Date: 24 Jul 2016
Text: Romans 5:20-6:14
I heard the story recently of someone who played the Cornet in an orchestra in Leicester. It seems that one evening this lady, who is a Christian, had gone to a rehearsal of a new arrangement of Amazing Grace. On arrival the Conductor was giving out the various music parts to the members of the orchestra: violins, cellos, violas and so on. He suddenly ran out of music and so shouted to the brass section, “Sorry but we’ve run out of Amazing Grace”. An amusing story but one that can never happen with God; His amazing grace is available in never ending abundance.
The passage that I want us to look at this morning is a passage of contrasts; contrasts between our old life in sin and our new life in righteousness; contrasts between death and life. Through all this the overriding factor is grace; that amazing free and unmerited gift of God that we most certainly do not deserve.
In the earlier verses, 5:1-19, we learned a number of things about our relationship with God through Jesus. When we come to faith through the grace of God, we receive not only the gift of the Holy Spirit but also the gifts of peace with God, not to be confused with the peace of God; we have access to God through His great grace, and we have the hope of sharing in the glory of God. Let me remind you that this hope is not a forlorn hope but an assurance that we will definitely share the glory of God when we go to be with Him. Paul reminds us in 5:8 that Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins; there can be no greater gift than that. We are further reminded in 5:12-14 that sin and death are very closely linked together and were brought into the world by the original sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. From that moment on, ever since that act of disobedience by Adam, the world has been swamped by sin. Only God can forgive us for that sin and repair the enmity that exists between us; there is nothing that we can do, it is all from God. In 5:15 we learn that it is grace that is the overwhelming factor in all that God does for us. However much sin there is and however bad an effect it has, it is greatly exceeded by the grace that God bestows on us. It is almost as if grace overflows as God pours it into our lives; a thought that very much reminds me of Psalm 23:5b where David says, “my cup overflows”; as Christians our cup overflows with God’s grace.
The opening clause in verse 5:20, certainly in the NIV, may seem at first reading to be a bit complicated and difficult to understand. You could read it that God gave His Law to Moses so that everyone could sin more, yet that doesn’t really make sense since God doesn’t want us to sin; He abhors sin and wants us to come to faith in Jesus and thereby stop sinning as a result. A better and easier-to-understand translation comes from the Bible Society which puts 5:20a this way, “When the Law came, all the wrongdoing which had previously gone unnoticed suddenly became more apparent.” We learned from 5:13 that during the period from Adam to Moses there was no Law and yet sin still existed and brought with it death. Because there was no Law no one knew that they were committing a sin of any description. Suddenly the introduction of the Law identified the sins that had been committed over a long period of time and were still being committed. As the Bible Society translation puts it, such sins had “previously gone unnoticed”. Without the Law there was nothing to measure human behaviour against; there was no yardstick or moral guide to help people realise and understand that they were sinners. Rather interestingly the Jews desired to live their lives in accordance with the Law as a way of obtaining salvation as part of their Old Covenant understanding. Since, as a result of Jesus dying on the cross, we have the New Covenant we know that salvation and forgiveness for sin is only available through the grace of God. However, when God gave Moses the Law the Jews were able to compare their behaviour against God’s Law and consequently see that they were not living up to the standards that God was looking for. Suddenly the sins that were being committed became more apparent. In that way it could be said that sin increased. I’ve no doubt though that sin did increase in a real sense and may have quite possibly got worse in its nature and it seems to me that sin has been increasing ever since!
Grace Over Sin
I said earlier that grace was an overriding, or perhaps overwhelming, factor; it is grace that will always override sin. Paul actually says in 5:20b, “... where sin increased, grace increased all the more”. No matter how much sin there was there was always more grace. The temptation for believers became therefore to sin more so that there was more grace given. Paul actually asks the question, “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” (6:1). That seems a reasonable question to ask given that grace is that most wonderful of gifts given by God, second only to Jesus dying for us on the cross of Calvary. Let’s face it, we could probably all do with more grace in our lives couldn’t we? By implication that means that to receive even more grace we should sin even more. Does that seem logical or sensible? Paul doesn’t think it does since he answers his own question with an emphatic, “By no means!” (6:2). By way of reminding us, Paul continues in 6:2 by pointing out that having put our faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, “we are those who have died to sin”. Given that that is the case, he goes on to ask a further rhetorical question, “how can we live in it [that is sin] any longer?”
Baptised Into Christ
Having asked that question, Paul moves on in 6:3-7 to give us a full explanation of why and how we have died to sin, and why, therefore, we should sin no more. The act of baptism is an important step in any believer’s faith and walk with Jesus. It isn’t mandatory as there are many who find themselves in a position where they cannot be baptised; they may be disabled; they may be old and confined to bed; or they may not fully appreciate the reasoning behind the need to be baptised. It is useful for us to understand at this stage that the original Greek word Paul uses when he talks of baptism, means to be immersed or covered over. Now obviously when we are baptised as believers we are immersed in water. However, we may be able to see that we may also be immersed in the Holy Spirit. Now I’m not suggesting that baptism by immersion in water should be ignored. What I am saying is that if it is not possible then baptism in and by the Holy Spirit can have the same effect. Baptism by immersion is an act of obedience and something that all believers should endeavour to comply with. It is important to note however, that the pattern in the New Testament was different to the pattern for today. In New Testament times someone coming to faith would be baptised almost immediately. In today’s world new believers tend to wait and study the topic of baptism before actually deciding to be baptised. From where I stand that seems to be a sensible option although again I’m not suggesting that it is a hard and fast ‘rule’ or pattern to be followed by everyone; we are all different and we all respond to God’s call in different ways.
