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06.29.14 Living Sin Free Romans 6:12-23 with Matthew 10:40-42 Sermon Outline

by on June 30, 2014

People sometimes ask me if, as a Presbyterian, I believe we have free will. I respond that, even though it makes life harder, yes, we do.

Summary Points

  • Jesus’ hard words and why he spoke them
  • The relationship between justification and sanctification
  • The freedom of the will
  • How to experience salvation today by living the sanctified life
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

We often forget that Jesus spoke hard words, words that even drove people away. Jesus’ teaching about communion in John 6 is example. There he says, “I am the bread of heaven,” and “you must eat my flesh and drink my blood to have life.” When his audience became uncomfortable, Jesus assured them that his words were “spirit and life.” This “difficult teaching” was too much for some, and John tells us that ” many turned back.”

The verses from Matthew today conclude a sermon in which Jesus preached hard words to his disciples. Included among this difficult teaching is the fact that Jesus sends his disciples out as sheep in the midst of wolves. They will be arrested and physically tortured, even martyred. Family bonds will be tested and broken. Jesus assures them that what happens to him will surely happen to them.

Embedded in this sermon, however, are some words of great comfort, words many of us know but probably didn’t know their context. It is here Jesus says the hairs on our head our numbered; God is with us through these trials. So, Jesus urges, “Take up your cross, loose your life, and follow me.”

Christ’s call to discipleship reveals the fork in our spiritual road. We will either hear and respond, or deny, argue, or leave. The conclusion of the sermon is that, “Those who welcome a prophet as a prophet will receive the prophet’s reward.” Jesus calls us not to deny, argue, or leave, but to hear and respond.

Christ’s call to discipleship also reveals our freedom. Paul’s favorite sermon topic was freedom. In Galatians 5:1 he says, “For freedom Christ has set you free.” Or as we have it today’s passage from Romans 6, “You are not under law, but under grace.” And for Paul, our freedom is predicated on baptism (see the first half of Romans 6). We are free because of our union with Christ.

In Reformed Christianity, we often talk about two movements of the spiritual life: justification and sanctification. Justification basically is the forgiveness of sins. On account of Christ’s faithful obedience to God, we have been forgiven of our sins. This is done, accomplished, completed—all by Christ, there is nothing we can add to it.

Sanctification, the second movement of the Christian life, refers to our living as forgiven sinners by the power of the Spirit. Justification and Sanctification appear throughout Paul’s writings. Here are three passages that present the two movements:

  • “Forsaking what lies behind (justification), I press on towards what is ahead” (sanctification) Phil. 3:13
  • “The old life is gone” (justification) the new life has come” (sanctification) 2 Cor. 5:17
  • “We have been buried with Christ in his death (justification) in order that we may be raised with Christ to newness of life” (sanctification) Romans 6:4

Having been justified by Christ, we now are free to live by the Spirit. We have free will. We are free to choose. This isn’t consumeristic freedom to choose—we like and choose this, we dislike and reject that. This is freedom choose to be disciples. We are free to choose sanctification.

So as Galatians 5:1 says Christ has set us free, verse 13 says, “Use your freedom to serve others in love.” Or in Jesus’ words from John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment—that you love one another.”

Justification is the work of Jesus and the gift of God. But we have a part to play in sanctification. We must exercise this freedom, we must choose sanctification. Consider how Paul continues to talk about sanctification in the passages already listed above:

  • “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead”
  • “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”
  • “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Our salvation is dependent upon God (justification), but our experience of salvation depends on our freely choosing sanctification. We have that freedom because of our spiritual, baptismal, union with Christ, and so sanctification ultimately depends on God also. But we still must choose it.

In the confessions (historic statements of faith) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the tension created by our freedom to choose sanctification is cast in terms of a “war.” This war has been declared won by God (justification), but we still battle “remnants of corruption” (Westminster Confession on sanctification). Unless we engage these battles, our experience of salvation risks becoming like what we are seeing in Iraq today. The war there was declared won, but all we did was pacify a particular enemy. Had we continued to engage—to rebuild and even redeem the country—Iraq would not be in jeopardy of civil war today.

How do we begin to choose sanctification? How do we welcome the words of Jesus the prophet on his terms, and receive the reward he offers? The obvious first place is to remember our baptism, that we are justified and called to sanctification. In Jesus’ baptism, he prayed for and received the Holy Spirit. So it is for us—following our baptism we pray for the Spirit’s presence and power to live the sanctified life. Next, we must listen for God’s Word, and receive it as “of a prophet” or “of a righteous one,” no matter how hard it is.

But if all that is too much, Jesus ends this sermon with the promise that if anyone offers even a cup of cold water to the thirsty, they will not lose their reward. In other words, taking the first step on the path of sanctification is as easy as finding a person in need and meeting that need.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What are some examples of Jesus’ hard words to you? What made them hard to receive? Were they words of judgment, words of grace, words of direction, or some other kind of words?
  • How do the two-movements of justification and sanctification help you understand the roles Jesus, you, and the Spirit play in your salvation?
  • What are some of the “remnants of corruption” present in your life? When you next encounter them, how will you respond?
  • What are some next steps you can take towards the sanctified life?

 

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