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Monday, May 28, 2018


Raised for a Reason (April/May 2018)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
April 8 - May 27, 2018

A study of God's purpose for us in the salvation and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Gift of Freedom (Romans 6.14-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 27, 2018 - Romans 6:14-23

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Creation Sings the Father's Song (Getty/Townend)
Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone (Newton, Rees, Excell, Tomlin, Giglio)
CHOIR: Beautiful Savior (arr. Fettke)
O For a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love (arr./chorus David Crowder)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

This is our third week in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul is offering a series of images to explain our connection to the died-and-risen Jesus.

We’ve talked about being buried and raised with Jesus; we’ve talked about being united to Jesus like a man and woman united in marriage; we’ve talked about being dead to sin and alive in Christ; we’ve talked about presenting ourselves to God as instruments for His good and right purposes rather than presenting ourselves to sin as weapons to hurt and destroy ourselves and others.

This week, in verses 14-23, Paul offers one more picture of resurrection life in Christ: freedom from slavery. Paul goes to some lengths to chart out two different paths our lives can take, one enslaved to sin and one offered in service to God through Jesus Christ. Today we’ll look at those paths: similar in some ways, but radically different in where they lead us. And we will consider finally what it means to be truly free in Christ.

Two Mutually Exclusive Alternatives

The overall image Paul uses in these verses is one of slavery and freedom. Actually, to be more accurate, his image is of slavery to one of two masters. Either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to righteousness. A problem for us reading this is that slavery is such a negative image, that Paul’s language drives home the dangers of enslavement to sin, but may not lead us running with joy toward Jesus! When we hear “slavery” we think of the horrible practice of forced enslavement of one race by another as practiced in our country from the 17th-19th centuries. When Paul speaks of slavery, he is describing a Roman practice of paying off large debts. When the debt was paid, a slave in the Roman Empire could buy their freedom. I know the language stirs up different and stronger images for us, but if you can stick with his point (and it is only an illustration after all), he will show that slavery to Jesus Christ is no slavery at all, but a joyous freedom.

Paul continues to hold up the alternatives, moving through a series of comparisons and contrasts.  Let’s look at some:

Under Law/Grace (v. 14) – Paul begins by exhorting the Christian, “Sin shall not be master over you!” His reason…? You are not under law but under grace. The Law (specifically God’s Law) is for humanity mastered by sin. It is like the water the Samaritan woman drew from the well. Jesus told her she would be thirsty again. But he offered something different, something more. God’s grace through Jesus Christ is living water, sufficient for sin once and for all. God’s grace is not measured out like the Law, one pardon for one sin, but as an extravagant ocean of grace, wastefully sufficient for all the sin in us. Why then can Paul say, “Sin shall not be master over you?” It is because our debt is paid. We owe nothing for our sin. We need not work off our guilt or shame. It is finished and we owe the Law nothing, for Jesus has paid it all on our behalf.

Presenting to Sin/Righteousness (v. 16a) – Paul goes on to ask more questions: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…?” He picks up his language of “presenting ourselves” from earlier verses (remember last week’s military language?). It is not enough that a sin-debt is paid if we keep showing up to make payment. Imagine if someone paid off all your debts – credit cards, mortgage, everything. You are free, right? But what if you keep presenting payment month after month as if the debt still existed? That’s what Paul is describing. As long as you are presenting yourselves in this way, you are still enslaved, even if in reality you are free! Who would do that, right? But we do it all the time!

Resulting in Death/Righteousness (v. 16b) – In verse 16 Paul goes on to spell out the consequences of “presenting ourselves.” If we present ourselves to sin, the end-result is death. If we present ourselves in obedience to Christ, the end-result is righteousness. As we’ve seen in past weeks, this is not because we can generate our own righteousness, but because we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection, thereby gaining HIS righteousness as our own. (Cue all the marriage analogies I made!) How do we “present ourselves to Christ?”

Two Paths: Impurity and Lawlessness; Righteousness and Sanctification (v. 19) – Paul continues for a while with his analogy, then pauses in verse 19 to remind us that this is all analogy: “I am speaking in human terms” (of a heavenly reality). Then he gets more specific about what this slavery and servitude looks like in day to day life. Presenting ourselves to sin looks like this: “you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness.” It’s an ever-increasing spiral of sin. The alternative works in somewhat the same way: “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” That is to say, when we present ourselves to Christ and are united with his righteousness, life begins to look different! Remember, that’s where we started two weeks ago: life looks different! Scripture also describes that sanctification process as “being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.” When we follow him, when we serve him, we become more like him.  Either way, we aren't standing still; either we are moving towards lawlessness (ironic, right, for those “under Law”!) or toward sanctification.

