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How Grace Changes Everything

Romans 6:1-6:14

In his book "What’s So Amazing About Grace," Christian author Philip Yancey writes about a friend who invited him out for a cup of coffee one night (Yancey 179-80). This friend, it turns out, is contemplating leaving his wife after 15 years of marriage because he’s found someone younger and prettier, someone he says makes him feel alive. As a Christian, Yancey’s friend knows his decision will devastate his wife and permanently damage his three kids. He also knows that his relationship with God will never be the same again. Even so, the force pulling him toward this other woman was like a powerful magnet. So finally he asks Philip Yancey, "Do you think God can forgive something as awful as I’m about to do?’

Yancey’s friend was looking for assurance that he’d still be accepted by God, still under the cover of God’s grace. I’ve had lots of people ask me the very same question as they contemplate doing things that are clearly wrong and destructive.

Because of this way of thinking, many people have been critical of the Christian idea of God’s grace. Somehow we’ve domesticated the idea of grace into a generic prayer we pray before a meal, but when you really think about it the Bible’s concept of grace is very radical. Grace of course means that we can’t earn or merit acceptance with God no matter how hard we might try. Grace means that God offers restoration with God on the basis of a free, undeserved gift, that there’s nothing we can do to earn it, buy it, perform for it, or merit it. Grace means no amount of trying will make God love us more and no amount of sinning will make God love us less (Yancey).

Every other religion of the world rejects the idea of grace, and insists that we must contribute something to our salvation. We must try harder, we must be better, we must live morally, and so forth. All the various religions of the world offer a self-help way to merit restoration with God, whether it’s the eightfold path of Buddhism, the karma and reincarnation cycle of Hinduism, the laws and ordinances of the Mormon church, or the four pillars of Islam. Only the Christian faith dares to suggest that God offers a relationship to people on the basis of pure grace.

Because of this scandalous idea of grace, many people through the years have felt that if the Christian faith actually encourages people to live sinful, immoral lives. That’s exactly what Philip Yancey’s friend was looking for. The reasoning goes like this: Why try to be good if you already know in advance you will be forgiven? Why not live like the devil, enjoying every minute of it, and then ask for forgiveness in the eleventh hour? The French philosopher Voltaire captured this idea when he said, "God will always forgive…that’s his job." The idea of grace is scandalous to common sense.

Today we’re going to talk about how grace changes everything. We’re going to see that grace actually changes us for the better. We’re going to address this objection about grace head on, and we’re going to see that Philip Yancey’s friend has misunderstood what grace truly is. We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. Today we’re going to look at the difference grace makes in our lives. Specifically we’re going to discover a fact, a realization, and a decision we make when we encounter God’s grace so we can avoid misunderstanding grace like Philip Yancey’s friend did.

1. A Fact (Romans 6:1-7)

Let’s first look at the fact we need to know for grace to make a difference in our lives in vv. 1-7. There’s no section of the New Testament more significant for how to live the Christian life than this one, so let’s look at it very carefully.

Last week we saw in Romans chapter 5 that when Adam sinned back at the beginning of human history, somehow the entire human race shared in that sin. Every person born since Adam has been born spiritually dead, deeply in need of restoration with God. Since Adam, the entire human race exists in a state of rebellion against God, alienated from the life God intended, captive to the power of sin, and right on the heels of sin, the power of death. Yet we saw last week that where sin abounded in Adam’s sin, God’s grace abounded even more when Jesus Christ came as the second Adam to overturn the effects of Adam’s failure. God’s strategy to overcome sin and death was to drown them in a waterfall of grace. So here in chapter 6, Paul anticipates a misunderstanding of grace here, namely the misunderstanding that I should continue in sin in order to magnify God’s grace more.

Paul claims that somehow the Christian has died to sin. Now what exactly does that mean? Does it mean Christians don’t sin anymore? If it does, then none of us are really Christians yet, because we all continue to sin each and every day. In fact, the Bible warns us that if we think we reach a point in this life when we stop sinning that we’re only fooling ourselves (1 John 1:8, 10). So being dead to sin doesn’t mean ceasing from sin.

Maybe being dead to sin means that Christians no longer enjoy sin. Once again, if that’s true, then none of us are Christians yet, because sinful behavior continues to entice us with promises of pleasure and excitement. Although we may end up broken and bruised afterwards, we’d be lying if we claimed sin wasn’t fun while we were doing it.

