June 30 2019 A Different World Martin Baker
1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Over these last weeks we have been looking at some of the key themes in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
He writes to a group who are facing two particular challenges. These Christians are made up of Jewish Christians. Those who were brought up knowing all the rules and laws associated with the torah. And then there are the gentile Christians. Those who have been worshipping other gods – those who know little about the history of the Jewish people. Both groups have encountered the teachings of Jesus. Both have discovered a new unity in the work of the Gospel and in the power of what they and we call the Holy Spirit. And both are trying to work out how to get along together.
Paul makes the point again and again that we are untied across our differences. That come into a restored relationship with God simply by accepting the love God has for us shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
The second challenge is that the Christians he was writing to in Rome are facing persecution. The community is stressed and Paul keeps affirming that in the face of everything not even torture or death can separate us from God’s love. That we have been raised with Jesus. Brought from death to life.
This morning Paul uses this very dense and intense language to speak about the nature of this new life we find in Christ.
Paul, as a Jew, would have celebrated Passover each year. The story of God bringing the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. The question that people asked way back then, a similar question to what Paul is asking today. How do you stop acting like a slave? Thinking like a slave, seeing the world in the way a slave would see the world? Paul says this morning we have no longer been enslaved to sin.
So, imagine, if you go overseas and talk about wearing your jandals and taking a chilly bin to the beach no one knows that you are talking about.
Lollies, chips, going to the dairy, togs. Yeah Nah, going flat out, take a squiz, no worries, it looks a bit munted, she’ll be right, be stoked, getting some hokey pokey. L and P. C, Kia-ora. Haere mai. Yeah right.
If you have just arrived in New Zealand, Aotearoa, it’s quite likely that you would have no real understanding of what these words or phrases might mean.
Paul in his letter to the Romans wants us to understand that we turn, as we repent, and receive God’s goodness and love, when we are baptised as the symbol of that commitment and faith, we move to live a new life. A different life in a different land, with a different language .
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his
This morning’s reading starts with Paul asking a question - What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?
How can we who died to sin go on living in it?
I live in North Road and I have quite a lot of evening meetings and events I attend.
That means that I drive through the roundabout. I think they might use the roundabout for training police officers to use breathalyser equipment. Because I get breathalysed frequently. (Along with everyone else of course!) About a year ago I was attending a meeting at Kawakawa Bay and I was breathalysed on the way there, breathalysed at Kawakawa Bay, and then breathalysed on the way back. Someone here will beat it but three times in one night is my record anyway. And yes I got a green each time.
If we think about what Paul is saying? 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
So what we have to imagine are a couple of scenarios here. If I blew a red instead of a green what could I say to get me out of the situation? What would be an excuse? If I said officer I’m a good person, I’m not a bad person. I treat animals and children kindly, I try to recycle. I drive a car that is partly electric. Would he or she, say, ‘oh that’s okay just carry on?’ Or if I said I’m a minister that's my church over there I don’t have far to go, would the officer say ‘I quite understand off you go?’
I suspect, and in a way I hope, that there is nothing I could say, short of claiming some strange metabolic condition which converted by breath into alcohol, I suspect there is nothing I could say that would stop me being prosecuted. No matter how good I was, no matter how good and kind the police officer was we are both subject to the law.
Or imagine the second scenario. I’m getting my normal breathalyser check and I just fail it. Just a little bit red on the breathalyser. The officer says I’ll let you off. I like you and you’re only a little bit over the limit. And an hour later I come back and I am really over the limit this time. And the officer asks what are you doing? And I say well you were good to let me off when I was a little bit over the limit but now I am really in the red and if you let me off again that will show everyone that you are an even better person.
1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?
What Paul is saying to us, speaking to us is about a different world we enter into with Christ. To extend the analogy - a world in which there are neither drunk drivers nor the need for police officers.
6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Of course Paul realises that we are all drawn back into sin, all drawn back into situations which make us subject to the law, but he is saying that your point of perspective now, the world in which you have now been raised, been born into, the world in which you occupy, is a world in which God's love forgiveness and grace are the defining qualities, the particular language of God’s kingdom – even if we all, at times cross back into that land of law and sin. We see our lives, and these things, from a fundamentally different place.
12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Paul sees two realities these two worlds at play, at the same time. First, Jesus is united with us in our humanity, which exists in a world where sin and death have all the power. When Paul says that our old humanity was crucified with him, this claim finds its grounds in the fact that Jesus is himself a participant in this humanity that died on the cross. Second, however, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, so that we, too, can be delivered from the power of sin and death.
For a short period of time I provided support for a friend of mine who had overcome an opiate addiction.
He had been caught breaking into a chemist shop and had spent a period in prison.
His life had been transformed through the support he received from Narcotics Anonymous. Similar to Alcoholics anonymous.
Some of you might know the 12 steps to recovery better than I do.
The 12 steps have helped countless people suffering from alcoholism or addiction – and I would commend these groups for anyone struggling with an addiction. In many ways they are a practical application of what Paul is talking about. If we take just the first 3 steps, for example.
1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
You learn that your life can turn from hopeless to hopeful – because there is a stronger Power outside of yourself that is able to piece your life back together and renew you.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
I don’t think it was ever an easy thing for my friend to admit to himself that he had a problem. It was even harder for him to admit to others. He realised that he needed to do this as part of his healing.
It is not easy for any of us to speak about the things we have done that have hurt or damaged others or damaged our relationships to God.
Last week I spoke about being hit by a wave as I was coming into shore on my kayak. It was completely avoidable, reflected my inattention, my lack of experience. Someone who is a far better kayaker than me who I told this story to, said that he too had been knocked out of his kayak under very similar circumstances. He told me how to avoid that in the future. What he had learned.
Paul speaks to us as a community gathered in our shared realisation that we have made mistakes, we have done things that are damaging, we have been motivated by things quite different from the love and grace that we know in Jesus.
But we are also people who gather to celebrate a freedom, a love, a restoration which no one can take away.
To learn a new language, to live in a different place, to act in a way that makes real a new certainty in our lives.
To live as resurrection people
Paul says we have been brought from death to life.
He says we have been ushered into the life of the new humanity. And he assures us that will live and celebrate with God forever.
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