A Matter of Life and Death

Romans 6:1-14

 

I don’t really know that I’ve ever had any close encounters with death.  I suppose there have been brushes, as you might call them.

I remember once in high school when the car I was in started hydroplaning on an interstate highway.  We were in the far left lane.

It was a three-lane highway.  By the time we stopped spinning, we had skidded across all three lanes and slid down the grassy hill to the right of the road.

 

Speaking of cars, I’ve ridden in a church van while careening through downtown Chicago.  There are actually some people in here today who were on that trip.

Let’s just say I hope never again to sit next to a driver who has to choose between running a red light or failing to keep up with the lead car and getting lost in the Windy City—again, in a church van on a mission trip.

 

No, I’ve never really had a close encounter with death—but I’ve known people who have.  They have stared death in the face.

For some, the possibility was just very real.  They had a disease from which they might not recover.

They were in an accident, from which they might not recover.  Others have been right at what we call “death’s door”.

They were right at the brink, but miraculously survived, recovered, or were revived.

 

Death has a way of putting everything in perspective.  Our camp preacher at Student Life Camp earlier this summer, Matt Chandler, had experienced this.

If you don’t know his story, he had brain cancer a while back.  There were moments during that battle where he may well have wondered if he would make it.

And his preaching reflects the urgency of that situation.  It’s almost as though, in some strange way, death gives you a new lease on life.

 

Some movies pick up on this theme.  You may remember Episode IV of Star Wars.

This was actually the first Star Wars movie to be released, and then we were introduced to the concept of prequels and Jar Jar Binks, and we all got confused.

But in that fourth episode, we see old man Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting the evil Darth Vader.  And Obi-Wan utters a great phrase.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”  That’s a recipe for goose bumps, right there.

 

And, to be sure, the concept of death enhancing life finds strong footing in the context of the Bible and the Christian faith.

We cover much of that at Easter.  Christ died on the cross on Friday afternoon, but the Father raised Him from the dead on Sunday morning.

Furthermore, because of His death, eternal life has been made available to us, those who might follow Him as Lord and Savior.

 

But that particular day, meaning Easter, obviously and rightly has more to do with life than death.

And even then, when death is mentioned, it’s the death of Jesus Christ.  And then we get to our passage for this morning, found in the sixth chapter of Romans.

I invite you to turn with me there.  Within these verses we find, as you might well expect, plenty about the death of Jesus.

But we also find a good bit about our own death, and I’m not speaking of they physical death of the body.

I speak of a much more significant death—a death we must willingly embrace.  So let’s take a look at this passage, beginning with verse 1.  (Read Romans 6:1-2.)

 

What shall we say then?  What shall we say then?  That last word tells us that Paul must be referring to something that he previously wrote.

In chapter five, we find a famous phrase from Paul’s writings:  Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.  I like that phrase.

We all love that phrase.  We even sing about that phrase.  You know the song.  “Grace, grace, God’s grace—grace that will pardon and cleanse within.”

“Grace, grace, God’s grace—grace that is greater than all our sin.”  It’s right there.

Grace rules the day.  Grace reigns.  God’s grace, which brings life to us all, supersedes death, which is the end result of sin.

 

So, in light of the fact that God’s grace is so wonderful—you know that other song, don’t you…Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus—what then shall we say?

Since God’s grace abounded as sin increased—since the blessings God’s grace exceed the consequences of sin—shall we keep sinning?

Why not continue to sin so that God’s grace might continue to shine?  The question might seem frivolous and even offensive to you.  But it’s a legitimate one.

There are many throughout the church who buy into a notion of cheap grace.  There are many who live by the credo: it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

There are many who view their relationship to Jesus as a “get out of Hell free” card.

 

Some self-centered individual might say, “If my sin causes God’s grace to shine forth, why shouldn’t I continue in it?”

A good retort might be: Does God’s grace require our continued sin to keep on shining?  Isn’t it only by the grace of God that you and I woke up this morning?

I don’t know about you, but I experienced God’s grace today well before I ever sinned.  That’s true of every morning.

To be sure, some mornings that sinless period only seems to last a half-hour or so, but God’s grace does not merely come to us in response to our sin.

Sometimes we hear about that grace and assume it only means forgiveness of sin.

That’s a huge part of it, certainly, but it’s also only by His grace that we have love in our lives, families, food, wisdom, patience, hope, and joy.

So let’s stop boiling down God’s grace, reducing it to something less than it truly is.

 

The notion that God’s grace might actually be an encouragement for us to keep on sinning is most reprehensible to Paul.

“By no means!” he exclaims in verse two.  This response to this idea of taking advantage of God’s grace might also be phrased as, “Heaven no!”

If you don’t know what I mean by “Heaven no!” think of it as the Baptist equivalent of that two-word phrase I’m sure none of you would ever, ever say.

Paul states that we can’t take on this view because we have died to sin.  Sin is dead to us.  Obviously, he is talking to Christians here.

Once you are in Christ, sin no longer enslaves or entangles you.  It’s not merely that Jesus masks or hides your sin.  It’s dealt with.  Better put, it is finished.

