Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ
When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.
being kind to myself,
and being fulfilled
are very much phrases of today. Young adults spend much time thinking about what they want from life, in middle age people may have a mid-life crisis in which they question if they have really made the most of their life and in old age people look at the younger generation and see what a mess they are making of life. We only have so many years on earth and so it is not surprising that we want to make the most of those years.
People seek to make their lives significant in lots of different ways: being successful at work, being influential in the community, raising a family, making lots of money, becoming famous, being popular with others. We all have a desire to be significant. And God does have a plan for each one of us:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16
And in Matthew 10:30-31 Jesus says, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
But God’s plans are not our plans! And later in Matthew 10: 39 Jesus says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” What he is saying is that we will not find significance and meaning in pursuing our own ways, in seeking to find our own answers to the question, ‘how can I make my life significant?’ We will find our worth in him and not in our families, in affirmation from others, or in a peaceful or successful life.
When you look at your life, I wonder how you react?
I’m ok, in fact I’m better than lots of people,
I’m useless, I feel I have messed up
I’d rather not think about it, life is life, I just want to get on with it.
What about how others look at your life? What would they say?
They are OK, they are a good person
They are useless, they have really messed up.
Sometimes the opinions of others ring loudly in our ears and they can lead us astray. Jesus was regularly criticised he was even called Beelzebul – the Son of God called evil! And as Jesus said if they called him such names then we can expect the same or worse – worse because there may be elements of truth in what we are called because we do mess up. Whereas Jesus didn’t deserve any of what was said about him.
However, our own opinion or the opinion of others is not what really matters. The opinion that matters is that of God.
Jesus warned that we should be most concerned about saving ourselves from the One who can destroy both the soul and body in hell and not the words or actions of people who do not agree with us.
Without the grace of Jesus: a hopeless end. With the grace of Jesus: an endless hope. Rick Warren
So how does Jesus say that we can avoid a hopeless end and discover the endless hope it him?
- Acknowledge Jesus before others (make a public statement of belief) Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10: 32
- Be prepared to lose your life (that is having your own way). Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39
- Follow Jesus – even to taking up your cross. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:38.
Paul describes it similarly in Romans 6 when he talks of dying to sin and being alive in Christ. The significance of this is made clear in baptism. Baptism is a sacrament which means that it is a visible sign of an inward grace. Or a hands-on event that explains what God is doing in our souls.
In baptism we die.
We die to sin.
We die to doing things our way.
We die to self.
The thing about sin is that it cannot be separated from death. The penalty of sin is death.
Sin is not only the things we do that are wrong, or even the things we think that are negative. Sin is when we take the throne from God, when we push him out of the driving seat of our lives, when we tell him we don’t need him, we know better. In doing this we are rejecting God. And in rejecting God we become separated from him and this leads to death which is ultimately the absence of LIFE and Jesus is LIFE. In John’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the LIFE” (John 14) and another time he said “I am the resurrection and the LIFE” (John 12).
On the cross Jesus died; both physically and in that he was separated from his Father. He paid the penalty for our sin. He took the consequences of our attitudes.
In baptism a person goes down under the water symbolizing that they are dead to sin. The only way they can die to sin is in acknowledging their need of God and his grace.
Billy Graham described it thus: Think about the holes children make when they dig in the sand on the seashore. When the waves come in, the holes are swallowed up by the ocean. Similarly, when we know Christ, our physical death is overwhelmed by the love and grace of God. Death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ.
But it was not enough for Jesus to die. If he had it would just have been another life gone. Jesus Christ was different to every other human being. Death could not hold him. You and I seek to live life our own way but Jesus had always lived as his Father told him. He was obedient in every way. Death could not keep him. He was without sin. He rose again!
In baptism this is shown by the person rising out of the water. Cleansed and free from the power of sin. Our penalty has been paid. Our debt is gone. We can live a life without condemnation, a life without fear.
Paul says in Romans 6:3-4 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised 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.
You may say to me, I know all this, I’ve heard it before. I have given my life to Jesus and I have been baptised so how is it relevant to me today? And that is a good point – this is basically the gospel, the good news of Jesus that if you are watching this service you probably believe already. The thing is that if you are like me you may forget who you are in Christ. You get phased by criticism, you beat yourself up when you make mistakes and you look for significance in things other than Christ (it might even be in doing his works).
I think that we all need to remind ourselves that although we sometimes sin and we can even mess up big time, God has forgiven us. We are right with him. We are in Christ.
In our lives we will experience sin, death, temptation, rejection, condemnation, difficult times and broken relationships but these do not define who we are, our value or our significance to God. Because in him we are free. His grace, his undeserved love has freed us from death. Nothing can now separate us from that love – even when we mess up. We are new people in Christ. The motive of grace is the infinite, compassionate love of a merciful God, but the work of grace was the death of Christ on the cross. Billy Graham
There will be times when we don’t feel very different to anyone else in this world. We make the same mistakes, we live similar lives and we don’t think we bring much glory to God. But we ARE different because by God’s grace we are forgiven. And that is because we have allowed God to be in charge of our lives. That is our default setting, for us Jesus is Lord, so when we fail, we admit it to him, say sorry and keep going, not allowing the failures we make to define us as a failure, not allowing the sins we commit to label us as sinners and not allowing our negative thoughts or the words of others to take root in our hearts.
In Christ all who call on his name, have died with him, and live with him. We are part of Christ’s resurrection life – new and eternal life. Never to be separated from him and his infinite love even in death.
This is true not only of YOU and of ME but of all God’s children so not only when we look in the mirror but when we look at other believers let us remind ourselves that they too are a new creation and try to build our lives based on the grace that God offers us and not the critical standards of the world.
I want to end by slightly changing the quote we had at the beginning by Timothy Keller; When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys our self-righteousness, our low self-worth and our need to criticize others.