How Can We?

How can we who died to sin still live in it?      Romans 6:2

This section of Romans that the Epistle was taken from intrigues me the most.  There are many wonderful passages in Romans, very beautiful, comforting, strengthening passages.  There are also passages of warning as well.  But this section in particular fascinates me.

In the earlier chapters St Paul sets out how we are all sinners.  It doesn’t matter what position, prestige, heritage or possessions you have.  It doesn’t matter how gifted you are or aren’t.  It doesn’t matter if you have God’s revealed will or you have just a code of behavior you have adopted.  No matter what the law, God’s law or man’s, we break it willingly and therefore we are sinners, people whose hearts have the seed of rebellion in them.

This is the path Paul must take to get to what he really wants to talk about.  His delight is not to beat us down, but rather lay the framework which would display the awesome mercy and love of God.  Now that the backdrop is complete, he sets before us that extraordinary grace of God in which Jesus would die for sinners, in fact, as he points out in Chapter 5, Jesus would die for the enemies of God.

This now touches where Paul’s delight is.  God has such grace, mercy, and love toward us!  In chapter 5, his re-occurring phrase is “how much more” – if God could act in such an extraordinary way to save sinners, then “how much more” –   “how much more” will God do once He has so saved us!   Jesus would die even for God’s enemies, then “how much more” will His life be poured out on us now when we believe in Him!   And on top of that, God has mercy and grace to cover everybody’s’ need within an unlimited abundance of His love.

However, now in chapter 6, Paul addresses a logical and inevitable question:  if God has such generous love, mercy, and forgiveness toward sinners, don’t you have the best of both worlds?  After all, you could sin all you want, and won’t God simply show even more grace and mercy towards you?  You can do whatever you want, and God would do what He does.  You could live in the most raunchy way and God will simply run to you to make everything wonderful again – that sure sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Of course, we react in horror at that idea.  God is not interested in perpetuating our sin and the destruction of literally everything it touches.  His desire is that we reflect His Image, not the image of Satan.  He wants hearts where we are  filled with the light of His Glory, not with the darkness of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Paul’s reply is intriguing – he does not react to the idea in the same way as we might.  Our first inclination would be to lay down the law with dire threats – probably not far from the Sunday School teacher who had been driven to pure exasperation by one student, who had constantly fooled around, constantly gotten into trouble.  Absolutely at the end of her rope, she tight-lipped said to little Johnny, “If you do that again, God’s not going to love you anymore.”  Likewise we would expect Paul to vent wrath and condemnation, something in the order of: “If you keep on sinning, God’s going to get tired of this and He’s going to condemn you anyway.”

But that’s not what you find Paul doing – in the passage surrounding the text, there is not one word like that anywhere.  There is no suggestion that God will withdraw either His grace, His mercy, His love, or His forgiveness.  In other words, there is nothing we can do to shut off the flow of His salvation toward us.  Actually that is how it should be.  God doesn’t give us His wealth of redemption based on what we do, not even in how grand is our repentance, not even in how emotional is our faith, but rather it is all based upon His Word and promise, His commitment to save the world.

If somehow it depended on our cooperation, that in some way we cause God to now be gracious, we would be in deep trouble.  We would always be fearful in whether we had enough to motivate God.  Worse is that we can end up believing ourselves to be master of God, subjecting Him to our whimsical ideas of what He should allow.  We would make Him into a half-blind, half-deaf, slightly dementia-affected grandfather who would pat us on the head and cluck, ”It’s OK; it’s OK,” while we go on doing whatever attracts our attention at the moment.

Paul here at the beginning of Chapter 6 pulls a rather neat trick on us: on one hand, God is a consistent Rock – His grace, mercy, forgiveness, steadfast love and all the rest aren’t just available, they are constantly flowing out upon us.  For example, you don’t have to plead for His forgiveness, because everything needed to forgive your every sin and rebellion is already finished, done on the cross, once for all time, two thousand years ago.  It is always surrounding us, always ready at the moment’s notice to act on any and every repentance through Jesus we have.

Thankfully, with the advancement in the healthcare offered by India generally as they are already used to the expertise and professionalism of Indian medical staff. It reduces blood sugar and helps to enjoy enhanced sex life. It helps to focus on lovemaking and maintain stiffness of the male organ to enjoy intimate moments with her. Nutrition Improper nutrition isn’t a leading cause of erectile dysfunction but you should also reduce your weight for getting proper erection. Instead, Paul places responsibility for our behavior squarely back into our laps  Taking a little liberty with his words, he says in essence, “You dope!  How can you go back to a way of life you know is destructive?! You know what sin does, how it destroys your life, your relationships – how it destroys YOU.  Why then would you ever want to go back to that way again?? – How could you go back to anything which has “death” written all over it, when you know full well that you have Life in all its Glory literally surrounding you??”

