SERMON TITLE: Freedom from Sin
TEXT: Romans 6:12-14 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s great to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And this weekend is the official launch of our Bowling Green campus — we’re excited to see what God is going to do in and through you in that community. And — as always — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
Today we’re continuing our series in the sixth chapter of the book of Romans. And in this chapter — Paul — who wrote the letter — has shifted his focus from the idea of justification — our being declared not guilty because of our faith in what Jesus has accomplished — to the freedom that’s given to those whom God has justified.
And something you may be tired of hearing me talk about — is sin. I get it — it’s not a popular conversation starter. But Paul’s on a rant about sin — so we can’t ignore the topic.
But ignoring sin is something a lot of people do today. Ignoring sin may be something you find common among people you work with — ignoring sin may be the norm among your classmates — because sin is something many people don’t even think exists. And they especially don’t view sin as having some kind of power over them — a power they’re a slave to — a power they’ve submitted to. At best — and you’ve heard me say this before — at best — if sin is even a real thing — it’s a choice. And only a few people make it.
That’s why many people have an “If it feels good, choose it; if it doesn’t feel good, avoid it” philosophy to life. Or — as it’s been said — “Choose what feels good to you and leave everybody else to choose what they want. Don’t spend any time saying, ‘They should choose differently [to] feel better.’ Instead say, ‘They’re choosing whatever they’re choosing; I’m choosing what I’m choosing, and I’m feeling good while I’m choosing it.’ And let that be the end of it.” (Abraham-Hicks’ quote)
“Choose what feels good to you.” How many of us have heard this advice before? How many of us have taken this advice before? Recently — and no offense to Northwest Ohio’s finest Chick-Fil-A operator — but recently I was at Chick-Fil-A and I ordered their new mac and cheese — I chose what felt good to me. And as I was eating the delicious mac and cheese — I kept thinking, “Next time I might as well just order mac and cheese and a huge milkshake because this feels so good — who cares about nutrition!”
But for all of us — right — at some point in our lives — maybe even recently — wasn’t this the philosophy we lived by — “choose whatever feels good to you.”
Now we are responsible for the choices we make. So that’s a place of agreement between Christianity and culture — we have to own — not abdicate — that we’re responsible for our choices.
However, where Christianity disagrees with the thinking of our day — is the idea that “what feels good must be good.” Because — as we saw a few weeks ago — every part of us has been affected by sin. It’s not just that our bodies age — and that we face disease and death — and that’s the extent of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace on our lives — but we Christians believe that our thinking — and even our feelings — have been affected by sin.
And that means — if our choices are based on what we think feels good — well we’d say that’s no reason to believe that your choices are actually good because your feelings aren’t 100% reliable. And the reason — for all of this — is sin. Sin — and it’s enslaving power — has bent us to believe that some things are good — which are actually bad — and that some things are bad — which are actually good.
And this shows us our need for deliverance — for liberation — that we need to be rescued from sin’s power — that all people need to be set free from the reign and rule of sin — and this freedom is what we find in the gospel. That through Jesus’ death and resurrection — freedom — from the power and reign and rule of sin is now available to those who put their faith in all that Jesus has done for them. And in being given this freedom — which is a gift — in being given this freedom God’s people now have the responsibility to live in joyful obedience to God — instead of living in joyless obedience to sin.
So let’s turn to our passage for today where we discover more about our freedom.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Romans chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 12-14.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our weekly podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Romans 6. Beginning in verse 12.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 ESV)
Here’s what we find in our verses. First, we’re to refuse sin’s reign. Second, we’re a weapon to be used for righteousness. And — third — we’re to live under the reign of grace.
We’re to refuse sin’s reign. We’re a weapon to be used for righteousness. And we’re to live under the reign of grace.
Let’s begin back in verse 12.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” (Romans 6:12 ESV)
“Let not sin therefore reign…” Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly — we’re to refuse sin’s reign and rule in our life. And this is a command — “don’t let sin reign in your life.” Or as another translation says it, “...you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day.” (Romans 6:12, MSG) Don’t give sin the time of day. I bet many of us would have less heartache if we put into practice this one command. I bet others would have less heartache if we all obeyed this command.