Sin is dead to us now, so the notion that we might enhance God’s grace by our continued sin is at best ridiculous and at worse blasphemous.

 

So, in speaking of believers as dead to sin, Paul has introduced the notion of death, which we addressed earlier.

As we continue reading, he ties this concept of death into the sacrament of baptism.

Let’s take a look as we continue our reading with verse 3.  (Read Romans 6:3-5.)

So Mr. Quincy talked with our kiddos about baptism this morning.  There is beautiful imagery and symbolism in this act.

It is, to be sure, an act in which God commanded us to participate.  We must remember, however, that this act is not a saving act.

We don’t accept Jesus as Savior, only to have it “made official” by our baptism, as though that act was the necessary final step to get us into heaven.

Baptism is certainly a command from God, but it is also a teaching moment—a symbolic act here on earth to point to a greater spiritual truth.

 

Paul asks if the Roman believers understand that we are all baptized into something.  First of all, in verse 3, he states that we are baptized into Jesus Christ.

This is very similar to a favorite phrase of Paul’s to describe believers:  “in Christ”.

True Christians are “in Christ”.  Their security is found in Him.  Their lives are found in Him.  You know the words to Have Thine Own Way, don’t you?

“Fill with Thy Spirit ‘till all shall see Christ only, always living in me.”  We are “in Christ” when people see more of Him and less of us.

Baptism is a symbolic gesture highlighting that truth.  But Paul takes it a step farther.  To be baptized into Jesus is to be baptized into His death.

 

Think on the imagery of baptism.  My former pastor back in Little Rock used to always say, “Buried with Christ in baptism,” as he plunged folks under the water.

This is why we don’t do sprinkling or pouring.  We wouldn’t sprinkle dirt on a dead body.  A dead body is buried.  So we put the person completely under the water.

The person has to go under the water before he or she can come up out of the water.

Baptism is tightly linked to the notion of death—specifically, the death of Jesus.

Yes, we must first go through the first part of baptism in order that we might reach the second part. That’s what Paul says in verse 4.

We were buried into death in order that we might be raised to a new life.  You see, we all want that raising, that newness of life.  Who wouldn’t want it?

But we don’t want to join Jesus in the death of self.  We want the life without having to endure the death.  But, according to scripture, it doesn’t work that way.

Think on it like this.  We want the blessing of heaven without it having to cost us anything here on earth.  Many of you know that we went to Pine Cove last week.

At that family camp, Kelley and I had the privilege of hearing from Tony Evans during our morning speaker sessions.

Among the dozens of things that stuck out to me, there was this: “A blessing in the Bible is God’s favor to you that it might flow through you.”

“Blessing is not truly manifested without the flow through.”  Think about a flowing stream versus a stagnant pond.

For blessings to flow through us, it requires a sacrifice of our desires and our very selves.  To be a channel of God’s grace, we must cease living according to our impulses.  To be sure, life is found in the flow through.

A gushing stream is far more alive and vibrant than a stagnant pond, where rain may pour into but nothing flows out of.

Without a question, to find God’s blessing of life, we must first die to ourselves.

Verse 5 makes that clear.  If we have been united with Him in death, then we will be united with Him in resurrection life.

 

Paul continues with this line of thought in verse 6.  (Read Romans 6:6-8)  Here is what we must know, but might not know, about this death.

We must experience this death because it is the only way for our “bodies of sin” to be done away with.  This does not mean that our physical bodies are evil.

Rather, it means that the complete person, mind and body, has been ravaged by sin.

I don’t care how much you take care of your body, how in shape or beautiful you are, you are decaying.  Even our very bodies have been corrupted by sin.

And Paul writes that only through the death—or crucifixion—of the “old self” can our sin be taken care of.  Paul speaks of that later in this chapter.

In verse 23, he states that the wages of sin is death.  That’s what sin deserves.  More specifically to our point today, that’s what takes care of sin.

That’s the only way to eradicate the sin problem.  Sin itself—along with that which sin has corrupted—must be destroyed.

 

But there’s more to this death of the old self.  This death frees us.  We are no longer slaves to sin.  And freedom is the only hope we have for victory.

Ask the people of Israel who were enslaved in Egypt.  They only experienced victory after they first experienced freedom.

We, naturally, tie freedom to life.  To be free is to be alive.  But here is the shocking, scandalous truth of the Christian faith.

You are only free from sin after dying.  It is the death of Jesus Christ that liberates us from sin’s grasp.  And it is our own death of the old self that liberates us to live victoriously for and in Jesus Christ.

 

Yes, in Christ, our victory is sure.  But this victory does not negate our responsibility to our Lord.  We are free from sin, but bondslaves of Christ.

Paul addresses why our victory is sure, beginning in verse 9.  (Read Romans 6:9-11.)

So we have covered, as we read in verse 8, that if we die with Christ, we will also live with Him.  He is the victorious King, and that victory can be ours as well.

And here is what makes our victory sure.  Paul writes that, since Jesus was raised from the dead, He cannot die again.  It doesn’t say He will not die again.

