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Deep Grace: Free At Last!

Free At Last!

Romans 6:6-14


Grace is scandalous. It’s a scandal when a truly evil person is forgiven. In the 1970s Comrade Duch was one of Pol Pot’s chief executioners in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In just 4 years, from 1975 – 1979, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime executed almost 1.8 million Cambodians. Another 300,000 starved to death in just one year. In four years, 2.1 million people died in Cambodia through execution and due to starvation. That’s well over 25% of Cambodia’s population at the time.


Comrade Duch was the first person tried before a court for atrocities committed under Pol Pot. Convicted of crimes against humanity, he was initially sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2012, that sentence was extended to life in prison. Those who have visited the school which Comrade Duch used as his prison, which is now a museum, have been rendered speechless with grief and anger at what Duch did. Two decades later, in the 1990s, he became a follower of Christ and was baptized. It’s quite the scandal, isn’t it, that Comrade Duch, one of the primary men responsible for so much bloodshed, for genocide, for the execution and starvation of over 2 million people in just 4 years, should become my brother and be forgiven for all that he did by God? Grace is scandalous.


John Newton made three trips from England to Africa as the captain of slave ships, bringing human beings from Africa to England in horrific conditions, packed into the ships like cattle, for sale into slavery, and when health concerns forced him to give up life as the captain aboard slave ships, he continued to invest financially in the capture and trading of slaves. Until he found Christ. Or, perhaps more accurately, until Christ found him. He wound up an Anglican minister in London working to abolish slavery and the slave trade in England. And as an Anglican priest, reflecting back on his life aboard and as captain of slave ships, he penned these words:


“Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see.”


Grace is scandalous. For all of our talk about grace, we really aren’t all that comfortable with it. It’s a completely foreign concept to us. We’re okay with grace, undeserved and unearned favor and forgiveness,  for small things. But for big things, really bad things, things that find the perpetrator convicted, in jail, committing crimes against humanity? Not so much.


And yet it’s grace that St. Paul emphasizes over and over and over again. Why do you think that is? Well, for starters, it’s the central core of faith in Christ. We have to be willing to receive forgiveness that we haven’t earned. But I also think it’s because we as human beings spend our entire lives trying to make the good in our lives outweigh the bad, hoping to win, to earn, God’s approval. And along comes Christ saying, “It isn’t about what YOU do at all. It’s about what I have done FOR YOU.” Turn with me to Romans 6:6-14.


If grace is at the core of following Christ, then our lives should be marked by that grace. And if we are going to live lives marked by grace, there are three changes we have to make to the way we operate, and the first change is that we have to KNOW the truth. Both verses 6 and 9 begin with the words, “We know …” And what is it that “we know?” Look at Vv. 6-8. WE KNOW that we are no longer slaves to sin. What does that mean? It means that in Christ, because of what Christ did on the cross, the penalty of sin has been paid and the power of sin has been broken. I am now dead to sin. I no longer have to live in sin. I am no longer defined by sin.


Paul uses this language of old self and new self here. What’s that all about? He’s using that language to describe what happens when we place our faith in Christ, when we trust and follow Christ. My OLD SELF dies. So what, or rather who is my old self? In the Bible, people are considered to be living in one of two realms, one of two worlds, and our existence in that world is defined by our relationship to the head of that world. I am either a citizen of this world under Adam, or I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God under Christ. So when I place my faith in Christ and begin to follow Christ, my old self, which was a citizen of this fallen world under Adam, my sinful self, was crucified with Christ. And both the penalty AND the power of sin are broken in my life, because I am no longer defined by my relationship to Adam as a member of the human race. I am defined by my relationship to Christ as a citizen of the kingdom of God. I am dead to sin, and alive in Christ. I was defined by sin. Now I am defined by grace. Look at Vv. 9-10.


So if my OLD SELF is sinful me under Adam, my NEW SELF is forgiven me under Christ. That doesn’t mean I am no longer human. I am still a member of the human race. I still have a frail human body that is winding down and that has a bent toward sin. But I am no longer DEFINED by Adam. I am now DEFINED by Christ. My relationship to Christ is now my primary identity and source of life. And that happens because, when I place my faith in Christ and begin to follow Christ, I am united, once and for all, with Christ in his death (my old self dies) and I am united with Christ in his resurrection, in his new life (my new self begins to live). My old self, no matter how ugly and marred and evil and twisted, has died, and my new self, my redeemed self, lives to and in Christ.


So pastor, if I am truly dead to sin, why do I still sin? Yes, I am dead to sin, but sin is not dead to or in me. It still rears its ugly head. I can still hear it’s voice. BUT, I no longer have a relationship with sin. In Christ I have died to sin and am alive to and in him. In my own strength, I cannot fight the voice of sin, the temptation to sin. But in Christ, I have a choice. Will I choose perfectly every time? No. I will not.


