I do think that many Christians have scandalized the Lord’s name and cause before the ungodly. Many professors make it appear that there is not much difference between the church and the world, but I believe that there is sufficient power in true religion to lift a Christian right up above the world, and to make him live in such a serene atmosphere that, notwithstanding all the trials and troubles that may come upon him, he will be able to say, as David did when he fled from Saul, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.”
I won’t belabor this episode with a lot of extra remarks. However, I do want to take a moment and discuss how I think this verse ought to be taken to heart by Christians today, especially in the West which has at least a short history of holding up freedom of religion.
As Christians in a secular or secularizing culture, it is important for us to think deeply and carefully about how to represent Christ to that culture. I’ve spoken about what I think is a dangerous and unhelpful battle many wage in the culture war, not because I want to be friends with the world, but because the way many engage with the ungodly culture of the West betrays fear and doubt in who God says He is. Even many who proclaim faith in God’s sovereignty over His creation, when confronted with the foolishness and destruction our culture is putting itself through by its own love of sin find themselves taking up battle where they should not, and fighting in anger rather than serving in love and patience.
“Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:13 CSB
Christians, are we loving our neighbors well? Are we praying for them and seeking to know them and serving them in their needs? If one of the people you are writing angrily about on the internet because of one reason or another suddenly appeared in front of you in distress and in need of the love of Jesus, would you be able to actually give them that?
We need to wrestle with these questions. I know I do. This is why I think it’s important for us to pour ourselves into our ministries where we are. Serve and love your local body. Know the people you live around. Don’t just look for opportunities to give them a sales pitch to church, but be sure that you are walking in a way that reflects the fact that you have been bought with the blood of the Lamb. My prayer for myself, my family, my church, and all of you, is that we will all pursue this humbly and in love for God and neighbor.
“‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ Oh, how I love these ‘shalls!’ There seems something grand in them. “Sin shall not.” Ah, Satan may come with temptation, but when God says, ‘Sin shall not have dominion,’ it is as when the sea comes up in the fullness of its strength and the Almighty says, ‘To here shall you come, but no farther. Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’ If there were not other promise in the Bible but this one and I knew no more theology than that promise teaches me, I would be most happy.”
There is such tremendous hope in Romans 6:14 that I couldn’t help but want to read a sermon on this passage. There are actually two Spurgeon sermons on this verse, and if God is willing I will eventually read the other as well here. But just like Charles Spurgeon, I see in this passage multiple considerations we ought to make when meditating on it.
If sin has dominion, you are under law
Charles Spurgeon chose to begin with reading the passage as a warning to all who would consider themselves Christians, and I think that is a good place to start as well. We all sin. We can’t sit under the words of Paul in Romans and come away thinking that sinless perfection in this life is possible, and it’s certainly not what he teaches. However, he goes to great lengths to distinguish the life of war Christians enter into against their own sin, and the death begetting more death that is the nature of humanity when it lives in its innate, natural rebellion against God, against what the Bible calls “the works of the flesh.”
If we are able to walk in sin with absolutely no pangs of conscience, no battle within, then the warning to draw is that though you may claim Christ, in your heart, you do not know Him. To be in Christ is to struggle against the sinful desires that are a part of our natures, and if that struggle is absent, then we need to hear this as a warning to our inmost hearts: you can’t love sin and love Jesus. You can’t have Christ as a master if you also want to serve yourself.
Hope for the struggle
But the presence of sin as a struggle is not a sign that you are a false believer. That is a way some have read this passage and it is untrue and dangerous to faith. Rather, we should look to this as a tremendous hope and a source of peace. We are going to sin, because we’re still living in the flesh. Not that we are making peace with it, not that we’re throwing our hands up and saying “whatever” to the notion of breaking God’s law, but we’re admitting the truth: we are weak. We are not wholly renewed, even though we have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in leading us to faith in Jesus.
But God also promises that His power is made perfect in weakness. When we trust to the truth that we are not under law but under grace, we can put our sin to death day by day by knowing that the answer to falling to sin is to seek the cleansing of God’s grace and love. In Christ we don’t have an angry judge waiting to destroy us. We have a loving Father who takes His children in His arms, cleans them up and kisses them in love, and sets them back on the right path. We have a patient, gracious God who will absolutely complete the work He began in us, and therefore, we can struggle in hope and rest in grace. This is a hard thing to fully grasp, and I’m not sure we can really understand the full implications in this life, but it’s a good thing to consider, to meditate on day by day.
A directive to our steps
We rest in the hope of Jesus, in the truth that His spilled blood and broken body has paid fully the price of our rebellion before God, and that we will follow Him in resurrection to eternal life. But we still ought to consider the implications of the gospel for our daily lives, our thoughts, and words now. So many people I know believe passionately that the power of Christ to overcome sin is their hope, and yet they seem to operate on the idea that God needs their help day to day to prevent evil from taking over the world.