Now something Paul has — and continues to emphasize — is that part of being human — and this rubs us the wrong way — but part of what it means to be human is to live under the reign and rule of something or someone else. Now we all like to think we’re the masters of our universe — but let’s be real — none of us are that awesome. I didn’t hear anyone announce your arrival when you pulled into the parking lot. I didn’t get a text, “Josh you won’t believe who’s here at our campus this morning.” So — yeah — none of us are a big deal — no masters of the universe among us.
And — I hate to break the news to you — but the options are pretty slim on who — or what — is your master. In one corner we have team A — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and in the other corner we have team F — Satan, sin, death, and Hell. No other options. You don’t get to make up a third option where you’re your own master — that’s actually a tactic that team F loves to get people to fall for.
So to be human is to live under the reign and rule of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or under the reign and rule of Satan, sin, death, and Hell.
Over 20 years ago, a reader of New York magazine wrote these words in response to an article about cosmetic surgery — and notice their language of how we can’t help but live with a master.
While reading your cover article I began to wonder what our society would be like if kind ears and strong minds were respected, revered, and a turn-on. Obsessing about beauty and thinness is a luxury that only wealthy countries can afford. We worship the media and the false idols they provide us while in our own cities and elsewhere in the world people are starving. Yet we are the slaves. Vanity is a disease, and we Americans are infected. (New York, August 5, 1996.)
“Yet we are the slaves.” That’s another way of saying “to be human is to be a slave of something or someone else.”
And Paul says, “Don’t let sin reign over you.”
Don’t let sin be your lord.
Don’t let it be your master.
Don’t obey its passions and desires. Wait — what does that mean — that sin has desires?
What Paul’s trying to communicate to us is how sin — which all of us have been affected by — how sin wants to control you. And notice how Paul describes this as a war — a war that affects your whole body.
So sin isn’t just a way of thinking.
Sin isn’t just having certain feelings.
Sin isn’t even just doing certain things.
Paul says, “Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body.”
Don’t let it reign over all of who you are.
In fact — he argues — let the fact that your body is mortal — not immortal which is what we all long for — let your mortality remind you of your vulnerability to sin’s rule and reign.
Paul’s concerned about what controls you.
How concerned are you about what’s controlling you?
And — for Paul — sin is more than just the bad choices we make. Sin is a power. Some have said that this is Paul’s primary teaching on the topic of sin — that sin is a power — a force over which the unaided human being has no control — or freedom — from. Paul describes sin as a verb — something we do — but he also describes sin — like in our verses — as a power over humanity. (Charles B. Cousar, A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 57.)
But in our verses — Paul’s emphasizing the power side of sin — he’s less focused on the verb side — he’s not focused on our choosing to do sinful things. And this is quite the opposite of how we tend to think of sin, isn’t it? As I said earlier, we think of sin primarily as a choice. Where Paul — though he acknowledges the verb side — the “we choose to” aspect of sin — he primarily thinks of sin as a power — as a slavemaster — as something people need to be set free from.
So why this focus for Paul? Well he’s writing to Christians and — as he said earlier — he wants them to walk “in the newness of life” that Jesus has made possible for them to live in. You see, because of their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection they’ve been set free to live in a new way. And — in our verses — it’s like Paul is commanding them to fight — to not give in — to not abdicate their responsibility to live in freedom — because that’s what Jesus has given them the power to do — you too — if you believe. Jesus has set you free to fight against the reign of sin and live in a new — free from sin’s power — way.
And this means that part of our calling — as Christians — is to resist the reign of sin in our life. And maybe this resistance — this refusal to obey sin — is something lacking in your life. You’ve become complacent — thinking something like, “Well you know I do believe in Jesus. I prayed a prayer when I was younger. I was baptized or passed confirmation class or whatever it is you may think.” But what I hope you’ll see is the seriousness of letting sin reign over you when Jesus has set you free. God’s people are not to pursue sin — we’re to fight against sin. And a great question for all of us to wrestle with is this: How am I actively fighting the reign of sin in my life? Am I even fighting or am I just giving into sin?