That is why knowing the truth, in and of itself, isn’t enough. Look at Vv. 11-12. Not only must I KNOW the truth, I must CONSIDER the truth. What does that mean? It means to reckon it as true and act on it. The grace of God is available, but I must claim it, and I do that when I place my faith in and begin to follow Christ. Not only do I KNOW it as true, I ACCEPT IT as true. Chuck Swindoll tells us to think about it this way. Imagine that billionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, informed you that for no other reason than kindness, he was depositing one hundred million dollars into your checking account. He’s a billionaire, he won’t miss it. And this isn’t a scam. This is real. And it’s completely free. Absolutely no strings attached. How would you react? If you’re like me, I would contact the bank president to verify the truth. Is this for real? That’s knowing the truth. Now, in the old days, I’d pull out my check book register and update the balance. Today I’d pull out my bank app and open it up and boom, there it is. My balance has been updated. One hundred million dollars has been credited to my account. That’s considering the truth. Changing the register to reflect my new reality. Today the bank does that for me. But then there’s another step. I’d start writing checks, right? To live a life marked by grace, I must KNOW the truth, CONSIDER the truth, and then OFFER MY BODY to the truth. In other words, my behavior changes.


Ten years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march. A year and a half later, he abandoned the white supremacist movement. Six months after that, he was baptized. Simpson, a 38-year-old garbage man and former Marine with “PURE HATE” tattooed across his knuckles, was consumed with hate. “Hate will blind you to so many things,” he says. “It will stop you from having so many things. It consumes you.”


After the loss of his first child, Simpson had a lot of hatred and anger built up inside. The white pride movement gave Simpson a place to direct his anger and frustration – at people of other races.


Things began to change, however, during a family trip to Walmart. One of his children looked down an aisle, then up at Simpson and said, “Daddy, you can’t go down that aisle. There’s a n_____ down there.” “It was time to make a change for them,” he said of his children. “I don’t want them following that path.”


After he and his family watched the movie Courageous, Simpson began attending church. One month later he was baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. “Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go. There’s no need to carry things that happen in the past. I forgave all those who wronged me and asked forgiveness from those that I have wronged.”


Christ Simpson has left hate behind. He’s even going through the Freedom Ink Tattoo removal program – starting with the word HATE.[i]


So look at Vv. 11-14. I take charge and make my body operate in agreement with what I have accepted as true. Paul tells us to “present our members to God as instruments of righteousness.” And he’s talking about more than just the limbs of our bodies, the parts of our bodies, although he’s including them. We are to present our hands and feet to him as instruments of righteousness. We are to present our minds and thoughts and voices to him as instruments of righteousness. So if I’m out with friends and everyone is talking about someone and the mistakes they’ve made and what a jerk they are, I can choose to join in, OR I can choose to use my voice as an instrument of righteousness and share some things I appreciate about that person.


But here’s the key: I can’t do that consistently and I can’t grow in my ability to do that in my own strength. Sure, I can do it sometimes, but as far as God is concerned, the good outweighing the bad in my life doesn’t count for much when it comes to forgiveness. I am not forgiven because I deserve it and am mostly good. I am forgiven because I need it and am often bad. So another truth I need to KNOW and CONSIDER is the reality that I can only “not let sin reign” in this mortal body in Christ and because of Christ. I can’t do it consistently and better on my own. I just can’t. Naturally, I have good days, not so good days, and bad days, in my behavior, in my thinking, in my feeling. It is only in Christ that I can continue to grow in my ability to not let sin reign.


If I’m a drowning swimmer, telling me to swim to shore isn’t going to help me. Telling me to swim harder isn’t going to help me. I need help, and that is what God provides. In his grace, he offers forgiveness, and in his grace, he offers strength to live as he wants me to live. But my will is also involved. I have to choose to not let sin rule over me.


And there’s a difference between being ruled by sin and sinning sometimes. To be ruled by sin is to go along with it willingly all the time. To resist the voice of God’s Spirit in my heart and mind. To resist the voice of God’s Word as I read and study and meditate on it. Sometimes to resist the voice of my own conscience. It is to choose a path that hurts myself and hurts others. That is not a response of gratitude for all that God offers me and has given me in Christ. It is the selfish response. The response of gratitude is to wrestle with sin in my life even as I accept God’s forgiveness and live in his strength and grace.


The doctor said, “If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.”


The doctor was talking about Alcides Moreno. By every law of physics and medicine, Moreno should have died. He was a window washer in Manhattan. He rode platforms with his brother Edgar high into the sky to wash skyscrapers. From there he could look down to see the pavement far below where the people looked like ants. On December 7, 2007, catastrophe struck the Moreno family. As the brothers worked on the 47th story of a high rise, their platform collapsed, and Alcides and Edgar fell from the sky.


If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.


No, Alcides Moreno didn’t land on a passing airplane or catch his shirt on a flagpole or have anything else amazing happen like you see in the movies; he fell the entire 47 stories to the pavement below. As would be expected, his brother Edgar died from the fall, but somehow Alcides did not. He lived. For two weeks he hung on to life by a thread. Then, on Christmas Day, he spoke and reached out to touch his nurse’s face. One month later, the doctors were saying that he would probably walk again someday.


If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.


In the beginning of the human race, Adam also fell from a great height. From sinless glory in the image of God, Adam rebelled against God and fell into sin and death and judgment, and in this terrible fall he brought with him the whole human race. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8). God the Son left the heights of heaven and descended to the earth to become a man. He lived a sinless life and then willingly went to the cross to die for the sins of Adam’s fallen race. On the third day he rose again, and in his resurrection he made it possible for all to rise again and live forever.


If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.[ii]

[i] Aaron Aupperlee, “Former White Supremacist Sheds Hate and Embraces Christianity,” The Washington Post (7-2-12)

[ii] “It Wasn’t All Bad,” The Week (1-18-08), p. 4