by Pastor Doug Stratton — June 21, 2020

Romans 6: 1-11 

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

CCI: God wants us dead and alive – dead to sin and alive in Grace.

Introduction: Early in my life as a pastor, a man came up to me after a service to encourage me to preach against sin. He said, “Many years ago the preacher was talking about anger and temper. He told us the story of a man who got so mad at his mule he punched the mule in the jaw. In fact, he punched that mule with all his might. And he broke his hand while the mule just stood there.” He went on, “I was so convicted because I had beat my mule the day before. That is how you should preach against sin.”

As I read Romans again, I was struck by the fact that while Paul “preaches against sin” his message of grace is much louder. In fact, because he focused so much on grace, he had to begin this part of his sermon by saying, “Does that mean we should sin so grace will increase?” That seems like a strange question, but lets go back just a few verses. In chapter 5 Paul wrote: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” That, my friend, is preaching radical grace. Paul is declaring that we can never outsin God’s grace! I can hear someone saying, “Careful preacher, you are giving people permission to sin!” which is exactly the charge that Paul was anticipating. We need to sit with the radical nature of God’s Grace. A grace that is so abundant that people may think we excuse sin. 

I am going to be honest, I hope that if you have a complaint about my preaching it will be the concern that the way I preach grace may give people the impression that they have permission to sin. If you share that concern, I will respond just as Paul did: “By no means!” In fact, we might paraphrase that by saying, “Are you nuts, if you are thinking that, then you have never experienced Grace.  Because Grace results in gratitude that changes the question from what can I get away with, to how can I share this love.” And I believe that is the question we must ask: “How can I share the gracious love I have received?”

He then goes into a discussion of our relationship with Sin and our relationship with God. He describes sin as our slave master. 

In our society today, the expression slave master is one that stirs up images of cruelty and evil, and in Paul’s day, it stirred many of the same images: 30-40% of the population of the Empire lived as slaves. In Roman times, it was written: a slave “has no personality. He does not own his body; he has no ancestors, no name, no cognomen (no name to shared), no goods of his own.” The testimony of a slave could not be accepted in a court of law, unless the slave had been tortured.

But there was an interesting twist to the laws concerning slavery. Slaves were often freed by the terms of their master’s will at the master’s death. And that is perhaps what Paul had in mind when he talked about death freeing us from the mastery of sin. But it goes even farther than that, not only are we freed when Sin our master “Death” dies (which Paul said happened when Jesus rose) but in Jesus we too are dead to the master Sin – we died with Christ.

The problem arises when we do not live in the forgiveness God has provided us through Grace. By not living in grace, we reinvigorate the power of sin that Jesus has defeated. When that happens we end up living in spiritual blackmail. We believe our sin is secret, that it is known by no one else, not even by God. We think that if we can keep our secret, none will be the wiser. But spiritual blackmail is a tyrannical slave master. Fear that our sin may be discovered keeps us from experiencing the life that Jesus offers. Fear that we will be rejected by our friends and family and even by God gives the blackmail power over us and keeps us as slaves to sin. 

In one of the short stories of Sherlock Holmes, Charles Augustus Milverton, is presented as the King of Blackmailers. He held power over hundreds in London because he had dirt on them all. However, when he was shot by the wife of man he had blackmailed, Holmes refused to help the police prosecute her because the death of Milverton had freed all he had mastered. 

And that is the message of Paul in this passage. Through our sharing in Jesus’ death, the power of sin has been broken in our lives. It is impossible to be blackmailed by a dead person.

And here is the second part of the good news. Not only have we died with Christ, we have also been raise with Christ. We are new creatures who live not under the power of this world, but by the power of the Risen Christ. 

I have asked Joseph to join us today for a conversation on the topic of fighting the effects of sin in our lives and our society. You see, sin is not only a personal issue, it is a condition of humanity. Systemic racism is not some creation of the Left, it is the result of sin that impacts all of society.

Thank you Joseph for being willing to share on what can be a sensitive topic today. 

  1.  When you first read Pauls question, “Shall we sin that Grace may abound?” how did you react to that?
  2.  Have you ever experienced sin as Spiritual blackmail? How have you dealt with that? 
  3.  What does it mean to you to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”?
  4.  Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

Grace is a radical concept, it offers forgiveness where it is not deserved, it offers love where love has been spurned; it seeks those who have wandered voluntarily. Grace is God’s nature, and when we experience it, the idea that we would sin to get more becomes ludicrous. Rather we will live for the one who has loved us and we will share grace with those we encounter. 

And so we preach grace. To do otherwise is to create a hierarchy of sin and sinners. 

Earlier I told you the story of the man who wanted me to preach against sin. What I did not tell you is that I later learned that a few weeks after that sermon on beating your mule that same preacher spoke of the sin of domestic abuse. That preacher was summarily fired. The point being, pointing out sin that we think we can cure ourselves (not hitting the mule), while we may not like it, is a good reminder to work harder. But when sin requires grace to find victory, grace that is undeserved, and grace that is a pure gift of God, it threatens our sense of power. 

We all face the reality of sin, before we come to Christ, we are slaves to sin, but Jesus has opened a path and shown us the way to life. I invite you to take the path of life. As Joseph reminded us, if we focus on our sin and guilt, grace is lost to our experience, but if we focus on God’s gift of grace, gratitude will flow from our lives.

If you have been crucified with Christ, then live in him and let Jesus’ peace, and God’s grace, and Spirit’s strength create in you a new direction and purpose.

~ Pastor Doug