A sermon by Rod Benson
Apart from restrooms, and ticketless parking, one of the most useful things about modern shopping malls is the addition of touchscreen information maps in strategic locations throughout the facility.
I enter the mall and type in a store name, or product type, and up comes a map identifying where I am now, which way I’m facing, and showing arrows directing me to my destination, no matter which floor it is on, or how far away it is, or how lost I feel. All I need to know is how to read and memorise maps, and how to follow the arrows without getting distracted by other stores and shoppers, and I’ll find my way to Dymocks.
Romans chapter 6 is like one of those maps. In Romans 1-5, Paul has spoken of universal sin and guilt, of inescapable condemnation, of our yearning for redemption, and the death of Jesus for our sins; of justification by faith, peace with God, and access into the amazing grace in which we stand; of suffering, perseverance, character, hope; the gift of the Holy Spirit; salvation from God’s wrath; reconciliation with God; and the promise of eternal life for many through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In chapter 8:29-30, Paul will go on to say:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
“Where am I now,” we might ask, “in all of this rich theology and spiritual history? Where am I on the map of what God is doing for humanity through Christ?”
And Paul takes us to Romans 6, to the information map, and points out the spiritual topography: here is slavery to sin and death; there is freedom from sin, release from the penalty of death, the promise of holiness and life, the eternal reality of heaven and home.
Over there is the “reign of sin”; over here is the “reign of grace.” There is Adam; and there is Christ. And you are here: “in Christ.” And there ahead of you is the path to glory, mapped out for you. Know where you are. Follow the arrows. Follow the guide.
If you are actively trusting Christ for salvation, you are closer to heaven and home today than when you first believed.
If you are actively trusting Christ for salvation, you have been reconciled to God; your peace with God is an unshakeable reality; you already experience the priceless gift of union with Christ.
Jesus has gone on ahead of you, to prepare a place for you, and he will come back and take you to be with him, so that you also may be where he is (see Jn 14:1-3). In the words of the old hymn by Augustus Toplady,
Our Head already is in heaven,
And we shall soon be there.
And that eternal hope is real, and certain, and strengthens and inspires us here and now. Some of you may not remember too many hymns, but you may recall the 1983 song by Dave Bilbrough, number 542 in the “Yellow Book”:
I am a new creation,
No more in condemnation,
Here in the grace of God I stand.
My heart is overflowing,
My love just keeps on growing,
Here in the grace of God I stand.
And I will praise You Lord,
Yes, I will praise You Lord,
And I will sing of all that You have done.
A joy that knows no limit,
A lightness in my spirit,
Here in the grace of God I stand.
“What shall we say then?” asks Paul. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1). It may sound logical, but it is not.
Yes, saving grace is amazing. It is precious. To hell you and I go, but for the grace of God. We don’t create more grace by creating more sins. That would be madness. There is no correlation between sin and grace. They are incompatible.
Neither sin nor grace is a commodity. It is not possible to improve or increase the grace of God, certainly not by extra sinning. If only one sin had ever been committed, it would still require the death of the Son of God to justify the lone sinner. And no matter how many sins are committed, there can never be a greater or more efficacious sacrifice for sin than the death of Christ once for all.
But most important is what Paul says in verse 2: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Again, that would be madness. As Michael Bird observes:
The problem of remaining in sin is the absurdity of the thought. It is kind of like asking whether one should remain stuck at the bottom of a well even while a rope has been lowered down to us. Grace is designed to get us out of that situation, not to make us feel more comfortable within it!
In verses 3-7, Paul invokes the symbolism of Christian baptism, reminding us that our going into the water and emerging from it is a picture of Jesus going down into death for us, and rising again.
Our dying and rising with Christ, our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, our union with Christ, means freedom from sin. We have a new Master: it is not sin, but Christ.
Hear these beautiful words from N.T. Wright, commenting on verse 6 in the light of Romans 5:21 and the symbolism of Christian baptism:
when grace enfolds the baptismal candidate, entwining the Jesus-story and the Jesus-reality with theirs, the communal solidarity that sin has created, generating the sense and the fact of helplessness as humans go along with all that sin suggests, is broken, and they are free to live under a different lordship.
When God is finished with us, all will be well. When our justification has permitted the full flourishing of sanctification, and we come to the end of our journey of discipleship in this world, and we are with Christ, we will not only be in glory but participants in glorification.
When God is finished with us, we shall have been saved from the penalty, power and presence of sin. On the map of spiritual history, right now, we are “in Christ” but also in this world, this veil of tears, where divine grace is available to overcome the power of sin in our lives, but not yet its presence.
But the day will come, when through death we are literally “set free from sin” (v. 7) when sin is absolutely defeated and gone forever from our lives, in the fulness of the new creation.
The good news is that victory is possible now through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. That is, in part, what Romans 5-8 is about.
It is foolish to expect sinless perfection in this life. That was possible only for Jesus, God in human flesh, who shared our human nature but not our predisposition to sin. Jesus was tempted to sin, and he was able not to sin. We too are tempted, but there are times when we surrender and sin triumphs. But that is not to be the norm, which is why Paul urges a lifestyle of holiness in verses 11-14. We are to “offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (v. 13b). There is work, hard moral work, to be done.
Paul will have more to say on this theme in verses 15-23, which we will look at next week, and much more in chapters 7-8, and in Colossians 3. But for now, let us be clear that when God justifies a sinner, he declares that person righteous, or holy, as God views them; and in doing so God begins the process of making them holy in practical, moment-by-moment terms, so that when we all get to heaven we will be ready to see our holy God face to face.
Let us also be clear that God keeps his promises and will not fail us.
Putting our mortal body out of sin’s grasp and into the grip of grace requires genuine effort, but we should not think of it as some kind of Jekyll and Hyde inner turmoil going on inside of us, as if we have a bipolar moral character. We are not half in Adam and half in Christ; no, the exodus has happened, death has occurred once and for all, we are in Christ and not in Adam, we are under grace not under law, and we are now free to serve in a whole new way of life opened up for us in Messiah Jesus.
Sermon 755 copyright © 2017 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 26 November 2017. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
 Michael F. Bird, Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), p. 195.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in New Interpreter’s Bible (ed. L.E. Keck; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), vol. 10, p. 540.
 Bird, Romans, p. 204.
Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.