When preparing a sermon I find it useful to give the talk a title, but the people who compiled the NIV have very kindly already done that for me, because it gives the handy heading “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.”
That is what I want to look at tonight. I want to look at what it means for us to be dead to sin and alive in Christ. Are we living the life God has called us to? Do we fully understand what it means to be dead to sin and alive in Christ? What things keep us from living fully for Christ?
RECAPING WHAT PAUL HAS ALREADY SAID
Paul in his letter has already said if you are a Christian you are standing in grace. God is looking down on you, not with anger or disapproval but with love, affection & delight. He has already said you are loved by God, God has shown his love in a remarkable way, by sending his son to die for us. Not when we were a lovely people, or brilliant people, but when we were powerless, when we were sinners, when we were an enemy of God. He has said we will be saved from God’s wrath in the future if we trust in Jesus, and that we can be confident that we will be in heaven. He sums this up by saying you are on the winning team, you are standing in grace, you are loved by God.
Paul wants us to know this and be excited by this. Because he knows that when people really grasp this, when they grasp who they are, it’s life changing. It will change the way they live, it will change what they do, and it will encourage them to tell others about him.
RESPONDING TO OBJECTIONS
In Romans chapter 5, Paul writes ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’. This led some people to say, if God loves to forgive, why not give him more to forgive? It doesn’t matter if we sin, because God loves us and will forgive us. It is very much a case of having your cake & eating it! If forgiveness is guaranteed, can’t we sin as much as we like?
Paul’s answer is an empathic NO!
And this is what he addresses here in chapter 6. He argues that the power of sin has been broken, we are no longer under sin’s control, instead through baptism, we share in Christ’s new life, and therefore we have been freed from sin’s power. This gives us new life & new freedom.
Verse 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Paul is clear God’s forgiveness does not make our sin any less serious. To the contrary, Jesus’ death on the cross shows has serious sin is. We must never take lightly the price that Jesus has paid for our sin.
Paul distinguishes between our old life, a life without God, a life ruled by the power of sin, and the new life that as followers of Christ we now enjoy, where the power of sin is broken, where we are no longer under sins control. And he calls us to rediscover our true identity in Christ.
DISCOVERING WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST
Occasionally we come across amazing stories of feral children – children who have been raised by animals. How true these stories are, it’s not always easy to tell.
One story that has been well documented is that of John Ssebunya, who is known as the Ugandan Monkey Boy.
He ran away from home at the age of 3, after witnessing his father murder his mother. In the jungle it was said that he was taken care of by green African monkeys. A year later, he was found hiding in a tree by a woman from a local tribe, who alerted the men in the village, who went back to capture John. The monkeys tried to defend John by throwing sticks, but in the end he was captured and taken back to the village.
John had thick hair covering his body, he walked on his knees and knuckles, and he couldn't tolerate cooked food. He was sent to a local Christian orphanage where through the love, care & support he received he rediscovered his true identity as a human. Slowly he learnt how to speak, and walk upright.
Paul argues, we need to recognise our true identity in Christ, we need to recognise that through Christ’s death on the cross, the power of sin has been broken.
Ongoing battle with sin
But if we are dead to sin, as Paul says in verse 2, does that mean we don’t sin at all? The answer is of course not. He makes it clear in chapter 7 that the Christian is not free from the battle with sin, we all struggle with it, including Paul who wrote “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15). But we have been released from the bondage of sin, the power, penalty and pollution of sin has been dealt with on the cross. Through Christ we have moved from an old life where we had no choice but to sin, because we were slaves to sin, to a new life where we don’t have to sin anymore, and where we shouldn’t want to sin anymore either.
And so the answer Paul gives to the question, ‘why shouldn’t we sin?’ is because of who we now are. We are new persons, we are free with Jesus’ power to live a new life, and we reflect this by living differently.
A new life
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. (Romans 6:4-5)
You are a new person, because you are united with Christ. Through baptism we become united with Christ through his death and resurrection.
To try and explain this, imagine I had in one hand a cup of tea, and the other a sugar cube. They can both exist happily separately, but once I add the sugar cube to the tea, it dissolves and becomes united with the tea. So we, as followers of Christ, through faith and baptism become one with Christ. Which is why Paul writes that we should count ourselves as ‘alive to God IN Christ.’ So when Jesus died on the cross, we died with him, and when he rose from the dead, we rose with him. Our old lives have been put to death with Christ. That is why in 2 Corinthians Paul writes “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!‘” (2 Cor 5:17)
When Paul talks about baptism, it is important to remember the following points.
- The baptism Paul was talking about was Adult baptism – because infant baptism hadn’t really started at this time
- That baptism was intimately connected with a confession of faith, and that for these early Christians, who Paul was writing to, the decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and to be baptised, was nothing less than beginning life all over again.
- Baptism was commonly by total immersion. And so when the person descended into the water, it was like being buried. When they emerged from the water it was like rising from the grave. So baptism is very much a symbol of dying and rising again. The person being baptised, was dying to one kind of life and rising to another. They died to a life of sin and rose to the new life of grace.
And so as a Christian, having died to the old life, a life of sin, we are committed to a different kind of life.
Therefore we need to recognise that our old sinful life is dead and buried, and this is what gives us a powerful motive to resist sin. The old life is dead, we have been set free from sin, so why would we want to go back to it?
To go back to that old life, is a bit like being released from prison, been given your freedom, and saying ‘do you know, I think I’d rather be locked up in a tiny cell 23 hours a day, rather than having all this freedom.’
Or to put it another way, when you get married, your old life as a single person comes to an end, and you start a new life with your husband or wife. Once you’re married, it wouldn’t be right to go on living as though you were still single, and doing the things you used to do as a single person, as if you had no ties or responsibilities to your spouse. Likewise, we have left the old life, the life of sin, so why go back to it?
