Sermon series: Guarding Your Heart
Scriptures: Romans 5:12-6:14
Roscoe and Bubba were killing time one day when they discovered an abandoned well. Roscoe asked, "How deep do you think it is?" Bubba spit, and they listened for the spit to hit bottom. When no sound emerged from the well, Bubba threw a rock and listened for a splash. Nothing. Roscoe found a cross tie and heaved it over in the well. Both men leaned over and listened for a sound, but they never heard the cross tie hit bottom. While leaning over the well, the two men were surprised when a goat ran up to the edge of the well and jumped in. A few moments later a local farmer arrived on the scene and asked if the men had seen his goat. Roscoe said, "Sir, you are not going to believe this, but just a moment ago a goat ran to the edge of this well and jumped in." The farmer said, "That could not have been my goat because my goat was chained to a cross tie!"
Often our Christian experience is like the episode of Roscoe and Bubba. Our lives are occupied with meaningless activities that lead us into trouble. Romans 5:17 says, "How much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life." Does that describe you life? Are you reigning? Ruling? Conquering?
Many believers operate from a sin management philosophy. They live in guilt and shame because they fail to live up to the standard of holiness associated with following Christ. They hope to reduce the bad stuff in their life instead of reigning in life. Like a football team in a prevent defense, we live trying not to lose a game instead of pressing on to the victory that has been promised. The first half of Romans 5 describes our union with Christ, and in the closing verses of the chapter and the first part of chapter six we discover principles for transferring the spiritual reality of eternal life to living with a new heart on a daily basis.
1. Recognize the payment
To reign with a new heart, we must first recognize the payment that Christ made not just for sin, but for our new heart. Verse seventeen mentions "the gift, resulting in justification." God did not just redeem us from sin; He transformed our heart. This transformation is factual. The historical references to Adam, Moses, and Christ and the use of accounting terminology ("not charged to the account") illustrate the reality of the transaction. We may not feel like we have a new heart, but those who "receive the grace" (v.17) have been promised a new heart. The promise is universal. Salvation not limited to the select few. It is not just for people of noble birth or a particular race. It is available to "many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ" (v. 15). The atoning sacrifice of Christ is also effectual and eternal. When one receives the grace of God, the result changes our life forever. Adam's sin had enormous consequences, but the sacrifice of Christ is "much more" effective. Where sin multiplied, "grace multiplied even more" (v. 20). The life we receive is not guaranteed for seven years or 100,000 miles; it is forever!
2. Reckon your position
As the father of four children, I have heard a thousand times the question, "Are we there yet?" The answer seems obvious. If we were there, then we would not still be driving. The inability of a child to comprehend this concept is not much different than our inability to appreciate our new position in Christ. Romans 6: 11 says, "Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God." Eugene Peterson's The Message provides a helpful interpretation of our new identity or position, "If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize that we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin and came up into the new country of grace - a new life in a new land! ... From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives."
Peterson's analogy is right on target. When we receive the grace of God, it is like moving. We have a new address. But, our new home is not just across the street; we have moved to another country that speaks a different language. We are now dead to sin. This doesn't mean that we never sin again. It means that sin no longer controls our life as it did before receiving the grace of God. We used to succumb to the force of sin like a dead limb floating in a river. The river of sin controlled our life. Now, we have the capacity to choose our actions.
We are not a dead limb; we are "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6: 11). Salvation is a free gift, but it also a growing change of perception and action. To reckon, count, or consider is an accounting term. We make a conscious effort of adding to our lives spiritual disciplines that reflect the change of heart that God created when we received the gift of eternal life.
3. Redirect provision
Having discussed the theological transformation of a heart that reigns in grace, Paul offers some practical suggestions for applying this concept to our lives. The Christian Standard Bible accurately captures the intensity of the challenge by translating verse 13 as "weapons of unrighteousness and weapons of righteousness." The word weapon is the same root word used in Ephesians 6:11 where we are instructed to put on the full armor of God. That may seem like a minor detail, but consider your response to the following options. What comes to mind when I ask you to participate in a ministry project that requires you to bring a shovel or saxophone? Consider how different your response might be if I said, "I need your help with an outreach project. Don't forget to bring your pistol!"
With tremendous intensity, we must starve the flesh, satisfy the spirit, and stay away from legalism. Many men are bored with Christianity because they see following Christ as a program of study to be a good person, but God has called us be valiant warriors who train our bodies to be a weapon in a battle for righteousness. The training begins with starving the old nature or sinful flesh, "don't offer any parts of it to sin." We must guard ourselves from destructive influences. Wickedness does not reign in the life of a believer, but wickedness does reside in our old nature. We must not overestimate our ability to resist sin. The safest and wisest action to become a righteous warrior is to restrict any provision for sinful desires (Rom 13:14).
We must starve the flesh, and we must satisfy the spirit. Jesus said those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be filled. We can feed our souls on spiritual food. Using the previous example of moving to a new country, we should learn the language, see the sights, and eat at the local restaurants. When my family travels to different places, we eat at restaurants that serve food unique to that geographic location. On the Gulf Coast, we eat gulf seafood. When we visited Montana, we ate buffalo burgers. In New Orleans, we ate Cajun. In the kingdom of God, we must eat meat from the word of God, drink the fresh water of worship, and feast on fruit of prayer.
In verses 6:14-15, Paul warns to stay away form legalism. The Bible identifies legalism as one of the most dangerous threats to genuine faith. Prayer, Bible study, church attendance, stewardship, evangelism, and political activism have all been victimized by legalism. Individuals and some denominations have embraced legalistic standards in an attempt to build disciplined Christians. Maturity has often been defined by adherence to an artificial standard that can easily be measured instead of the biblical standard of "being full of the spirit of God." Legalism turns the task (praying, studying, witnessing, tithing, etc.) into the target. Our goal is not to pray or to tithe; our goal to know Christ. The disciplines of faith are stepping stones on a path leading to Jesus not the standard of achievement or maturity.
Several years ago, I saw an interview with the former head football coach of the Houston Oilers, Bum Phillips. A reporter asked coach Phillips about Earl Campbell who, at that time, was the most dominating running back in the NFL, "Coach, is it true that Campbell did not complete the one-mile run required of all players at training camp." Bum Phillips who was known for his simplistic view of life said, "Yep." The reporter said, "Does it concern you that Campbell is not in shape?" Phillips said, "Nope. A football field is not a mile long!"
We should learn from coach Phillips to stay focused on the main objective. He did not need a running back to run a mile, and we don't need to live as legalistic managers trying to produce good little saints. God promises a new heart that dwells in overflowing grace to all who receive the Lord Jesus as Savior. Our goal is not to be nice, respectable believers. We are called to manifest the glory of God by reigning as righteous warriors for the King of kings!