How to change, part eight

16 Jan

If all Christians struggle.


If we are saved by what Jesus did.

Then why even talk about pursuing holiness?

If we are justified. Already. By Jesus. Why talk about being sanctified?



To use Paul’s words.

Romans chapter 6, verse 1.

“What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Which personally, I think is a pretty good question. A great question. In fact. And it is one people ask in a million different ways.

If we just take a step back and look at it.

Like, for example, if we aren’t saved by going to church, why go to church? If we aren’t saved by saying no to sexual lust, why say no to sexual lust?

In other words, what is the reason we as Christians are so serious about sin?

If God can take our sin and use it as a means of showing His grace, why not just keep on sinning?

 And you know, there are people who actually think that.

This isn’t just imaginary or hypothetical.

If you talk to them about sin, their sin, they are like.

Hey. Slow down. I am saved by grace. Why are you even talking to me about this?

Maybe they’ll say.

If God wants me to change, He’ll give me the grace to do it, and if He doesn’t give me the grace to do it, why does it even matter, anyway? I am not saved by being a good person.

There are others, who kind of think, maybe not about themselves but about others. If someone says they are a Christian. Then that’s pretty much it. It’s over. They are Christians. And even if their whole life, is pretty much denying the gospel, I mean, they are abusing their wife, and they are getting drunk and they are sleeping around, they never question whether or not they are a Christian, because after all, they say they are.

And so how we could ever wonder.


Isn’t salvation by grace? And if it is by grace. Doesn’t that mean that how a person lives doesn’t matter?

Which of course.

Is basically.

The question Paul’s asking.

In verse 1.

That’s the question.

And Paul’s answer in verse 2 is so strong, it might surprise us.

He says. “By no means!”

Exclamation point.


Some have even translated that, God forbid, because they are trying to express the passion in his response.




May it never be!

This is like Paul shouting, because in Paul’s mind, there’s just absolutely no way we should ever think, continuing on in sin, as people who really are Christians, is an option.

For us.



Paul would say.

People who have been justified by grace, don’t keep on sinning, that grace may abound.

It’s something that was impossible to Paul. So impossible. That it makes even asking the question seem, ridiculous.


As we talk about the process of change, I want to make sure we understand why, because this is key to you changing and overcoming sin. I want us to understand why it’s so obvious to Paul that real Christians aren’t going to live their lives dominated by sin.

Because it’s not obvious to a lot of people we meet. It might not even feel obvious to us sometimes. And I think that’s because sometimes people don’t understand and sometimes we even forget, what it means to be a Christian. When you are talking to people about the Christian life, one of the biggest problems you face, is that there are so many people who don’t really understand what it means to be a Christian in the first place.

Paul writes,

“How can we…”

It’s like Paul’s saying.

Let’s slow down and go back to the basics, which really, is what you so often have to do when you are struggling with sin, you have to slow down go back and think carefully about what you absolutely know to be true and one thing Paul says, we absolutely know to be true, is that as believers, we have died to sin.

He writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Which is kind of a question. But at the same time, it’s not a question, really.


It’s not like Paul is wondering here.

“Oh I wonder how it is possible for people who died to sin to still live in it.”


And, really. This is the essence of Paul’s explanation. It’s not possible for people who have died to sin. To keep living in it.

I mean,if you asked Paul, can someone who is a Christian keep on sinning and sinning and sinning and living under the power and authority of sin without ever moving forward and changing?

He’d be like.

I am confused.

I don’t really understand the question.

Because, I thought you said, Christian.

As Christians.

According to Paul.

It’s not possible.

Because to be a Christian is to be the kind of person who has died to sin. And apparently, in the original, it’s actually even, stronger than, that.

It’s like, we? Really? Us?

I mean, you are talking about us? How could we? Ever live in sin?


We’ve died to it.

Which is Paul’s basic answer, and there’s a sense in which it is very simple, and yet, it’s possible we are still a little confused by it.



What does he mean when he says, we have died to sin.

To begin, you should notice, this is past tense, and that’s important. You died to sin.


He’s not talking about something we are doing here, we who are dying to sin, or something we should be doing, we who should die to sin. Instead he’s pointing us back to something that has happened, in the past, an event that took place, for those of us, who are Christians.

How shall we that died to sin?

And this is like, I am trying to find a way to say it, a moment in our lives where everything changed.

If you are a Christian, there’s a moment in your life, where everything changed.

