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Romans 5:12, 15-17 (Call to Worship)
Billy Sunday, the famous major league baseball player turned traveling evangelist was quite a colorful and flamboyant preacher in the first two decades of the 20th century.
He also had a way with words. One website lists 88 quotes attributed to Billy. But my favorite is: “Listen, I’m against sin; I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition.” 1
We need to have this same relentless attitude in our own resistance to the temptations of sin.
But why? Paul, you say all of our sins are forgiven: past, present, and future; that’s awesome . . . grace is so amazing. So . . . why not go out and sin even more, for the more we sin the more God’s grace will be on display. Isn’t that a great way to promote the wonderful grace of God?
And Paul’s response to that wishful but misguided thinking is: Romans 6:1-2
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
We would say, for heaven’s sake no, or more likely the opposite, if you get my drift. Paul is saying, You’ve been set free from having to pay sin’s consequences (death); your death sentence has been commuted. Having been set free from death’s row, why would you want to go out and commit the same crimes again? What a slap in the face, what an insult, what an abuse of the One who freed you! Don’t you wish to honor His sacrifice for you by living the best you can for Him?
Not only to honor our Savior but to avoid all the negative consequences of sin.
For what Paul is also saying here in Romans is that although we have been set free from the power of sin that brings about eternal death, we have not been set free from the power of sin that tempts us to wrongdoing.
If not taken seriously, sin can be a destroyer and keep us from living the kingdom of God kind of life God has in mind for us that Paul characterizes as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Ro. 14:7).
In contrast to ‘righteousness, peace, and joy,’ we don’t have to look very far to see the ravages of sin; how it destroys the lives of individual people and how it destroys families.
Two weeks ago I told the Paul Harvey sermon in a story about the cowboy’s horse that ran away with the wild herd. He also has a sermon in a story about the self-destructive nature of sin. The grisly account details how an Eskimo kills a wolf.
First, he hones a knife to razor-like sharpness and then coats it with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more until the dawn finds him dead in the snow! 2
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death” (Romans 6:16a).
William Barclay, in commenting on these verses writes, “Sin begets sin. The first time we do a wrong thing, we may do it with hesitation and a tremor and a shudder. The second time we do it, it is easier; and if go on doing it becomes effortless; sin loses its terror.” 3
To avoid becoming a wolf, we must learn to appreciate and appropriate a wonderful gift that God has given us: the gift of our conscience.
According to Vine’s Dictionary, the Greek word for conscience (suneidésis) literally means to possess “co-knowledge” of something resulting in one’s “sense of guiltiness before God.” 4
We were created with a kind of third-person perspective on the rightness and wrongness of our actions.
When something is wrong with our body our nervous system alerts us: feel pain.
Similarly, when we sin, our conscience sounds an alarm: “Mayday! Mayday! Something is wrong!”
R. C. Sproul writes about the conscience: “The conscience is a powerful but changeable mechanism. It has been called the ‘internal voice of God’ a kind of built-in governor that either accuses or excuses us. The conscience serves as a monitor of our behavior. The problem of our conscience is that it may be acutely sensitive to the word of God or it may be desensitized.” (Sproul 129) 5
A person with a good conscience recognizes sin when it rears its ugly head and is not looking to see how much he can get away with . . . but to avoid it altogether.
But the Bible describes a process of “wandering away from” a “good conscience,” (I Timothy 1:5-6) and ending up with a “corrupted conscience” (Titus 1:15) or what Paul calls a ‘seared’ or as the NLT renders it ‘dead conscience’ (I Tim. 4:2). It can happen to any Christian habitually giving himself/herself over to sin, who will lose the ability to feel the spiritual “pain” of sin. And if left unchecked will reach a point where he/she
is no longer sensitive to or influenced by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before” (Luke 11:24-26).
Or as Paul writes to his young friend Timothy “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked” (I Timothy 1:19).
Now it may well be possible that some of you may be thinking you have wandered away too far and have a seared conscience and made a shipwreck of your faith.
The very concern over such a possibility reveals the good news that there is hope.
When a person in habitual sin repents by acknowledging guilt and taking the steps to put that sin in the rearview mirror seared consciences begin to heal and one gradually begins to feel the conviction of sin once again.
To be sure nobody enjoys the feeling of guilt over wrongdoing. However, the alternative is to have no feeling: no Holy Spirit conviction, no discernment of right from wrong, no sense of shame . . . no reason to blush.
One of the world’s worst smells on the planet, under the right conditions, can be turned into one of the world’s most attractive scents. Ken Wilman learned all about this after his dog became overly interested in what looked like a rock lying on a beach. Curious, he picked it up, sniffed it, and quickly dropped it with an ‘urgh.’ After a bit of research, Wilman learned the stinky object was actually whale vomit (ambergris) which is quite rare and oddly enough highly prized by perfume makers. Under the influence of the heat of the s, n the pungent ambergris turns from horrifically offensive to the most pleasant of smells. Indeed, the makers of Chanel No. 5 offered Wilman $50,000 for his seven pound chunk of whale up-chuck. 6
Before Christ, we were ambergris. Our lives stunk up the place. But under the influence of the Son and the heat of the Holy Spirit, you and I will be transformed into a sweet-smelling perfume as Paul writes the Corinthians: “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (II Co. 2:15).
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?
You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you” (Romans 6:16-17).
There is an apocryphal story about two Christian brothers, the older a devout follower of Christ, the younger a libertine (one who would trample on the amazing grace of God) who began to run with an unsavory crowd. The older brother prayed for the younger and often warned him of the danger he was placing himself in, but to no avail.
One night as the older brother sat in his study reading the scriptures, younger brother rushed in, there were bloodstains on his clothes and he cried “Help me brother, I have killed someone and the police are after me!” Older brother grasped the situation and said, “Quick, change clothes with me.” He took the bloodstained clothing and gave his brother his suit and tie. The two barely swapped clothes when the police arrived and arrested the older brother. Brought before the judge, he pleaded guilty, “I bear responsibility for this crime.” Faced with the evidence of the blood-stained clothing and a confession, the judge sentenced the older brother to death, then asked him his final wish. “Only one,” said older brother, “I want my brother to receive this letter on the day I am executed.”
The wish was granted and on the day of the hanging, the letter was delivered: “My dear brother, today I gladly sacrifice my life for your crime. And in return I would like you to lead a life of righteousness and purity. I have no other desire!”
The younger brother, on reading these words, was filled with guilt and remorse. And ever after that, as often as his former comrades in revelry called the young lad to run wild in loose living, he would say, “You know my brother gave his life for me. I am determined to live a life to honor and please him.”
I don’t need to point out the obvious as we prepare to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
2 www.family-times.net/illustration/Temptation/201714/ (Paul Harvey, “Sin’s Peril,” Leadership magazine, Winter 1987).
3 Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series; The Letter to the Romans. Revised Edition. [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, © 1975] pages 90-91.
4 Vine. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. [Waco, Texas: Word Publishing, ©1987] page
5 Sproul, R. C. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. [Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, © 1990] page 129.