Translating the Gospel to Our Lives
Part 2: Freed from Sin
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Last night we began our time together by looking at a quote by Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher from the 1600’s. And in this quote he talked about how as we go about our day to day activities, there are things in our lives that get in the way of our communion with God, causing us to, as he said, “forget God and our souls.” Our hearts become hardened and we struggle to move towards God. And then we talked about how the gospel is what brings us back to Him, causing our hearts to melt, reminding us of what God has done for us and therefore what that means in our lives, so that we are then able to move towards God once again.
And then we considered the subject of living out the gospel in our lives and what that means. If the gospel is the message of God reconciling us to Himself through the sacrifice of His son, doing for us what we were unable to do for ourselves, so that we could be made righteous…then, what does it mean for that message, for the gospel, to transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? And those questions are what we are addressing this weekend.
Last night, we looked at one way in which the message of the gospel is meant to transform our lives….by reminding us of God’s love for us. That His love for us is the same today as it was the day He sent His son to die for us. That nothing, not even our own failures, can keep God from loving us fully. And that when we understand and grasp God’s love for us it empowers us and gives us perspective, changing the way we live.
And now, today, we are going to talk about two more ways that the gospel speaks to our day to day lives, both stemming from our “union with Christ.” First, this morning we will talk about how through our union with Christ we are freed from sin. And then this afternoon we will look at how through our union with Christ we are also freed to live for God. We’re gonna be in Romans again, this time chapter 6. So go ahead and turn there if you would like to use your Bible, or you can follow along on the handout.
Just a little bit of context before we begin. Last night we looked at a passage in chapter 5 which spoke about how while we were still sinners God sent Christ to die for us, reconciling us to Him. The rest of the chapter, which we did not look at last night, talks about how all of mankind is considered “in Adam.” Adam was responsible for ushering in sin and death to the human race, so now all who come after him, all of mankind, is also going to face the same fate as Adam. So before Christ, our old status was “in Adam.”
But, then Paul goes on to tell us in Romans 5:17 (at the top of your handout)….
17 “…if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man [so through Adam and his trespass death reigns], how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
So just as sin and death entered the human race through one man, Adam, so now grace and righteousness have entered through one man, Jesus Christ. So those who receive God’s gift of grace and righteousness will no longer be considered “in Adam” but instead are seen as being “in Christ.”
And then, Paul also explains at the end of chapter 5 that while we were “in Adam” we were under the law which magnified our sin showing how powerless over it we were on our own. But now that we are “in Christ” we live under God’s gift of grace which leads to righteousness and eternal life. So entering into chapter 6, Paul’s now going to unfold what that means that we are now considered “in Christ,” what does that look like in our day to day lives?
So Paul is going to break this down for us, but I must confess, he doesn’t break it down very easily for us. Chapter 6 is a very hard passage to understand, like a lot of Romans is. Paul uses complex language and ideas, and the way he structures his explantation isn’t easy to follow. So as I walk us through this passage I am going to attempt to break it down even more for us to help us understand it more easily. As you’ll see on the handout.
If you can remember back to elementary school science class, they taught us the scientific method which you used to test a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a “proposed explanation for a phenomenon” (wiki). So, you start with a hypothesis, then you prove it through observations and experiments. Then once you have verified your hypothesis, it becomes theory. Well, as I studied this passage I began to see a similar structure in Paul’s explanation of what it means to be “in Christ.” The way Paul explains this phenomenon in the Christian life, is very similar to how one would explain a scientific theory using their observations as proof. So that’s kind of how I want us to see his explanation of our union with Christ in order to help us understand it a little better. I hope that makes sense!
So if you look at the handout, the first section on your handout is titled “Died with Christ, Raised with Christ”, verses 1-5, and this is what I’m calling Paul’s “theory”. Then the next section is the proof, verses 6-11, which I’ve broken into two observations, number 1 and 2. And then following that, in verses 12-14, Paul makes a proposition based on his theory, which I have titled “Living Freed from Sin.” So, he basically says, therefore, if what I just said is true, if his theory is true, then this must be true as well…and he touches on how to respond to his explanation of what it means to be “in Christ.” Make sense so far? I think it will make more sense as we go through it and hopefully, this will help all of us understand what he’s saying a little better.
Died with Christ, Raised with Christ
Ok, so let’s get started. Look at verses 1-5, this is Paul’s theory to explain what it means to be “in Christ”…
6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [by this he is referring to when they put their faith in Christ] were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
So this is Paul’s theory, that because we put our faith in Christ, we have died and been raised with Him. As verse 5 says, we are united with him in his death and united with him in his resurrection. This is what we call “union with Christ.” So, therefore, Paul says, because we are united with Christ, we no longer have to live in sin, but instead, we are able to “walk in the newness of life” – or- as the NIV puts it, we can “live a new life.” So, he’s saying, through our union with Christ, we are freed from sin in order to live a new life.