It’s an event.

We look back on.

In the past.

Which changes.

How we live in the present.


Happens, in life, you know.

This is a concept we can understand, if we slow down and think about it, because there are things that happen to you, in life, that completely change you, from that point on.

It’s like if you get married, I suppose. That’s a moment where everything changes. You go down the aisle, and stand in front of the preacher, while, you are kind of the same person when you come back down the aisle afterwards, you are also not the same person at all, really.

Your whole life is different from that point on.

Or maybe we should stick with the idea Paul uses, and that is dying. Dying, changes things. You obviously, don’t live the same way you did before, after you die and this is actually such an important image, for Paul, when it comes to understanding what it means to become a Christian that you’ll see he keeps returning to it throughout the rest of this passage.

He says, it is a death.

Verse 3.

We were baptized into Jesus’ death.

And a burial.

Verse 4.

We were buried.

And verse 6.

A crucifixion.

We know that our old self was crucified.

Verse 7.

One who has died.


Verse 8.

Now if we have died with Christ.

And then verse 11.

You must consider yourselves dead to sin.

Which means, this is pretty much the theme of this whole section. The key to Paul’s whole argument for fighting against and overcoming sin is that something essential that happened to us.

When we became Christians.

We can’t keep on living in sin, for the simple reason.

We are the kind of people who have died to it.

Verse 2 again.

 “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”


Let’s make sure we are clear, about what Paul’s saying happened in this moment.

Something changed. But what changed, when Paul says we died to sin.

Obviously, he’s not talking about absolute perfection, in terms of Christian practice.

I don’t think the question he’s asking is, can Christians ever sin?

Christians can sin.

Otherwise why would Paul have to write all the commands he did and why would there have to be church discipline and things like that, we know Christians can sin.

Died to sin doesn’t mean we don’t sin or we can’t be tempted by sin.


Paul’s talking instead about living under sin’s authority as a lifestyle.


You can see how he works this out.

Even in this text.

Verse 1.

He talks about continuing on sin. Or abiding in sin really.

In other words, remaining in sin without caring. And here he talks about living in sin. Not just sinning, but living in it. And, we’ll see later on in verse 6, he talks about being enslaved to sin and then in verse 14, he says sin will have no dominion or authority over you. And so I think the apostle Paul is dealing with the whole question of continuing on in a pattern of sin here.

And he’s saying that kind of lifestyle doesn’t make sense for a person who has become a Christian, because, that kind of lifestyle doesn’t match up, with what’s happened, in his life.

Sin’s rule over the believer’s life has been broken.

Which is important.

And I keep saying.

This is important.

But this is important.

Because, I want you to think about Paul’s answer to this question. It’s different than the one sometimes people give.

Even the one we might give.

If someone’s not seeming to care about being holy, we might try to motivate them, by toning down grace.


You better.


Or God’s not going to bless you.


You better stop doing that.

Or God’s not going to like you.

It’s like we think we have to protect people from God’s grace.

It’s like we think if they know God loves them completely on the basis of what Jesus has done and if they think that they are not somehow more loved by God or more right with God, because they go to church or read their Bibles or give or do these things then they are not going to do them.

They are just going to live on in sin.

And that’s where, Paul’s like.

Wait a second.


By no means!

That’s not the way God’s grace actually works. If you are hearing all this talk about being saved by grace, and thinking it means you can keep on living in sin because of God’s grace.

You don’t actually understand how big God’s grace is.

That’s the problem.

It’s not that you have too big a view of grace, it’s that you have too small a view of grace, because this grace that justified you.

Sanctified you, as well.

There was this point in time.





Your relationship with sin.

Which is where you have to start when it comes to living the Christian life out, as believers we are not trying somehow to achieve victory over sin, Jesus has achieved victory over sin, and we are living that victory out.

That’s what it means to have died to sin.

I guess.

If you think of sin like a king.


A terrible tyrant.

There’s no dictator who has ever lived who is worse than sin, and before you were a Christian, sin absolutely owned you.

That was your relationship to it.

It’s kind of like you were born into this land ruled by sin and so when sin called, you obeyed, and you didn’t actually really have much of a choice about it, whether you knew it or not.

You were a slave to sin.

You were living your life, you might say, in the realm of sin, in the land where sin was king, but when you became a Christian, Paul’s saying, your relationship to that king changed.

He lost his power over you.

It’s like.