We live in a world where most people assume they’re free — but they’re a slave to sin — they can’t help but choose to obey their master. And the reason why they assume they’re free is — as Andrew Murray said — “One great power of sin is that it blinds men so...they do not recognize its true character.” So many think they’re free, but they’re not — they’re blind to their enslavement to sin. Meanwhile — if you’re a Christian — you are free — you’re no longer blind to the power of sin — Jesus has given you eyes to see — so — Paul says — choose to live in — choose to fight for — the freedom you’ve been given — freedom from the reign and rule of sin.
But what does living in this freedom — what does fighting against the reign of sin — look like? Let’s keep reading in verse 13.
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:13 ESV)
So this verse tells us — really this verse commands us — as to how we’re to refuse the reign of sin in our lives as Christians — this is how we fight. How? By being a weapon for righteousness. The Greek word translated as “instrument” has the idea of being used as a “tool or weapon to bring about a desired end.”
So if you’re a Christian, you’re a weapon in God’s hand to be used to bring about his desired end. This is how you should see yourself — a weapon for righteousness in God’s hands — because that’s what you are. And the reason why I like the word “weapon” is because it brings with it the seriousness of the fact that we’re in a war — we’re in a spiritual battle — this reign of sin must be fought against — this isn’t peace time — this is no time for complacency — we’re in a war — and the complacent always end up victims of war. Or worse — you become a weapon in the hands of the enemy.
That’s part of Paul’s imagery in verse 13 — you’re either a weapon of righteousness — a weapon in God’s hands being used for his glory and the good of others — or you’re being used as a weapon for unrighteousness — a weapon of nuclear level wickedness in the hands of our enemy.
And so — we — God’s people — are to be active in this fight against sin. We’re — as God’s weapons of righteousness — to participate in the overthrow of the reign and rule of sin in our world.
And this means that — one place where we Christians are to present ourselves as instruments — or weapons for righteousness — is in the public square. I know we’re told to keep our faith private — and all that — but how can we?
We shouldn’t be jerks about it — but we should speak openly and honestly about sin’s reign being the source of the world’s evils.
We need to expose the false belief that “what feels good is good” because this kind of thinking leads to everything from greed to killing the unborn — from poverty to the sex slave trade going on in our world.
We must remind ourselves — and lovingly show others — that it’s not just that “evil people” exist in the world and it’s a select few who choose to do evil things — no — all people have been taken captive by the power of sin and Jesus is the only one who can set them free.
And this is why in public — not just in private — but in public is the place for us Christians to live, and to minister, and to serve, and to witness.
This is why — as Jesus said — we’re to shine his light of truth in this dark world.
It’s why we’re to fight — with all of God’s strength — against being instruments contributing to more unrighteousness in our world and — instead — are to be instruments of righteousness.
Instruments of reconciliation.
Instruments of peace.
Instruments of love and hope and kindness and redemption.
The world needs you — if you’re a Christian — to not keep your faith private.
The world needs you to go public with your faith.
But how do we do this — how do we present ourselves as instruments — or weapons — of righteousness?
Well being a weapon of righteousness has four parts to it. Piety. Justice. Personal. And social. So let’s talk about these categories.
What’s piety? Think of piety as doing what’s right towards God — think of piety as your devotion to God.
What about justice? Justice is doing what’s right towards others — think of justice as your devotion to humanity.
Personal is about you as an individual.
And social is about us as a corporate community — the church — and to keep things simple — we’ll think of Gateway.
Now the Bible is clear — being an instrument of righteousness includes all four — piety, justice, personal, and social. So all of us are to be actively engaged in all four areas — we’re to be weapons in God’s hands that are used in these different ways. Why? Because we’re people who’ve been set free to live under the rule of grace — and living under the rule of grace has implications in all four of these areas.
PERSONAL PIETY (Bible reading; Prayer; Personal devotions; Quiet time)
Now most evangelical Christians — which is who we are — tend to focus almost entirely on personal piety. Bible reading. Prayer. Personal devotions. Quiet time.
For most Christians in America — personal piety — is where they spend the majority of their spiritual time. And what’s the result of so many of us spending the majority of our time here? Well we’re only being used as a weapon of righteousness in one quarter of the way we’re supposed to be being used.