If Paul’s theory has come in response to a question, then basically the question he’s answering is the same question that we’re asking today, which is: How do we live out the gospel in our lives in light of our union with Christ? How does being “in Christ” transform our lives day to day?
Now, we might be tempted to kind of gloss over what Paul is saying because we’ve heard it before….like last night when we talked about God’s love for us. But, just like last night, we’ve got to fight that. Because what Paul is explaining here is, how to live out the gospel in our lives. If we long to be transformed by the gospel, then we need to understand what he’s saying here about our spiritual standing, which is what enables us to live out the gospel.
Last night we read in Romans 5 that before we were “in Christ” we were “powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God.” We had no hope. But now, not only has Christ done what we were unable to do, but through faith we are included in what He did. We too die to sin and to death, and now are raised to life. Romans 5:1 tells us that…
5:1 “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You see, this is our new spiritual status, we are now at peace with God “in Christ”, we are no longer His enemy “in Adam.” This is our status in Christ regardless of what our lives look like. Really think about that and let it sink in. If you have put your faith in Christ then this is the spiritual reality you now live in. For some, this might be very hard to comprehend. Because, its hard to imagine that our spiritual status could be reversed without us doing a thing but put our faith in Christ and what He did. But that is the truth of the gospel, that’s why it’s called good news! Jesus did what we could not do, so that in Him we could now have a relationship with God.
So, now that Paul has laid out his theory for us, that we have died and been raised with Christ in order that we no longer have to live in sin but can walk in the newness of life, he’s going to move on to show the proof of this. He’s going to help us to understand why this must be true. Look at verses 6 and 7…
1. Died with Christ: Freed from Sin (verses 6-7):
6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Paul begins his observation in verse 6, by describing what dies when we die with Christ…
- First he says our “old self” is crucified. What is our old self? What is Paul referring to here? Well, it’s what he just talked about…It’s who we were when we were “in Adam.” Remember, chapter 5 described this, we were sinners, ungodly, unable to uphold the law, enemies of God. So what Paul is explaining is that when we die with Christ our old status dies as well. When we die with Christ, before God we are no longer helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God.
- Then he says, our old self dies in order that “our body of sin” is brought to nothing. Another translation I like to look at is the New English Translation (NET), and it says that our old self dies “so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us.” This statement is truly amazing. It’s a game changer. What it’s telling us is not that we are now without sin, but that now the sin nature that controlled us and dominated us, no longer has that power over us.
- Try to picture that. On the cross, not only did our spiritual status “in Adam” get crucified, but also sin’s rule over our physical bodies was broken. Christ defeated sin’s rule over our bodies, as Paul says here in the end of verse 6, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
And then in verse 7, Paul simply says, if we have died to sin with Christ, then we have been set free from sin. It no longer rules over us so we are no longer obligated to do what it says.
Imagine what this means for you in your life. Think of your “old self” “in Adam” and think of how that is manifested in your life. Perhaps you came to Christ a little later in life and you can actually remember what you were like apart from Christ. Or maybe you simply see it now in the sins you are most prone to, most tempted to? Who are you when you give in to sin’s temptations?
Example: My “old self”
I became a believer when I was 14 and had been raised in a good, but worldly and non-Christian home. So not only did I have a big conversion when I came to the faith, but I have also spent the years since recognizing all the ways that a non-Christ-centered childhood have affected me. When I picture myself without Christ of course I picture the things I did, outwardly, like drinking, smoking, shoplifting, skipping school, I was quite a rebel….but even more, I picture my heart before Christ, my desire to be better than others, to get my way, to put myself first. I picture the cruel and malicious thoughts I had towards people and how tearing others down made me feel better about myself. I remember what it was like to feel hopeless and alone, and to think that life was about what you achieved and acquired. And these are still the sins I am prone to, these are still the sins that tempt me. But they are also my “old self,” what I was in bondage to before Christ.
So think about this in your life. Picture this in your mind, close your eyes if that helps. If you remember yourself before Christ, what were you like? Or think of yourself today, when you are at your worst, living in selfishness and sin, what does that look like?
- Do you seek to destroy others through slander and gossip? Do you find joy when others fail or face misfortune?
- Do you covet what others have and resent God for what He has or hasn’t given you?
