March 19, 2017

Victory over Sin

How many of you have been an employee before?  If you were or if you are, have you ever had the experience of having your boss come in and tell you to do something that, truth be told, you didn’t really want to do?  How did you respond?  Well, if you either liked or at least wanted to keep your job, you probably said something along the lines of, “Okay, boss, I’ll get it done.”  Now, depending on your relationship with your boss you may have asked some questions about the directive.  You may have asked why he wanted it done in this particular way.  You may have asked why she needed it done in this particular amount of time.  You may have even been so bold as to question why she needed it done at all.  But, at the end of the day, you did it.  You did it because your boss is…your boss.  He has a measure of authority over you.  You are beholden to her to do what she says (you know, as long as you enjoy eating on a regular basis…and paying your rent or mortgage).

How about this one, though: When you were growing up and if you had siblings, did you ever have the experience of having one of them—and in particular an older sibling—tell you what to do?  How did you respond to that?  My guess is that it wasn’t quite so…conciliatory…as the way in which you responded to your boss.  In fact, if I had to, I would guess that you said something along the lines of, “You’re not the boss of me!”  You may have even had a bit of attitude when you said it.

Well, why?  Why this great variance in responses?  For starters, you could probably get away with it with your sibling.  At least you could as long as your mom or dad hadn’t specifically empowered them to tell you to do whatever it was in which case they probably responded with something like, “Oh yes I am.  Mom and Dad said I was!”  But with your boss…again, he is your boss.  Whether you had a role in choosing her or not, she has a direct hand in determining whether or not you can continue to be employed in that position.  If you want to keep the job, you’ve got to do what he says.

Still, though, it seems that the fewer things and people we have in our lives who have that kind of power over us the better, right?  I’ve shared before about my having two bosses when I worked for OfficeMax during seminary.  That didn’t go well.  This becomes particularly true, though, when we’re talking about things with that kind of power over us.  In fact, I think it would be safe to say that we should never be in a place where a thing or a habit has this kind of power over us.  We could probably even go so far as to say that’s a dangerous place to be.

This morning we are in the third part of our series, Victory.  In this journey that is going to take us to the doorstep of Easter, we are taking a look together at the incredible victory Jesus won over this world by His death and resurrection and the ways we can live with and experience that victory in our own lives.  A couple of weeks ago we started this journey by establishing the fact that Jesus is the victorious Lord of all.  We are given this particular vision of Jesus courtesy of the apostle John in Revelation.  This vision is important for us to have firmly fixed in our hearts and our minds as a starting point to appropriating Christ’s victory into our own lives.  The reason for this is simple: If we don’t think Jesus has conquered all the various enemies we face to our joy and flourishing as human beings we will look for help in overcoming them from another source.  The problem with this, of course, is that there is no other source for this help.  Our search will invariably turn up empty leaving us at best in the same position as when we started our quest.  When we submit our lives to the Jesus who is the victorious Lord of all, though, we will find all that we need to be unburdened from the weights that would otherwise drag us down.

Or perhaps to put that more positively, as we did last week, when we come to Jesus in faith, we find hope.  This is one of the first fruits we can enjoy when we get our hearts and minds wrapped around the fact that Jesus is the victorious Lord of all.  His words have the power to make things happen.  He has the power to accomplish what He says He’ll accomplish.  Because of that and because of the nature of the things He has said He will accomplish in the lives of His followers, when we come to Him trusting in this power—in other words, having faith in Him—and go on to act out of this trust, we will find ourselves buoyed by the confident assurance that this good future He promised is indeed coming our way even though we can’t see it yet.  That’s a pretty good place to be.

But, while having hope is a crucial thing in order for us to live joy-filled, meaningful lives, sometimes things get in the way of a full experience of that hope.  More specifically, sometimes sin gets in the way of our living lives rich with hope.  Now, maybe you don’t call it sin.  Perhaps you call it making mistakes, or missing the mark, or errors of judgment, or what have you.  But, call it what you will, there is some standard of behavior which you mentally hold out as what you should be doing and yet a fair bit of the time you don’t actually do that.  The Bible calls that sin.  You can call it whatever you want, but the principle is still the same.  This failure to meet with whatever is the “law” to which you hold yourself accountable—I’ll call it sin this morning for the sake of simplicity—gets in the way of our living lives of hope.  This happens because we get so focused on the sin and its effects on both our lives and the lives of the people around us that we lose sight of the good future we have coming in Christ.  As soon as we lose sight of that, despair and anxiety coming flooding back to the fore.  What’s more, it seems to manage to get in the way even when we feel like we’re working our hardest to keep that from being the case.  It’s almost like we don’t have any power over it.  It’s almost like we are beholden to its demands.  It’s almost like we’re slaves of this sin.  It’s our master.  When it speaks, we listen.  When it calls, we go.  When it commands, we obey.  Oh sure, we still do some good things.  In fact, sin is perfectly okay with our doing good things.  A lot of good things even.  It’s only concern is that at the end of the day, we sin.