So in what sense have Christians died to sin if we still struggle with sin? Well to build his case Paul reminds the Roman Christians of their baptism. Water baptism is the Bible’s symbol for coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Somehow when we trust in Christ, as it’s expressed in our baptism, that signifies that we’ve died along with Jesus Christ, and therefore in some sense, died to sin. The imagery of going under the water in baptism is a picture of us identifying with Jesus Christ’s burial, and the imagery of us coming up out of the water after immersion is a picture of us identifying with Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why we practice water baptism by immersion rather than sprinkling here at this church, because we feel like going under water best symbolizes this burial and resurrection. Bible teacher John Stott puts it this way: "Our baptism stands…like a door between two rooms, closing on the one and opening into the other" (180).

Now it’s interesting that Paul simply assumes that every Christian has expressed his or her faith in Jesus Christ in water baptism. You see, baptizing babies for parents to dedicate them to God didn’t start until about 100 years after the New Testament was written, so Paul is assuming here what’s called "believer’s baptism," that the only people who are baptized are those who are already believers in Jesus. The Bible simply assumes that when a person places his or her faith in Jesus, that person will naturally and automatically express that faith publicly by being baptized. The idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply never even considered as a possibility in the New Testament.

Yet today there are literally millions of people who say they’ve placed their faith in Jesus Christ but who haven’t yet expressed that faith in baptism. Some of these people were baptized as babies, so they think that this issue has already been settled. Yet infant baptism is an expression of the parent’s faith, not the child’s faith. I encourage you, if you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ but never expressed your faith in Jesus Christ by being baptized, you need to be baptized. By appealing to their baptism, Paul’s building on something they all had experienced and would vividly remember.

In v. 6 Paul explains how we died to sin by saying that baptism symbolizes "our old self" being "crucified with Jesus." Now some Christians read this as if it means we have an old self somewhere inside of us and a new self somewhere inside of us, and these two selves are distinct natures or parts of who we are. But I think it makes more sense to think of the old self here as who we were in Adam. The entire human race in Adam is the old self or the "old man," enslaved to sin, alienated from God, imprisoned in a fallen world that’s been infected with sin. This is the human race as a whole, alienated from God and spiritually dead.

But the new self is who we are in Christ after we place our faith in him. The new self isn’t just me as an individual or you as an individual, but the new self or the "new man" is the community of God’s people who’ve trusted in God’s son Jesus Christ. This is why Ephesians 2 tells us that the entire church universal is the new man (singular) or the new self (Eph 2:13-16). This new humanity in Christ is part of the coming new creation, God’s coming kingdom that will be established in power when Christ comes again.

Our old self is connected in v. 6 with what’s called "the body of sin." Now this doesn’t mean "sinful body" as if the Bible was like Greek philosophy in thinking that the human body is inherently sinful and evil. This is simply reminding us that our bodily desires is where we struggle with sin, that we sin with our mouth, with our eyes, our hands, our feet, and so forth. This body of sin was rendered powerless when we died with Christ so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

The only problem is that we still have a mortal body (which Paul will remind us of in v. 12), and this mortal body hasn’t yet been transformed. Because our bodies aren’t yet transformed to live in this new creation, we continue to struggle with habits and patterns of behavior that are deeply ingrained from how we lived in Adam, as part of the old self. So even though our allegiance has switched from Adam to Christ, and our kingdom has changed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God, we still struggle with habits and patterns characteristic of our old way of life.

Now once we picture what Paul is saying in this way, we’re in a position to describe the fact we need to know. WHEN WE ENCOUNTER GOD’S GRACE, WE DIE TO OUR PREVIOUS WAY OF LIFE.

This death is graphically illustrated in water baptism, which is why Paul reminds them of their baptism here. Since we’ve died to the old self, and been born in the new self, how on earth could we ever consider going back to the old self? How could we ever imagine unbaptizing ourselves? When we find ourselves struggling with the old habits and patterns deeply ingrained in our lives because of so many years living in Adam, we need to remind ourselves of this fact.