- Do you strive to be accepted by others? Do you make possessions and appearance a priority in your life? Is your identity grounded in worldly things?
- Do you water down your faith in order to be more comfortable in this world and to not stand out?
The list goes on and on…. Now picture that person who you are without Christ, your old self, your sin nature, being nailed to the cross, and dying with Christ. The truth is, when you were united with Christ through faith, that is what happened. Your body of sin, your old self, it’s control over you, died with Christ. And the result is that you are no longer enslaved by your old self and sin. Your body of sin was rendered powerless, it no longer controls you or dominates you. You no longer have to give in and do what it says, you have been set free from sin’s control over you.
2. Raised with Christ: Alive to God (verses 8-11):
The second half of Paul’s proof that he emphasizes next is that not only do we die, but we also live. He says, starting in verse 8…
8 “Now 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 For 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.”
Paul makes a very interesting observation here to prove his point. He explains that if Christ died and was raised from the dead, then it means he can’t go back and die again. Why? Because, it says, he mastered death, so that means, death can no longer master him. So when He died to sin it was complete and final, so that now, He lives for God. If He can’t be dead, then he must be alive, there’s no other option, right?!. Does that make sense?
So then in verse 11, Paul explains that if we have also died with Christ and been raised with Christ, then the same is true for us. He says we must consider ourselves in the same light, “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This means that in Christ, we too have mastered sin and death, and just as Christ can’t go back, neither can we. That “old self” that died on the cross with Christ can never come back to life. So, just like Christ, we must live! In Christ, we have died to sin once for all, it can never again have dominion over us. And therefore, we now live lives for God. As Paul says, we are alive to God.
So just to summarize this so far.
- First, Paul explains that along with Christ we have died to sin and it no longer has control over us.
- Then he adds that that death was final. So no matter what, sin can no longer be our master again, it can no longer control and dominate us. Which means, our new status of being “alive to God in Christ Jesus” is also final. Nothing can change that. Just like Christ, the life we now live we live for God.
So these are Paul’s two “proofs” he offers to show us that “in Christ” we have died and been raised with Christ so we no longer have to live in sin, but instead, we are able to live a new life.
Living Freed from Sin
Now the problem for us as we hear this, is that those sins that represent our “old self” are still the sins we struggle with today, “in Christ.” So if our “old self” was nailed to the cross, and died with Christ, and can no longer master us, then why do we still sin? Why does it not feel as if we are freed from sin’s control over us? This is what Paul is about to explain. And if you remember the new way I offered for us to view this passage, this section would be his final proposition. Basically he is saying, if what I said is true, then this must follow. Look at verse 12-14, he says….
6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Example: Abort mission!
When I was just out of college a friend of mine was starting her career in Dallas working for a large firm. And of course, there were lots of good looking men around her to develop crushes on. And eventually she developed a rather large crush on one guy she worked with who was a few years older than her. And as all girls do, during the work day she would find herself taking bathroom breaks so that she might run into him, maybe taking the long way back to her desk so she could walk by his, and sitting at her desk day dreaming about him instead of working. So we started a little email exchange during the work day to help her stay focused and keep her heart grounded. Basically anytime she started to day dream or make a plan to do a walk about to see him, she would shoot an email to me telling me what was going through her head. And then, all I would do was respond with two words: Abort Mission!!! And that’s really all she needed to wake her up and get her back on track.
In a sense, that is what Paul is saying here to the Romans. He’s saying, abort mission! Do not carry out these wrong desires, do not do what you are no longer obligated to do. Like a child Paul is saying to them, sin is not the boss of you so you don’t have to do what it says! When you sense your old self making a comeback, recognize this and abort mission, turn and run. Here Paul explains to them the two ways in which they act as if sin is still their master.
- First, in verse 12, he says, Do not let sin reign, or dominate, you anymore, so that you live in it’s ways and obey it. – The key word here is “let.” Paul is saying, you have been freed from sin, so when you do what sin says, you are “letting” it dominate you! The truth is, once we are in Christ, when we continue to live in sin, when we continue to obey sin’s passions, we are choosing to live under it’s rule instead of living in our new status as freed from sin in Christ.
- Secondly, in verse 13, he says, Do not present, or offer, your self as an instrument of unrighteousness, or sin. – So in verse 12 he commanded them to not continue to live as if sin still ruled over them, and now in verse 13 he also tells them to not return to their sin. Sin is no longer your master so don’t return to it.
So why do we still sin? Why does it not feel as if we are freed from sin’s control over us? Paul says it’s because we do not live as if we are free, instead we let sin continue to rule over us and we return to it, giving ourselves to it.
