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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Resurrection Life - Formerly Dead (Romans 6.1-3,8-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - April 14, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Morning Has Broken" (arr. Wyrtzen)
Song of Praise: "Ancient of Days" (Sadler/Harvill)
Hymn of Praise: "We Come, O Christ, to You" (DARWALL'S 148th)
The Word in Music: "Here I Am, Lord" (Schutte/Courtney)
Offering of Music: "Like a River Glorious" (Bobby White, piano) (arr. White/Youngblood)
Song of Sending: "Fill Me Now" (Hansen/Peppin)
Postlude: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (Reuss)

"The Resurrection Life: Formerly Dead"
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Text: Romans 6:1-3,8-13

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we began a three week follow-up to Easter, called “The Resurrection Life.” We are looking at Romans 6 to try to understand better the implications of the Easter message that Jesus was raised from the dead FOR US. What are the implications of the “for us?”

Last week we started with the claim that because of a risen Jesus, life looks different for those who trust and follow him. In Romans 6, that difference specifically has to do with sin, the things which go against God and His best for us. We read of a new reality in Christ: our sin has been buried with Christ and we are raised to new life. But that new reality rubs up against our experience: we continue to sin! So what’s the deal?

We talked a little about the mechanics of this reality. Through faith we are united with Jesus, including his death and resurrection. That union is signified by our baptism kind of like a marriage union is signified by a wedding ring. Putting the ring on, or even the actual marriage, doesn’t magically work life out for us; we can ignore our “marriage reality” just as surely as we can ignore our “resurrection reality.” But with those new realities – those covenanted unions – comes the opportunity to choose obedience and live them out faithfully in our lives.  That’s what the Apostle Paul is getting at in Romans. Through faith we are now united to the risen Jesus, so we have the opportunity to live for him. That indeed makes life very different – as different (even more so!) than being single and being joined in marriage.

Last week I said that Paul would give us three illustrations to understand this new resurrection reality. Last week he talked about being buried and raised with Christ. This week, in verses 8-13, Paul continues talking about death and resurrection, but shifts a little bit to introduce a new part of the picture. He introduces some specific military imagery, which we will consider today.
United with Christ

Paul began Romans 6 with several questions about sin, which also introduced the concept of our being united with Christ through baptism. Paul also began explaining this union using buried/raised language, but now shifts in verse 8 to similar (but different) dead/alive language. Listen again to verse 8: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” 

What’s the difference between buried/raised and dead/alive?  Both are apt illustrations, but the first is more passive: it is something that is done to us; a reality beyond our control. But as we noted last week, there is also a role for human choice and obedience in all this and Paul seems to be moving from “here is what God has done” (buried and raised you) to “here is the way to experience it” (die and live with Christ!) And so he repeats himself about being united with Christ, but now we must choose to die and live. 

Let’s see what is true of Christ, since he is the one with whom we are united through faith. Look at verses 9-10:

“…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God.”
There are several things to highlight. First, Christ has beat sin and death once and for all. And we are united with him! While you might take that to mean that a Christian will never sin, we know that not to be true. The more helpful metaphor (and this is precisely where Paul will go with it) is that Jesus Christ has won the great victory over sin and death. That battle has been fought and won and the victory secured. However, there are still skirmishes all over as that victory is worked out in human lives, around the world, and through history. Until Jesus returns and every knee bows to acknowledge him Lord, those skirmishes remain. People haven’t gotten the news, or forget the victory, or realize God’s enemy hasn’t yet acknowledged defeat.

The second thing to highlight in verses 9-10 is that the “life that he lives, he lives to God.” I think of Lazarus in terms of that passive and active resurrection. Lazarus, much like we who trust Christ, was raised to life. It was beyond his power or control, and more than a little mysterious. But from that moment on, when he gazed upon Jesus’ face, he had to make his own decision to live life again, moreover to life it to God. He could have turned away, come to forget the miraculous as a hazy dream, or even figuratively crawled back in the cave to die. But part two of being raised in the power of Christ was choosing to live in grateful and loving obedience to Christ. That’s what it means to “live to God.”

Enlisted with Gratitude

And so Paul gets verse 11, where he charges his readers with that active obedience: “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” How are we to do that?

Paul gives two negative challenges and one positive one.

First negative: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.” (v. 12) The picture is of influence and obedience: sin can become like a king or ruler or master over us. But it’s our choice; we choose whom we serve. And if we let it, sin will command our lusts and our choices and our lives.

Second negative: “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness.” (v. 13a) It’s clear that we can’t even pin our behavior on something out of our control. It’s a daily and moment-by-moment choice. To serve sin (and, we might admit, to serve God) we must “go on presenting” ourselves to one or the other. And that’s right where Paul turns next, to serving God.

Third positive: “But present yourselves to God…” (v. 13b) So that’s a start on how we die to sin and live to God. We acknowledge God as the king, ruler, or master over us. We look to God to reign over us. We turn to God in obedience. And we do it day by day, with God’s help.

Tucked away in verses 11-13 are a particular image. We touched on it by naming the authority sin or God can have in our lives, but Paul really fleshes it out quite a bit more. It’s obscured a bit in English, particularly to our modern ears. Twice, when Paul uses the word “presenting,” that’s a military image. We still use it; it’s just not our first use for “presenting.” It is the image of presenting arms before one’s commanding officer. It is a picture of being prepared, primed, present, and ready for battle. It is also a sign of respect, of willingness to obey, serve, and be led. And then also twice, Paul uses the word “instruments.” That word can mean “weapons” as in “instruments of war.” In this context, I'd suggest that is what Paul has in mind.

How does that image of a soldier presenting his or her weapons as ready for battle describe the Christian’s daily choice to die to sin and live to God?

We have a choice of whom to serve, of whom our “commanding officer” will be. Though Jesus has won the battle, literally saving our lives, we may yet not choose to present ourselves in service to him. In that case we are, in effect, presenting ourselves to sin as our commanding officer, even offering our bodies (and minds) as weapons to be used for unrighteous purposes.  Or, in response to Jesus saving us (those “alive from the dead” in v. 13), we can choose to present ourselves to him as our authority, offering our bodies and minds as weapons… perhaps now rightly turned from weapons to “tools” or “instruments” for what is good and right.

Will our bodies and minds be weapons of destruction for sin or tools of righteousness in God’s hands?

Having been saved from death to life, we have the opportunity for a kind of “grateful enlistment” in service to God, the One who saved us.

Those words famously declared by Joshua in Old Testament times prove most appropriate now: “Choose this day whom you will serve!”

The Resurrection Life

As we continue to try to understand and experience the “resurrection life,” we are reminded for the second week that God invites us to choose obedience. Jesus Christ has done the hard work – the impossible work – of defeating sin and death and living to God. And we are united to him in faith! Last week we looked at marriage as one picture of that union. It’s a new reality the moment it happens, but we must choose to live in it each day. Today we looked at serving and presenting ourselves to God as a soldier would a commanding officer who saved his or her life. Again, it requires us to choose to serve.

Next week we will conclude with a third image having to do with slavery, mastery, and wages. There again, we will wrestle with the reality God has declared in Christ and the disconnect we so often experience day to day.

As for this day and the next, let us live to God, choosing to present ourselves in service with thankfulness and joy! Amen.

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