You left that realm where sin ruled, and entered into another, and not just by running away and moving to another country or something.

That wouldn’t have produced the freedom you needed, sin’s reach was to big for that.

Your only escape was dying.

And that’s what happened.

At a point in time in your life, you died to sin.

Which, I know.

This is a little deep.

And I know, sometimes we are like, but that’s not how it feels.


I don’t know how else to interpret what Paul’s saying here.


This is what he says happened.

If you are a Christian there has a radical break in your relationship to sin.

Which doesn’t mean.

You never sin or you never struggle with sin but it does mean you’re not under sin’s authority any longer.  

Which is how Paul explains it, if you look throughout the rest of this text.

Like verse 6.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Which is a little confusing, there are some things in that verse that are confusing to us, like the part about the old self being crucified and the part about body of sin being brought to nothing, but the main thought is not confusing which is what that all that means for us now, is that, we are no longer enslaved to sin.

Having died to sin, means not being enslaved by sin and in case we missed that, Paul says in verse 7,

“For the one who has died to sin has been set free from sin.


Then, if any of us, are still wondering.

In verse 14.

“For sin will have no dominion over you.”

Which is obviously, where we have to start, coming back to it, when we are thinking about sin and holiness, and change, if we are talking with someone who is not a Christian, they are enslaved to sin, they are under the dominion of sin, they need the gospel, but if we are talking to someone who is a Christian, they need to understand what the gospel means for them.

In other words, they need to understand what it means to be a Christian.

This is what it means.

To be a Christian is to be someone who has died to sin. .

True versus Common Virtue

12 Jan

Tim Keller on Jonathan Edward’s distinction between true virtue and common virtue:

“There are two kinds of moral behavior: “common virtue” and “true virtue.”

Let’s take one virtue: honesty. “Common” honesty is developed two ways. 1) First it can be inspired by fear. There is the secular version–“be honest–it pays!” or “if you are not honest, society will not work”. There is also the religious version– “if you are not honest, God will punish you!” These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that it is impractical to be honest. 2) Second, it can be inspired by pride. There is the secular conservative version—“don’t be like those terrible dishonest people who hurt others have no virtue!” or the secular liberal version–“don’t be like these greedy people who don’t work for the common good”. There is also the religious version—“don’t be like these sinners, these bad people. Be a good godly person”. These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that I am better than these people who lie.

Edwards is by no means scornful of common virtue. Indeed, he believes in the ‘splendor of common morality’ (Paul Ramsay), which is the main way God restrains evil in the world. He does call it virtue and not sham. Nevertheless, there is a profound tension at the heart of common virtue. We just said that the main reason people are honest is due to fear and pride. But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always–it is our of fear or pride. So in common virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious form of judo on yourself. (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him.) You have ‘jury-rigged’ heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest. But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and you will do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, “I was not raised to do such a thing”

But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.

So Edwards says–what is true virtue? It is when you are honest not because it profits you or makes you feel better, but only when you are smitten with the beauty of the God who is truth and sincerity and faithfulness! It is when you come to love truth telling not for your sake but for God’s sake and its own sake. But it particularly grows by a faith-sight of the glory of Christ and his salvation. How does ‘true honesty’ grow? It grows when I see him dying for me, keeping a promise he made despite the infinite suffering it brought him. Now that a) destroys pride on the one hand, because he had to do this for me–I am so lost! But that also b) destroys fear on the other hand, because if he’d do this for me while I’m an enemy, then he values me infinitely, and nothing I can do will wear out his love for me. Then my heart is not just restrained by changed. It’s fundamental orientation is transformed.”

The myth of objectivity

11 Jan

“…it is ironic that the people you call “secular” biblical scholars look askance at “faith-driven” scholars and accuse them of bias. In my view, it is the other way around: those scholars are the ones who are truly biased and are improperly aligned with truth as it is revealed in God’s Word. As Scripture itself affirms, it is not merely a historical depository or a literary text, but divine revelation. Those who fail to recognize this miss the most crucial element of all. How sad and tragic!”

Andreas Kostenberger

An idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness…

10 Jan

“Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God), it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons an unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room.

Behold, a dangerous thinker of thinks! A believer in free-from-any-and-all-goodness! Fear my brainy blade!

Put candy in their bucket. Act scared. Don’t tell them that they’re adorable. Atheism is not an idea we want fleshed out.

