Romans 6

Sermon Date: 
26 Jun 2011
Bible Base: 
Romans 6:12-end & Matt 10:40-end

David Jeans

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Welcoming people is important, as our Gospel reading emphasises. One of the things we often say is that God welcomes us as we are, and there is great truth in that. We don’t have to reach a certain standard before God welcomes us into his family – the invitation is open to all. Think of the despised tax collector Zacchaeus; think of the woman at the well living with her sixth bloke; think of the thief on the cross. You don’t have to be clever; you don’t have to be holy. Come us you are! Says Jesus.
Does that mean we can stay as we are? No it doesn’t. God says Come as you are, but I will change you.
That is what our reading from Romans is about.
Paul has a great emphasis in Romans on God’s grace, on the fact that being allowed into God’s family is a free gift. Being forgiven by God is a free gift because of what Jesus has done on the cross. The entry fee to join God’s family is nothing, because Jesus has paid it for us.
So can we do what we like? Or as Paul puts it in v 1, shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? And he answers his own question in v 2 – by no means.
And the main reason he gives is this – in following Jesus and putting your faith and trust in him you have moved from death to life, and this is one of the things that baptism symbolises. You are now a new creation. You belong to the age that is to come, you belong already to the kingdom of God. So God calls you to live like it. It’s not quite become what you are because we know that sin will be with us until we are with God in eternity. It’s more become what you are becoming.
So that’s where our reading today from Romans starts –
V 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires
V13 Do not offer any part of your 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 further down in v 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Paul cannot imagine anyone who has been brought from death to life by Jesus wanting to continue to live as they used to. You have changed sides. You can’t do what you used to do. It’s as if a United player who was transferred to Wednesday playing in the local derby and keep passing to those in red and white shirts instead of to those in blue and white shirts, or keep trying to score own goals. You have changed sides.
So the first reason for not carrying on as you used to is that you have changed sides. You are now part of the ‘righteousness and life’ team, not part of the ‘sin and death’ team.
The second reason for not going back to where you were is that the pay is much better in the ‘righteousness and life’ team than in the ‘sin and death’ team.
Paul writes in v 21 ‘What benefit did you reap (when in the sin and death team) from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death.’ The consequences of selfishness and sin (in biblical language the wages of sin) are death. Not just because of God’s judgment, because God’s judgment is about allowing the consequences of our actions to have their effect. The effect of sin is death – death to relationships, death to justice, death to the fabric of society, death to our own happiness. We don’t have to look very far to see that all around us.
But in v 22 ‘Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and holiness to eternal life’. Paul is not here just talking about eternal life in the sense of life after death; eternal life in the NT means the life of the age to come, the life of eternity that can begin now. And that life is of immeasurably greater quality that the life of sin that leads to death. It is a life of giving and receiving real love, it is a life centred on serving others rather than a life obsessed with pleasing ourselves, it is a life pursuing justice for others rather than being obsessed with our own possessions; it is a life that makes the world a better place for all, as well as a life that brings real happiness to us. Jesus said I have come that you may have life, and life in its fullness. That’s what life in the ‘righteousness and life’ team brings us. The wages of sin is death – but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The third reason is connected to Paul’s language about being slaves. Formerly we were slaves to sin, now he encourages us to be slaves to righteousness, slaves to obedience, slaves to God. That’s not a very popular message today. Being set free – great! But isn’t being set free about being able to do what we like? We don’t want to be slaves to anyone!
Have a look at v 17 – thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey FROM YOUR HEART the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. Its not about following the rules so that you can get to heaven. It’s about a change of heart. It’s about WANTING to do what’s right. It’s about WANTING to please God.
There is a brilliant (but deep) OT scholar called Walter Brueggemann. In his book ‘The Covenanted Self’ (Fortress 1999) he looks at the way Israel moved from slavery in Egypt to being the people of God following God’s commands. He points out that Israel initially went to Egypt to get bread. But they found themselves in slavery to Pharoah whose commands were ‘make bricks’. When they complained they were told ‘make more bricks’.  It began with fulfilling their own desires for bread – it ended with fulfilling Pharoah’s ever-increasing demands for buildings and pyramids. We are attracted to sin because we think it will make us feel satisfied – but sin only satisfies itself. When they are rescued from salary in Egypt they don’t become aimlessly free to please just themselves – they become the people of God called to live a life of love to God and loved to neighbour. Not because God is a skinflint who wants to stop them enjoying themselves, but because God knows that their lives will be fulfilled by worshipping him and by being faithful and loving and generous towards each other. Pharoah gave them one command (make bricks); God gave them 10 commands – the first ones are to love God, the last ones are to love each other – and in the middle is a command that no Pharoah would ever give – you are to rest.
The second thing that Brueggemann says about the obedience to which the people of God are called is this:- its about loving relationship rather than following rules out of duty. In fact he talks about duty as delight and desire. He writes that ‘alongside duty in any serious relationship are desire and delight …one in love is constantly asking “what else can I do in order to delight the beloved?” – when the beloved is moved in joy, it will be one’s own true joy as well’. Thus obedience which delights our loving God becomes a joy and delight for us, because it is an act in and of itself of communion with one for whom we constantly and rightly yearn. Archbishop William Temple said that ‘true joy happens when what one must do converges with what one most wants to do’. That’s what happens in a relationship of love.
So does it matter what we do? Doesn’t God accept us as we are? Yes and no. He accepts us as we are but wants to change us into what he wants us to be. The entry fee may be nothing, but the annual subscription is everything!
We are called to offer ourselves to obey God because

  • We are now on his team. The team of righteousness, justice and life.
  • Following God’s way is a much better place to be – it leads to life in all its fullness
  • We do what God wants because he loves us and we love him and want to please him.

Sometimes obeying God is hard. He is always calling us to grow more like Jesus. Sometimes we might wish that he would leave us alone! But he wants to change us because he loves us. A parable told by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity (p170):-
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that these jobs needed doing so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
God wants the best for you – offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, for his gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.