And notice how it’s all focused on ourselves — it’s good that we’re growing — but the influence on others is pretty limited when we stay in this square. And the results of us being focused almost entirely in this area — is kind of troubling when you look at the spiritual state of our country these days. Obviously, something needs to change if we want to see things change.
Now — praise God — that grace is influencing us in some way. But look at how little grace is reigning and ruling in our lives when it’s only affecting us in 25% of the way it should be.
SOCIAL JUSTICE (Women’s Resource Center; Schools; City Mission; Medical Missions)
Now — in recent decades — the idea of social justice has grown in popularity. Often this is viewed as a liberal church thing — but the Bible often speaks about social justice. Being social — this is something done corporately — so these would be things at Gateway like our relationship with Women’s Resource Center here in Findlay. Helping out in the local schools — like at Jacobs Elementary. Our partnership with City Mission or doing medical mission trips.
But even with the popularity of social justice rising in recent decades — we’re now only up to 50% of our life being influenced by the reign and rule of grace.
So let’s talk about these other two areas that are often neglected.
SOCIAL PIETY (Corporate worship; Bible studies; Prayer groups; Life Groups)
What’s social piety? If you’re familiar with the New Testament, think of the stories in Acts chapters 2 and 4. The early Christians were constantly in community with one another — there was a social aspect to their faith. And as they gathered together, they would worship and pray. They would share the Lord’s Supper and hear God’s Word read and preached.
What do these examples show us? Well they show us that social piety includes things like regularly gathering together for corporate worship. One way we see our lack of emphasis on social piety is in how church attendance has been decreasing for decades in our country — the overemphasis on personal piety has led many to dismiss the church as irrelevant to their Christian faith.
Social piety — here at Gateway — would include things like participating in Bible studies and meeting with a few Christian friends for prayer and to discuss what God is doing in your life.
I recently read a book titled The Reluctant Witness. It’s a book based on current research on how American Christians talk — or for the most part — don’t talk — about their faith. Here’s one startling statistic from the research. Seventy-four percent of American Christians have fewer than 10 spiritual conversations a year. Now let me define “spiritual conversation” for you and then I’ll read that statistic again.
In the study, a spiritual conversation included “any conversation about spiritual or faith matters (including doubts) with ANYONE. This would include talking about Jesus with a non-Christian but would also include talking about the sermon you just heard with your spouse. These spiritual conversations could have been in person but also could have occurred on the phone, via text, or even on social media.” (Don Everts, The Reluctant Witness, pg 20.)
OK. So that’s a pretty broad — and generous — definition. So we’re not talking about going up to a stranger on the street — or a conversation with that coworker who’s made it clear they don’t want anything to do with religion — literally any spiritual conversation counted in this research. And — we American Christians — at least 74% of us — are having less than 10 spiritual conversations a year. And when you don’t talk about your faith — well — guess what happens? Most end up drifting away from the faith. Thus the fastest growing religion in our country is called the “nones.” N-O-N-E-S — not the Roman Catholic women — the fastest growing religious group in our country are people who have no religion.
Yet simply talking about your faith has an incredible impact on your relationship with God. And a place to talk about your faith — here at Gateway — is in a Life Group. Even if your group meets every other week and takes the summer off, you’ll still have 15-20 spiritual conversations with the people in your group during the year. Not including conversations with your spouse — if you’re married — or with your kids — if you’re a parent. You’ll beat the statistic just by being in a life group and — the more you talk about your faith — the stronger your faith becomes.
Where does your faith and others regularly intersect?
PERSONAL JUSTICE (Foster care; Tutor)
And — finally — personal justice. This is where we make the justice issues — in the Bible — personal.
This is where you personally go and serve at Women’s Resource Center or at City Mission. This is where you get involved in things like our foster care system — like some of you have. Maybe you become a tutor for a student who doesn’t have the support at home. There are all kinds of ways for you to make personal the injustices that are all around us.
Now an issue that some evangelical Christians have had with justice — is how justice type things don’t always include a “let’s share the gospel right now” kind of aspect to them. Now let’s put aside the fact that most evangelicals don’t share their faith anyway — which makes the argument a bit silly — but the fact is that personal and social justice opportunities often open the door for sharing the gospel.