Atheism incarnate does happen in this reality narrative. But it doesn’t rant about Islam’s treatment of women as did the (often courageous) atheist Christopher Hitchens. It doesn’t thunder words like evil and mean it (as Hitch so often did) when talking about oppressive communist regimes. His costume slipped all the time—and in many of his best moments.

Atheism incarnate is nihilism from follicle to toenail. It is morality merely as evolved herd survival instinct (non-binding, of course, and as easy for us to outgrow as our feathers were). When Hitchens thundered, he stood in the boots of forefathers who knew that all thunder comes from on high.”

― N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent

How to change, part seven

10 Jan

I want us to keep talking about holiness.

We are in the middle of a series where we are looking at the Bible and asking, how do people change?


If you want a big theological word you could say we are talking about sanctification.


Sanctification, basically just means to set apart or to make holy and so we are thinking about how God takes sinful people and actually makes them holy and it would be hard for us to talk very long about this whole subject without looking at Romans chapter 6.


This is a very important chapter in the Bible on sanctification and really if we were going to do a good job, we should talk about all of.

Romans chapter 6 through 8.


This is just one of the most important passages in the entire Scripture on the nature of the Christian life.

Some would say it’s Paul’s most extended, pointed, practical discussion of how you actually go about overcoming sin.

And you’ll see it all begins with a question.

There’s a question in Romans, 6 verse 1.

 And then, Paul’s answer in verses 2 through 10.

 And then a specific application in verses 11 through 14.

But this passage begins with and revolves around a question.

“What shall we say then?” Paul writes, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

And to show us how important a question this is, he asks it again in verse 15.

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”

Now this seems to be a way Paul seems to like to teach. Giving a truth. And then asking some questions. In Romans, at least.


I am thankful.

He does.

I am glad he takes this approach especially to this whole discussion, we are having, of overcoming sin and pursuing holiness because obviously, when it comes to this particular subject, of, how to live the Christian life out people have a lot of questions.

Maybe you have some questions.

As you look at the gospel and look at your life, and you think about pursuing holiness, and making some changes.

And one of the questions I find people tend to ask, and it’s not really the question Paul is asking here.

But, sometimes when people start trying to change, they start asking themselves, do other people actually struggle the way I do?

In fact.

I wonder if you have ever felt like that?

While we are going to look at what Paul says about overcoming sin, I want you to know, that’s it normal for people to struggle.

Even godly people struggle. Even the apostle Paul, struggled.

I mean.

We are going to be looking at Romans 6, but listen to what he says about himself in Romans 7.

Verse 18.

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

And I think actually Paul’s describing his experience here, as a Christian. I think he’s describing how he struggled with this reality   of indwelling sin.

It was like a law for him.

The way it is for you.

And for me.

This Christian life.

Is a struggle.

It is a fight.

And I think, we always need to remember as we talk about holiness that Jesus came to save sinners.

Real sinners.

Jesus never one saved a good person.

And I want to stress that.

Because another very common question people often are asking as they are beginning to see their sin, is whether or not God could actually really love someone like them.

With the things they did.

And even the things they do.

I mean.

Sometimes people feel alone, because they don’t understand the nature of the Christian life. It’s a struggle. And sometimes they feel hopeless, because they don’t understand how good God’s been in the gospel.

It’s grace.

It’s all grace.

Which of course.


The whole message, Paul’s been pounding home, all throughout Romans. Romans is about justification by grace through faith, which is another one of those big words, but basically it means that everyone’s so bad.

They need a Savior.

Gentiles, Jews, religious people, irreligious, people.

All of us.

Have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, which means that.

The only hope for any of us.

To be right with God.

Is Jesus and what He’s done.

It’s not our obedience to God’s commands that are going to save us. It’s going to be His.


To illustrate that.

In chapter 5.

Paul uses an illustration.

This is a chapter basically about assurance.

And to assure us that our relationship with God is certain, Paul says you can think of the whole world as being represented by two different people.


If you are living in a kingdom, maybe, that king represents you. In other words, his choices impact your entire life, basically.


He’s like your head.

Which means, for example, if he decides to go to war, the whole country goes to war because he represents the country.


In God’s eyes.

It kind of works like that.

But, there are only two possible representatives and the first, was a man named Adam. Adam was chosen to serve as a representative of the entire human race, away back at the beginning of the world, and as a result, his choices impacted us all, and as we know, because Adam chose sin, we are all born spiritually dead.

