How many of you have heard of a weapon called the AK-47 assault rifle?
It was invented by a Russian general named Mikhail Kalashnikov. The gun became popular with terrorist groups and many nations because it is simple and almost impossible to destroy. When the general was confronted about the number of lives his weapon had taken, the general replied, “I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it.”
The general died in December of 2013, and shortly before his death he might have regretted his words. In a letter he wrote to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, he asked, “If my rifle took away people’s lives, then can it be that I am guilty for people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?”
All of us have sins hidden in the back of our minds and in the corners of our hearts. These private sins give us grief any time they come to the surface of our thoughts. Even though they might have been forgotten by others, and even though we have been forgiven by God, the sins still bother us. The apostle Paul offers us this assurance: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law, but under grace.”
There are other people who believe that by doing good deeds they will get to heaven when they die. Unfortunately, they are dead wrong. The only way we can gain the new life that salvation offers is to die a spiritual death. In other words, our sin-filled nature has to die, and the only way it can die is if we accept Christ in faith. That is the point of Romans 6:1-13.
Just like Christ died, was buried, descended to hell and rose again, we have to be “buried” with him by baptism into faith. Only then can our link to our old, sinful life be severed. When we die to sin, death has no more dominion over us. We are reborn into a new life in Christ, just like Christ was resurrected from the dead. Our new “body” is clean, and it must be kept free from sin.
Some people also believe that once our sins are forgiven, they will continue to be forgiven, so we can continue to do whatever we want to. The German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this attitude as “cheap grace.” People who have this attitude are forgetting one thing. Grace may be cheap for us, but it was not cheap for Jesus. He paid a heavy price, because he paid for God’s grace with his life. Grace is not a ticket to a sin-filled life. Grace does not give us permission to sin. God’s loving grace is the free offering that leads us to salvation. Grace is not the same as salvation. Grace is the coming together of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and his obedience to the gospel. We do not go to heaven because we want to go. We get to go to heaven because of God’s grace, but only if we accept it by faith.
Reconciliation to God requires repentance, and repentance requires remorse. Remorse requires responsibility because we have to accept responsibility for our actions. Repentance restores relationships. Reconciliation reaps rejoicing, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son when the father rejoiced at the return of his wayward younger son.
The key to salvation is baptism. Water baptism is an outward expression of the inner transformation of Christ. As we step into the water, we are in Christ. As we are immersed in the water, we are buried with Jesus, and as we rise from the water we are raised with him to a new life. As we walk away from the water, we show that we are walking with Jesus in a new way of life. We can also cry “It is finished” because everything that can be done about our sins has been done by Jesus. Our old way of life has been crucified with Christ and we have been freed or justified from sin. Once we have been freed from sin, we have to apply what we have been taught about our relationship to sin to our own lives. Once we have done that, we must say “no” to sin.
When we are baptized, we die to sin just like Christ died for our sins. We become a new creation, and as such we must live a new, resurrected life. We are called to make the same type of sacrifice that Jesus made. We must make that sacrifice as an act of devotion for what Christ has done for us. We must also make this sacrifice because there are people who have not yet received Christ’s grace. People need to see God’s grace, love and peace lived out in human form.
When we are baptized, we become united with him in that we are buried with him. Our life to that point is over and a new life begins. Our sins have been removed. The barriers that have kept us from the joy and freedom of the Gospel have been removed. We are free to live Christ’s love. We have been made righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice. God declares that we as sinful people are righteous, and that righteousness is based on a belief and trust in Jesus instead of on our good works. God imputes or credits Christ’s righteousness to sinners who believe in Christ and accept what he did for them on the cross. God justified himself by punishing sin.
The Law of Moses was good, holy and righteous, but it could not be kept, and so it cursed the people. The Law could only show God’s standard and condemn people who could not keep it. It could only trouble people’s consciences about their deeds just like General Kalashnikov’s conscience troubled him. The Law kept the people in chains, and today we are still in captivity. Some of us are captive to shopping. They can’t pass up a sale, even if their homes are already full of unnecessary stuff. Some people are slaves to food. They have never met a Tim Horton’s donut that they didn’t like. Some people are slaves to their jobs. They hate their jobs, but they are being paid too much to quit. Some corporations are slaves to greed. Their only concern is the bottom line.
Some people are slaves to human standards. Human standards can only trouble people’s consciences because humans are condemned when they can’t keep human standards. We can easily distort the true Word of God by adding our own traditional practices and making them equal with God’s original plan. We need to stand against these practices as the Lord did before we become tied to man-made traditions.
On the other hand, God does not condemn us when we fail to meet his perfect standards if we accept by faith the knowledge that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. When God calls us into holy living, his call comes with the conviction that we are to be different. If we try to run our lives the way we used to run them, we will fail. The only way to succeed is to have faith in Jesus. If we do, God will accept us by grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less.
How many of you remember the Peanuts comic strip character named Pig-Pen? The creator of the comic strip, Charles Schulz, described Pig-Pen as “a human soil bank who raised a cloud of dust on a perfectly clean street.” Wherever Pig-Pen went, he had a dirt cloud that loomed around him. It was a nasty, ugly stink cloud. When we show a lack of self-control by allowing sin to enter our lives, it is like a big stink cloud that follows us wherever we go.
The winner of the battle between the Spirit and the flesh depends on which one we feed. It is like the trapper who owned two dogs that he trained to fight. Every month he brought them to town to fight. The townspeople would bet on the winner. The owner also bet on the dogs, and he always won. Some people caught on and asked the owner how he knew which dog would win. The owner answered “The one who wins is the one I feed.”
We must set our minds on the things of God, seeking to please him and be obedient to him in all we do. That way, we feed the Spirit and insure our victory over sin. Choosing Christ helps us make better choices in life. When people accept Christ as their Saviour, they live happier, more fulfilled lives. Christ has changed what they believe themselves to be. They can trust the promise God made at their baptism that they would always be his children, and that no sin would be too big for him to forgive.
- Jamieson, R.; Fawcett, A.R. & Brown, D.: Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbour, WA: Logos Research Systems Inc.; 1997)
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Norman, R.S., “Justification by Faith” as in D.S. Dockery (Ed.): Holman Concise Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers; 1998)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
- Radmacher, E.D.; Allen, R.B. & House, H.G.: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1999)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Am I Forgiven?” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Rev. Gregory Seltz, “Keeping Score When It Counts” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Dr Ed Young, “Which Dog Wins?” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Jack Graham, “What You Have to Do to Go to Heaven.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- John E. Werham, “Grace Understood.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
- Doug Fields, “Pig-Pen.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Neil Anderson, “Fences Around the Laws.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- King Duncan, “The Second Step.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- William G. Carter, “Thanks God, We’re Already Dead.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- King Duncan, “A Lesson from Dr. Seuss.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- Steve Albertin, “Fido’s Dilemma.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn, “The Repentant Life.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org