For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at a great passage in the Bible that explains the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. If you haven’t been here, it’s a little like walking into the middle of a movie, but I’ll try to catch you up. The Coles notes version is this: you and I were born in sin. Before you ever made one decision or one bad act, you were already a sinner. That sin has caused incredible damage in your life, and even worse – it’s separated you from God and brought death into your life. That’s the bad news. But the good news is even better.
The good news is this: that God sent his Son to undo the effects of sin. Jesus came to free you from the penalty of sin, but he also came to free you from the power of sin. Jesus came to make you right with God, and the more you’ve sinned, the more grace from God you get to receive. Romans 5:20 says, “As people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant.” If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you’ve been forgiven – more than forgiven. And you’ve been set free from the power of sin in your life.
But I have a question. How many people here feel like they’ve been set free from the power of sin? How many people here feel dead to sin? Probably not that many. We can be honest here. How many people feel very alive to sin- that sin is still very much an issue in their lives? We can be honest. It seems as if most people I meet will admit to having a tendency or a habit or a sin that they can’t seem to control. I’m not talking Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream here – something more than that. There’s some area of our lives in which we feel we’re in the grip of a bad habit. We’re not the master – we’re the slave of this area. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much we pray about it, or how much counseling we get, how many articles we read, or how many sermons we hear – we just can’t seem to conquer this area. It could be anger, or lust, or materialism, or gossip, or a critical spirit. But it’s in control, and you’re not.
Sometimes, when we read verses like Romans 6:7, “For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin,” we say, “Not me! It didn’t take. I must have done something wrong. But I am definitely not dead to the power of sin.” Do you ever feel like that? You’re still a Christian, you’re still forgiven, but sin is whipping you. What do we do? Is there any hope that what God has promised, we can experience?
I’m constantly disappointed with myself. I didn’t know this before I got married, but God has given me a very sensitive wife, and I’ve learned that I’m not a very sensitive person sometimes. I say things that occasionally can be very hurtful. Is there any hope for me? I mean, I not only want to know, I think my wife wants to know if there’s any hope for me. Whatever it is in your life – you’ve tried, you don’t like it, but nothing seems to change.
If that’s you, then you need to know that the Bible does offer you hope. I love that the Bible is brutally honest that this is our condition – that although we’re dead to sin, that we still seem to struggle with it. But the Bible also offers practical help for how to not only believe that you’re a new you, but how to act like a new you. The Bible gives some practical wisdom on how you can change so that even your worst habits and your deepest struggles will no longer control you. We’re going to look at Romans 6 today, which is on page 1272 of your pew Bibles. This passage teaches us how we can be what we already are. In other words, it teaches us how we can actually live out in our lives the way that God already sees us – how what’s actually true can become really true in our own lives.
As we pick up Romans 6, Paul’s just finished telling the Romans that the more we sin, the more God forgives. It’s almost as if Paul realizes that some people are going to think, “Wait a minute – maybe if I keep on sinning, then I’ll get more of God’s grace.” So Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not!” And then Paul gives us a foundational truth which can completely change all of us. What’s the truth? It’s one that doesn’t always seem real in our lives. Romans 6:2 says, “Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” Here’s the truth: you are dead to sin. Our old nature that we inherited from Adam – if you’re a Christian, it’s dead. And dead people don’t sin. You’ve never seen a dead person sin, and you never will. So you don’t have to sin either.
You may be thinking, “I’ve never seen a dead person sin, but I sure know that I can sin, so I must not be dead.” So Paul begins to explain what’s happened to us. In fact, Paul gives us three instructions for living in victory over sin. The first one is this:
1. REMEMBER THAT YOU’VE CHANGED
The first instruction isn’t to change this or do that. The first instruction is to understand something – something that Paul says we should already know. The first instruction to living in victory over sin is to understand how God has changed us. We haven’t been improved. We’ve been killed. There’s a brand new me. It begins with understanding what God says is really true about us.
Paul says in Romans 6:3, “Have you forgotten?” or “Don’t you know?” Sometimes the problem is that we forget, or we don’t fully understand, what the Bible says that God has done for us. The solution isn’t to begin to do things differently – it’s to remember the truth. It’s to remind ourselves of what’s really true, because Jesus stressed the importance of knowing the truth. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
You may have seen or heard about the movie The Princess Diaries. A 15-year-old girl discovers that she’s the princess of a small European country, because her long-absent father, who turns out to be the king, has recently died. She’s the princess, and the throne is available to her. But it began with understanding and knowing her position. We can’t act out who we are until we understand who we are.
So what’s the truth about us? Romans 6:3-4 says:
Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
When Paul wrote this, baptism was handled a bit differently than the way that we handle it today. Today, people become Christians, and sometimes wait years before they’re baptized. Back then, baptism happened right at the time that somebody became a Christian, so it was seen as being part of the process. Baptism is an important part of coming to Christ and following him. It’s a picture of what takes place when we become Christians. We’re going to celebrate Easter this week. Baptism is a reminder that when Jesus died, we died. When he was buried, we were buried. When he was given new life, we were given new lives. All the powerful acts of his death, burial, and resurrection have been applied to our lives. Because Jesus died for our sins, we have died unto sin. Jesus broke the power of sin in our lives, and he’s given us new life.