And yet, what did I say a couple of weeks ago?  When Jesus died and rose again He didn’t only break the power of death, He also broke the power of sin.  He broke the power of sin by paying the price its presence in God’s world demanded be paid to Him.  Every sinner—someone who sins—owed God his life as payment for the decision to live apart from His rule and reign.  That makes sense, right?  God is the author and source of all life.  There is no life to be found anywhere other than Him.  When we sin, what we’re doing is violating God’s standards.  Well, we can’t very well remain near God if we’re not going to abide by His standards.  You know how that works: If you don’t want to live by my rules, you don’t have to live under my roof.  Ever said that, parents?  And, because life doesn’t exist anywhere other than God, if we separate ourselves from Him what should we expect to find?  Death, of course.  That we don’t experience it immediately is a gift of grace from a God who loves us so much He’s willing to endure the offense of our sin and to continue extending to us the gift of life in hopes that we will come to our senses and come back to live under His roof once again.  But, to get back under that roof we would have to make amends and give back what we took from Him when we left: our lives.  You see the problem here, though, right?  That’s a one-time gift.  For us to repay it would mean we wouldn’t have life anymore.  In other words, we’d be dead.

Thus Jesus.  He lived His whole life without leaving God’s house even once.  He didn’t even look out the window.  He never failed to uphold the standard God set for us.  And then He said, “Dad, I haven’t done anything wrong at all.  You know that.  I know that.  My slate is clean.  So I’ll tell you what: Let’s transfer their marks to my slate and then I’ll pay the price for them so they don’t have to.”  And that’s just what He did on the cross.  With our debt to God thus settled, we can indeed live under His roof once again.  Sin’s power over us was broken.  Think about it like this: In the human trafficking world, sometimes a pimp will hold a young girl hostage by declaring that she owes him money for something.  As soon as she pays the money she’s free to go.  But, the jobs he allows her to have make it such that earning the money is impossible.  So she remains a slave.  Thus, the approach taken by some organizations dedicated to fighting human trafficking rescue girls out of this life by raising money to pay their debt on their behalf, thus purchasing their freedom.

What would you say, though, if one of those girls went to live back under the pimp’s roof again?  You’d rightly say she was crazy.  You’d scream and protest that he is just going to find a way to justify her owing him another debt and become a slave once again.  She needs to live with the freedom that has been purchased for her.  Listen, in our lives, we do the same thing.  Jesus has purchased our freedom from sin, and yet we still, on more occasions than we’d care to admit, go back and live once again under sin’s roof.  It’s crazy.  It’s life-stealing.  And if Jesus really is the victorious Lord of all, it’s a place we never again need find ourselves trapped.  For the rest of this morning, then, whether you are hearing it for the first time or are getting it as a good reminder, I want to share some words from Paul with you that proclaim this truth in a manner that can’t be missed.  These words are found in Romans 6, one of the more punch-packing chapters in a punch-packing letter.  Check this out with me.

Paul starts out in v. 1 with this: “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  Just before this Paul had been talking about the fact that the bigger sin gets, the bigger grace grows.  Grace is bigger than sin no matter how enormous it looms in our lives.  This was a radically revolutionary idea at the time.  It still is today.  In any event, at the time, the Jews who represented Paul’s most intractable opponents were absolutely convinced that sin could only be overcome by rigorous observance of the Law of Moses.  The more sin increased, the more law increased.  They believe the law and its threats of punishment were the only thing that could keep our baser impulses in check.  Paul declares exactly the opposite.  Sin can only be overcome by grace, Paul argued.  Rules may restrain our impulses if the prescribed consequences are sufficiently severe, but only grace and the gratitude it causes to bloom in our hearts can make them go away entirely.  Still, his opponents struck back with a potent charge: Under your system of grace, Paul, you are giving people license to sin more in order that they might experience more grace.

