The first issue we explored from Paul’s letter to the Romans was the meaning and message of the gospel—in Romans 1-5.
In this study, I want to offer a reminder of Paul’s message about choices and behaviors of those who are following God because of the gospel. Romans 6-8 moves from the issues of salvation to the issues of transformation of a believer—since God’s purpose in salvation wasn’t simply to change where we go when we die, but how we live in the “here and now.”
Paul taught in the middle section of the Epistle to the Romans that believers are to be transformed because they have completed their old life, died, and now have a new life to live.
Let’s start by admitting the obvious: “Death changes many things.” Finally, we don’t have to pay taxes anymore when we die. People can send whatever bill they want to us—and not only are we not going to pay it, no one expects us to do so. Death makes our old obligations null and void. That may sound so obvious that it is really stupid, but the fact is that the center section of Romans was dedicated to that single idea: When you surrendered to Jesus—you “died” as your own master and turned your life and direction over to Jesus, so you don’t have the same obligations you had before to serve self and sin.
Paul wanted believers to understand that the world is not our master, nor are our lusts and desires that which has mastery over us. Let me ask you: “Is that true of you?” Do you live to fulfill the desires of the One Who saved you?
If that is not true in your daily life, it may be because you aren’t truly one of His, or it may be because you are still somehow convinced that you are under an obligation or an authority that has been broken by your choice to follow a new Master—Jesus. This simple fact is this: Because Jesus is your Master—you don’t have to serve your old masters anymore.
Our surrender to Christ is like a “death” to the former masters of our life. That act breaks our obligation to serve sin and meticulous atonement laws to “keep ourselves in God’s favor”—replacing sin and service with the gentle guidance of God’s Spirit within.
All of us face the choice to let outside forces drive us, or inner desires press us to do what we do. People are very often driven by inner desires—I see them every day. They act like they are free, but they cannot find resolution in life without their pills or the bottle that seems to satisfy an inner sense of incompleteness. Many are driven by an addiction to the affirmation of other people—the hunger to be loved. They move about seeking someone to tell them how important they are and how good their work has been. They aren’t happy about it—they seem more like addicts driven to please than those at peace with life inside.
At the same time, I regularly meet people who are so hounded by fear and inadequacy—they adopt standards of a religious life because they feel God would not love them without “doing big things” for Him. They move about through life nervously practicing things, sure that if they fall off the ledge of some right behavior, God’s grace is insufficient for them to remain in His good graces—and God will withdraw in horror over their choices—never to return. They seem unaware that it is far better to be led by the God’s Spirit into grace than to be driven by the need to practice things in a way that seeks to “keep God’s interest” in them. I think they feel boring, unlovable and unstable in their tenuous connection to God.
The good news is that these tendencies—to feel driven by sin or driven by religious prompting are not new to the faith. People have struggled with both since the beginning of the spread of the message of Jesus. Paul encountered the two tendencies, and he wrote to the people of Rome about both—along with a practical solution. His basic argument was this: You can be driven by your desires, tossed about by your spiritual inadequacies—or be led by God’s Spirit—but it is always better to be led than driven. God’s leading comes with God’s peace. Driven individuals (those chasing after the hole in their sufficiency and adequacy) know little of peace. Look in Romans 6-8 for a few moments and let’s follow his basic argument.
Believers Need to Take Control of Their Choices
Paul reminded us that since God’s grace is so rich, free and complete –we should find rest in it, and live to please Him, allowing Him to continue to lavish forgiveness on us in spite of our continued selfishness. He asks a strange question that anticipates a negative answer:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (NIV, Rom. 6:1)
On the surface, that may sound like a ridiculous idea—to sin more so as to experience God’s grace in a deeper way—but it is one that many believers have had over the centuries. The idea that God would “forgive them anyway” led some to think there was no urgent need to deny self and follow Jesus. That thinking is neither new nor silly—it is an area worked over through the ages. Some extreme versions are even to suggest that we are “helping God” by allowing His forgiveness to increase as our sin does. It is flawed logic rooted in selfishness—a “God helps those who help themselves” theology. It is true that God will forgive you for sin. It is true that Jesus paid for all of your sin as a believer in Him. It is also true that your new identity in Jesus means that you aren’t supposed to think in rebellious terms anymore.
The Illustration of Death
Paul flatly turned down that reasoning. He contended that sin and desire no longer hold us in chains, because they were broken by Christ. Therefore we don’t need to be driven by sin, because we died to it when we surrendered to Jesus. We don’t have to serve our desires—because of our new identity and new life in Christ! Look at how he continues:
By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 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. 6 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—7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:2-7)
There it is—you can choose to allow God to transform your allegiance to following your desires and hungers—and let Him work in you to engage a new life. Let’s take apart what Paul wrote, because it has some “religious” terms that can lead us in the wrong way if we don’t carefully understand them.