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    with a passion to worship God,
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    and bring God’s love into a broken world”


New Beginnings | Free to live UP to God

Maurits Stevens, July 2, 2017

I continue my series on ‘New Beginnings’ with the focus on ‘baptism’. From three different angles I look at the meaning of baptism in the life of a Christian. Last week I spoke about baptism as the introduction to discipleship of Jesus; serving, learning and following Christ. In this message, I look at baptism in relationship to the freedom from the power of sin in order to live UP to God.


One of my favourite movies is the classic Godfather. A movie about a family caught up in the sphere of the Italian mafia. In Godfather III mafia chief Don Michael Corleone seeks to release his family from this life of crime and violence. Despite his best efforts, the rising generation of mafia criminals keep pulling him back into this underworld. Embittered by it all, at one point in the movie Don Corleone cries out in anguish: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

I continue my series on ‘New Beginnings’ with the focus on ‘baptism’. From three different angles I look at the meaning of baptism in the life of a Christian. Last week I spoke about baptism as the introduction to discipleship of Jesus; serving, learning and following Christ. In this message, I look at baptism in relationship to the freedom from the power of sin in order to live UP to God.

Isn’t the cry of Don Michael Corleone a good illustration of our struggle to break free from  sin or sinful habits and patterns in our lives? Just when you think that ‘you are out’, you find yourself drawn back in?

So, if in Christ, you are set free from sin’s grip on your life, how then can you live out this freedom? How can you begin to recognize God’s power and help in your daily struggles? And what does baptism has to do with it?

Let’s read together Romans 6:1-13

Reading: Romans 6:1-13

Paul’s letter to the faith community in Rome is not an ‘easy read’. It’s full of doctrine and theology about the Christian faith, especially in the first 11 chapters. However, Paul considers the content of his letter as Christianity 101, basic stuff. Well, to him it might be basic, but man, I have wrestled with this chapter last week in preparation of this message ;)!

I am going to introduce two theological terms to give context to the passage: justification and sanctification. In the previous chapters Paul addressed ‘how you are delivered from the penalty of sin through which Jew and Gentile, you included, are made right with God’. This is what is called ‘justification’. In chapter 6-8 he builds on the thought of justification.

It is in the deliverance from the power of sin that Jew and Gentile, you included, can now live a right life with God on earth – a holy life’. This is what is called ‘sanctification’.

In both you discover God’s will and purpose for humanity. God is good and God is love – He restores the big mistake humanity once made through one man [Adam] through which sin and death entered the world. God brings us back to the original design for life. Which is a loving relationship of harmony and peace with God and the freedom of true [and eternal] life defined by grace and righteousness. As sin and death came through one man, so does God’s restoration come through one man: Jesus Christ [Rom. 5:12-20]. 

C.s. Lewis illustrates the process of sanctification with a story from his youth: ‘When I was a child, I often had a toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother, she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother--at least not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this: I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist the next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from my pain; but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they would start fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. Our Lord is like the dentists. Dozens of people go to him to be cured of some particular sin. Well, he will cure it all right, but he will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if you once call him in, he will give you the full treatment’. Sanctification is the full treatment in which God restores and heals the stuff that is not right in your life. The bible calls this stuff ‘sin’.

So far some of the context of Romans 6. It’s always helpful to know where you find yourself in the story of God in your bible. Let’s dig a little deeper and find out what Romans 6 is about.

  1. No longer slaves

In the typical style of raising rhetoric questions, Paul addresses a fundamental but basic Christian principle. It is the freedom from the power of sin, in order to live UP to God.

Shall we go on sinning in order that grace may increase? [a question that builds on what Paul addressed in 5:20].

 

Sin is the satanic poison that infuses and corrupts every aspect of life. It is the unbreakable, controllable power of wickedness, corruption and rebellion and the bible explains that ever since the fall everyone lives under the dominion of sin and is infused with this poison [Rom. 5:14, Eph. 2:1-7]. In this state, no one is free to truly live UP to God, but is bound to live a life in slavery to sin.

The power of the gospel is one of victory, of freedom, of release! We cannot break the power of sin, but what we cannot do, Jesus Christ did and did it for us: He destroyed the works of the devil on the cross – including the powers of sin and death [1 John 3:8]!! Now in Christ there is an escape, a gate or door, to another kind of life – one of freedom, released from satanic poison!

Of course, we should not go on sinning in order that grace may increase. It’s a rhetoric question that answers itself.

Don’t you know the fundamental and basic truth, says Paul, that ‘you died to sin…crucified your old self so that the body of sin might be done away…no longer slaves to sin…because you’re freed from sin?

Grace is not the freedom to sin but grace is the power to live a holy life! 

Romans 6 speaks about a shift, a transition, a transfer that has taken place with someone who is in Jesus Christ. It is like the transition of a colourless caterpillar, bound to a life on the ground, finding its way through the mud but at a certain period in its life, transforms into a beautiful, colourful butterfly, released to fly in the freedom of the air! 

Likewise, in Christ, a Christian has been transitioned from one into the other. Transitioned from the old realm of sin and death into the new realm of grace and life. From the old self – which was a self under the domination of sin – to the new self; a new creation in Christ [2 Cor. 5:17]. From the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son [Col. 1:13], from slavery to freedom. The old has gone, the new has come!

Therefore, ‘I close my eyes to old ends and open my heart to new beginnings’. Freed from sin’s power I am now free to live UP to God’s glory; this is the power of the gospel [Rom. 1:16]. I will come back to this later, but first I would like to look how and when this transition has taken place.

