier.  When you live for your children, you can actually do more harm than good, and then when they go off to live their own lives, you will be empty, purposeless, and have no meaning in your life.  If your paycheck dominates your thoughts, you will become a workaholic and all other aspects of your life will suffer.  If you live for justice, you will be a tireless advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, and you will burn out having achieved very little to change the structures of the world.  You will also demonize those who you believe to be the oppressors and hold them in contempt.  If you live for people, you will constantly try to please them and make them happy until they suck every ounce of energy out of you.  Every single good thing that you try to live for will eventually do this to you.  Everything.  It may not be right away, but I guarantee you, it will happen.  Sin will corrupt even good things and lead to destruction if you live for them.

There is only one thing that will not be corrupted by sin. There is only one thing that will not suck the life and energy out of you.  There is only one thing to live for that will fill you with abundant life, joy, peace, and energy, and that is God.  He alone will not let you down. He alone will give you the proper perspective and view so that nothing else will consume you. He alone will pour Himself into you so that you will not burn out or be overwhelmed by the things of life.  He has already poured out His life for you on the cross and loved you with an amazing love.  He has already so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn you but to save you.  When you live for Him, He will not allow you to perish, but He will continue to pour Himself back into you so that you may know the fullness of His love.  And your life will be drastically affected–in a very good way.  Amen.

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