What Paul is saying about baptism may appear quite extraordinary but nevertheless vital to our understanding of our new relationship with God through Jesus. The water in which we are baptised, and I’m referring to baptism by immersion here, represents the grave. As we go down into the water we are metaphorically being buried with Jesus; our old life of sin is over and is being buried in that water. As we come up out of the water we are resurrected with Jesus to share a new life in and with Him. In this way we are united with Jesus Christ; united in His death and united in His resurrected life.
Whichever form of baptism we consider, as part of that act of baptism, Paul helpfully explains that, “our old self was crucified with him” (6:6) and we are no longer slaves to sin. What a wonderful position in which to find ourselves; we have died and been set free from sin.
Live Under Grace
Before coming to faith in Christ we were unrepentant and active sinners doing whatever we fancied regardless of how sinful it was. Now because we have come to faith and have been forgiven by God, we have a new life; a life that is inextricably linked with the risen Jesus; a life that means that we should sin no more. Now, as we place our faith in Jesus and become His followers, we also belong to Him. That means that, as Paul tells us in Galatians 5:24, we “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”. As Christians we know that Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead. Having died on that cross of Calvary He was placed in a sealed and guarded tomb. On the third day He fulfilled His promise and rose from the dead leaving behind an empty cross and an empty grave. He is not there because He is not dead and is very much alive. Now, as Paul says very clearly in 6:8, “We died with Christ”. As He died to pay the price for our sins, or wrongdoing as the Bible Society translation puts it, we died with Him. If we believe and accept that as part of our faith then we are half way there. The second part of all this is that since He rose from the grave so did we and “we also live with Him”.
Given all that, it seems reasonable for Paul to suggest that since Jesus was raised from the dead, He cannot die again because death no longer has any control over Him. In dying, Jesus has not only defeated death but He has also defeated sin once and for all and it too no longer has any hold over Him. Because we have placed our faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour we are identified with Him in His death and resurrection, and we can now view ourselves as being “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11). What a wonderful position to be in; alive in Christ Jesus. In that new life we have all that we can ever need or want.
Just listen to these wonderful words that Paul wrote to the Ephesians; they surely give us a great view of what is to come, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith...” (Ephesians 2:4-8a).
As those beautiful verses make clear, all of this has come about because of God’s amazing grace; without that grace we would be lost forever, lost in our own sinful little world. Now we are alive for ever and will live with Jesus “in the heavenly realms”. What more can a Christian desire? If you can think of anything then please let me know because personally I can’t think of anything better than spending eternity with Jesus in the heavenly realms.
Hopefully what Paul has said makes it obvious that we shouldn’t let sin back into the driving seat of our lives; we should no longer let sin take us where we don’t want to go; we should only be led by Jesus and not by the enemy. Rather than being used “as an instrument of wickedness” (6:13) we should let Christ and the grace of God rule our lives. Not only that but we should offer ourselves to God for Him to decide how we could and should serve Him. Never forget that each and every one of us as believers has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit and it is a gift that we should use in the service of God our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ His Son.
Paul’s parting shot in 6:14b is perhaps the most important reminder that he could give, “you are not under the law, but under grace”. We are now under grace because grace overcomes sin; it flows from God like a clear mountain stream, never ending, ever cleansing and ever refreshing. Who would want to give that up to live under the control and mastery of sin?
That is quite some passage! Paul highlights for us the contrasts between our old lives in sin and our new lives in righteousness; between the death that sin brings and the life that Jesus Christ brings. Interweaved with all this is God’s grace, the unmerited gift that He gives us when we come to faith in His Son. Whereas in our lives before coming to faith we were controlled by sin, now in our new lives united with Christ we are under God’s grace. There can be no better place to be. If you aren’t already experiencing God’s grace then ask yourself why, why aren’t I receiving the grace of God that Paul is talking about here? Is it because you are still living the old life of sin that Jesus died to take you away from? If so then I suggest that you seek God’s face and ask for His forgiveness. At last night’s (23 Jul 2016) CMM performance, I picked up a pamphlet written by Peter Lawrence, the former Vicar of Christ Church, Birney Lane. Towards the end of that pamphlet, Peter wrote these wonderful words, “... everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord has stepped on to the escalator of grace, which leads to heaven where a place is waiting for them.” If you don’t know Him as Lord and Saviour, then why not turn to Him now, receive new life in Him and be filled with God’s grace before it is too late; there is a place in heaven waiting for you.