Romans 6:6-7 expands on this truth. We need to understand it, and to never forget it. It says, “Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.” Last week, we looked at the fact that we were all born with these sinful natures. When Jesus died, our sinful natures were nailed to the cross with him. God killed our sinful natures on the cross. They’re dead, and we’re dead to sin.
We’re not only dead to sin, but we’ve also been given new life. Romans 6:8 says, “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life.” You have the power not to sin, because you share in the new life of Jesus Christ. Your old nature is dead, and your new life is the life of Jesus Christ living in you. That’s the truth about who you are in Jesus Christ.
The Message paraphrase puts it this way. “We’ve left the country where sin was sovereign…When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace – a new life in a new land!” The relationship with sin that we used to have has been completely and irreversibly changed.
Somebody’s said that it’s like one of those British country scenes, with two fields enclosed by high rock walls. We all begin life in one field – a field ruled over by Satan and sin. We have no chance of escaping that field. The walls are too high. We hate it there, but we can’t get out. God, in his grace, reaches down and takes us out of that Satan-ruled field, and puts us in the adjacent field – a field ruled by Christ and by righteousness. We can never go back. We’re in a new position, and that can never change.
But in that new field, we can still hear Satan calling across the wall from that old field of sin. Out of habit, we sometimes still obey his voice – even though we don’t have to. But we’re in a new position. We’re no longer ruled by sin. Understand – remember – that you’ve been changed.
You probably have seen those electric fences they use with dogs. The dog wears this collar with an electrode. As soon as the dog crosses the fence, the dog gets zapped – not a lot, but enough. After a while, you could turn that electric fence off, but the dog still wouldn’t cross that line. The power’s off, but the dog doesn’t know or understand. And even though that dog is free, and the power of that fence has been shut off, the dog remains confined because it doesn’t understand.
The Bible says that the power of sin has been turned off in your life. But some of us don’t know it. Paul says, “Don’t forget. The power of sin has been turned off. You’re free to break habits. You don’t have to feel the way you used to. Believe that it’s true, because it is, and it will begin to change your life.”
If you have a hard time believing that this is true, I’d encourage you to obsess over these chapters for a few weeks. You could even memorize them. In the bulletin today, I’ve included a card with Romans 6:14 on it: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” I’m going to ask everyone to take that this week and memorize it. We really believe that there is a Satan, and that he doesn’t want you to know that you’re free. Who would want to go through life not understanding the freedom that they’ve been given? The first step is to understand what’s already too.
Paul spends about half the chapter encouraging the Romans to understand this fact. It isn’t until verse 11 that Paul gives the first command of what to do with this understanding. Paul’s second instruction goes this way:
2. ACT AS IF YOU BELIEVE YOU’VE BEEN CHANGED
Romans 6:11 says, “So you should consider yourselves as dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.” In other words, you now understand the reality of your new position. Now begin to act as if it’s really true in your life. Paul actually uses an accounting term, and it’s in the present tense, which means that it’s something that we have to do continually. Just as you make a deposit to the bank, and then go out and write checks and make withdrawals believing that the money is in the bank, you can live and act knowing that what God said is true. It’s a done deal. We just have to translate that knowledge into action. Consider it true that you’re dead to sin.
I heard this week of a toddler that was adopted and brought to North America. Her new parents fed her Cheerios for breakfast. She was so used to going without food that she held on to those Cheerios in her little hands all day. They would give her a bath at night and open her hands, and she would still have these soggy little Cheerios in her hands. Although she lived in a land of abundant food, and hadn’t experienced hunger since moving to North America, she still considered herself famished. What was actually true hadn’t yet become really true in her life.
Once in a while, you read of a homeless person who died with a net worth in the hundreds of thousands. It’s possible to live in such a way that you’re denying what is actually true. That’s why Paul says, understand that you’ve been set free, and then begin to live your life knowing that this is true – because it really is true. You’ve been set free from sin. You may not feel like it, but it’s true anyway. So start living as if it’s true!
This may seem like possibility thinking, or something right out of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking – but it isn’t. Positive thinking has no power, unless the thinking is also true. But there is tremendous power in thinking in line with what is true. You are able not to sin. It’s not, “If I believe it enough, it will be true.” It’s, “Since it is true, I need to believe it.” “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NIV).
Paul goes on later in the chapter to use the metaphor of slaves. It’s possible to be set free as a slave and yet still to act as if you’re a slave, when you’re really not. It’s possible for us to think that we’re still a slave to sin when God has set us free from sin. So start enjoying the freedom that God has given you. God has given you new life, and he wants you to start living it.
I want to give you a practical way that you can consider yourself as dead to sin. How many people would say that they have some sort of character flaw, or quirk, or sinful habit that keeps on popping up in their lives? A short temper, a sarcastic attitude, lust, whatever. We have a tendency to identify ourselves with that area of sin – to say, “I have an anger problem,” or, “I tend to be a lustful person.” It’s almost as if we identify with that sin so strongly that we see that sin as part of us.