Our weapons to do battle in the war on sin, in our lives and in our world, are spiritual, and human power is not one of them. Too often it seems like we believe that if this leader doesn’t triumph, if this law doesn’t pass, if this act doesn’t occur, then the hope for the church in the world weakens. And so often we see Christians behaving in very un-Christlike ways towards one another and towards those who do not follow Christ.
You cannot compel the obedience of those who are outside of Christ. You cannot ordain holiness where the Holy Spirit has not moved. And you certainly cannot shine the light of Christ with one hand, while swinging the club of human authority with the other. If we are going to walk in a way that says “I am not under law, but under grace,” then we need to take the path that Jesus led His disciples on. That’s the path that involves taking up our crosses and following Him to a death that has had its true power broken.
I want to leave you all with that thought, and encourage you to think on it especially as you engage with those you disagree with. How do I reflect the grace of God shown to me through my words? I know that I often have much to repent of, and often choose to restrain myself rather than speak. But I pray that the words of Paul, and the words of Charles Spurgeon, will minister to you in the way they do to me, in illuminating the tremendous grace of God for my life.
I charge you rest not, be not content until by faith you can say, “Yes, I cast myself upon him; I am his, and therefore he is mine.” I know that full many of you, while you look upon all else that you have as not being yours, yet can say, “My Redeemer is mine.” He is the only piece of property which is really ours. We borrow all else, the house, the children, nay, our very body we must return to the Great Lender. But Jesus, we can never leave, for even when we are absent form the body we are present with the Lord, and I know that even death cannot separate us from him, so that body and soul are with Jesus truly even in the dark hours of death, in the long night of the sepulchre, and in the separate state of spiritual existence. Beloved, have you Christ? It may be you hold him with a feeble hand, you half think it is presumption to say, “He is my Redeemer;” yet remember, if you have but faith as a grain of mustard seed, that little faith entitles you to say, and say now, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
The truth of this sermon title is the truth that rings in the heart of every believer when suffering comes. When we find ourselves pressed upon, feeling the pain of loss and doubt, and anger, and we know deep in our hearts that our God is just and holy, we look to this. Not in a “brush the dust off your hands and go on like nothing’s happening” way, because usually that is neither helpful nor practical. We do it in a way that says “My suffering is real. My pain is real. But God is just as real and He will give it purpose.”
I talked before about how the psalms of lament echo this same cry, where they call to God in real pain, in turmoil and suffering that doesn’t fade with the night and vanish in the morning, but continues for years, even generations. They don’t blame God, but they do recognize the truth, which is that God rules over even their times of suffering, and they call out to Him not because they are ungrateful or bitter, but out of faith:
Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever! Why do you hide and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.
Psalm 44: 23-26
I want to share some more from the book I mentioned last time as well, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings:
In what sense, exactly, does the psalmist blame God amid crisis? The psalmist does not “blame” God in the sense of a judge who blames a defendant as he delivers a verdict and dismisses the defendant from the courtroom. If the psalmists had already decided the verdict–that God is indeed unfaithful–they would not continue to offer their complaint. They would have a solution to the problem of evil that silences the questions of lament: that God is not trustworthy, not wholly good. Instead the psalmists blame God in the interrogative, with raw, unanswered questions that cling to the hope of God’s covenant promise: Why am I in this crisis if the Lord’s covenant promise is true? In the context of covenant fellowship, God’s people can cry out to their covenant Lord–in complaint, even in protest and open-ended blame–until God shows his faithfulness according to his covenant promise.
J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament, p. 59
Faith expressed in times of doubt
Job may not fully understand at this point the nature of God’s redemptive plans, but he does have the right target in view. If he were hanging on the side of a mountain, he would have grasped the right handhold. If he were in the water after a shipwreck, he would be clinging to the best life preserver there is: the promise and truth of God’s work to redeem His people. And as Charles Spurgeon said, how much more ought we who live in this time between Christ’s first and second comings look to that in faith?
God does not say to His people, “Ah, you don’t have it so bad, quit whining.” He does not dismiss them or punish them for crying out in need. He listens to them. He has sent the Comforter to minister to His people, and provided His Word to lead them. Let us rest in that, and in who He is: our loving Father, who never leaves us even in greatest darkness and deepest valley. He is our God.
“Underneath are the everlasting arms.” –Deuteronomy 33:27 God–the eternal God–is himself our support at all times, and especially when we are sinking in deep trouble. There are seasons when the Christian sinks very low in humiliation. Under a deep sense of his great sinfulness, he is humbled before God till he scarcely knows how to…