You see, without realizing this fact, we’re like a person drowning in the ocean. We’re gasping for breath, spitting out water, furiously kicking our feet and splashing with our hands. Imagine someone calling out, "Just hang on." And you think, "Hang on to what? There’s nothing to hang on to!" This fact is something to hang on to, this reality that when we trusted in Christ we passed out of the old age that’s passing away and entered into God’s kingdom, the new realm of life that was inaugurated by Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Notice this section doesn’t command us to do anything. It simply asserts that this death to sin is a fact that’s true of every person who’s trusted in Jesus Christ. There are no followers of Jesus Christ who have not died to sin, because this is true of each and every Christian. When we begin to doubt this fact, Paul encourages us to remember our baptism and what it symbolized, that we’ve died with Christ, been buried with Christ, and risen with Christ.
We’re dead to our previous way.

2. A Realization (Romans 6:8-11)

But along with the fact to hold on to, we need to come to a realization. We see this in vv. 8-11. Paul summarizes what he’s said so far: if we’ve died with Christ (and we have), then we also have confidence that after we die physically, our bodies will be raised from the grave and we will live forever with Jesus. You see, once Jesus rose from the grave, death could no longer touch him. Paul’s emphasizing the fact that Christ’s death was decisive, once-for-all. His death and resurrection will never need to be repeated because they’re once-for-all events that change everything.

But the first command of the chapter comes in v. 11--"count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God." This word "count" is a mental word, and it means "to hold a view or certain opinion." In other words, Paul is commanding us to change the way we think about ourselves, especially how we think about ourselves in relation to sin and God. This command is in the present tense, which means it’s a command we need to obey again and again, throughout our lives, sometimes several times a day.

Once we come to know the fact that we’re dead to sin, then we need to come to a realization. WHEN WE ENCOUNTER GOD’S GRACE, WE ARE INTRODUCED TO A NEW WAY OF LIVING.

I think it’s significant that this section is all in the plural, that together we are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. In isolation I have trouble remember who I am. We need each other to remind ourselves who we really are.

I remember back several years ago when I quit smoking cigarettes. I’d been smoking about a pack a day for six years, so when I decided to quit I was still in the habit of smoking. Right after a meal I’d immediately reach for my cigarettes, and then I’d remember that I was a non-smoker now. Whenever I got in my car or walked outside, my instinct was to reach for a cigarette, and I had to continually remind myself that I was no longer a smoker. That went on for months. In fact, even though it’s been 17 years since I quit, occasionally I still reach for a cigarette.

The Puritan theologian John Owens once wrote that his biggest challenge as a pastor was persuading non-Christians that they were slaves to sin and Christians that they were dead to sin. We need to undergo a paradigm shift in our lives, to see ourselves differently, as those introduced to a new way of living.

This is what it means to live under God’s kingdom. You see, even though God’s kingdom isn’t yet established on this earth, Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection. So we live under his rule and reign, as subjects of a new reality that’s breaking in on the status quo. This is the new way of life we’re introduced to, a resurrection kind of life where we live by a different set of values, we direct our lives by a different set of assumptions. Instead of the American dream, our lives are governed by Jesus’ sermon on the mount; instead of doing what our culture tells us, we do what our book--the Bible tells us. Instead of defining success by our culture’s standards, we define success as pleasing God.

We need to continually remind ourselves that we’ve been introduced to a whole new way of life.

3. A Decision (Romans 6:12-14)

But along with knowing the fact and coming to the realization, we need to make a decision. We see that in vv. 12-14. Here we find that even though our conversion has taken us out of the old reality of Adam and into the new reality of Jesus, we still have a mortal body. This mortal body groans and strains to be made compatible with the new reality we’ve been introduced to, this resurrection life that comes from Jesus. But for now we struggle with habits and patterns that are deeply ingrained in our lives that feel like reflexes. These reflexes instinctively revert back to the old way of life, and we’re constantly tempted to respond to life the way we responded when we were living under Adam, the old self.

Now we usually don’t struggle with these reflexes when we’re in church together. We don’t struggle until we get to the parking lot. It’s when we’re going through the ordinary details of everyday life, things like driving a car, interacting with our spouse, spending our money, playing on a softball team, and so forth that we’re most likely to struggle. It’s in these kinds of activities that we struggle the most with reverting back, with acting as if we’re still living in the old self under Adam.

