“For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:5-14 HCSB)
Well, the paper has all been torn off the packages, gathered into a pile, crushed into a ball and pushed into a trash bag and hauled out to the trash can. The presents are scattered around the room as the 5 year old grandson tries to figure out a way to play with each one of them. He moves from one to another and spends a few minutes playing, then moves on to another. The food has been consumed and what was left has been packaged and put away for leftovers to eat next week. We gathered as a family via Zoom and laughed, shared stories and enjoyed as much togetherness as a socially distanced and virtual Christmas would allow. At this point, we can only pray, hope and wish for a better situation in 2021.
Even as Christmas 2020 winds down, most of us begin to think about, plan and prepare for a New Year. I also suspect that most of us are hoping that the new year brings a new outlook, higher expectations and a better experience that puts the pandemic, pain, anxiety, fear and frustration of 2020 far, far behind us. As we watch the last few days and hours of 2020 slip by in our rear view mirror, most of us are glad to see it leave and we hope it dies and STAYS dead. Not somewhat dead. Not maybe dead. Not hopefully dead. Not Zombie dead with the fear it will live, again. But very, painfully, permanently DEAD! And good riddance, 2020!
In the same way that we have viewed this crazy, pandemic laden, fear inducing, politically polarizing year that is just ending Paul views the believer’s old life of sin. And, in the same way that we hope and anticipate a new, brighter and better new year Paul views the believer’s new life in Christ. The old has died, the new has come. Let’s take a look at what that means…
As we’ve seen, Paul uses the analogy of Jesus’ death and resurrection and applies these principles to our lives as believers. When a person dies, their former obligations, debts and allegiances no longer have any claim upon them. In the same manner, those of us who have died “in” Christ are no longer slaves to sin. I know we’ve talked about this for several weeks, but I need you to understand that we often continue to live as though we are still slaves to sin even though those chains have been broken and we’ve been set free.
In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation and during the ensuing American Civil War, the former slaves in the southern United States had their freedom acknowledged by the federal government even though it had not yet been recognized by the southern states or realized in their daily lives. Following the Civil War, some former slaves still struggled with accepting and living out those freedoms. While some of this was undoubtedly due to the cruelty and actions of their former “owners” (I placed that in quotes because I don’t believe any man can be truly “owned” by another man – we are God’s creation, not man’s property) some of it was also due to the long, hard years of living under that mindset and way of life. Sometimes our minds and hearts keep us bound long after our bodies have been set free.
In a similar way, we have been slaves to sin for so many years that we often struggle to recognize, acknowledge, accept and live out our freedom in Christ. A person who has died is no longer a slave to his former “owner” and that is also true of a believer in Christ in his/her relationship to sin. When a slave is subject to a master, then the master is able to dictate and control the slave’s actions. At first, this master/slave relationship might be enforced through verbal harshness, elevate to the level of cruelty and even result in physical brutality but it always had that ultimate threat of death as a means of controlling the slave’s obedience. However, when we die in Christ then our bonds of slavery to sin are broken and we are set free to live unto Him.
One of the reasons that we struggle to break free from the bonds of sin is that we fail to see its mastery over us. In John 8, Jesus tells a group of Jews who have “believed” in Him that the mark of a true disciple is to continue in His Word and then they would “know the truth, and the truth” would set them free. They respond by questioning Jesus words by citing their Abrahamic lineage and stating that they “have never been enslaved to anyone.” Had they forgotten about Egypt? Did they miss the lessons of the Passover and the Exodus? Let me put this in their terms, pay close attention… you can never experience the freedom of the PASSOVER and the EXODUS of God until you recognize and acknowledge your slavery to Egypt. You will never be set free from sin and experience the grace, peace and joy of God through Christ until you recognize and acknowledge your slavery to sin. These men said they believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but they refused to see themselves as men enslaved and in need of a savior.
In Lewis Carrol’s story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice is trying to find her way through the woods when she comes upon the Cheshire Cat in a tree. Alice asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The Cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice says, “I don’t much care where.” To which the Cat answers, “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” As the cat said, if you really don’t care where you want to go, then it really doesn’t matter which path you choose. However, if you want to know the way to eternal life, life as it was meant to be, a life of meaning, purpose, joy, peace and real love then Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 HCSB)
What about you? The biggest hindrance to Christianity in America is our attitude on this very issue. There are many in America “who believe” in the Jesus of love and kindness, but deny the mastery and ugliness of sin in our lives and the need for the Cross and its Savior. Like the Jews of John 8, we stand and gaze longingly at the Christ of love, but stare in disbelief at the Christ on the Cross and refuse to acknowledge our enslavement to sin. In that environment, we see sin as a right to choose, a freedom to enjoy, a pleasure to indulge, a feeling to satisfy or a desire to put on display and even our concept of love is broken by sin. As our culture says, “love is love” with the intent that you can’t help how you feel and nobody should deny you those feelings of love for anyone or anything. But scripture says, God is love and HE should be both the source and the object of our love. The difference is the source of authority for what you consider to be love; you or the God who created you? You either need a Savior because of your sin and brokenness or you don’t because you believe you’re basically a good person and just make an occasional mistake. This issue really goes back to my argument from last week about what you believe about Christmas, go read it here.
