(This post is actually part 3 of one very long sermon. To read it in its entirety, scroll down and read (1) ABIDE IN ME. (2) HOW TO DIE, and (3) HOW TO LIVE)
It Takes Death to Learn How to Live
. Today is Resurrection Sunday. It is the day when all that is victorious enough to have power over death comes to life.
One of the first things that the Apostle John wrote about Jesus was that “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
This is the Light that arose in a dark world. Despite the fact that the darkness thought it had extinguished it, in the end, the Light returned and shone with ever brighter brilliancy.
This was the Life that even death and the grave could not hold.
Jesus said of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26)
The Apostle Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
In the book of Revelation, when the Apostle John saw Jesus, he described a man so astounding and even formidable in appearance that the apostle said, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man!”
Everything about this appearance of the resurrected Jesus had the attribute of brilliant light. Even His face was “like the sun shining at its brightest.”
But Jesus placed His right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18)
Friday was all about death. Saturday was all about the grave. But today is all about the life. It is about the resurrected life.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
The Difficulty and Inevitability of Death
Dying is hard. There is no disputing that fact. If on Friday you were serious about your resolve to die to the world, you had a hard day. It was hard yesterday when you did not allow those desires of the world to come back to live in you.
Death to the world is more than simply a resolution and determination that you yourself make to change. It is not like people often do at the New Year when they make all kinds of declarations about the ways in which they are going to improve. Putting something to death in our lives requires something from without. We cannot do it on our own. Someone must lend an aid to us in order to put the evil within to death.
But in any case, dying is inevitable. By now all of us should have learned that everything in the world has death written into it. It is not only our lives on this earth that are limited in years, but everything about the world will die.
We can see this if we read the fine print. Satan does not want us to read that part of the purchase agreement. He tells us, “Congratulations for purchasing these fine values of the world!” He then continues to excite us about all the wonderful things that the world can do for us.
But then at the end of the contract, if you put on your reading glasses, you will see written in fine print, “These products of the world will ultimately burn in the lake of fire. In addition, because you have submitted yourself to these values, you also will die by the same means.”
So you see, although death to the world today may be hard, by dying with Christ today, you are actually choosing the easiest of the two options. We choose death today so that we can live tomorrow. And it is not only life for a day, but life for eternity.
This is the message of Resurrection Sunday. It is life that is victorious over death, and life that cannot again die.
Grace. Not Law
On Friday, the message was about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and submitting ourselves to the same death by our identification with His. The theme on Good Friday was “I have been crucified with Christ.”
But the message today is about the life of Christ. It is about the second part of that verse in Galatians. “The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
Learning to live by faith is a process. It is not something that comes to us naturally. Up until this point in our lives, the world has taught us only law. The only way that the world knows for those who are living under its power is to restrict them by imposing rules upon their lives. It puts them under law, and as law increases, their freedom decreases.
But as we grow in learning to live by faith, we see that we also grow in freedom. That is because living by faith enables us to live under the grace of God.
It is grace that gives us direction. It is not the law.
It is most fundamental that we understand this distinction. The world seeks to restrict us by imposing law. The grace of God does not restrict, because it helps us to see what is truly valuable and then allows us freedom to do what we please.
Living Under Law
On Friday I spoke extensively on the first part of Romans chapter six. That first part was about dying with Christ. But as Paul continues in the second part of the chapter, he makes this statement: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”
If you have not already realized it, it is important to understand that there is no such thing as a completely autonomous man or autonomous woman. This was the first lie of Satan way back in the Garden of Eden when he told Adam and Eve that they would “be like God.”
It is the same lie that men and women throughout the eons have continued to believe. They have believed that if left to themselves and by using their own abilities, they could arrive to perfect peace and fulfillment.
So how has the world decided to arrive at this perfection? What methods has the world employed to bring about this peaceful world? It has imposed laws. The world continues to chase the dream and believe the lie that if only given enough time and establishing just the right kind of government, we can arrive at a peaceful world.
And so we become accustomed to live under law. Nevertheless, even with all the laws imposed upon us and the decreasing freedoms that we live under, the world still believes that original lie of Satan. “I am my own man!” “I am my own woman!” “I decide what is best for me!”
As Paul continues writing in the book of Romans, he points out that there is actually no such thing as an autonomous man or woman. “You are slaves to the one that you obey, whether you are slaves to sin leading to death, or to obedience leading to righteousness,” Paul informs us (Romans 6:16).
Living Under Grace
Even though Paul uses the term “slave,” to describe even those living in grace, he realized that the word is not actually appropriate in that regard. The word slave is in fact foreign to those who live under grace. He is using the word he says, because he feels that he needs to speak in “human terms,” so that we can understand.
But the distinction is this: Those who live as slaves to sin will reap from that life the fruits that sin offers. And what are those fruits? Paul answers that question for us. “The outcome of those things is death.”
But you see, if you have been crucified with Christ, you have already put that old life to death. Since that old life is now dead to you, you have been set free from its edicts. You have been set free from sin.
What now? Speaking in human terms, as Paul said, you have become “slaves to God, the fruit you reap leads to holiness.”
