The Goals of Grace
June 3, 2007 | Brian Bill
I’m reminded of the pastor who was searching for something in his wife’s closet when he came across a small wooden box, tucked away in a remote corner. When he opened the lid, he was surprised to find nearly $200 in cash, along with two eggs. Curious, he took the box to his wife. She smiled awkwardly and said, “Oh, I figured you’d find that some day. Over the years, whenever you’d preach a bad sermon, I’d place an egg in the box.” The pastor looked at the two eggs in the box and thought to himself, “After twenty years of preaching and only two eggs, that’s not too bad!” But then he asked, “But what about the $200? Where did that come from?” To which she explained, “Whenever I collected a dozen eggs, I would sell them and put the money in the box.” I don’t know why you think that’s so funny!
Everything up to now has been foundational and propositional. From here on we move to faith and practice. There are some very important things we must know if we ever hope to grow. Christian living is always dependent upon Christian learning because duty follows doctrine. We’re going to spend most of our time in Romans 6:11-13, but let’s begin by looking at verses 8-10 to see the what. This is essentially a reiteration of the first seven verses: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
While this is a difficult concept to grasp, in a very real sense, born-again believers have died with Christ, we live with Christ, and we are raised with Christ. Our identification with Him is the basis of our belief and our behavior. The word “with” speaks of an intimate union; we died united with Him and we live united with Him.
The main point of these three verses is that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and as a result, so have we. Verse 10 says that “He died to sin once for all…” This is very similar to Hebrews 10:10 which says, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Jesus died “once for all,” which means there is no need for him to do it again, and no requirement for us to do it either. His work on the cross is finished and completed. Hebrews 10:12 continues this thought: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
With that as background to the what, let’s move to the how. Notice this key linking phrase in Romans 6:11: “In the same way…” Let me make something very clear. Our practice must be rooted in our position with Christ. Everything comes down to Christ and His finished work on the cross, and our identification with Him. This is quite different from “positive thinking” or even “possibility thinking.” I like to call it “positional thinking” because Paul is going to give us three very practical steps that are rooted in the cross of Christ. We’re going to picture these steps by using three common road signs.
1. CAUTION SIGN.
This sign slows us down in order to get our attention. It might be difficult to believe but this is the first command in the entire book of Romans! Look at verse 11: “…Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The word “count” is very rich and literally means “to make a mental calculation.” It’s actually an accounting term for calculating and computing. In Paul’s day it was used when someone put something into your account. “Count yourselves…” is a present imperative, urging us to constantly view ourselves in this light.
We are commanded to count two things to be true: First, we are dead to sin; second, we are alive to God. These truths must be considered carefully and continually. They’re already true but now must be appropriated and applied in order for them to be activated in our lives. The idea is that we are to keep on counting ourselves to be what God says we are by putting the truths of the Book of Romans into the calculator of our minds.
Let’s flesh this out. When you’re faced with a temptation, respond to it as a dead man would. You might want to say these words out loud: “I count myself crucified with Christ and therefore I am dead to this sin and alive to God. I consult my account and know that what Jesus has accomplished has been credited to me. I appropriate it and apply it to this situation.” We need to talk theology to ourselves. Augustine, who was converted as an adult, was once approached by the woman who had been his mistress. He turned and walked away quickly but she called out after him, “Augustine, it’s me! It’s me!” Quickening his pace, this new believer called back over his shoulder, “Yes, I know, but it’s no longer me!”
This past week the lights went out in our laundry room. I flipped the switch a couple times and noticed a strange sound in the switch so I assumed that something was seriously wrong. I know I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch but I did go downstairs and check the circuit breaker and it was fine. Over the next two days I would go by the switch and flip it but nothing happened – I guess I was hoping it would just start working on its own. I figured this was a big problem but since I’m no electrician I just ignored it. Finally, Beth asked if I had checked the light bulbs. I told her I thought it was a much bigger issue than that but when she wasn’t looking I decided to put some new bulbs in. Amazingly, we have lights again! You see, what I had failed to do was consider carefully what the problem might be. My problem was that I had a “short” in my thinking.
Brothers and sisters, we must carefully consider what Jesus has done. And I can tell you that there is no short-circuit! You don’t have to live in the dark, or stumble around in your Christian life. Everything’s already been done – you can count on it.
2. STOP SIGN.
We’ve been transferred to a new kingdom so we should no longer allow sin to have supremacy in our lives
After counting on what Christ has done, we can stop allowing sin to reign supreme in our lives. We see this in verse 12: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” We’re not only to be cautious as we count on Christ, we’re also to stop letting sin reign in our lives. We see that in the use of the word “therefore.” As a consequence of our calculating and counting, stop allowing sin to rule as king in your life. That’s what the word “reign” means. We’ve been transferred to a new kingdom so we should no longer allow sin to have supremacy in our lives.