“Benefits and Wages”: truth and lies

Paul now goes on to spend several verses examining what I will lump together as the “benefits and wages” of the two paths he has been describing. We are human; we like to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Paul gives us some answers and, in the process, sorts out the lies from the truth.

First, he says that blind freedom is no benefit (and no true freedom). It’s there in verse 20: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” That’s the lure of sin, right? I can do anything I want. I’m free of God’s rules and laws and right way of doing things. It sure looks and feels like freedom for a while, until you realize how enslaved you are by it. And that’s what Paul points out in verse 21 when he asks, “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving…? There is, in fact, NO benefit, because benefit means “good thing (done).” The outcome of those things is death and that’s no good thing! Plus, he adds that these are things “of which you are now ashamed.” The person enslaved to sin is so “free” of righteousness that often they cannot even see the shame or wrongness in what they are doing.

In contrast, freedom from sin and “enslavement to God” is no true enslavement, for its result is sanctification (growing more like Christ) and the outcome is eternal life. Now those are truly good things or benefits.

What about wages? What’s the payout? In what has become one of the better known verses of the New Testament, we read in verse 23 that “the wages of sin is death.” That also reveals the nature of the so-called “freedom” of life apart from God. What’s in it for me ultimately is death, not to mention quite a bit of destruction along the way, depending on what particular sins we indulge. In contrast, the “wages” we get from serving God cannot properly be called wages: it is a “free gift” and is eternal life in Christ.

If you have struggled with the language of “enslavement to God,” then this is where it may begin to make sense. Paul was, as he told us, speaking in human terms. Or, as I would say, using an analogy; and analogies are not perfect.

It’s also an analogy full of irony. We tend to see a life apart from God as “freedom” – we are free to do what we want and answer to no one. But, Paul says, that is true enslavement because sin masters us. And there is no benefit, because the wages are death. On the other hand, many see a life of following Jesus Christ as rules, regulations, and lack of freedom… a kind of “slavery.” But, says Paul, that is true freedom and the benefits are real. And “wages” isn’t even the right word because what we receive is a free gift. That makes our relationship to God not one of obligation, but voluntary. We are not slaves paying off a debt, but people freely serving God in gratitude and love.

Forgetting the Old, Living the New

Finally, a word about how this plays out in our lives…

Having said all that I did about the Roman practice of slavery being different than what we think of, I do think our own history can help us understand a part of this: the difficult struggle of forgetting the old life and living the new. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation,” declaring an end to slavery as a primary goal of the Civil War. It was made a legal reality in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. In a very real sense, those actions parallel the work of Christ, whose actions declared and won victory over sin and death. But the implementation of both realities was a longer struggle. Former slaves, rejoicing to be free, would nonetheless have to learn how to live as free. A whole society and culture – white and black – ingrained with generations of slavery, would have to learn how to live out the new reality… is STILL learning how to live out the new reality. In terms of behavior, attitudes, customs, and habits, the new reality was not like flipping a light switch, but a hard and slow change.

So it is with the resurrection life. Jesus has declared the new reality and secured it with his body and blood. A war has been waged against the powers of sin and death, at great cost. And in Christ we have been set free. But we don’t know how to do that. It is often easier to keep doing what we had been doing. I think of the man in John 5 whom Jesus healed. The man had been unable to walk his entire life and spent his days begging by the pool at Bethesda. Jesus first asked him, “Do you want to be well?” and then later said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” It would have been tempting for the man to return to the life of begging, even once healed. It is strangely comforting to stick with the familiar, even if it ultimately enslaves us unto death. THAT is the struggle.

So how do we live the life God has won for us? In addition to choosing obedience, which Paul has highlighted throughout this chapter, it also seems we have to learn to trust God. The Good News is that God requires but does not demand our allegiance. In Christ, God has set us free and paid the debt we could not pay. And God gives us good things – benefits like freedom and eternal life – not because we earn them, but because He loves us. The resurrection life is not a requirement; it is an opportunity. It is not Law, but Grace. It is not slavery, but freedom and life. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Present Yourself (Romans 6.8-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 20, 2018 - Romans 6:8-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
CHOIR: Fill-a Me Up (Choplin)
Breathe on Us (Jobe/Cash)
Knowing You (Kendrick)
This I Believe/Creed (Crocker/Fielding)
My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (SOLID ROCK)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

A good family friend is graduating from high school and contemplating enlisting in the Navy. If you enlist in any of the armed forces life becomes very different. There are rules, there is a chain of command, there are disciplines and training and your life is shaped by it. And I think this particular friend will thrive in that environment. The claim of scripture is that following Christ has some similarities. It’s not just a bunch of rules, there is something deeper… there is an obedience and a submission and it also re-shapes your life… who you are. That’s what Paul is talking about in Romans 6, where he offers three illustrations of what new life in Christ is like.