Do you remember two Sundays ago when we looked at the words of Jesus when he spoke of grape vines? There he spoke of fruit. He spoke of the fruit that comes with drawing our life from Him. This is also the fruit that Paul mentions in this passage. It is the fruit that leads to holiness.
What is Holiness?
This term holiness is a term that we need to talk about a little, because it is one of those “religious words” that tends to bring all kinds of mistaken images to our minds. Sometimes the same Greek word is translated as “sanctification,” but that word is usually no better in helping us understand.
The best definition for the word holiness or sanctification that I have ever read was also penned by the Apostle Paul in a letter that he wrote to the Corinthian Christians. To those people, he wrote this:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 BSB)
There are two concepts in this definition that are important for us to see. First of all, it is the concept of freedom. It is not slavery. It is freedom. The very freedom that everyone desires but which the world cannot deliver, is the actually the fruit of the Spirit!
The other concept of holiness is no less amazing. Those who are living by the Spirit are being transformed into the very image of God! Is this not the most mind-blowing thing that you have ever heard? I need to repeat that phrase because it is more than we can take in with just one reading: We are being transformed into the very image of God!
Satan lied to Adam and Eve that if they followed him, they would become “like God.” It was a lie because it led them into slavery of sin and the world. But for those who have been crucified with Christ and have died to the world, God has promised the “fruit of holiness.” We will be, and indeed are learning, to both live in freedom and also are being transformed into His image!
Can I repeat those words again? “We are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
What does that mean? I frankly do not know completely, but I am excited to find out. What is more, the further that I walk on this path of freedom in the Spirit, the more excited I become. Do you notice that Paul speaks in the progressive tense of this transformation into the image of God? “We are being transformed with “intensifying glory.”
As we walk with the Lord, we grow in our understanding. We do not yet know all that holiness means now, but the more we learn, the clearer it becomes. That is why the Christian life is one of continual discovery.
As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
The Apostle John wrote:
We know that anyone born of God does not keep on sinning; the One who was born of God protects him, and the evil one cannot touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world is under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true—in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20 BSB)
Putting Off the Old and Taking On the New
For the present, as we grow in living in grace, it means that “We have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not practice deceit, nor do we distort the word of God.” This is what Paul wrote as he continued with his words to the Corinthians,
This is the message that the apostle repeats in several of his letters. “Put off the ways of the world” is his message
He writes also to the Roman church:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? Certainly not! …
Thanks be to God that, though you once were slaves to sin, you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…
Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to escalating wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
For when you were slaves to sin, you may have been free of obligation to righteousness, but what fruit did you reap at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The outcome of those things is death.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you reap leads to holiness, and the outcome is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)
And to the Colossians Paul wrote this:
Since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 BSB)
“Do not strive for earthly things.” “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” What does it all mean? It sounds like more law: “Do not do this. Do not do that.”
It is not law, but it is a process. In any change that we do we must unlearn some things in order to learn other things. We must unlearn the ways of the world so that we can learn the ways of grace.
Also, like learning any new concept, in the beginning it is very difficult. We know this even from our own experience. Learning is hard! We have to work at it.
So to begin with, we receive some very fundamental teachings.
Have you truly been crucified with Christ? Do you truly want to appear with Him in glory? Do you truly want to be transformed into His image? If so, we receive some very fundamental first steps:
Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. When you lived among them, you also used to walk in these ways.
But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices. (Colossians 3:5-9 BSB)
Do you want more first steps? Sometimes it is the first steps that are the hardest. We stumble and the steps need to be repeated. We need to hear the instructions again. “How are we to learn how to live in grace? Kindly tell me again.”
Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one another.
“Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set upon your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold.
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing good with his own hands, that he may have something to share with the one in need.
Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:25-31 BSB)
Bringing it Home
What is your “secret sin” that is keeping you from living a full life in Christ? Have you hurt someone with your words and have not apologized? Have you harbored bitterness and ill feelings against someone?
No sin is really secret. Not only does God know, but there are also others who know. They know because every sin affects not only ourselves, but it affects others as well.
The first sins that Paul mentioned were rampant in that day, and are becoming more common and extreme in our own day. Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. Paul said in his day that it was because of these the wrath of God will come. Indeed, the downfall of those nations did come with those sins, and it will come to our nation if we do not change.
Eventually the final wrath will come. When these evils become widespread enough and as the nations of the world descend into their own particular form of ungodliness, the final wrath will come. Grace will no longer be on the table. It will no longer be an option.
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19 NAS).
Above All, Love One Another Deeply
Paul wrote often of being crucified with Christ in order to live in the grace and freedom of the Spirit, but he is not the only apostle who wrote on this. Here are some words from Peter:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same resolve, because anyone who has suffered in his body is done with sin.
Consequently, he does not live out his remaining time on earth for human passions, but for the will of God.
For you have spent enough time in the past carrying out the same desires as the Gentiles: living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry.
Because of this, they consider it strange of you not to plunge with them into the same flood of reckless indiscretion, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead…
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and sober, so that you can pray. Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:1-8 BSB)
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. The life which I now live in my body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
On this Resurrection Day, ask the Lord to lead you into a resurrected life. If you allow him to work in you, you will begin to see your life transformed. You have spent enough time living by the standards of the slavery of the world. Begin to live in the freedom that the grace of God offers. And above all, love one another deeply.