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Living in the Holy Land

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 25, 2017. The Reading was Romans 6:1-13.

Living in a Foreign Land

I want you to imagine that you have moved to live in another country. Not there for a holiday, but moved there permanently. But you haven’t moved to one of the English-speaking countries – you’ve moved to France, or Germany, or China, Uzbekistan or Chile. And you don’t know the language. What are you going to do?

Now, a phrase book might help you for a little bit – but they’re designed for tourists, with common phrases that they will use. They’re only in that country for a short time, and don’t need to pick up the complexities of the language – only enough to get by.

You might take some language classes. Learn the language, it’s grammar and syntax, and get yourself to a stage where you can use it in public and most people understand what you’re saying, and you understand what they’re saying for the most part. And for some foreign residents – this is where they get to. They will use the language in public, but in their own home, they will revert to their language of birth.

And that’s fine for a time, but it’s not a feasible long-term strategy. If you moved there with young kids, they start using that language more and more, and you can’t keep up with them, and you don’t understand what they’re saying.

But if you really want to survive in a foreign land, you need to fully immerse yourself in the language. You need to use it every day – both out in public, and at home. They say that you don’t fully understand a language until you start dreaming in that language. When it is fully a part of who you are.

Grace or Holiness

This goes a bit to explaining what Paul is talking about here. But in order to explain what Paul is talking about, I need to put it in context. You see, Paul was well educated in the use of Rhetoric. His letters form complex arguments that last over large spans that we have divided up into chapters – but those chapters often interrupt the argument Paul was forming. For example, You can’t read Romans 1 by itself, which lists the guilt of humankind, without reading Romans 2, which tells us that we can’t judge others because we do the exact same things. And you can’t read Romans 2 without going onto Romans 3, where Paul talks about Righteousness and how we gain righteousness through faith in Christ. And how do we do that? We see the example of Abraham in Romans 4, showing that righteousness isn’t something we gain through works alone, but through faith. And through faith, we are justified, and the result of that justification by faith is through grace, which we read about in chapter 5. And this is where we find the crux of Paul’s question in chapter 6. In Romans 5:20, we read:

but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Romans 5:20 (NRSV)
Paul is at this point talking about how sin entered the world through one man – Adam. And that indiscretion led to condemnation for all – but the second Adam, that is, Jesus, brought about justification and life for all through Christ’s death on the cross. And we have that evenness – one man brought sin into the world, one man saved us from sin. But here’s where we get caught up – Grace tells us that there is no sin big enough that God can’t forgive us.

I was brought up in a Christian home. I’ve gone to church my whole life, and have been a follower of Christ since my baptism at age 9. Sure, I’ve had my indiscretions over time, but nothing major. I’ve told small lies. I’ve consumed in excess at times. I’ve hurt other people through my words and actions at times. But nothing that I would consider major. I’ve kept the 10 commandments, I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve never stolen from anyone. I’ve never done any drugs. My life has been – from what most people would think – pretty tame. So when I look at someone who had an awful childhood, was a bully to others, who grew up abusing drugs, stealing from others to fuel their addiction, possibly even hurting others are killing people – and then they find Christ and receive forgiveness from God from their sins, wiping their spiritual slate clean – you have to wonder, who received more grace? Clearly, they did, because as Paul writes, since their sin was larger than mine, they received more grace to wipe that slate clean and get it to the same state as mine.

So the question Paul asks is one that we’ve probably all asked at some stage: should we continue in sin, so that we may receive more grace? Should I go out and be naughty for a while, go and do all those things I didn’t do while growing up, all so that I can receive more grace? “By no means!” A firm and resounding no is what Paul answers. There’s a line in a song by the band Relient K which says “The beauty of Grace is that it makes life not fair.” It’s not fair that they should receive more grace than me. But, we both ended up with the same thing – a clean slate. The question then is how are we going to live?

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea. In crossing the Sea, they effectively had a choice. They could remain on one side, be captured by the Egyptians and returned to a life of slavery; or they could cross the sea, and be free. If they crossed the sea, but continued living as slaves, they would not be free – it would be as if they never crossed. They had to go through the waters to be free, but if they didn’t start living as if they were free, then they were still trapped in Egypt.

In ancient Churches, their baptismal fonts were at the entrance to the church. People would enter in from the outside world, be baptised and then clothed in new clothes, signifying their new life.

In the same way, when we became Christians, when we were baptised by the Spirit, our old life was nailed to the cross with Christ Jesus. Christ was raised from the dead, but our old lives say there. We are born again, raised anew in the glory of God, “so that we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4c)

We can give our all to God

What does that new life look like? It is a devotion to God, a devotion to living a holy life, in all aspects of our life. In my example earlier, you might be a tourist – saying the right words, but relying on something else, and none of it really sinks in. That might be someone coming along to visit a church, but they haven’t met Christ yet. They might come along, enjoy being with other people, could say the right words but haven’t really taken on that personal relationship with Christ. They’re just visiting – they haven’t moved in yet. And that’s ok. We all know that Tourism is a vital part of any country’s economy. And maybe after a few holidays, they decide it’s time to move there. So they move, and start learning the language. They’ve got that personal relationship with Christ. They could be doing all the right stuff in public, but if they’re still speaking the same sinful language at home, then they’re not really understanding what’s happening. They need to go all in, to live and breathe it all the time, in public and in private.

When we become Christians, we’re living in a foreign kingdom. We now live in God’s kingdom, and so we need to throw ourselves all in, and speak God’s language all the time. In all of our interactions with other people, we should be speaking the love of God for us and for others. In what we do, it should reflect God’s light. And when we’re by ourselves, we need to be sure that we are living a holy life.

We need to be all in for God. Every aspect of our lives, because it is through giving our all to God, that we find eternal life.

We will gain eternal life

This is what Paul goes on to say, in the passage following. Again, you can’t just read a few verses of Paul, his argument stretches much longer and wider. He goes on to say in verses 15-23:

15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:15-23 (NRSV)
If we remain in sin, the end result is death. If we throw ourselves all in to God’s Kingdom, we become free from sin, we are sanctified, and the result is “the free gift of God” – that is, “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Just as the Israelites had a choice to remain on the shore and go back to their life of slavery, or cross the water and enter into freedom, so we have that choice. It’s a choice we make every single day. When we wake up in the morning, will we choose to live in God’s kingdom, or go back to being a slave of sin?

Give all you are to God’s Kingdom

So move into God’s kingdom. Take up permanent residence there. Learn the language, the culture, the customs, and live them out every day, in public and in private.

I wonder where you are today. Are you the tourist, here with your phrase book, saying the right things, but looking for something more? Maybe you’re ready to move in, and give your all to God.

Or maybe you’ve been living here for a while, but speaking your old language at home? Is it time for you to give that up, to give up being a slave to sin, and to live God’s holy life in every part of your life?

Or maybe you already have thrown yourself all in, and you need prayer to keep you going in the daily choice to live in God’s way and speak God’s language of love.

Wherever you find yourself today, you are welcome to come and spend time in the place of prayer while we sing this lovely song, All that I am. Often we’ve got problems and cares, and we go to God when we’re distressed about them, but we need to go to God not just in the hard times, but in the good times as well. God needs our all. God wants our all.

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