  1. United with Christ [on baptism]

And the surprising answer, the one that you probably didn’t expect, is that the transition into the realm of grace and life takes place in ‘baptism’. Baptism is like the cocoon in which the transition takes place from a caterpillar to butterfly. But wait a minute…isn’t it quite disturbing and confusing if it is true what Paul states, that the transfer takes place in baptism? Isn’t it through faith that I am saved – as I’ve always been told? This indeed sounds quite disturbing – and thus probably not that basic for us ;).  

But let me begin with what Paul actually says about baptism.

2 Key words, the first is ‘into’:

‘Or don’t know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too may live a new life’ [vs. 3-4].

‘Into’ in relationship to baptism means ‘full immersion, full entrance, full introduction’ [see also Matthew 28:19].

The second key word is ‘united’:

‘If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection’ [vs. 5].

‘United’ speaks about ‘relationship’, ‘connection’, ‘identification’ and ‘participation’.

Paul says that in the baptism, you are fully immersed, given entrance and introduced to the Person of Christ Jesus and his redemptive work, accomplished in his death and resurrection. Likewise, in baptism you fully identify and are fully united with Christ and fully united and participate in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

This is quite something what Paul says here! Paul speaks about baptism as the means [Gr: ‘dia’], the instrument, through which you and I are brought into connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Jesus who died on the cross to destroy the power of sin and death, and conquered these powers in his resurrection. In baptism, His death to sin becomes your death to sin and His resurrection to life becomes your resurrection to life [though the fullness of it is yet to be revealed]!

It’s not without a reason that Paul uses the language of burial in relationship to baptism. It is a burial in which you radically and decisively separate yourself from the old life under the realm of sin and death! This life no longer exists – I die to it, I die to my old self in baptism, in order to be raised into a new and different kind of life, in which the power of the holy Spirit and the kingdom of God [resurrection power] is already at work!

As the butterfly who is ready to fly – I am ready to live in the freedom of God! I cannot but say that I belief baptism is more than just a symbolic act. It is symbolic, but one with deep spiritual implications and significance.

  1. Intermezzo: Faith & Baptism

Last week a person came to me asking me how baptism relates to ‘faith’. He began to doubt whether he was or was not a disciple of Jesus since he was not yet baptized tough he beliefs in Jesus and follows him.

It is an important question, and I will repeat what I also said last week, also to be clear that I don’t want to give baptism a meaning that is not found in the NT. But faith and baptism in the NT are two sides of the same coin and in Romans 6 Paul uses ‘baptism’ as to summarize the whole conversion process of a person. Whereas today there is often a time gap between the period that a person comes to faith in Jesus and the day of baptism, it was unthinkable in Paul’s days.  

I imagine that Paul would immediately ask: ‘why aren’t you baptized? – finish the process!’ And yes, why aren’t you baptized, if this is true to you? What’s holding you back?

Compare baptism with a wedding ring. It’s in my ‘yes’ that I entered a marital relationship with my wife Margot; based upon my vows, my word, my surrendering to her, I am married. But the ring serves as a physical expression by which everyone can see, myself included: I am married, I’ve chosen to live my life in unity with Margot.

In Romans 3:22 Paul says: ‘…righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. There you go! It’s through faith that you receive….It’s by faith in Jesus Christ that you enter a relationship with God, are justified, saved, transferred etc. All based upon your ‘yes’ to Jesus.  

But it’s in the baptism that you physically and publicly express what you have received in the spiritual. In the baptism you express that you have chosen to live a life of sanctification – a live UP to God, in which the holy Spirit works out the life of Christ in us as we follow Him.

Baptism is what you need for your life here on earth – whereas faith is needed to enter a life of eternity.

  1. Lifestyle of worship

Let me close off by building upon what I just said about ‘your life here on earth’ as a follower of Jesus. How can you share in the daily experience of freedom from the power of sin? How can you live UP to God?

God is good and God is love, and His purpose is to free you in order to live a life UP to God – as and in Jesus [vs. 10,11]! It is only because you are freed from the power of sin that you now can choose to live a lifestyle of worship in harmony and unity with God.

And how does such a life look like?

‘Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ [vs. 11]. Sanctification is God’s work and yet it asks for your involvement. You’ll have to make a conscious and daily choice which king you choose to serve. Will you let sin reign as king over your life [or in that particular moment] or will you let Jesus be your King? To live UP to God begins with the choice to count yourself dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  

It sounds really simple, but the reality is that it is not simple. In these verses Paul paints the Christian life as one of battle. The word translated as ‘instrument’ also means ‘weapon’. Action follows on and reveals the choices of your heart. You can either use your body [which is your whole self] as instrument [or weapon] to fight for the good; to carry out God’s will and purpose or you can use your body to fight for what is wicked.   

However, the fact that you are delivered from the power of sin doesn’t make you never sin again. You will, simply because you and I are still in contact with a world that is under the influence of sin. This explains why the Christian life is like a battlefield. It will never be perfect, at least not on this side of eternity. You will fall and get hurt. You will at times make the wrong choices. At times you will cry out: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”.

Still, you are not under the law which condemns you to death, but under grace by which you are released into life.

Its grace that runs through your veins and by which you now live in harmony, peace, unity with God [Rom. 5:1-2] – and nothing will change that for, says Paul, ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because by the law of the Spirit of life, you are set free from the law of sin and death’ [Rom. 8:1-2].

And when you are tempted and attacked by satan, you can point to your baptism and say: that’s where I died. I am now raised to a different kind of life – the life of Christ. But when you lose that battle and choose to serve a different king then Jesus; know that you always are invited to return to Grace and be restored from your wounds.

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