Dr. David Livingstone went to Africa as a missionary doctor. Once there, he became a champion of the anti-slavery movement and he used his influence to fight the injustice of slavery that was going on. And this personal justice issue for him — him being used as a weapon for righteousness against slavery — opened the door for other missionaries to share the gospel — as they followed him into the various villages. Dr. Livingstone never thought he was called to preach — but God used him as an instrument for righteousness to disrupt the slave trade which created opportunities for other missionaries to share the gospel. (Leslie Morrill, Livingstone: Trail Blazer for God (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1959).)
Being an instrument of righteousness — being a weapon for righteousness in God’s hands — means all of these areas are affected by the reign of God’s grace in your life. If we’re honest, all of us are probably stronger in one area and weaker in others. Which of these areas does God want to begin using you as a more effective weapon of righteousness?
And now Paul shows us where our power — to be used as weapons for righteousness — comes from . Verse 14.
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 ESV)
Our power in being used as weapons for righteousness is that we — if you believe — are not under the reign of sin — but are under the reign and rule of God’s grace.
Or to say it another way, “Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.” (Romans 6:14, MSG)
Earlier in Romans, Paul told us what it means to live under grace. To be under grace is to have “God’s wonderful grace rule” (Romans 5:21, NLT) over you. He’s told us that being under God’s grace is “where we stand” (Romans 5:2, NLT)— this is the ground our feet are planted on. To live under grace means we have “triumph over sin and death through...Jesus Christ.”( Romans 5:17, NLT) It means we live a life that’s different from the life we used to live under the reign of sin — such a different life that it’s like — really it’s more than “like” — it’s that you have died to sin’s reign (Romans 6:2, NLT) and have been raised from the dead. (Romans 6:11, NLT)
And all of these wonderful — glorious — undeserved — hope-filled — truths lead us to the commands we’re to obey and give us the power to obey them.
Don’t let sin reign in your life.
Don’t be used as a weapon for unrighteousness.
Be used as a weapon for righteousness.
Why? How? Because you are under the reign of grace!
So — Christian — these truths aren’t just showing you what you can — or will be — some day. These truths show you who you are right now. Having been united with Christ in his death — you have been resurrected with him. This is who you are — right now — if you’ve repented of your sins and have turned to Jesus in faith. So the command is this: Be who you already are. Be who God says you are. Be a weapon of righteousness. Live in freedom.
Now I realize that you may be listening to all that I’ve said and still believe “what feels good is good.” You’re not willing to accept the idea of sin being an evil power that enslaves us. So here’s what I’d ask you to consider: “If what feels good is good” — why do so many people do things that you’d say aren’t good? Why the rage on Twitter and social media because someone was simply doing something they felt was good?
You see — whether you’re willing to admit it or not — you have a standard of what’s good and evil — of what’s right and wrong — and this standard isn’t based solely on “what feels good.” So where does your standard of good and evil come from?
But back to you — if you’re a Christian. This stance. This stake in the ground. This “I’ve dug in my heels and am ready to battle against sin knowing that God is with me and the victory is certain.” The way we fight faithfully — in this war — is by believing that who God says we are is who we really are. Who God says we are is the truth we’re to live by — this is our confident hope. And it’s when we believe that we are who God says we are — it’s then — and only then — that we’ll be weapons of righteousness that God uses for his glory and for the good of all people. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the freedom we’ve been given through our faith in Jesus Christ. Help us to believe that who you say we are is who we really are. Free. Weapons of righteousness in your hands. Spirit-empowered sons and daughters.
Spirit, reveal to each of us an area of our life where you want to stretch and grow us — in order to use us as an instrument of righteousness. Whether that’s personal piety, social piety, personal justice or social justice. Help us to allow your freeing grace to reign over all of these areas of our life.
And Jesus, would you set free those among us who are enslaved to sin today? This is not just what you do — this is what you came to do — this is what you love so much to do — that you gave your life in order to set people free. So for those who are enslaved, for those who are weighed down by the tyranny for a cruel slave master — Jesus set them free. Give them the gift of faith and draw them to you. It’s in your name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: take a step towards filling in one of the areas of your life that God’s grace hasn't been influencing — personal piety; social piety; personal justice; social justice)
May you go being who God says you are — a weapon of righteousness in his hands. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.