This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Romans 6:1-14
Sermon prepared by Rev. Vernon Luchies, Kalamazoo, MI
A Christian artist was arrested by the police for a crime he did not commit. He had a few paints and a little brush on him. But he had nothing on which to paint. It was terrible having nothing to do. He finally asked the warden for a canvass or something on which to paint. The warden, like most wardens, was a hard man. He cared nothing for the prisoners. He saw a dirty old handkerchief on the floor. He picked it up and stuffed it through the bars. "There! See what you can do with that!"
The artist washed the dirty handkerchief, and let it dry. He then spread it out tightly on the floor. Very carefully, prayerfully, he painted his idea of the face of Jesus. The first person he showed it to, was the warden. He couldn't take his eyes off it. Soon, tears rolled down his cheeks. By God's grace, he repented! Was changed! Later, that painting became famous!
You and I are a lot like that dirty old handkerchief. We must be stuffed through the bars to Jesus, the master artist. He alone can wash us, stretch us, and change us into His own likeness.
But we are also a lot different from the dirty old handkerchief. We have a will of our own. A stubborn will! A will that refuses to allow Jesus to work on us. And because of that will, we never consider ourselves as a dirty old handkerchief ready for the garbage. "Surely, we're not that bad." Yes, we are! Unless we've repented.
Luke 13:1-5, tells about the Galileans, whom Pilate had slaughtered in the temple. And about the 18 upon whom the tower of Siloam fell. Jesus might say to us in our day, "Do you think that those New Yorkers, destroyed in the Twin Towers were any worse sinners than the other New Yorkers? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those destroyed in the Pentagon, do you think they were more guilty than all the others working in the Pentagon? I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you too will all perish." We all have to change. We all have to repent. Hear what Peter told the onlookers when he healed the beggar at Beautiful gate: "Repent, then, and turn to God. That your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19).
The change, resulting from repentance, is so refreshing and such a blessing, God cannot help but warn us, (Romans 6) "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" It's very possible we will go on sinning. We take that "wonderful grace of Jesus" all so much for granted. No matter what we do, we think if we just end our selfish little prayers with "Forgive my sins, for Jesus' sake. Amen," all is well with us and the world. And our lives never change! There'll be no genuine repentance.
Somehow we think because we've been going to church all our lives, repentance and conversion is only for someone out there. Do you remember what Jesus said to His own disciples? "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"(Matthew 18:3). Let alone being greatest in it. Ah, but you and I wouldn't bicker about who's the greatest. "That's foolish!" It surely is! Yet you know, and I know, that as churches, we're still trying to be the greatest in the Kingdom. It's not only the sin of churches. It's the besetting sin of pastors and church members as well.
Jesus shows the change which He expects when He tells His disciples, "Whoever would be the greatest among you, let him become the servant of all." That's the kind of change He expects to see. He desires joyful, serving followers.
The Holy Spirit led Paul to write this in 1 Cor. 6:9-ll: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And that is what some of you were! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. "Notice, it doesn't only mention the immoral. It also mentions idolaters (those who idolize their cars or kids or cottages) Not only thieves but greedy! Not only drunks but slanderers! Gossips! We have to change!
Young people, beware of those new CDs. Our sense of smell has been damaged. We fail to sense the stench of hell exuding from them. That same stench can come from our TV or from the Internet? It's so easy to become contaminated with sin without realizing it. We need to repent! Way back in Isaiah 59:20, God assures, "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those... who repent of their sins."
"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning?... By no means!" But it wrangles us to be told to repent of our sin. My Dad remembered Evangelist Billy Sunday used to say, "They tell me I rub the fur the wrong way. I don't! Just let the cat turn around!" In other words, "repent!"
God warns us: We have to change. We must experience that once for all conversion as well as that everyday conversion. Then, and only then, will we have the happy, grateful, meaningful lives the Lord has in store for us.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on!
Much time spend in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be!
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Do they see that likeness in our lives?
Change, conversion, repentance, whatever you wish to call it, can have absolutely no meaning outside of Jesus Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!" Jesus wants to fashion us to be like Himself! Is He so fashioning you? Are you wanting it to happen? Are you allowing it to happen?
We can sound so Reformed! Piously, we say, "Well, God will have to do it!" That's a half truth. God doesn't have to change or repent. We do! No excuses. He desires our co-operation.
2 Peter 1:3-9 "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is near-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."
Paul preached, "but now He (God) commands all people everywhere to repent!" Acts 17:29 God especially expects repentance to happen in Church! Five of the seven churches, Jesus addresses in Revelation, he commands to repent. We have to change. Repent.
God says, as changed people, "We died to sin. In Jesus Christ." That is our blessed position. That should become our daily condition.
How is this possible? Verse 3 "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" That says a lot more than we ever imagine! The Greek word "baptize," was never translated into English. It was only transliterated! If it were translated, it would best be translated: "identified." Now listen to Rom 6:3,4 "Or don't you know that all of us who were identified in Christ Jesus, were identified with Him into death? We were therefore buried with Him through identification with Him 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."