Last week we talked a little about the first of these. 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.

This week, in verses 8-13, Paul continues talking about death and resurrection, but shifts the imagery to help us think about it in a different way. He introduces some specific military imagery, which we will consider today.

A New Lease on Life (vv. 8-10)

In verse 8 Paul moves from “here is what God has done” (buried and raised you) to the more active (for us) “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 how to live. And we are to live our life like Christ did: “…the life that he lives, he lives to God.” (v. 10) I think of Lazarus in terms of that passive and active resurrection. Lazarus, much like we who trust Christ, was raised from death 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.”

Think of someone who has survived a terminal diagnosis or dying on the operating table or being resuscitated after drowning. Those things don’t automatically result in a new perspective on life and living, but often they do. People talk about having a “new lease on life” or embracing life with new hope and purpose. That’s the kind of change of perspective Paul is talking about and what it means to “live to God.”

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.

Enlisted with Gratitude (vv. 11-13)

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!”

Raised for a Reason

As we continue to try to understand and experience the reason behind our being raised with Christ, we are reminded for the second week that God invites us to actively 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 (and one 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.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Buried and Raised (Romans 6.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 13, 2018 - Romans 6:1-7

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Lion of Judah (Robin Mark)
All I Have is Christ (Jordan Kauflin)
CHOIR: In Christ Alone (arr. Cottrell)
WT/Cong: This I Believe - The Creed (Crocker, Fielding/Hillsong)
We Know that Christ is Raised (ENGELERG)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We opened the service today by hearing the account of Jesus’ Ascension. I included that because it came some 40 days after Easter and before Pentecost, which we will recognize next Sunday. And while today’s sermon doesn’t focus on the Ascension, one of the important things about it is that we are united to Christ – we are joined to him who has been crucified, raised, and ascended. As we continue looking at the implications of the Resurrection for our present life, this union with the living and ascended Jesus will be important.

We have three more weeks in the “Raised for a Reason” series and we will be spending them all in Romans 6. The main idea of Romans 6 is that life looks different because of Jesus Christ! Jesus makes a real difference in one’s life. If life with Christ and life without Christ look no different, then we have missed something crucial about who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he is doing even now. We could talk about that in a number of ways, but the place Paul picks up in chapter six of his letter to the Romans has to do with sin. And he has a lot of questions!

Questions Questions (vv. 1-3)

He asks, “What about sin?” If Jesus has conquered sin, why is there still sin? Why do I still sin?

One quick answer is one we still sometimes hear today, that sin doesn’t really matter because God’s grace covers it all! God has forgiven it all and we shouldn’t get wrapped up in naming sin, judging sin, or paying much attention to sin, because God will forgive it. But Paul nips that in the bud, asking “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Paul’s response is: “May it never be!” Clearly, we not only continue to sin, but we should struggle against it. What follows in Romans 6 is an explanation of how we are then to live, particularly with regard to sin.

After Paul’s “May it never be!” he goes on to ask two more questions that will set up what follows. The first question is: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” The second is related to it: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”

Both are rhetorical, meaning the point is not just coming up with the answer, but understanding the answer and why Paul asked the question. What Paul is trying to remind us of with these questions is our new reality. Jesus did not need to die and be raised for his own sake. If Jesus death and resurrection were not FOR US, then there was no point to them. Today we will focus on the FOR US part.

Baptized into Death (v.4a)

Paul describes those who trust in Jesus Christ as those who have “died to sin” and are “baptized into Jesus’ death.” Those are not conditions of Jesus’s work; you don’t have to stop sinning for Jesus to die for you. That wouldn’t even make sense because then he wouldn’t have had to die! No, these are the RESULTS of Jesus’ work. Because Jesus died, we have died to sin. That is one of things baptism signifies; that we are marked by his action. That’s what Paul wants you to understand with his two questions. You have died to sin because you belong to Jesus and he died to sin… don’t you know it?