Paul writes ‘For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.’ (Romans 6:6-7)
The two landlords
Imagine renting a house from a landlord who turns out to be a bully, always demanding extra payments, coming into the house without asking, threatening you with legal action or violence if you don’t give into his demands. You get used to doing what he says out of fear, there doesn’t seem to be any way out.
But then to your relief, you find somewhere else to live. Someone else pays off your remaining rent and you can leave. You move out and settle in the new place. But to your horror a few days later the old landlord shows up at the door and barges into the house. He is angry and emands more money. He threatens to take you to court. The old habit returns: you are strongly tempted to pay him what he demands, just to get him to leave. But you know you are not his tenant any more. You have seen the paperwork; his final bill was paid; nothing more is owing. And so trembling, you get up and tell him to leave. He has no claim over you. This is what Paul is saying in this passage, we have been set free from sin.
Therefore Paul goes on to say in verse 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. In other words remind yourself what the paperwork says. Remember who you really are. Don’t give in to the voices that tell you that you are still in the old life, and should be behaving as you were before you were a Christian. Resisting temptation is about recognising who you are now. You are no longer a prisoner, you’ve been set free, so don’t act like a prisoner.
The Last Battle
In CS Lewis’s book The Last Battle there are a group of dwarves who refuse to believe in a false Aslan, and also refuse to believe in a real one. When the Calormenes throw them into a dark stable, they refuse to see anything but what you would expect to find in such a building, even though other characters in the book can see that the stable, in reality, is not dark, and has no walls -- just a door.
Lucy Pevensie, who has a soft heart, tries to get Aslan to make things better for the dwarves, Aslan produces a banquet for them. They eat, but they think they are eating old cattle food, or drinking from a trough for animals. When a dwarf is picked up and carried toward the outside, he experiences being slammed into the wall, even though there is no wall. Aslan says that they have chosen not to believe, and there is nothing he can do for them. The point is they fail to see the reality of their true situation. Do we?
Paul is saying that we are new people, no longer bound by sin. We have a new life because sin’s power has been broken and we now share in Christ’s risen life. And therefore we must look upon our old sinful nature as dead and unresponsive.
CALLED TO HOLY LIVING
Because we have this new freedom, we should live as free people.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)
As people set free by God, we are called to holy living.
Christianity is a way of life. We are called to follow Jesus Christ, and to dedicate ourselves to His service.
The two masters
I used the illustration of someone changing from one landlord to another. But imagine I was a smallholder living in the countryside a thousand years ago, and my farm sat on the border of two great estates. For years the Lord of the manor in whose land I live has had me under his thumb. For example whenever he has wanted to fight a war or even a local skirmish he has called me to join up and fight on his side – and has threatened me with all sorts of unpleasant things if I don’t come along, and he has forced me to turn all my farm implements into swords and shields, so I can fight in his wars, when I really ought to be looking after the farm.
Eventually I see the light and move across the river to the other great estate, and build a new house, and settle down there. This new lord who owns this land gave a wonderful welcome, and charges a lot less rent than the other one. From time to time my old boss comes down and threatens to send his henchmen across, but he knows that he can’t touch me, because I’m protected by my new master. My new master gets me to help with his work, which is quite different to the battles my old master used to drag me into. My new master is building schools and hospitals, and sometimes he asks me to bring my tools and help in the work. And if someone’s in special need – a death in the family, a fire – he asks me to help out in this way or that. Sometimes of course it’s an effort but I’m glad to do it.
This illustration makes the point at what these verses are driving at, when we become Christians, we change masters.
Our new master
As Christians we serve a new master now, and are called to yield all that we are to him. Offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
If we are serious about following Christ, we have to recognise that it places a radical demand on every aspect of life, what we do with our minds and bodies, how we use our time and money, how we relate to others. We cannot yield only part of our lives to him. We are called to yield our whole lives to Christ. There is no neutral ground.
Bob Dylan in one of his songs declared “You’ve gotta serve somebody… It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve gotta serve somebody.” And so the choice facing us is are we going to surrender ourselves fully to the new life that Christ offers and serve him, or the old life of sin? We cannot sit on the fence. Jesus said “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30) and “a servant cannot serve two masters” (Luke 16:13).
Satan & the temptation of sin
Although we have been freed from the power of sin, we always face that temptation to sin. Satan knows our weaknesses, and tries to exploit them, in order to draw us away from God. He tempts us by saying “it’s doesn’t matter if you go out and have a few too many drinks, no one will mind, go and enjoy yourself.” Or “it’s okay to entertain immoral thoughts about that women, because no one else knows, and you’re not hurting anyone.” And the way the Devil works is that he plants these thoughts in our head saying, “if you don’t give in to the temptation, you’re going to miss out… Why should everyone else have all the fun?” He tries to tempt us back to the old way of life.
But Paul reminds us that we have crossed the river. We don’t belong to the old territory any more. We are not only under no obligation to obey the old landlord, we are under an obligation not to obey him, to obey the new one instead. And the main weapon we have is to remind ourselves of who we are is through baptism and faith. We belong to Christ, brought with the shedding of his blood.
And we are to live and act as people who have died and been raised to new life. This is what it means to live the resurrection life, because we now live under grace, and not law. Which means we can say no to sin and yes to serving God, this comes by remembering who you are. That by being united to Christ you are a new person. This new life is only possible if we put our faith in what Christ has done, and being united in his death and resurrection. Jesus invites us to come to him, and trust in him, and he will help us to live this new life. We need to allow this truth to take root in our lives, of who we are in Christ, what he has done for us, and what it means to be dead to sin, and alive in Christ. Amen.