The first six chapters of Romans deal with two extremes among those who believe. Perhaps you can think of it like a pendulum. On the one side there are people who insist that we must work for our salvation. They believe if you are “good enough” you can earn Heaven.
Just recently I had someone tell me that they were pretty confident of Heaven because they had lived a pretty good life and “had nothing whatsoever to apologize for.” This person believed they had a decent chance of earning Heaven. In the first five chapters of Romans Paul shows the futility of such thinking. We are all sinful and apart from an undeserved act of God’s grace, we have no hope of Heaven at all.
On the other extreme are those who embrace the idea of grace and see it as license to sin as they please. To them, grace means, “I can do whatever I want because God will forgive me.” Do you see how this can be misunderstood? It is easy to say, “I made a decision for Christ” or “I had a conversion experience” and conclude that you have taken care of the whole “eternity issue” and now you can go out and have a “good time.” Paul wants to cut that notion off at the pass. He wants us to understand that surrendering to and trusting Christ is a relationship, not a one-time event.
In the beginning of chapter six, Paul explained that because of our relationship with Christ our relationship with sin is broken. Through Christ we have died to the old way of living (being controlled by our sinful nature) and have been raised with Christ to a brand new life. Paul told us to “reckon” or “consider” ourselves to be dead to sin. We have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to sin any more. We are set free to follow Christ.
Paul is teaching us about the process called sanctification or the way we grow in holiness and Christlike character.
CAUTIONS IN THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS
Sometimes the best way to understand what something means is to contrast it with what it doesn’t mean. When we talk about sanctification or growth and development in the Christian faith, there are several things we don’t mean.
Sanctification is not something that “happens to us”. Justification is something that happens solely by God’s grace. Sanctification (the process of being made holy) is something that God does WITH us. We must pursue holiness in our living. God does not produce holiness or perfection by some experience we have. By design we learn to be holy. It is a lifetime process.
Let’s look at the illustration of surgery. Suppose you have surgery to repair your knee. After your surgery you are given physical therapy. These exercises are not designed to fix damage of your knee . . . that has already been done by the Doctor! The exercises are designed to rehabilitate or re-train your knee. In a similar way, Dr. Jesus has taken care of the sin problem. We don’t have to defeat sin . . .Jesus has already done that on our behalf. Our work is to re-train ourselves and learn to live this new life given to us in Christ. This does not happen over night.
Sanctification is not about withdrawing from the world. There have been many people over the years that believe if they withdraw from the world they will be more holy. Some retreat to isolated places or monasteries in an effort to avoid pollution from the world. Some go to ridiculous extremes. Simon Stylites sat on a pole for 36 years to demonstrate his “devotion” and had his food hauled up to him by rope. We certainly need to guard our worldly associations but if we withdraw from the world, we will miss out on the opportunity to show love, compassion, and kindness because we can’t do that in isolation. By withdrawing from society it becomes impossible to fulfill the commission to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”. Overcoming sin in our daily living is not accomplished by withdrawing; it is accomplished by following!
Sanctification is not about having an “experience” There is a tendency for people to think that if you feel a “warm glow”, weep, or speak in tongues, you are more spiritually advanced than others. There are actually some who feel they are more “spiritual” because they laugh uncontrollably or bark like dogs! (I’m serious!) They contend the Holy Spirit has taken a great hold of them and have been “blessed” in their dog-like experience!
It is important to remember that you can have experiences as a result of a whole host of stimuli and suggestion . . . it doesn’t necessarily mean you are moving toward holiness. Sanctification is about the submission of our desires and our will to His Lordship. It means living out our faith in our daily lives.
REASONS TO PURSUE HOLINESS
Sanctification is the process of applying our new life in Christ to our daily living. Paul told us in Romans 6:13, “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”. We must choose to be obedient to the Lord. Paul gives us at least three reasons why we should do so.
The Reality of God’s Grace
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)
When Paul says we are no longer “under law”, He doesn’t mean the Law of God no longer has any value to us. He means the Law no longer has the power to condemn us and enslave us. Instead, we are now living under God’s wonderful grace. Our motivation for living according to God’s standards is no longer fear; it is gratitude and love.
Pastor Craig Barns writes,
When I was a child, my minister father brought home a 12-year-old boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they’d just raise him as if he were one of their own sons.
At first, it was quite difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home–an environment free of heroine-addicted adults! Every day, several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger:
“No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family.”
“No, no. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.”
“No, no, Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.”
And in time Roger began to change.
Now, did Roger have to make all those changes in order to become a part of the family? No. He was made a part of the family simply by the grace of my father. But did he then have to do a lot of hard work because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough for him to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the incredible love he had received.
We seek to be holy not to become a part of the family of God but as a way of showing our gratitude for our membership in the family.