God had warned Cain about sin’s desire to dominate in Genesis 4:8: “…But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” King David was cognizant of this in Psalm 19:13: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” Psalm 119:133 is a prayer that we should all pray every day: “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.”
The reason we must be vigilant about sin is because if we’re not, it will seek supremacy in our lives. Jesus put it this way in John 8:34: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Pastor Jeff shared something with me that he read in a book in which a pastor described how Christians often approach sin. We look up to God and in essence say something like this: “God, I just need a time-out. I’m going to do this little sin-thing for a little while, but I’ll be back.” And then we go off and sin and then come back and ask for forgiveness, or not. I don’t know how to say it any stronger than this: Don’t excuse sin, refuse it! Don’t dabble in it because sin will always take you further than you were planning to go and it will keep you longer than you were planning to stay. Sin entices and then it enslaves.
Some of us are way too cozy with sin. Sure, we’re saved but frankly not much has happened since our conversion. Instead of fighting, we often fall. That reminds me of the little boy who fell out of bed one night. His mom heard him crying, ran into the bedroom, picked him up and put him back in bed. After tucking him in, she asked, “Honey, why did you fall out of bed?” To which he answered, “I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.” Friend, are you staying too close to where you got in? It’s time to stop so we can start knowing, growing and showing. First, count on Christ. Second, stop sinning. And finally yield your body to Christ.
3. YIELD SIGN.
Verse 13: “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.” Paul says it both negatively: “Do not offer” and positively: “but rather offer.” To “offer” means to place at someone’s disposal and was used of presenting offerings for sacrifice and therefore has the idea of yielding, or “relinquishing one’s grip.”
What’s he talking about specifically? Our body parts. Instead of yielding to our yearnings, we must yield every part of our body to Christ. The word “instruments” or “members” in some versions, means “weapons.” That means that our body parts are either weapons of wickedness or weapons of worshipful warfare. Because there’s a certain “gravity of depravity” which pulls us south spiritually, it’s critical that we offer our bodies to Him. If we don’t we’ll end up serving sin.
The order here is important. The caution sign tells us to keep on carefully considering our position in Christ. The stop sign signals that we must resist our rebellious ways. It’s only then that we’re able to yield. It’s a daunting responsibility to stop engaging in those sins that we have been falling into for years. The parts of our body can be used for rottenness or for righteousness. Spiritual victory won’t happen until our yielding becomes very particular and very personal, so let me ask you some particularly personal questions. Have you yielded every part of your body to the Lord?
- Mind. What thoughts are flying around right now? Colossians 3:2-3 says: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
- Heart. What do you value the most? On what are your emotions centered? Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
- Eyes. Have you been looking at things you should not be looking at? Men, yield your eyes to the Lord by making a covenant like Job did in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”
- Ears. Have I been listening to gossip, dirty jokes and slander? Proverbs 18:8: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
- Mouth. What comes out of my mouth most of the time? Proverbs 13:3: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
- Hands. Are you grasping the things of the world or are you using your hands to serve? God’s Team Livingston County would be a great place to start. Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”
- Feet. Are your feet taking you where you shouldn’t be going or are your soles surrendered to the Savior? Psalm 37:31: “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”
- Intimate Parts. I won’t go into detail here for the sake of our younger ears, but suffice it to say that Scripture is very clear in 1 Corinthians 6:13: “…the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” and in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 we’re told to “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
One pastor put it this way: When your lips become His, your eyes become His, your ears, your hands, your feet, all become His, do you know what’s going to happen? You’ll be His.” It ultimately comes down to a choice, doesn’t it?
I came across a true story from Preaching Today about a woman in Rwanda whose son was murdered in the genocide. This woman was very bitter and was filled with thoughts of revenge. She was determined to find out who killed her son so she could kill him. But one night she had a dream, and in that dream she saw the house of her enemy. She then heard God say, “Go into the house.” She said, “I don’t want to go into the house.” She eventually went in and God led her through many rooms and then to the foot of the stairs where He said, “I want you to go up the stairs.” To which she replied, “I don’t want to go up the stairs.” Finally she went up the stairs and opened the door at the top, only to find out that the door led into heaven. And then she realized that the path to heaven goes through the house of her enemy.
Two days later there was a knock on her door. She opens the door to find a young man, and he’s shaking. He says to her: “I am the man who killed your son. I place my life into your hands; whatever you want to do with me, I accept it. I have had no peace ever since I did what I did. If you want to kill me, you can kill me. If you want to turn me in to the authorities, turn me in to the authorities. Whatever you want—my life is in your hands.”