He cannot die again.  Furthermore, “death no longer has mastery over Him”.  Jesus has mastered death.  He defeated it.  He has victory over death, and so will we.

Notice that Paul wrote that death no longer has mastery over Him.  This is an important tangent that we shouldn’t gloss over.

The wording there would suggest that, at some point, death did have mastery over Him.  Jesus Christ died.

He was really dead, most sincerely dead—for any of you Wizard of Oz fans out there.

In doing so, He blazed the trail for us.  Our path to true life—resurrection life—begins by us surrendering ourselves to death.

Once again, remember that Jesus “committed His Spirit” into the hands of His Father.

He told His disciples in the Gospel of John that no one can take His life from Him.  He must willingly lay it down in obedience to His Father and for the sake of His people.

Likewise, we must willingly surrender to the death of the self.  We only find the life God has for us when we say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to ourselves.

 

In other words, it seems as though we ought to be imitators of Christ.  Paul stresses this theme regularly throughout his letters.

Separately in his letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and the Thessalonians, he commands the people to be imitators of Christ.

Sometimes he says to be imitators of God.  Sometimes he says they should imitate him, as he imitates Christ.  In any case, the message is loud and clear.

Jesus’ life and death are deeply connected.  He was born to die.  Yes, He came to the earth to heal and to reveal God and to teach.

Ultimately, however, His mission on this earth was to die for the sin of humanity, in obedience to His Father’s divine plan.

 

You see, Jesus died as the perfect offering for sin—the spotless lamb, if you will.  He was the “once for all” atonement, as seen in verse 10.

This offering—remember, we are talking about Jesus—became perfect by the life He lived.  The author of Hebrews makes it clear.

God made His Son perfect through what He suffered.  Jesus was sinless—always has been and always will be.

But He was made into the perfect offering by the life He lived for God.  He was perfected by His unswerving disregard for Himself and by His equally unswerving obedience to His Father.  He showed us how to die to self, even before the Cross.

Often He spoke of His relationship to His Father in these terms: I can only do what I see My Father doing.  I only speak what I hear from My Father.

 

We are often quick to say we will surrender and sacrifice it all.  We make that proclamation every time we sing that song from earlier in the service.

But what sort of sacrifice are we really offering up to God?  Just as Jesus was born to die—and the shadow of the cross seemed always hanging over Him—we, too, must carry around our own death, even daily! This death to self dictates the life we live for God.

We are blessed this morning to have lots of folks who are serving the communities of Marshall and Shreveport on a mission trip this week.

And if you’ve ever been on a mission trip, you know the number one rule:  Be flexible.  That could also be translated: Die to yourself.

Count yourselves dead to sin.  Make that proclamation every morning upon waking up.  Count yourselves alive to God—for Him and His purposes, alone.

That’s where life is found—not merely eternal life in heaven, but abundant life here on earth.  The person who has not died to self is a stagnant pool, finding strength from the occasional rainfall, but for the most part never getting poured into.

The person who has died to self is that gushing stream, finding a never-ending source of strength and love through the Spirit of God.

Don’t settle for being a stagnant pond.  Be that gushing stream through whom God’s love and power and truth flow.

 

We finish our passage with verse 12 and what follows.  (Read Romans 6:12-14.)

Obviously, this is written to Christians.  This is not a word regarding how to be saved, as though we can achieve it by avoiding enough bad stuff.

This is the working out of salvation that has already begun.  And how might we be able to pull off these commands found in verses 13 and 14?

The answer is simple on the surface, though its complexities run deep.  We have been freed of such things.  Sin no longer masters us.

It’s not about trying or human effort, though we are certainly called to work at everything we do with all our hearts.

It’s about that state of freedom that already exists because of Jesus and His cross.

 

And yet, you might ask, “Okay, if I am free of it, why do I still so often run to these evil desires, these sins?  Why do I still feel like an instrument of wickedness?”

Could it be because we aren’t presenting ourselves to God?  We all present ourselves to someone or something.  We all invest in someone or something.

You could say we all worship someone or something.  Like it or not, you are always presenting some sort of offering to God.

Some of you are only presenting money.  Some of you are only presenting effort.  Some of you are only presenting lip service.  Some of you are only presenting a part of you—that part that you are willing to turn over.

 

But our passage, which Lucy read, said to present ourselves as offerings which are holy and pleasing to God.  Holy offerings are set apart.

They are whole, complete, and undiluted offerings.  There is no portion held back.

A holy offering is not an offering with some parts good and some parts worthless.

In baptism, we see the death of the tainted offering, the wounded and blind lamb, and the self-centered, compartmentalized offering.

And, in baptism, we see the holy offering come to life.  Don’t run back to the old self!

Don’t run back to this legalistic notion that you can do enough good stuff to outweigh the bad.  God doesn’t seek a partially good offering.  He seeks a holy one.

And remember verse 14.  You are not under the law.  You are under grace.  That’s who you are.  So let’s simply be who we are.  (Pray and explain.)