Example: Kutty in India (IJM Newsletter, Spring 2012)
Recently I received a quarterly update from the ministry of IJM, International Justice Mission, which if you’re not familiar with, is one of the world’s largest agencies fighting slavery in the world today. In this newsletter it tells the story of a man in India named Kutty who had been enslaved in a rice mill along with his wife and 4 children. He talks about what it was like to be a slave…how even when they were sick they had to work, and how they were never allowed to return to their village to visit their friends and family. Their owner truly ruled over them so that they had to do whatever he said, they belonged to him.
But in 2008, Kutty and his family were rescued from slavery. IJM partnered with the local government to set him free. So, he was legally and officially set free from his owner’s rule over him. So the story goes on to talk about how he returned to life as a free man, he secured a good job, and he even ran for public office so he could fight injustice and help others have a better life as well.
But, I want you to imagine how you would have responded, if after this great story of a man being freed from slavery, instead of telling you that he went on to live as a freed man, what if I told you that even though he was free he chose to return to his previous master, offering himself to him as if he still owned him? What if I told you that despite his legal status as a free man, he chose to live like a slave, oppressed and abused? What would you say to him if you had a chance to talk face to face with him after hearing that?
This is exactly what Paul is addressing with the Romans, and that is exactly what many of us do. We live like we are still slaves, we return to our sin nature as if it still has dominion over us. But as Paul explained, we are legally free from sin’s rule over us. In Christ, we are dead to sin, it is no longer our master. And no matter what, it can never rule over us again. Just as it would be absurd for a man like Kutty to continue to live as a slave, it’s absurd for us to continue living as if we are still slaves to sin. Just as Kutty was freed in order to live a new life, so are we. We have been freed so that we can now live for God in Christ. So Paul says, do not act like a slave anymore and do not return to slavery! But instead, live for God, offer yourselves to Him.
In the second half of verse 13, Paul says…
- Present yourself to God as one who is alive from the dead, as one who is free. In other words, live like a free person because you are a free person! You were once dead, but now you are alive!
- And then he says, instead of offering yourself to sin, offer yourself to God to be used for righteousness.
Then in verse 14, Paul tells them, sin is no longer your master, it no longer has dominion over you, because you are no longer under law, but under grace.
- This is a fact. Whether Kutty lived like it or not, the fact was he was a free man. And this is the same reality that we have in Christ, whether we live like it or not.
- Christ has redeemed the law, so we now live under the “rules” of grace and not of sin. We are now able to live for God, because of His gift of grace, offering ourselves to Him to be used for righteousness.
Galatians 5:1 is one of my favorite verses because it reminds us of this beautiful reality in our lives…
5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)
Kutty’s story is a picture for us of what this looks like. He was set free, and so he chose to live in his freedom, to stand firm. He did not allow himself to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery, but instead he chose to live as a free man, reflecting what had been done for him. Are you living a life that reflects the freedom you have in Christ? Do you live in a way that others would recognize that “in Christ” you have been freed from the bondage of sin?
As we end this morning, I want us to return to our original question that we’re asking this weekend, How does the gospel speak to our lives today? And so this morning, How do we live out the gospel in our lives in light of our union with Christ and our freedom from sin? How does being freed from sin transform our lives day to day?
It means not just understanding our new standing “in Christ,” but also living in that truth. Christ didn’t die for us to give us good theology, He died for us to change our lives. He died to free us from the control of sin so that we would live a new life here on earth. And as Paul says, that involves us making active choices to not live like a slave. Choosing to not return to slavery.
- Right now, in your day to day life, would you say you are living freed from the control of sin?
- Or have you returned to sin as if you are still in bondage?
- Do you claim each day the freedom you have in Christ so that you might “walk in the newness of life”?
We are freed in Christ, and part of that freedom is being able to say no to sin because of the grace of God in our lives. And the other part is being free to say yes to God, which is what we are going to be talking about this afternoon.
Questions for Group Discussion & Personal Reflection:
- What does our “old self” before Christ look like, generally and specifically? Now think about your “old self” and list or describe that person. Go through this list and recognize that God has freed you from the control of each one.
- Why do we return to sin after we have been freed from it? Why is sin still attractive to us?
- Looking at the list you just made, which sins do you struggle most to live free of? What are the sins that you tend to return to and why?
- Discuss what it looks like, day to day, to live freed from sin. How can we keep ourselves from letting sin continue to rule over us or from returning to sin?
- Using one or two of these examples in your own life, in those areas how can you offer yourself to God instead, to be used for righteousness?