The woman replied, “I will not do any of this. But I have one request. You must now become my son.” She took him in and fed him at the table where she fed her son. He was the same size as her son, so he wore his clothes. He moved in and became a son to her because heaven passes through the house of her enemy. He still lives with her and now this woman travels around Rwanda, helping the whole nation deal with the issue of reconciliation, because heaven passes through the house of your enemy.
The only way she was able to do this was by giving her grudge to God. She yielded the memories in her mind, and offered up her rights for revenge that were hidden in her heart. Is there any part of you that you have not fully surrendered?
I’m reminded of the booklet called “My Heart Christ’s Home” which so graphically portrays how difficult it is for us to open every part of our lives to the Lord. We invite Jesus to come into our lives but we often struggle to open every closet and room to Him. After going through the different rooms in the house of his heart, Robert Boyd Munger writes this:
One day I found [Jesus] waiting for me at the door. An arresting look was in His eye. As I entered, He said to me, “There is a peculiar odor in the house. Something must be dead around here. It’s upstairs. I think it is in the hall closet.” As soon as He said this, I knew what He was talking about. There was a small closet up there on the hall landing, just a few feet square. In that closet, behind lock and key, I had one or two little personal things that I did not want anyone to know about. Certainly, I did not want Christ to see them. I knew they were dead and rotting things left over from my old life. I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit they were there.
Reluctantly, I went up with Him, and as we mounted the stairs the odor became stronger and stronger. He pointed to the door. I was angry. That’s the only way I can put it. I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the rec room, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet…
“I’ll give you the key,” I said sadly, “but you will have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven’t the strength to do it.” “Just give me the key,” He said. “Authorize me to take care of that closet and I will.” With trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it, walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting in there, and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it. It was done in a moment’s time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!
A thought came to me. “Lord, is there any chance that you would take over the management of the whole house and operate it for me as you did that closet? Would you take the responsibility to keep my life what it ought to be?” His face lit up as He replied, “I’d love to! That is what I want to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. Let me do it through you and for you. That is the way.” “But,” He added slowly, “I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine.”
Things are different since Jesus Christ has settled down and has made His home in my heart
Dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master.” Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation. I eagerly signed the house over to Him alone for time and eternity. “Here,” I said, “here it is, all that I am and have, forever. Now you run the house. I’ll just remain with you as a servant and friend.” Things are different since Jesus Christ has settled down and has made His home in my heart.
Yielding to the Lord must be decisive and it must be definite. Are you ready to do that right now?
We can count on our position with Christ, we can stop sinning and then yield our body to the Lord because we have changed kings. We are no longer to be servants of sin because we’ve become servants of the Savior. We see this in Romans 6:14-18: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. [Grace is not a license to do what we want, but a power to do as we should] What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! [This sounds a lot like verse 1, doesn’t it?] Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
Let’s go back to John 8 for a moment. Jesus said that whoever sins is a slave to sin but He also offered hope and victory when he declared in verse 36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We are now free to serve the Savior!
Bob Dylan sang a song more than 25 years ago that actually could have come from this passage: “You gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” You and I were made to serve someone or something. That leads to a couple questions. Who or what are you serving? Are you serving sin or are you serving the Savior? The general pattern of how we live reveals who our Lord is because we are slaves to the one we obey.
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we have been set free and now we are slaves to righteousness. I love this phrase in verse 17: “Though you used to be slaves to sin” and this statement in verse 18: “You have been set free from sin.”
The “what” part is that we are united with Christ. The “how” is that we are to…
- Proceed with caution and count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
- Stop letting sin reign.
- Yield our bodies to the Lord.
And the “why” is because we have changed kingdoms to serve the King of Kings, who has set us free from the dominion of sin. Unfortunately, too many of us are not even aware of the freedom that is ours.
Harry Houdini made a name for himself by escaping from every imaginable confinement – from straightjackets to handcuffs to locked rooms. He loved to boast that no lock could hold him. Time and again he would be in an impossible situation and would be able to free himself. It worked every time – but one. He entered a small room and the door was slammed shut. Once alone, he pulled a thin but strong piece of metal from his belt and began working on the lock. But something was wrong. No matter how hard Houdini worked, he couldn’t unlock the lock. For two hours he applied skill and experience to the lock but nothing happened. Finally, bathed in sweat and visibly frustrated he fell against the door in total defeat. But when he fell against the door, it swung open because it had never been locked! The only place the door was locked was in his mind.
Friend, Jesus has given you freedom. The door has been unlocked. You have been set free to serve Him. Now that’s a sermon you can say “yes” to!