So here the Bible commands us to not allow sin to rule and reign in our lives as we go through the activities of life. We’re told to stop offering the parts of our body to sin as instruments of wickedness. The Greek word "instruments" here literally means "weapons" and the word picture here is that life is a battlefield, and we’re on the battlefield, and the various parts of our bodies are weapons in our arsenal. Living life under Adam, as our old self, we were accustomed to offering our mouth to wickedness by gossiping and lying, offering our eyes to wickedness by watching things that were immoral, offering our sexuality to wickedness by involving ourselves in activities that contradict God’s plan for sex, and so forth. But since we’ve died to sin and are joined to Jesus in his resurrection, now we are to offer ourselves to God.
We’re to offer the parts of our body as weapons in the battlefield of righteousness. Instead of lying with our mouths we’re to build people up with words of love and grace. Instead of hitting people with our hands, we’re to use our hands to serve the needs of others, even when they don’t deserve it. Instead of using our bodies to step over God’s bounds in regards to sex, we’re to stay within the bounds God has marked for our sex lives.

Notice we’re told that we will offer ourselves either to sin or to God, either as weapons of wickedness or weapons of righteousness. We like to think we can choose a third way, a way where we don’t offer ourselves to God but we also don’t rebel against God. But that option isn’t left open for us, it’s either sin or God, wickedness or righteousness. We can’t stay neutral in this battle, but we must choose sides.

Finally v. 14 shows us why we’re able to be on God’s side now, because we’re no longer under the power of sin--it’s no longer our master--because we’ve died to its dominion. Sure we still struggle with sin, and of course we still fall, but we’re not obligated to obey sin as our master anymore. By saying we’re no longer under law but under grace, Paul is saying we no longer live under the old creation, the old self, joined to Adam, but we’ve been brought into a new reality--the new self--the realty of grace. Because we’ve changed kingdoms, we’ve also changed masters.

Here we find the decision we need to make. WHEN WE ENCOUNTER GOD’S GRACE, WE OFFER OURSELVES TO A NEW MASTER.

The new reality of grace, where Jesus is king and where sin and death are defeated foes, this new reality places us under the lordship of a new Master, Jesus Christ. But we must continually choose to yield ourselves to the lordship of this new Master.

I also find it interesting that this section portrays this decision as occurring as a community, rather than just as individuals. I used to always read this as if when I wake up in the morning I need to made this decision, to offer myself and my body to Jesus’ lordship. In fact, for a few years I got on my knees the first thing each morning and surrendered my life to Christ for that day. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and it’s a legitimate application of what Paul is saying. But notice the emphasis on the plural here: Every occurrence of the word "you" and "your" in these verses is plural in the Greek, not singular. Notice the accent on the plural when he writes, "offer yourselves to God."

I think this is talking about corporate worship, that as we gather together as a community of people who are no longer joined to Adam but who are now joined to Jesus, we obey this by offering ourselves to God in worship. Of course we do that as individuals throughout the week, but the emphasis here is on us doing this together. Nowhere is the new reality of grace and our devotion to our new master more clearly portrayed than when we worship together.

Once we’ve encountered God’s grace, we must make the decision to offer ourselves to our new master again and again.


How does God’s grace change us for the better? Well it doesn’t give us an excuse to sin or a license to live any old way we want to. If that’s what we think then we’ve entirely misunderstood what grace means. We’ve not understood how we’ve passed from one reality to another, from one kingdom to another, from one master to another. God’s grace changes us, because when we encounter it, we die to our old way of life in Adam, we are introduced to a new way of living in Jesus, and we offer ourselves to a new master. You see, God’s grace doesn’t just change us for the better, but God’s grace changes everything, absolutely everything.

Philip Yancey says he sat across the table from his friend for quite a while before answering his friend’s question. He says the question lay on the table like a live snake, and only after three cups of coffee did he dare answer it. His answer went something like this: "Can God forgive you? Of course. You know the Bible. Forgiveness is our problem, not God’s. But what we have to go through to commit sin distances us from God…and there’s no guarantee we will ever come back. You ask me about forgiveness now, but will you even want it later, especially if it involves repentance? Can God forgive? Yes. Will you be the kind of person who wants God’s forgiveness? That’s another question entirely."

God’s grace doesn’t give us an excuse to sin more, but it changes everything

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