Verse 1 and what follows is Paul’s response.  Does this system of grace put in place by Jesus’ paying the price for our sins result in our sinning more?  Look at v. 2: “By no means!”  That phrase is the strongest negation available in ancient Greek.  It would perhaps better be translated as, “_______ no!” and you can fill in your favorite curse word in the blank.  But most publishers aren’t willing to print bad words in the Bible, so we’ll just go with “by no means.”

Look at the next part now: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  Good question, though it may have you wondering: What do you mean we died to sin?  I thought Jesus did that for us.  He did, but when we receive the grace He is able to offer because of His sacrifice, we are essentially saying, “Yep, His sacrifice counted for me too.  I was a part of that.”  Thus at v. 3 now: “Do you not know [meaning his audience probably didn’t know] that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life [which is another reason that baptism is such a big deal to us Baptists].”

Do you see what Paul’s saying here?  When we accept Jesus’ offer of grace and are baptized as an outward sign of this inward, spiritual reality, the spiritual reality we are signifying is just as I said a second ago: We participated in Jesus’ sin-defeating death.  Well, if we participated in His sin-defeating death, then we also participated in His life-unleashing resurrection.  That makes sense, right?  If you pay the price, you get the prize.  In this case, Jesus paid the price, but He allows us to spiritually sign on to what He did so that we can enjoy the prize with Him.

Paul unpacks this more in the next part.  Stay with me in v. 5: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self [you know, the self that was mastered by sin] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.”  Are you still with me?  Let me unpack this for a minute.  Sin only has dominion over us as long as we are living.  You get that.  When we’re dead we can’t sin anymore and so it’s power over us is broken.  Well, by spiritually participating in Jesus’ death, we are putting a part of ourselves to death with Him.  Indeed, if you die, you’re dead.  As Yoda might say, “Rocket science this is not.”  Stay with me: If we spiritually die with Christ, then we spiritually live again with Him.  Again: price, prize.  Fortunately for us, Christ did indeed live again.  He rose again to life on the third day and now has a resurrection life that is similar to but infinitely more glorious than the life He had before.  It is a life of victory.  He has conquered all His enemies.  And, v. 8: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”  We too can share in this life of victory including victory over the sin that would otherwise dominate our days.

What we need to do then, is to get our hearts and minds around this incredible fact so that we can live out of it.  That’s where Paul goes next: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Here’s the thing: If you have made yourself a participant in what Jesus did on the cross, then the old you who was dominated by sin—or whatever it is you want to call it instead—is gone.  As Paul wrote in another letter: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Just as Jesus has a new, resurrection body that is permanent and powerful and totally free from all the corruptions of a mortal body, so also when we spiritually join ourselves to Him in death, we receive new spirits that are cleansed from the taint of sin.  We are freed from our old master and are able to live in this freedom with confidence and joy.  That’s the victory we have in Christ.

But, as verse 11 hinted at, we have to learn to think about ourselves in these terms.  It’s why Paul would later write in this same letter that we must “be transformed by the renewal of [our minds].”  If we don’t learn to think like a Christian we will never behave like one.  The glorious truth is that when we accept what Christ has done on our behalf; when we sign up to be participants in His victory, we are dead to sin.  We are dead to sin meaning it has no more power over us.  None.  We have the ability, the freedom, to not sin.  Sin never has to be an automatic anymore.  Now, as chapter 7 makes clear (and if you want a chapter in the Bible that is directly relevant to your daily struggle to follow Jesus you won’t find a better option than Romans 7), we still struggle with our old nature and its desire to sin, but we are not beholden to give in to its demands.  We have to train ourselves to behave differently—which is why practicing the various spiritual disciplines is so critical to living a healthy, Christian life—but it is a training in which, because of the indwelling help and presence of the Holy Spirit, we can succeed.