The Reality that We Will Serve Somebody
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? 17 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. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (6:16-18)
As Americans we cherish our freedom. I think it is fair to say that we are passionate and maybe even obsessive about the idea of freedom. This fact makes these words hard to hear. Paul is telling us that there is no such thing as absolute freedom. We are all serving someone. We are either serving sin or righteousness. We are serving the Devil or we are serving the Lord.
The whole idea of slavery sounds rather crass to our ears. Paul admits that he is speaking in human terms. He is trying to speak in a way he hopes we can understand. No matter what we do we are serving someone. Every choice we make is either a choice to serve the Lord or to serve the way of sin. We are either walking toward Hell or toward Heaven; we are either walking with the Lord or walking with the Devil. There are no other options. We ought to choose wisely.
The Result of our Pursuit
The final reason for pursuing the life God desires in us is because of the different ends such pursuits. Paul says,
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:21-23)
Paul’s argument is simple: Think about where the way of sin led you. Was life fulfilling, did you know God, did you have confidence of Heaven? The answer of course, is no. We know that the way we used to be headed is a dead end. Since we know this from experience, why would we choose to go in that direction again?
If you know eating a certain food is going to make you sick you will avoid that food. If you know a certain customer never pays his bills, you will stop doing business with him. If you know your girlfriend doesn’t like to be called “lamb chop”, you won’t call her that. . . if you know what is good for you.
Paul’s argument is along the same lines. If you know that the road of sin is an oppressive slavery; if you know it is a dead end street; why would you continue to travel on that road? Isn’t it better to pursue the way of the Lord?
WAYS TO PURSUE HOLINESS
Let’s be practical. How do we go about offering ourselves to the Lord? Are there things we can do that can help us be obedient in our walk?
Pastor Tony Evans writes,
How do you grow the new you while shutting down the old you? You do it by feeding your spirit while you starve your flesh—those old, corrupt impulses and desires and habits. You cannot feed the flesh, neglect the inner you, and expect to have victory over the flesh.
But too many Christians are like people in a cafeteria line. They get a steak smothered with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, bread with plenty of butter, and a big dessert covered with whipped cream. Then they come to the end of the line and get a diet drink, hoping somehow that it will cancel out the effects of the other stuff. (The Promise p. 178)
If we want God to speed God’s work of sanctification in our lives there are some things we can do. These things are not an end, they are a mean to an end. In other words, our goal is not simply to do godly things . . . our goal is to know and honor God better. Our goal is not to impress others with our so-called spirituality; our goal is to pursue God, delight in Him and glorify Him in all we do. Here are some simple suggestions,
- Make Time for God every day. Jesus got up early to spend time with the Lord. At times He spend all night in prayer. He knew that His strength would come from the time He spent with the Father. Like our Lord, we must make time every day to listen to God through His Word and to talk with God. We need to seek His guidance regarding our calendar, our struggles, and our decisions. We must find a quiet place where God will have our complete attention.
- Balance the input of the world with the things of God. Think about how much exposure we have to the ways of the world. There is the television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and counselors. These are almost exclusively coming at us from the way of sin. How do we find a balance?
- Turn off the television when there is nothing on worth watching and pursue something that will honor the Lord.
- For every secular book you read, read a solid Christian book.
- Make it a goal to talk about the Lord at least as much as you do your favorite sports team or hobby.
- Determine to give as much time to Bible Study, Prayer, Worship, and Christian enlightenment as you give to the secular media.
- Honor the Lord with your wealth. Start with the tithe (to show God that you are grateful for and trust His provision) and then every time you go to make a purchase, ask yourself, “Am I spending according to God’s priorities? Could God use this money for a better purpose?”
- Learn to fast. Jesus fasted regularly. So should we. Fasting is not just skipping a meal. Fasting is skipping a meal in order to devote your thoughts and energies to the Lord and His ability to meet your every need. You hunger should remind you that your goal is to hunger for the Lord.
- Guard your times of worship. Hebrews tells us to “not forsake the assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25). Worship gives you the opportunity to feed your mind and heart with the things of God, it is an act that demonstrates God’s priority in your calendar, declares to your family (and your non-Christian friends) that serving the Lord is more important than anything else in life, and it puts you in position to encourage and be encouraged by the family of God. Understand that you will tell people more about your faith from your Sunday priorities than you will with your words.
- Memorize God’s Word. This allows you to “hide God’s Word in your heart” and gives you the opportunity to meditate on the commands of the Lord. (As recommended in Psalm 1:2 and Psalm 119:11)
- Look for ways to serve. The Bible tells us to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Look for ways to serve others as an act of love to the Lord without looking for credit.
- Choose your friends carefully. Avoid those times and places that you know will lead you to sin and a compromise of your witness.
These are just a few suggestions. Some of these things will be hard. They call for us to make difficult decisions. God honors those who follow Him faithfully. We have a choice we can serve the Gods of this world, or we can serve the Lord. I conclude with the challenge Joshua gave to the Israelites,
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:14-15)
May God help us to make the same decision!