Paul says, “Don’t do that. See yourself as dead to sin.” And he gives us a practical way to consider ourselves as distinct from whatever it is that you struggle with. It’s a different way to thinking about sin. Treat sin as a separate entity. It’s not me. I’m not sin. See sin as a separate entity that’s trying to get control of you, rather than sin as part of your character.
Read with me what Paul says in verses 12-14:
Do not let sin [he personifies it here – you could almost say Mr. Sin] control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires. Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning. Instead, give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God’s grace.
Do you see what he’s doing? When we’re tempted, we usually think, “I want to do this, but God wants me to do that.” It’s almost as if we think it’s us against God. But the reality is that if you’re in Jesus Christ, you don’t really want to sin. If I asked you an hour or a week later if you really wanted to think that thought, or to go with those people, or to say what you said, you’d say, “No.” There’s only one of you – and you’re dead to sin. So stop identifying with sin so strongly that you think it’s you. Start to see sin as a separate entity, and start to see yourself as dead to sin.
Here’s how sin operates. Sin comes along and says, “Can I borrow your mouth?” And we say, “Sure!” And we say things we wish that we hadn’t said, and sin says, “Thank you very much.” Or sin says, “Can I borrow your eyes?” We say, “Sure. You can have them all weekend.” And later we wish that we hadn’t let sin borrow our eyes or our mouths. And Paul says that when sin asks to borrow your mouth, you can say, “No, sin.” When sin asks to borrow your eyes, you have the power to say, “No, sin.” Because that sin isn’t you. Sin is a separate entity. You are dead to sin, and you can live knowing that the power of sin has been turned off in your life.
You may say, “I still don’t feel like I’m free from sin.” With all respect, it doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings aren’t always accurate. We think we should feel differently, or think differently. The reality is that we still are tempted. Sin tells us, “You still feel the same. You haven’t really changed. Identify with me.” But God says, “It isn’t you. You have changed. You’ve been set free.” So begin to count it true in your life. Talk to sin out loud – maybe not with people around. Say, “You’re not me.” Externalize sin, and understand that you’ve been set free from it’s power.
Paul gives one more instruction:
3. YIELD YOURSELF TO GOD
We’ve already read this. Let’s read verse 13 again, this time from the NIV: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” This week, what I’d like you to do is to pick part of your body – part of it that causes you the most trouble – and dedicate it to God. It could be your eyes, or your mouth. It’s probably your mouth. Take it, and dedicate it to God as an instrument or a weapon of righteousness. Put your mouth, your eyes, at God’s disposal. Yield yourself to God.
If you struggle with saying the wrong thing, or blowing up, begin every day to say, “Father, today I dedicate my mouth to you as an instrument of righteousness. I yield it to you. Take my lips. Take my hands. Take my life.” Spend time everyday dedicating a member of your body to God, dedicating it as an instrument of righteousness.
I don’t know what it is in your life, but I’m here to tell you that the Bible says you can be free. You may think, “Yeah, but you don’t know my story.” I don’t need to know your story. I know that because of what Jesus did for you, and because of the power of the Spirit who lives in you, you are a new person. You’ve been set free. And what God says is really true about you can become actually true in your life as you live out the freedom that God has given you.
We’re heading into Easter. Jesus came to give his life for you so that you could be changed from the inside out. The Bible says that this plan gave God great pleasure. God is in the business of changing lives. Romans 6:7-8 says, “For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life.” We’ve been set free from the power of sin, because of what Jesus has done for us. I don’t know why we would want to keep living in sin. Because where there is sin, there is death. Paul says later in the chapter that we can choose to continue sinning, but then sin once again will become our master, even though we’ve been set free from its power. If you’re a Christian, you won’t go to hell, but hell will come to you on earth. That’s not how you’re supposed to live. Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free” (John 8:36).
This is a process. But I’d invite you to do what I’m doing: to begin to obsess over these verses until they become the way that we think. Make them part of your lives. Act as if they’re really true, because they are. And begin to enjoy the freedom that Christ has given us – not just in heaven one day, but right here and right now.
I know there may be somebody here today who’s never come to Jesus Christ. You may have thought that Christianity is all about being forgiven, but it’s about more than that. You can be forgiven. But you can also be changed here and now. Those bad habits, those destructive tendencies that you have – they can be changed. There can be a new you.
Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons…All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 The Message)
I want to invite you to pray now for the first time and give your life to the one who came to settle the relationship between you and God, who came to give you a fresh start by offering you the forgiveness of sins.
Father, I pray today that you would open the eyes of our hearts. I pray that you would help us to see ourselves as you see us. We’ve been set free. We’re dead to sin, and able to live for your glory through Jesus Christ.
Father, I pray that what’s actually true would become what’s really true in our lives. Help us to memorize the verse we’ve been given and obsess over this passage until we understand and live it. Help us to experience the freedom you’ve given us, we pray. In the name of our Savior and liberator, Jesus Christ. Amen.