With all of this in mind, Paul’s exhortation in v. 12-13 makes a lot more sense: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.”  We can’t make ourselves like the human trafficking victim who returns to her former life once she has been freed from its grasp.  You see, when it comes to sin, there’s no such thing as dabbling.  It doesn’t accept a corner in the house.  It wants to rule the whole thing.  If we let a toe of sin in the door we will soon find it exercising demands like it once did.  And, because the mental transformation that needs to accompany the spiritual transformation of grace to enable us to live it more fully takes longer to settle, when sin starts barking orders like it once did because we’ve let it back in the door, we’re pretty likely to jump like we once did too.  Don’t let sin make you do what it wants.  It doesn’t have that power over you anymore.  Instead, as the rest of v. 13 says: “…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

And why can we do this?   Because we’re not under law anymore.  We’re not trying to simply restrain our sinful impulses with the implementation of a bunch of restrictive rules.  We’re living under grace.  We’ve been given a new master.  It’s a new master who enables us to live freely and become fully who we were always intended to be—not the slave of some harsh master who only wants to use us until we are burned out and then cast us aside.  We are under grace, which frees us from ourselves, and lets us live by choice and not by dictate.  And when we are under grace, what does Paul say there in v. 14: “…sin will have no dominion over you…”  Because Jesus is the victorious Lord of all, when we submit our lives to Him, spiritually participating in His death and resurrection, sin is no longer our master.  Sin is not your master—Jesus is.

Think about that.  Think about all the times you found yourself in a place in which things around you were a mess of your own making and you were sitting in the pile of debris wondering why.  In those times you were living with sin as your master.  Sin is a terrible master.  It cares nothing for us.  It pursues only death and destruction and it’s really good at creating both.  In Christ, though, sin is not your master.  It has no more power over you.  Sin is not your master.  It cannot bark and expect you to jump.  Sin is not your master.  It has no more access to your life than you give it.  Sin is not your master.  You don’t ever have to sin again.  This is your new reality…if you will receive it.

And if you will, the potential for blessing and abundance is nothing short of amazing.  Think about being able to never again sit under the agony of brokenness you caused by your own sinful choices.  Sin is not your master.  Think about being able to never again feel trapped in a shameful situation because you don’t want anyone to find out your secret—particularly the person who would be most wounded by it.  Sin is not your master.  Imagine never having to bear the weight of guilt when you know you’ve intentionally chosen the wrong path, trading long term joy for short-term happiness.  Sin is not your master.  That’s your new reality if you have committed yourself to Christ.

Now, if you haven’t gotten there yet, understand well that I don’t mean this as a threat or a challenge or anything like that.  It’s just a description of reality: You are owned by sin.  You can’t not sin.  You may not always feel its affects directly and you may enjoy a lot of good times.  But mark my words: it owns you.  What’s more, when you are in your most honest moments you know that it owns you.  You know there are times when you genuinely want to do what you know is the right thing, but somehow you can’t.  It’s like you’re compelled to blow things up.  Your internal switch got set to self-destruct and you can’t seem to get it off.  The solution to this is simple: give your life over to Christ.  Receive grace instead of being dominated by a bunch of rules you can’t keep anyway and which really only serve to keep you locked in a pattern of sin.  When you come to Jesus, sin won’t be your master any longer.  Jesus will.  Sin is not your master—Jesus is.

In Christ, sin is not the boss whose instruction you have to obey if you want to keep your job.  It’s the older sibling who has taken it upon himself to tell you what to do in spite of having no authority from mom and dad to do so.  And here’s the cool part: You can respond to sin just like you would your bossy older brother.  “You’re not the boss of me!”  In fact, let’s try that together: “You’re not the boss of me.”  Try that again, but this time, put some attitude behind it.  In fact, I want you to put all the attitude of a preteen girl behind it.  (And if you happen to be a preteen girl and are thinking, “Excuse me?!?  I don’t have any attitude.”  I totally agree with you.)  You can even add a bit of defiant body language if that’ll help.  Ready?  Go: “You’re not the boss of me!”

That’s the victory you have in Christ.  It is victory over the sin that so easily entangles us.  I know there will still be times that sin barks and we feel like we have to jump, but in Christ we don’t.  Sin is not your master—Jesus is.  His is the only voice you need heed.  And His voice always calls us to freedom and life.  Sin is not your master.  In the face of sin, this can be your defiant declaration: Sin is not my master.  Say that with me: Sin is not my master.  Now say it loudly: Sin is not my master!  Now I want you to just whisper it: Sin is not my master.  Again, but softer: Sin is not my master.  One more time even softer: Sin is not my master.  This time just mouth it: Sin is not my master.  Jesus is.  That’s victory.