Dying with Christ, Being Raised with Christ

This past Sunday Pastor Michael preached on Romans 6:1-11, a sermon entitled, “In Newness of Life.” Here’s the full audio of the sermon:

Here’s a written excerpt:

To say that “we’re saved by grace therefore we can sin if we want” makes no sense—because salvation is salvation from sin. Sin is “destroyed” in Christ, Paul says here. In Christ we are “freed from sin,” Paul says. Salvation is salvation from sin.

This is a crucially important thing for us to grasp. We hear people speak about being saved from hell, or being saved from God’s judgment, or similar ideas. But the Bible speaks about salvation as being saved from sin and its resulting death. This is our enemy—not any other flesh-and-blood human being, but our own sin and all its consequences—and so this is what we need to be rescued from. Salvation is salvation from sin.

All the ways we cause harm to others, to the rest of creation, even to ourselves, by our thoughts and words and actions—that is sin. The pride that makes us think of ourselves as superior to others. The greed that motivates us to want more and more and always more, at the expense of others. The selfishness that keeps us from showing compassion to others. The lust that makes us want to possess others simply to satisfy our own desires. The fear that keeps us separate from others, and so nurtures prejudice and bigotry against them.

All these things and more are sin, and when they inhabit our lives they bring about a kind of inner death: they leave us awash in guilt and shame, filled with a sense of futility, disconnected from God and others. These sins can even bring about a more direct, more visible kind of death: devastation of our planet, damage to the health and wellbeing of others, even ourselves. All this death is, as Paul puts it later in Romans 6, the wages we get paid for our own sin.

This is what we need salvation from—and this is just the salvation Paul says God gives us in Jesus. In Jesus we can be delivered from all these ways we bring harm to our world, others, and ourselves. In Jesus we can be kept from experiencing all that guilt and shame and futility and devastation and destruction and more—that deep death that results from our harmful sins.

So, to say that “we’re saved by grace therefore we can sin if we want” makes no sense—because salvation is salvation from sin. If we think we can sin all we want because we’re saved, it shows we’ve missed the whole point—because salvation is salvation from sin.

Once we get that straight, then we can approach the question in the right way. The real question is not, “If we’re saved by grace, what’s to keep us from sinning?” The real question is, “We are saved by grace from sin—so how do we live that out in our lives?”

And Paul’s answer to this question is essentially this: “We need to take seriously the call of Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.”

God has done something radical, something momentous, something earth-shattering in Jesus. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are like a boulder dropped in the pool of our complacent, self-centred existence. Jesus has turned everything upside down and so made everything right-side up. A whole way of being human in the world has been crucified with Jesus, and a new way of being human in the world has been brought to life in Jesus.

But this new reality requires us to participate with Jesus in his death and so enter into Jesus’ resurrection life. It requires us to die to our own selfish desires and live to God’s ways of holy love. It requires us, as Paul puts it, to be crucified with Christ so that Christ lives in us. It requires us, in other words, to take seriously the call of Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.

I’ve always found Ephesians 4 to be helpful for understanding what this looks like in practical terms. Here’s how Ephesians 4:21-24 introduces this:

For surely you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, the old humanity, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new humanity, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

This “being crucified with Christ and being raised with Christ,” this “denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Jesus,” this involves a regular, daily taking off and a putting on, like changing clothes.

We deliberately put aside the old way of being human, the harmful ways of thinking and speaking and acting that we’re so inclined toward: our pride, our greed, our selfishness, our lust, our fear, and more.

This means regular self-examination, taking stock of our motives, all our inner self-talk, our habits of thought, and so on, and intentionally developing healthy ways of thinking—a renewal in the spirit of our minds.

And then we deliberately take on these healthy ways of thinking, and the beneficial ways of speaking and acting that grow out of them, the new way of being human, in order to replace the harmful things we have set aside: humility instead of pride, generosity instead of greed, other-focus instead of selfishness, compassion instead of lust, trust instead of fear, and so on.

The crucified life is an exchanged life: exchanging old for new, harmful for healthy, sinful for righteous, rooted deep in the motives and habits of the mind. Indeed, this is exactly where Ephesians 4 continues. Notice the exchange being described throughout:

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

And so, to the real question, “We are saved by grace from sin—how do we live that out in our lives?” Paul gives a very practical, but very difficult answer: “We need to take seriously the call of Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him”—and this means daily, deliberately putting aside our harmful ways of thinking and living and putting in their place healthy, beneficial habits of thought and life.

The result, as God’s Spirit works in our life, shaping us from the inside out? Nothing less than a new way of being human in the world. It’s the way of holy love marked out by Jesus himself. And it’s the only way for us to experience salvation from sin and death not just for ourselves, but for the entire world.

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