That’s a good point.  I no longer remember the particulars of the story, but there was a man who was going to smuggle a small wild animal (a weasel?) somewhere, and so he hid it under his coat in order to avoid being challenged by anyone.  However, as he went along, the animal started to chew on his abdomen.  The man was in great pain, but was determined to not let it show.  Finally the damage to his body and the pain overwhelmed him and he died, while the animal merely ran away;

It is indeed a real question which the text poses for us.  Why would we hold on and hide those things which will eat us out from the inside and destroy us?  When does the pain drive us to finally cry out in rejection of what we are hiding?  When does the life from God, which abundantly swirls around us, finally make us reach out to grab the fullness and pleasure of the freedom from our guilts, our destructive habits, our shattering experiences?  We regard the man with the animal eating at his belly as stupid, and yet how equally stupid can we be when we just will not let go of what devastates our existence.  Why do we insist on hanging on and yet constantly pay the penalty of misery?

It is not as if we don’t have any other alternative.   And it is not as if the alternative is too far away.  The shift that is required does not require intricate gymnastics – neither physical, mental, nor spiritual.   What our Lord requires of us is so simple that we so often reject His way.  A swami, which is a Hindu teacher in India, once asked a missionary about his faith.  The missionary told him about human sin and rebellion, but after describing the salvation available through Jesus, the swami was last seen walking away, shaking his head, and muttering, “too easy, too easy.”

What God requires is that we lay before Him the things which have so ruled our lives, seeking to hide nothing and even exposing to Him those things which are uncomfortable for us.  Then, whatever we placed in God’s hands, we are done with it.  It just is not worth dwelling on it again.  It is of no value to let it occupy the mind and waste our time on it again.  As the angel grabbed Lot and his family by the hand and as they pushed them out of Sodom and Gomorrah, they told them “don’t even look back” [Genesis 19:16-27] – in other words, it’s not worth being pulled back into death – it’s not worth clinging to that which you no longer belong!

When the old style of life is given up, it must be with the realization that Jesus and the Holy Spirit must be a part of this action.  So often in the past old habits have defined what was the usual of our lives.  They were what we were used to; they were what occupied our minds and our hearts, so without them, at first, we feel a bit lost and Satan is quick to pull up memories and even yearnings from that kind of life.

Jesus once told the parable about an unclean spirit who left a man, and wandered around seeking rest and finding only a desert.  It decided to go back to the man and found that the dwelling place (the heart and mind) was swept, orderly, and most importantly, empty.  So the spirit goes and finds seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state of that man is worse than the first [Matthew 12:43-45].  In other words, if we want to truly live differently, we cannot do so with an empty heart and mind – we will only crash and burn in a most devastating way.

With what then do we fill our heart and mind?  In chapter 5, verse 5, Paul says “Hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us” and in chapter 15, verse 13, he writes “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  This hope has nothing to do with vague wishful thinking, rather it is the guaranteed goal which is held before us, already bought and paid for.  It is so real that it echoes Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing, already it springs forth; do you not glimpse it?” [43:19].

As the Holy Spirit focuses our minds on the promises of God in His inspired Scriptures; as we lift our hearts up with fellow Christians in confession and song; as we begin to realize the greatness of God’s love and action in our worlds for our sakes; as our lifework and preoccupations alter because we see ourselves and others differently, as we discover real joy and wholeness of spirit, our hearts and minds will have no vacancy sign left out for Satan to pull us back into our old life.

And, of course, as Jesus comes personally to make Himself at home in our hearts and minds in Holy Communion, biding us by the Holy Body and Blood to “do this in remembrance of Me” – to remember Who He is, what He was like as He walked our world, what He has said, and what He has done; to remember His patience, forgiveness, healing, suffering, death, resurrection, and all the rest – these are more than enough to fill our hearts, giving Satan not even a toehold from which to work.

How true it is when Paul challenges how we could ever want to go back to what has so destroyed us in the past, when by contrast we have so much to now discover and delight in, so much more real and solid life, so much more  glorious discovery of the hope which touches our lives right now and which will never end at all.  Come, let’s us grasp the power this has for a wonderfully different life compared to what we have come out of!

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