************ Sermon on Romans 6:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 22, 2005
"Raise Your Standards"
I spent August of 1975 learning introductory Hebrew. I had to learn it in order to enter Seminary. How I hated that month! I did Hebrew all day, every day, for a month. I was in class every morning for 4 long hours. On hot summer afternoons and hotter summer nights I was stuck in a sweltering apartment with my Hebrew flash cards. I talked Hebrew, I thought Hebrew, I even dreamed Hebrew. I endured such torture for one purpose: to enter Seminary and become a minister.
What would have happened, do you think, if the Seminary registrar had said to me, "Adrian, we want you to take Hebrew and enter Seminary, but we guarantee that no matter what you will get a passing grade."
Do you think I would have spent that month faithfully attending class? Do you think I would have spent all that time with my Hebrew grammar and flash-cards? No way.
In our Scripture reading Paul deals with a similar problem. In God's eyes we are sinners for we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). In God's eyes we have all failed the test. Yet God, out of grace, comes to you and me and says, "Adrian, Frank, John, Karen, Grace, Carol ... no matter what I am giving you a passing grade."
This creates a problem. Why should I study Hebrew if I am guaranteed a passing grade? Why, then, should I work hard at being a Christian if I will get a passing grade anyway? Why should I have standards for the way I live if those standards do not affect my salvation? Why should I be good if I know my sins will be forgiven? Or, to put the question in theological terms, why be sanctified if I am already justified?
The Apostle Paul is calling us this morning to raise the standard: in our relationship with God, our spouse, our children, our brothers and sisters, our church. But why should we raise the standard if we are saved no matter what?
I read this past week of a man I will call Larry. Larry is bisexual. He has had sexual relations with men and women. He is a recovering drug addict. He spent time in Viet Nam.Why should Larry try to raise his standards if he knows he is already saved?
Along the way, Larry claimed to have become a Christian. He says he was converted by two of the songs we love to sing: "Just As I Am," and "Amazing Grace." One day when he heard the words of those songs it sunk in for the first time that God really did want him to come just as he was. God's grace was that amazing. God was willing to accept him as a sinner.
Larry admits he does not live the victorious Christian life. He overeats, chain-smokes, and sex continues to be a problem. He is a late sleeper so never manages to attend worship.
Is God's grace so amazing that there is no need to raise the standard? Is God's grace so amazing that there is no need to be good? Is God's grace so amazing that there is no need to live the victorious Christian life?
The Apostle Paul views this as a misuse of grace. He asks in our text, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (Rom 6:1).
Paul gives a short, explosive answer: "By no means!" Or, as the King James Version puts it, "God forbid!" To drive home his point Paul gives us three illustrations.
I Dead to Sin and Alive to Righteousness
A Paul introduces his first illustration by raising the problem I already mentioned. Paul asks, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (Rom 6:1). The argument runs this way: if grace increases as sin increases, then why not sin as much as possible in order to give God more opportunity for grace? Believe it or not, a few people in church history actually followed such reasoning. The Russian monk Rasputin is an example here. Though he had taken a vow of celibacy he was known as the Russian queen's love machine. He was into drugs and alcohol. He manipulated, killed, stole, and destroyed. Yet, he still claimed to be a Christian. And, he claimed he was doing God a favor by living a life of sin: just think how much grace God could give him.
B Paul has no time or place for such arguments. His illustration contrasts death and life. He says in verse 2, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
Picture two dogs. One is a frisky puppy. It wags its tail and licks your hand or face. The other is a dog on the highway that has been flattened by a truck. Now tell me, which has more appeal, the road-kill dog or the frisky puppy? The choice is clear, isn't it?!
For Paul the choice is just as clear. On the one hand is sin; but sin has the stench of death about it. On the other hand is righteousness; and righteousness has the aroma and appeal of a cute little puppy dog. Why, then, would anyone want to choose "wickedness" over "righteousness"?
C Yet, many of us Christians do choose wickedness over righteousness. Why is that? We know better, yet we do! The problem is that we have lost our sense of smell. To fallen human beings wickedness does not always have the stench of death about it. Like pigs during a heat spell, we enjoy a good run through the mud. Flip through almost any magazine and you see advertisement after advertisement aimed toward our lust, greed, envy, and pride – advertisements that make "wickedness" seem downright appealing.
Not only have we lost our sense of smell, but sin has the nasty habit of popping back to life. It is like one of those trick candles used on a birthday cake – no matter how many times you blow it out, it suddenly starts to burn again. Paul knows this, so he says, "Count yourselves dead to sin" (vs 11). And, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin ..." (vs 13).
D Why, then, should we work hard at being a Christian if we will get a passing grade anyway? Why should we raise the standards for the way we live if those standards do not affect our salvation? Why should we be good if we know our sins will be forgiven? Paul's first answer: "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (vs 11). Act as if you are dead to sin, because essentially you are if you are a born-again believer in Christ. Sin has lost its controlling power over you. Live out the fact that you have been raised with Christ to a new life. Become what you are.
