Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
“Grace Beats Sin”
Is real change possible? Can the leopard change its spots? Can a person whose life has been going in one direction suddenly go into another direction? Since grace is so powerful, is change necessary? Can a person who has lived in the grip of debilitating sin for decades find liberation? Last week we saw in Romans 5 that we have been justified by the work of Christ, Romans 6 explains how God makes people righteous. Those distinctions are crucial for us to fully understand life after salvation. Justification is that act whereby God declares us righteous in his eyes. Sanctification is that act whereby God makes us righteous. But those things are not the same: Justification leads to sanctification.
“How despicable it would be for a son to consider himself free to sin, because he knew that his father would forgive.” How could it be possible for those who have died to sin to continue to live in it?Paul asked, how can we who have died to sin “breathe its air again?” If we feel we can keep sinning it would be called “Spiritual Lawlessness.” Such a person wants to live life without any rules whatsoever. You might call such a person a “Christian hedonist.” They would say, “If I sin, it is covered by the grace of God, my sin doesn’t really matter very much because I know God will forgive me no matter what I do.” Why not “live it up” in sin, so God can forgive us later?
Paul’s answer, “By no means!” The Greek word that I kind of like the sound of, is me genoito — “May it never be.” It’s Paul’s strongest negative interjection. Here’s the reason Paul reacts so strongly: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Underline the word “died.” That’s the key word for this whole chapter. The simple truth is that if you are a believer, you have already died to sin. It’s a past event, an accomplished fact. What is a Christian? Someone who has died to sin. But what does that phrase mean—”died to sin?” Here is a simple definition. It means that you have been set free from the ruling power of sin in your life. So why serve sin voluntarily when you don’t have to? Why not serve Jesus Christ?
If we say, “It doesn’t matter because I’ve got a foot in the kingdom, so God has to forgive me.” That’s an abuse of the grace of God. One mark of one who declares Jesus as Lord, is a growing sensitivity to personal sin and a growing desire to please God. The believer cannot sin and stay happy! You can sin, but you won’t be happy. Sin no longer “fits” your life. Oh, you can “wear” sin for a while, but it’s like wearing old clothes that are two sizes too small. You can do it but you won’t be comfortable, you won’t look natural, you won’t feel right, and frankly, you won’t look right either. Sin no longer “fits.” As a Christian, you won’t be comfortable living in sin. The direction of your life will be away from sin and toward Jesus Christ.
Paul explains the vital doctrine of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. The key word is “baptism.” Through baptism we were united with Jesus and through him delivered from sin’s power. The word “baptized” is not the translation of the Greek word here, but its transliteration, its spelling in English letters. The word is used in the classics of a smith who dips a piece of hot iron in water, tempering it, also of Greek soldiers placing the points of their swords, and barbarians, the points of their spears in a bowl of blood. Paul is not saying that the sacrament of baptism somehow puts a person “in Christ.” That happens the moment a person trusts Christ. He uses the word “baptism” for the spiritual truth it symbolizes—our complete union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. The moment we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
We were not only placed in Christ by God the Holy Spirit in order that we might share his death and thus be separated from the evil nature, but we were placed in Him in order that we might share His resurrection and thus have divine life imparted to us. In Christ, we are set free. Since sin exhausted itself in bringing about death, from that point forward it is powerless to overcome new life. This is not a promise of life after death with Christ in heaven but of a life to be lived out here and now. Death, far from being simply a negative concept, is in fact the gateway to life. When Christians are told to “remember our baptism” that does not mean so much remembering the time and the place or who were the sponsors or who performed the sacrament. It is a way of saying: Remember who you are; you have died to sin and now you live a new life in Jesus Christ. It is a way of saying: Be who you are. “Remember your baptism” also means, “Remember who you belong to.” Christ lives: serve him.
Let’s think of this in a more dramatic way: It’s 3 PM on a hot Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. Three men hang on three crosses. From a distance, you cannot make out their faces. As you come closer, the one in the middle seems strangely familiar. He looks like someone you know. The eyes, the mouth, the tilt of the head—it all seems so familiar. Who is this person in the middle? It looks like Jesus, but it, yes, the face looks like … no, it can’t be. You know it’s Jesus, but the face … the face is yours! You died on the cross with him! You were buried in the tomb with him! You rose from the dead with him! You were there! That’s what Paul is saying. By faith you are spiritually joined to Christ in such a way that although 2000 years separate you from Calvary, what happened to him really and truly happened to you.