So, if we’ve really been set free from our slavery to sin then why do we Christians still struggle with it? Paul will look at this in much greater detail in Chapter 7, but it basically comes down to two issues: our mindset and our desires. As I pointed out above, we often remain a slave to our former master because of our mindset or conditioning. It is hard to think and act like a free man when you’ve lived your life in slavery. You might think that sounds ludicrous, but a story I’ve told several times about my favorite illusionist will help illustrate…
Harry Houdini was a master illusionist. He never referred to himself as a magician because what he did was not magic, but simply an illusion. In addition to his skills as an illusionist, Houdini was also a master locksmith and could pick most locks in a matter of seconds even with his hands bound or his eyes covered. He would brazenly brag about his ability to break out of any jail knowing that the local sheriff or police chief would take offense and accept his challenge. On one occasion, the local police chief accepted the challenge but things didn’t quite go as Houdini planned. Once Harry was placed in the cell and left alone, he quickly extracted a hidden piece of spring steel and began working to pick the cell’s lock. After several minutes, Harry knew something was different as he struggled to open this lock. After several hours of work and bathed in sweat, Harry had nearly given up as he slumped to floor in frustration and exhaustion. As he did so, he accidentally bumped the door and it swung open. Harry stared in disbelief… the door had never been locked and that’s why he couldn’t unlock it. It was locked only in his mind, but it kept him imprisoned for hours as he struggled and labored to unlock it.
As believers in Christ who have died with Christ, we must discover that the door that has kept us locked in the cell with sin was unlocked by Christ. Sin no longer enslaves us, the truth has set us free. While sin still lures and entices, it cannot exercise authority over us. So, two truths that we must accept and believe that will empower us to battle sin in our lives; 1) the truth about ourselves, 2) the truth about sin. We’ve already considered the truth about ourselves and concluded that we must decide if we are sinners in need of a savior or good men in need of a guide. So, that brings us to #2 and the truth about sin.
Sin is a non-PC (non-politically correct) word in today’s culture. The mere idea of sin is considered out of date, on the wrong side of history, out-of-touch, or just plain boring. Nobody talks about sin. We talk about choice. We talk about rights. We talk about feelings. We talk about passion. We talk about mistakes. We even talk about defining our own gender and pronouns. But we never talk about the one who defined us. If you are the byproduct of mere chance, then that might be appropriate but if you are the creation of a loving, omnipotent, grace-filled God then it is rebellious and offensive. Let me state this in a very clear and concise way, Jesus is either the way, the truth and the life or else He is an imposter and charlatan. You cannot embrace the truth about WHO Jesus is while denying the truth of what He said and taught. He said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies, that he comes to steal, kill and destroy us. He also stated, those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. He then said, go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. (see Matt. 9:12-13).
So, I’ll state this question very simply. Do you need a doctor or not? Are you “self” righteous, or a sinner? Paul says, do not let sin reign so that you obey its desires and don’t offer any parts (of your body) to sin as weapons of unrighteousness. A weapon’s purpose is to destroy or kill. When sin gets a hold on any of your “parts” then it uses them as weapons to destroy your life and, ultimately, kill you. If you need a doctor, trust Him. He can and will heal your soul sickness. Listen to the truth that He speaks, not the world’s rhetoric or Satan’s lies.
Finally, Paul calls believers to offer themselves and their “parts” as weapons of righteousness. This is NOT passive Christian living, this is active Christian intervention. Don’t be a weapon of sin, be a weapon of righteousness. We won’t impact the world with the Gospel by sitting back and watching the days and the world go by. We’ve been called to engage our neighbors, our family, our co-workers with the Good News of Christ. James says, don’t just offer up prayers of blessing in hopes they’ll find a warm meal or a blanket – give them one (see James 2:15-17). Jesus said, don’t just avoid taking someone’s life thinking you’ve completely fulfilled God’s expectations but resist getting angry and seek to be reconciled to them when you do get angry with one another, then you can bring your gift or sacrifice to the altar of God.
Instead of standing back and criticizing those you disagree with, engage them with the love of Christ. Instead of praying that God would strike your enemy dead, pray that God would give you the opportunity to show them His incredible love and boundless grace. Instead of avoiding your annoying co-worker, offer them a gift of undeserved kindness in the same way God offered one to you. Offer up yourselves as weapons of righteousness and see what strongholds God brings down using them. In fact, that might be a worthy New Year’s resolution. God, use me as a weapon of righteousness in your Gospel assault on my family, friends and neighbors.