We experience the consequences of his disobedience, which is why of course, no matter how much instruction God gave us, we couldn’t actually fix what was wrong with us, because we are all born fundamentally broken.

And in fact.

As we look at the history of the human race we see that the more commands God gave us, the more He revealed about what He wanted from us, the more we turned away from Him and did whatever we wanted instead.

Which is why, God’s grace is just so stunning.

Because He didn’t leave it at that. He didn’t end it with Adam. He sent His Son into the world to serve as our representative, and where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. He came and lived an absolutely perfect life, not simply for Himself, but in the place of those who would put their faith in Him.

And this is deep.


We are all born under Adam, suffering the consequences of his choices as our representative head and we are transferred into Jesus’ kingdom, you might say, through faith, and for those of us who believe, its’ Jesus now, and his life and his choices, who represent us.

Before God.

And that’s really good news, of course.

It’s what gives us this absolute and total assurance, in terms of our relationship with God, because we know, we don’t stand before Him on the basis of our own performance.

But instead, it is Jesus’ absolute perfection He’s looking at.

When He looks at us.

Which is why Paul’s just marveling.





Verse 20.

This is like’s he coming to the high point, when he says, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass…”


Trespass. Means sin.

The law, which Paul loved, of course, because that’s God’s commands, actually only increased sin.

If you think about.

If you look back to the Old Testament.

The first part of the Bible.

You’ll see in spite of all the privileges God gave the people of Israel. It didn’t take them long to turn their back on God’s Word. They were doing it from the beginning, actually, which is significant.

For those of us who are getting discouraged.


It means.

If we are going to be rescued and have peace with God, it’s always going to have be God’s grace that does it. It’s never going to be the law that saves us. It can’t be. It’s not going to be our ability to obey the law that does it. If it were just us and God’s law, the only thing we get, is more and more sin.



God’s going to have to come up with a plan that can do what the law cannot, and Paul’s point, as we look throughout Romans, is that as we look back at what the gospel says about Jesus, that’s exactly what God did. He responded to all the sin and rebellion He was seeing with an astounding demonstration of His kindness. In fact, it’s kind of like man’s rebellion, only set the stage, to show God’s grace more clearly, when God sent Jesus into the world to do what we as people could not.

By obeying the law for us.

And taking the punishment of sin in our place, which of course, is what makes the gospel message, such good news.

It’s what makes the gospel exciting.

For Paul.

As he says.

In Romans 5, verse 20 and 21.

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. “

And so obviously.

If you are looking at your life and the way you are sinning and beginning to wonder if you are the only one who struggles, or if your particular sins, means God can’t save you, or love you, then, I want to encourage you.

The gospel is better than that.

Much better.

No matter how sinful you’ve been, or are, God’s grace is going to be bigger than your sinfulness.

In fact.

Biblically, we see, the more man sinned, the more God showed how kind He was.

It’s like where sin abounded.

Grace super-abounded.

And that’s a big part of the point of Romans, actually.

It’s encouraging.

The gospel is for sinners, and yet at the same time, while that is so true, and so encouraging, I was thinking, especially as we are looking at the particular question Paul is asking here at the beginning of chapter 6, that sin.

Is just an amazing liar.


Sin can take the best truth, and get you to believe a lie about it, and so I also probably need to warn you.

I can’t just encourage you.

I need to warn you.

If you are struggling with sin, I want you to be careful.

As you are struggling.


 To allow your struggles.

 To cause you to start believing things that just aren’t true.

That just aren’t.





Sin can’t get you to become hopeless about your relationship with God by forgetting that the gospel is about grace. It’s going try to distort that gospel and what it teaches about grace to get you to give up your pursuit of holiness.

To get you.

To start thinking.

That, maybe, how you live, doesn’t really matter.


Now we are at the heart of the question Paul’s asking.


In Romans 6.

Which, we’ll look at in our next post on how to change.

Push Back

9 Jan

“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

Flannery O’Connor

A Stationary Life

5 Jan

“A self-centered life is a stationary life; it’s static, not dynamic. A self-centered person wants to be the center around which everything else orbits. I might help people; I might have friends; I might fall in love as long as there’s no compromise of my individual interests or whatever meets my needs. I might even give to the poor — as long as it makes me feel good about myself and doesn’t hinder my lifestyle too much. Self-centeredness makes everything else a means to an end.”

Tim Keller