There is a difference, of course. Jesus died and was resurrected physically, but ours was not a physical death and resurrection. We did, however, by the grace of God, gain the liberating benefit of death and resurrection—gained freedom from sin. Our freedom from sin, however, is less than total. We are still tempted and we still sin, but we have become new creatures so that “we also might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). That is the purpose of our death and resurrection—that “we also might walk in newness of life”—that we might become a holy people suitable for life in the kingdom of God.
Augustine explained it this way:
Adam before the Fall was — Able to sin.
Adam after the Fall was — Not able not to sin.
Believers in Christ are — Able not to sin.
In heaven we will be — Not able to sin.
In our lives today, we are “able not to sin.” In essence, we cannot be defeated unless we choose to be defeated.
At the beginning we asked: Is real change possible? Through Jesus Christ the answer is yes. You’ve been set free. If the course of your life has been downward, it doesn’t have to stay that way. By the grace of God, your life can be different. The happiest people you will ever meet are those who have turned their backs on sin and set their feet on the road to heaven. God did not save you to give you a better life. He saved you to give you a new life. God declares us to be righteous and consistent with his standards because we’ve put our faith in Christ. God declares unrighteous train wrecks, like me and you, to be righteous in his sight. How? By means of the Cross. This is grace. Not leniency. Not bland niceness. Not God overlooking our faults. But God facing them squarely, seeing our truth, rolling up his sleeves, and plunging into our dirt, all the way to death. God reached down because he knew we could never reach up even if we wanted to. Grace – God owns it. It’s the only system that makes sense. Grace is the exclusive treasure of the Christian faith. It births hope. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the seeker’s rainbow.
As a believer, God has given us a brand-new life, the resurrection life of his son Jesus Christ. It’s a fact not an experience. True spirituality begins with a proper understanding of what God has done for us. It’s believing that what God has said he would do, he really did do, therefore it really is true, therefore we can depend upon it, therefore we can stake our life upon it, therefore it’s an actual fact. What does that mean spiritually?
Once you lived for sin; now you’ve been transferred into the kingdom of God.
You have a new King.
You have a new Master.
You have a new Lord.
You have a new citizenship.
You have a new way of looking at things.
You have new boundaries for your conduct.
You’ve been changed; you’ve been transferred. You were living one life; now you’ve been given a brand-new life and transferred to a brand-new realm.
When I was doing a tour on Guam, when we were not scheduled to fly we would hike in the jungles. Once we visited a cave, called Yokoi’s cave. I actually crawled into the cave that was barely big enough to turn around in. Just before, in 1972 a Japanese soldier named Yokoi, came out of the jungle. He had been living in the jungle for 37 years, since the end of world war II. When the news came at the end of the war, he couldn’t believe that Japan had surrendered and the war was over. Let me ask you a question. During those 37 years was he free? Sure. At any time from 1945 until 1972, he was completely free to come out of the jungle. He was completely free on a theoretical basis. But because he didn’t believe it–because he didn’t reckon the fact of his freedom to be true–he lived in self-imposed bondage in the jungle for 37 years. Was he able to be free? Yes. Was he free? No, because he chose to stay in bondage, in hiding, in fear in the jungle. Many Christians are still living in the jungle of sin. The war is over, Christ has won, but they refuse to believe it. They live in self-imposed bondage to sin. They are still in the jungle spiritually because they refuse to believe that Christ has set them free.
We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The moment we said yes to Jesus Christ, God gave you a new passport and it has a stamp on it that says Kingdom of Heaven. That’s the great defining spiritual truth. we can’t go back any more. We can’t pretend that we are still a citizen of this world. Let us consider ourselves transferred by God from one kingdom to another. It is God’s work, not ours, that makes us “dead to sin, but alive to God.” If it were our work, we could accept it more easily—we could take pride in our accomplishment—but it cannot be our work. We do not have it in us to accomplish for ourselves what only Christ can accomplish for us. It therefore becomes, to some extent, an act of will for us to consider ourselves as “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We can’t live the way we used to live, because we are not the person we used to be. We have been changed. We have been transformed. Our citizenship has been transferred from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of heaven. Hallelujah!