Let me try to illustrate. If the IRS sent Heather a tax bill next week that said she owed taxes on our family income, she or I could respond legitimately by saying, “How shall I who have paid my taxes still owe taxes?” Did she do the Austell family taxes or send them anything? Not personally, but listen to this second question while you are looking at verse 3. “Or do you not know that all of us who wear this wedding ring can file jointly and pay in that way?” I realize that anyone can put on a wedding ring, but so can anyone splash water and say they’ve been baptized. The point is that the covenant of marriage, signified by a ring, enables one to be fully represented by another. So the covenant of God’s grace, signified by baptism, enables one to be fully represented by another. So, I have been baptized into Christ and he has died to sin; therefore I have died to sin because I am united with him. Remember I mentioned that Jesus left the Holy Spirit with us when he ascended? The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ. What is true of him is true for us because of that union with him.

Now, living like that’s reality is another thing! I continue to sin even though I am dead to sin with Christ. Is that even possible?

Baptized into New Life (v.4b)

We have been buried with Christ into death and raised to “walk in newness of life.” (v. 4) Clearly, this is not literal, as we have not been physically buried. But it is one of the things we illustrate in baptism, and baptism is specifically mentioned here. So we are joined to Christ in faith, signified through baptism, by God’s gracious love toward us. If it is helpful to again draw the analogy to marriage: a man and woman are joined to each other in marriage, signified by the giving and receiving of rings. Baptism is like the rings – signifying a deeper reality. So baptism signifies being joined to Christ.

When Christ was crucified, our debt was joined to him; our “body of sin” was joined to him and put to death (v. 6). And when he was buried, our debt and the consequence of sin was complete. When God raised Jesus from the dead in victory OVER sin and death, we too were raised (still joined to him), but no longer under the curse of sin and death.

That doesn’t seem to jive with reality, does it? Sin and death still seem to be all around us, including IN us. And Paul would certainly agree; he wouldn’t have had to write this chapter if sinning no more was a done deal for Christians. So what he HAS said is that there is a new reality. A new life and a new way of living has been secured by Christ, but we continue to struggle with the old patterns, the old rules, and the way things have always been.

We will see in the coming weeks that Paul uses words like “consider” and “remember” and “do not let” – there are still choices before us - choices of obedience. We have to CHOOSE to live as those who have been buried and raised with Christ. Does that seem farfetched? Think again of the wedding ring. It signifies commitment, but we still have to choose commitment. The ring or even the reality of being joined in marriage doesn't do commitment for us. In the same way, we must choose obedience to honor our being joined to Christ.

So Paul declares a glorious reality: through Jesus Christ sin and the curse have been buried and we are raised to a new resurrection life. But as I said earlier, living like that’s reality is another thing. I’d challenge you to read and re-read this chapter – the whole thing, not just the verses we looked at today. We’ll be returning to Romans 6 for the next two weeks. Keep soaking in the Good News reality declared there, even if it is a struggle to bear that out in our lives.

Living the Reality

I used the analogy of marriage to understand union with Christ. And I asked how I can keep sinning if I am dead to sin with Christ. Think about the union of marriage. The two are considered one legally by our laws and also considered one spiritually by God. This is what God meant when he said “the two shall become one.” But let me ask you: Is it possible to be married and still act like you are not? Is it possible to be legally and spiritually united to another person and still act as if not married? Yes; it happens all the time from the trivial to the deepest thoughts and behaviors. We have man caves and she sheds, there is focus on self over the other, there are affairs and other illicit behaviors. And yet… still married. That’s analogous to our union with Christ. We are united to him in his death, resurrection, and ascension; but we also choose to sin and live as if those things were not true. And yet… they are!

This is what Paul is dealing with in this chapter. Do we sin? Yes. Should we strive against sin? Yes! God’s best for us in marriage is faithfulness to our vows and His best for us spiritually is faithful union with Christ. In Romans 6 Paul offers three illustrations to help us understand and navigate this tension between declared and lived reality. Today we looked at the first illustration (baptism, dead and buried). In the next two weeks we will look at two other illustrations Paul uses to address this one reality that we are united to Christ and it makes a difference!

Coming Next: Enlisting Rightly and Gracious Freedom

Next week we will focus on verses 8-13, in which Paul reminds us that we were “formerly dead” but now alive, and uses some imagery of presenting ourselves in service to a just cause to help us understand what it means to live out this Good News reality.

Then the next week we will focus on verses 14-23, in which Paul uses imagery of slavery, mastery, and wages to help us understand that our spiritual freedom is a gift and is life, again to help us understand what it means to live out the Good News reality of being joined to the Risen Christ. Amen.