Twelfth Sunday After Trinity August 17, 1997
11, 403, 298, 36
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion 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. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. So far the holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Risen One, who bids us rise to new life in Him, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Ever heard of a zombie? According to Hollywood film makers, a zombie is a person who’s both dead and alive at the same time. This imaginary creature—I sometimes think—was dreamt up for the express purpose of scaring little kids out of their wits at Saturday matinees. I know it worked on me! Those old movies like Night of the Living Dead had kids like me shaking in our shoes and checking under beds to make sure there were none of those “undead” zombies around!
Of course, such a thing is impossible. Death and life are absolutes. You can’t be both dead and alive at the same time…or can you? The Bible says you can! Scripture’s version, of course, has nothing to do with fanciful stories. But in the text I just read to you, the Apostle Paul says that the condition of being dead and alive does exist; and it exists in only one class of people: Christians. It’s a condition brought about by one of God’s most gracious gifts to sinners: the sacrament of Baptism. Now, if you haven’t thought much about your baptism lately…if your baptism seems like nothing more than a quaint ceremony that took place years ago…if, in fact, you’re not thinking about your baptism every day of your life…then you’re missing out on a tremendous source of comfort and encouragement. Consider with me the theme…
In the chapter just before our text, Paul has just got done talking about the grace of God. God forgives sins freely, as a gift, for Jesus’ sake. That’s what grace is, and it’s a wonderful thing. There’s only one problem. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to say, “Well, if God’s grace is so wonderful, then why not go out and sin as much as we possibly can? Then the grace of God will be poured out even more abundantly!” From our text, it looks like there were people in the congregation at Rome who were doing that very thing. They were allowing sin to govern their lives. They were using the members of their bodies, not to serve God, but to serve their own fleshly lusts.
What about you? Have you got that same sort of problem? Have you ever caught yourself saying, “Well, I know that what I’m about to do is a sin…but God will forgive me,” and then gone ahead and done it anyway? Have you spoken hurtful words to your spouse or your children, gossiped about your neighbor, indulged in sinful pleasures you knew were wrong…and all the time with that thought in the back of your mind, “Well, God will forgive me”? Christian, beware! God’s grace is not a license to sin. If anyone goes on living that kind of life, Paul says, then they don’t understand what it means to be a Christian. In fact, for a believer it’s simply impossible to go on blithely living in sin. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul asks. “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
The bad news is that sin is a dominating thing. Sin is always trying to tempt you, trying to make you guilty, and trying to make that guilt stick. The good news is that you have been baptized, and that means that you are dead to sin. Dead to the guilt of sin, dead to the domination of sin, and dead to the service of sin.
Our text says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” What does it mean to be “baptized into the death” of Jesus? It sounds a little strange, but it’s actually a wonderful thing. Baptism connects you with the person into whose name you were baptized; everything he has or has done becomes yours in baptism. Let me put it this way: if you could be “baptized” into Bill Gates, the richest man in America, then you’d be a billionaire, you’d receive all the benefits of his great wealth. If you could be “baptized” into Troy Aichmann, the Dallas quarterback, then for all intents and purposes, you’d be the one with those Superbowl victories under your belt.
But they’re just human beings. You’ve been baptized into the Son of God! And that means you get all the benefits from His death on the cross. On Good Friday, Jesus was led up Calvary hill by the Roman soldiers and nailed to the cross. As He suffered through those long, dark hours, He was paying the price for the sins of all mankind. And when He died, the payment was complete. Here’s the point: your baptism connects you to His death. Through baptism, you personally have been “redeemed, restored, forgiven.” Because you were baptized, you can be absolutely certain that your sins also were nailed to that cross. Your guilt also was completely done away with. Your name also has been written in God’s Book of Life! “Because we judge thus,” says the Apostle, “that if One died for all, then all died.” 2 Cor 5:14.
People have said to me, “Pastor, my sins are so many! I’ve been such an unfaithful servant of God! I just can’t believe that I’m really forgiven.” My question to them is, haven’t you been baptized yet? You have? Well then, the guilt of your sin is gone, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Either that, or God is a liar, because He promises that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. So what if your sins are great? Paul has just said in chapter five, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” —5:20.