II Set Free From Sin and Slaves to Righteousness
A Paul introduces his second illustration by restating the problem. He asks, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" (vs 15). The argument runs like this: doesn't grace mean I have a sort of free ticket for sin and evil and wickedness? Why not enjoy sin and evil and wickedness if you know you will be forgiven? Again Paul's answer is short and to the point: "By no means?" "God forbid!"
B Paul, oviously, has no place for such thinking either. He drives home his point with an illustration concerning slavery.
Picture two slaves. One has a cruel, selfish master who thinks only of himself. This master beats his slaves. He does not give them adequate food, clothing, shelter, and rest. He literally works his slaves to death. The other slave has a kind, gentle, and compassionate master. This master is concerned about the well-being of his slaves. He feeds them, clothes them, and gives them a good roof over their heads. He nurses them when they are sick. He gives them adequate time for rest. Whose slave would you rather be? Which would you rather have as your master? The choice is simple to make, isn't it?!
In the same way, says Paul, slavery to sin "leads to death" (vs 16) and slavery to Christ "leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life" (vs 22).
C Paul wants us to know that sin is a slave-master that controls every fallen man and woman and child, whether we like it or not. Yet, Paul can give us a word of hope, a promise that the chains of slavery have been broken. He says, "You used to be slaves to sin" (vs 17). And, "thanks be to God ... you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (vs 18).
What it comes down to is this: everyone is a slave; everyone has a master. Either we are a slave to sin and Satan or we are a slave to righteousness and Jesus. As a Christian, says Paul, you have had your master changed. As a Christian, says Paul, what you are enslaved to has been changed.
D Why, then, should we work hard at being a Christian if we will get a passing grade anyway? Why should we raise the standards for the way we live if those standards do not affect our salvation? Why should we be good if we know our sins will be forgiven? Paul's second answer: "Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness" (vs 19).
III A Change in Spouse
A Paul's third example is somewhat strange: it concerns a change in marriage partner. As you all know, as long as our spouse is still alive we are not free to marry another. Those who do so are considered an adulterer. But if one's spouse dies, then one is free to remarry (Rom 7:1-4).
At one time Paul was married to the law. This was a marriage filled with rules, failure, and guilt. But then he died to the law, which freed him to take on a new spouse – the Lord Jesus Christ.
We too, like Paul, have had a change in spouse. Paul says in Romans 7:6, "by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
B During the past couple of years we have seen this illustration of marriage in our study of the book of Hosea. Hosea presents God as a husband. God loves His bride, the church. God is filled with a holy passion for His people. And, God wants His people, His bride, to show that same passion back to Him. Think of Jesus' summary of the law: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus is saying, love God above all. He is saying, love God with one holy passion. He is saying, love God like a bridegroom loves his bride.
Go back to the image of my classes in introductory Hebrew. That was not a pleasant way to spend my summer. I reluctantly studied Hebrew to enter seminary and the ministry. I was a reluctant student of Hebrew.
Now, let us say that Ruth – the woman I fell in love with and married – spoke only Hebrew. I dare say I would have learned the language in record time. I would have gladly stayed up late at night learning the grammar and studying my flash-cards. I would no longer have been a reluctant student of Hebrew. I would have eagerly learned my Hebrew because of my great love for Ruth.
In the same way, in my great love for God I should eagerly love Him and serve Him.
C Let us go back to Paul's opening question. "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" Can you imagine a groom on his wedding night saying to his bride, "Honey, now that we are married I want to work out a few details. How far can I go with other women? Can I kiss them? Sleep with them? I know a few affairs might hurt you, but just think of all your opportunities to forgive me!" Any sane bride would slap the bridegroom across the face and say with Paul, "God forbid!"
"God forbid!" that I love and serve another. "God forbid!" that I serve sin and evil and Satan rather than righteousness and virtue and Christ. "God forbid!" that I keep on sinning.
D Why, then, should we work hard at being a Christian if we will get a passing grade anyway? Why should we raise the standards for the way we live if those standards do not affect our salvation? Why should we be good if we know our sins will be forgiven? Paul's third answer: "you also died to the law ... that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God" (Rom 7:4).
This isn't easy to do, is it? It isn't easy to work hard at being Christian. It isn't easy to raise the standards for the way we live. It isn't easy to be good.
Paul knows that and admits that. Paul wants to be a holy Christian. He wants to raise the standard. He wants to be good. Yet, what happens? Paul writes in Romans 7
(Rom 7:15-19) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (16) And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. (17) As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (18) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.
I hear something similar in my office from time to time: "I mean well ... I know I made a promise ... but I just slipped, that's all ... it is like a disease that keeps coming back."
We all have this struggle with sin and evil, don't we?! We are born on an incline slanting away from God. Sin, like gravity, never stops pressing down.
In his despair Paul cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24).
But then comes Paul's answer: "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). Jesus is the answer. And His Spirit. It is not us; never us. On our own none of us can live as Christians, none of us can be good, none of us can raise the standard. But with God, in Christ, and through the indwelling of the Spirit we can make a beginning.
So I urge you, work hard at being Christian. Raise the standards for the way you live. Be good.
Because you are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Because you are set free from sin and slaves of righteousness. Because you have changed marriage partners.
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