Sunday, July 31, 2005

Romans 6:1-11 'Saints or Sinners?' A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 19th June 2005 at Morning Prayer

Who are we in Christ? This morning I want to focus on the reading from Romans, to try to discover something of our identity in Christ after salvation, and our relation to sin after we come to faith. So many of us can be labouring and burdened by sins committed after being saved – frustrated at either our weakness in not being able to resist temptation, or else doubting that we are saved at all because we sin. Through our time together this morning, I hope that we will come to a better understanding of who we are in Christ, and what this means.

Paul, in writing his letter to the Romans, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was giving an outline of the Gospel, and highlighted some objections and wrong interpretations as he expounded the truth. One of these wrong interpretations was that, if God’s grace is shown when he forgives sin, then should we not seek to sin more, so that God’s grace is shown more?

On the surface, this might seem like a reasonable suggestion – after all, if man’s chief purpose is to glorify God, then what brings more glory to God than him forgiving sin? The Russian monk, Rasputin, taught this approach – on the basis that those who sin more need more forgiveness, and therefore enjoys more of God’s grace. He lives his life in notorious sin, and urged his followers to do the same as the path of salvation. To these people, therefore, salvation was just a free pass to sin all the more, in the knowledge that God would forgive them; God’s grace was to them a licence to sin. But this was not at all what God’s grace was intended to do – indeed it is the complete opposite!

God’s grace is poured out on those who recognise that they are sinners, and cannot be saved by anything else, other than the full and free pardon provided by the finished work of Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection. To think, therefore, that when you’re saved, you can go out and do as you wish, because, after all, God will forgive because he always forgives, is wrong.

Why? Because intentionally setting out to sin, wilfully sinning (knowing in advance that you will run to God for forgiveness), is an abuse of his grace, and fails to recognise the seriousness of sin. The seriousness of sin was the reason that Jesus had to die on the cross in the first place – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.’ Indeed, it is a betrayal of God’s grace, and an insult to Jesus’ blood shed for us to sin after salvation, but to do it intentionally is much worse. Instead, after salvation we ought to strive to live a holy life.

You see, the first half of the book of Romans establishes in order, our condition. Chapters 1 – 3 (verse 20) show us that ‘no one is righteous’ (3:10), that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (3:23). Then Chapters 3, 4 and 5 show us how we can be saved ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’ (3:22), because ‘Christ died for us’ (5:8), demonstrating God’s love for us. This is justification – because when we trust in Jesus’ death, and the benefits of his passion, it is just-as-if-I’d never sinned. Justification is a once-for-all decision that we come to. Then in Chapters 6 – 9, we find the life of a Christian, working towards sanctification. Sanctification is the process whereby, after coming to faith, we become more like Jesus.

So if it is wrong to sin in order to maximise God’s grace, yet Christians still commit sins, ‘Which we, from time to time most grievously have committed’ in the words of the Confession at Holy Communion, how does it all tie up? Are we weak if we sin after coming to salvation? Or are we not saved at all? It is Romans 6 that helps to explain our state after coming to faith.

How many times have you heard someone call themselves ‘a sinner saved by grace’? Now, on first sounding, this can sound right, and humble, and proper. After all, it recognises that we are saved by grace – which is the essence of salvation. But it really isn’t right, and certainly isn’t a term found in the Bible. Why? Well, because in the Bible, there are only two groups of people – sinners and saints.

Now, when you hear the two categories, you probably think, well, I’m certainly not a saint, so I must be a sinner… But that is all down to our misunderstanding of the word ‘saint’. The images that spring to mind when you hear the word saint are probably those in heaven, or someone very good, a church named after someone, or maybe a stained glass window. But these are not what the Bible calls saints. Instead, when the word saint appears in the Bible, it refers to ‘one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; a believer in Christ’ (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).

Indeed, if we consider the usage, we find Paul writing ‘To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints’ (Romans 1:7), ‘To the saints throughout Achaia’ (2 Cor 1:1), ‘To the saints in Ephesus’ (Ephesians 1:1), ‘To the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi’ (Phil 1:1), as well as references in Acts to the saints in Jerusalem and Lydda (Acts 9:13, 32).

The implications are clear – those who are in Christ, who are believers, are therefore saints, and not sinners, nor even sinners saved by grace. How is this? Well, because in 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Cor 5:17). The passage we’re looking at this morning shows in greater detail how this is possible.

‘Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? … For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin’ (6:3,6,7).

This is the picture of baptism by full immersion – with the person being baptised going down under the water – buried, as it were, and dying to sin, before rising again to new life in Jesus. When we trust in Christ, therefore, we put to death our old sinful nature, and instead, Jesus lives in us, and lives his life through us.

But we must remember that although we have been saved by faith, at our justification, the battle is not over. While sin’s position in our hearts has been altered by us trusting in Jesus and giving him the throne of our hearts, it still wages war within us, seeking to regain a foothold. This is like the situation near the end of World War Two, when victory was guaranteed for the Allies, but there were still pockets of resistance to be mopped up. Victory was sure, but there was still fighting to be done.

Verse 7 tells us that we should no longer be slaves to sin. In essence, the entire passage is related to the concept of who we are serving. Is it our sinful nature (and therefore sin), or is it Jesus?

So what are the implications of all this? Well, it all depends on how we view ourselves as to how we conduct ourselves. If we think that we are sinners (even sinners saved by grace), then there is a fair chance that when temptation comes, we will fall into sin again. Our enemy, Satan, seeks to win against us, by questioning our faith, and all the more so when we come to faith. It is not easy to be a Christian – we are in a battle situation!

And if we continue to think of ourselves as ‘sinners’ then we are recognising the hold that sin has on us, and recognising that we are serving it.

But if we view ourselves as saints, saved by Christ, and being strengthened by his presence living in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we are more likely to resist temptation, by recognising the Lordship of Christ in our hearts. We will still occasionally sin, not wilfully, but by not being perfect, but we are likely to be quicker to return to God in confessing our sins, and being restored. It is all about how we view ourselves, and about our thought processes. This is why Paul closes today’s passages with the command: ‘In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11). Count yourselves… Think about yourself as being dead to sin, that it has no hold on you, that it is not living in you.

So therefore the challenge for you today is this: Are you a sinner or a saint? If you realise that you are still a sinner, that you haven’t come to faith, that your sinful nature still rules in your life, then come to Christ. Come, and put your sinful nature to death by trusting in Jesus’ death, and live in him.

And if you’re a saint – do you realise what this passage means for you? Count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and turn from your wicked ways. Stop giving the enemy a foothold in your heart, after you have put it to death. Live wholly for God, and not for sin. Invite the Holy Spirit to live in you more and more, directing your thoughts and actions, and serve him totally. Your sins have been put to death, they have been paid for by Jesus’ blood – go and sin no more.

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