Baptism connects you to Jesus’ death, and frees you from sin’s guilt. That means your sin no longer has the power to throw you into hell. But baptism also does something else: it also frees you from sin’s domination. In other words, sin no longer has the power to control your life, either! Paul says, “Knowing this, that our old man (our sinful flesh, the sin inside of us) was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.”
I’ll give you a picture of this. In ancient times, a king would often defend himself by building a walled city. He’d construct a large stone wall surrounding his capital, sometimes the wall was 30-50 feet high or higher. In addition, at the center of the town he’d build a high stone tower called a citadel. The citadel was the king’s headquarters, the place he ruled from, and also the place into which he could retreat if those outer walls were ever broken through by hostile forces.
Well, imagine yourself as a walled city. The parts of your physical body are the outer walls, and your heart is the citadel. Now, by nature, Sin was the evil king who ruled in the citadel of your heart from before you were even born. But then you were baptized—baptized into Jesus Christ—and that evil tyrant Sin was cast out! Now the Lord Jesus is sitting on the throne. He rules in citadel of your heart. You see, that’s what baptism does: it makes you dead to the service of sin.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the tyrant Sin has given up the fight. He’s lost the citadel, but he can still attack the walls! He’ll come after your bodily members. He’ll tempt your mind to give in to lustful thoughts. He’ll tempt you to give your body to fornication and uncleanness. He’ll tempt you to gratify your body with self-indulgence and with sinful pleasures. He’ll keep attacking those walls, and all the time, he’s looking to regain, if possible, the citadel of your heart!
How can we resist these attacks of sin? Again, Paul directs us to the example of Jesus. Yes, Jesus died; but He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave on the third day to a new, triumphant life. Paul tells us that, like Christ, we baptized Christians have died to sin. But that’s not all. Baptism makes us dead and alive! We are alive to the service of God.
We can now live a new kind of life, too. That new life starts with the way we think about ourselves. Our text says, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “Reckon yourselves…” says the Apostle; “Think of yourselves this way.” Now, if you look at the original Greek you’ll see that that’s not an encouragement, and it’s not a suggestion. It’s a downright command. As much as to say, “From now on, consider it a settled fact that you are dead to sin and alive to God.”
“Therefore…present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Your baptism makes you alive to the service of God. It takes you out of the sphere of the unbelieving world and places you in the sphere of Christ. Now it’s time to show that by the way you live. In chapter twelve Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” 12:1.
Through His Son, God has given you the gift of eternal life. How can you show your gratitude for that? —By serving the Lord with your members. You can serve Him with your lips by sharing the Good News about Jesus with people you know and meet. You can serve Him with your hands by volunteering for the work that needs to be done for this congregation. You can serve him with your checkbook by supporting the work of the Gospel. You married couples can serve Him with the love and consideration you show for one another. You young people can serve Him with your bodies by keeping yourselves chaste and pure until marriage. You men can serve Him with your wisdom by attending our voters’ meetings and helping with the governance of our congregational affairs. These are just a few examples, of course. I’m sure you can think of a lot more ways in which you, personally, can “present your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” After all He’s done for you, I think you’ll agree with Paul that this is our “reasonable service!”
Philip Melanchton was probably the second-most important figure in the Lutheran Reformation, after Martin Luther himself. He wrote the Augsburg Confession, by the way—one of the documents you subscribed to when you joined this congregation. It’s interesting that one of Melanchton’s favorite Bible passages was this last verse in our text, verse fourteen: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” This verse, he said, is the sweetest comfort a Christian could ever have. For it is not a command, not a wish, or a hope, or even a prayer…it’s a promise. Sin shall not have dominion over you! The Lord is saying to every baptized Christian, “Have no fear. Sin shall not be your master! For I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” The Day is approaching when you will be completely delivered from sin. Until then, remember your baptism. And let Christ be your Master. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.