Repentance does not mean just saying: “I have sinned.” Four men in the Old Testament, and one in the New, said, “I have sinned.” Pharaoh, Balaam, Achan, King Saul, and Judas all said it. But none of them meant it.
But if ours is a heart-felt sorrow for sin, then, in the mind of God the Father, we were with Christ on that cross. Perhaps that's why "Moses lifted up the snake in the desert." There hung the consequences of my sin and yours!
We died with Him. We are raised with Him. We already are "in Christ." In Col. 3, Paul says, “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
I suppose that at times, we all get frustrated when we realize the disparity between our eternal position, and our daily condition. Thank God! Even this frustration, is the beginning of sorrow for sin! Hatred of sin! And hopefully, “the running away from sin.” But never in our own strength. “Did we in our strength confide. Our battle would be losing!”
But ours is not a losing battle! "Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature!" Only in this way can we know the reality of Romans 6:4 "We too may live a new life!"
The secret of "change" or conversion the catechism tells us is "the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new self in Christ." Someone on guard duty might bark, "Identify yourself!" And if we've been changed, we can say, "I'm Christ's follower. I died with Him. I'm risen with Him." It's the mystery of godliness: "Christ in us the hope of glory!" Colossians 1:27
And that's not only "in the sweet by and by," That's in the here and now. We have to change. Then we can say with Paul: "I am crucified with Christ, yet, I live! Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me." Gal. 2:20 "It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ." Answer 90 of the catechism.
This is all great in theory. But what about reality? "Where the rubber hits the road?" We have to change. And we really can, if we claim that pivotal verse 14 in Romans 6. "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
"Wonderful grace of Jesus! Reaching the most defiled!
By it's transforming power, Making him God's dear child!"
Just before our chapter, we read: "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more!" If it didn't, where would we be? No wonder Paul warns us in 1 Cor. 6:1"We urge you not to receive God's grace in vain."
Never forget that real change only happens in us through the grace of God. Paul asks in Romans 2:4, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you towards repentance?" We see God's kindness already in Isaiah 55:6, 7, "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon."
Already in Mark 1:15, Jesus preaches, "Repent! And believe the Good News!" We have to change. Acts 2:38, says,"Repent and be baptized every one of you." Somehow, it seems since we were baptized as babies, we don't have to repent. Don't we believe in total depravity? Yet we think "If we go to church, it's enough." Evangelist Billy Sunday used to say, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile."
How can we change? Repent? I remember as a kid, my brother and I were picking up potatoes. My Dad was just ahead of us digging them. He stopped. Leaning on his fork, he asked both of us, "Have you given your lives to Jesus?"
First, we have to face ourselves. We must stop going our own way. Turn about and go God's way. Second, we have to pray. Confess our sins. Tell Jesus we're sorry. Sorry enough to want to quit! Third, we have to obey. Ask Jesus into our hearts. Like we used to sing in Sunday School:
"Into my heart, into my heart,
come into my heart. Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart Lord Jesus.”
To a lukewarm church, Jesus says, "Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in...!" Rev. 3:20 He wants in today. He wants in to stay."
Once He's within, the Holy Spirit enables us to "consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus!" To "live by the Spirit and not gratify the flesh." We'll then start producing the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" 2 Thess. 4:3, "This is the will of God: even your sanctification."
Romans 12:1,2... "I urge you... in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God....Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will."
If we trust and obey in this way, it will result in real good. Done out of true faith, in step with God's will and done for His glory! When I was just a kid, we had an old 78-speed-record by the Stamps Quartet. I still remember a part of one song: "I've been changed today, for all my sins are washed away. The cleansing blood, the blood of Christ, has made me free, has made me free... No more am I sad, instead. I'm happy and so glad, for surely, there's been a change in me."
Have you been changed? Are you being changed? Repent, and believe the Good News!
May we, each one of us, pray the words of this old hymn:
How I praise Thee, precious Saviour
That Thy love laid hold of me!
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.
Channels only blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us. Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.
Emptied that Thou shouldest fill us,
As clean vessels in Thy hand;
With no power but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.
Witnessing Thy power to save us,
Setting free from self and sin;
Thou who boughtest to possess us,
In Thy fullness, Lord, come in!
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know
That the streams of living water:
From our inner selves may flow!
Proposed Order of Service
We come to praise the Lord
Call to Worship: Acts 10:33b
#239 “Amid the Thronging Worshippers”
#438 “When Morning Gilds the Skies”
God's Greeting and Blessing: Phil. 1:1-2
We great one another
We renew covenant with God
Excerpts from Leviticus 19
Repentance explained: L.D. 33, p. 902
Prayer: #260 “Not What My Hands Have Done”
We offer our prayers and tithes
Offerings and Offertory
Dedication: #296:1,2 “We Give You But Your Own”
We come to hear God's Word
#280 “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word”
Scripture: Romans 6:1 - 14
Sermon: "We have to Change!"
Prayer of Application
We depart to serve the Lord
#544 “Lead Me, Guide Me”
God's Parting Blessing: Romans 16:25-27
#291:1, 2 “May the Mind of Christ, My Saviour”