New: The Hope of Something Better
Passage: Romans 6:1–6:4
New: The Hope of Something Better
March 23rd, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. The Promise of a New You
"Discover the fountain of youth: Michigan Cosmetic Surgery Center and Skin Deep Spa. This new 10,000 square foot marvel of modern medicine is home to renowned cosmetic surgeon Dr. Michael Gray. We believe in changing with the times. And we have created a place where you can do the same. With everything from Cosmetic procedures and surgery, to non-invasive procedures and skincare products, now you can discover, a new you."
Interested? Listen to this description of a class offered by another organization:
"Look and feel your best! In this three-week class, you will learn how to reduce stress, spruce up your appearance, and boost your energy level. Week One: Setting Priorities. Week Two: Enhance Energy & Passion. Week Three: Beauty Inside & Out." The title of the class? Three Weeks to a New You.
How about this excerpt from a recent article:
"Who says you need a four-year degree to break into a new career? Certainly not Michelle Clark: she recently launched a booming graphic design career after a two-year school commitment...In fact, many jobs projected to be among the fastest growing by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can be attained via two-year degrees." The title of the article? Two Years to a New You.
It's not hard to find people who are promising you "a new you". In fact, they seem to be everywhere. From cosmetic surgery to classes on life-management to continuing education, we are surrounded by opportunities for change.
But why? Why is "a new you" so appealing? What is about it the "old you" that needs to be replaced or repaired or reconfigured or rejuvenated?
If there is any part of you this morning that recognizes your need for "a new you", then I have a great news. The promise of "a new you" is not empty. But that promise will not, I repeat, it will not be fulfilled by botox or a bachelor's degree. The intervention we need is far more radical.
Turn with me this morning to Romans 6:1-4. (page 942)
II. The Passage: "...We Who Died to Sin..." (6:1-4)
In Romans 6 we find the Apostle Paul writing to followers of Jesus Christ who lived in Rome, the capital of the Empire. This entire letter represents Paul's calling card to the church. You see, Paul had never been to Rome to visit the church. So this entire book is an explanation of the message that Paul was proclaiming all over the Roman world. It was a message for everyone, for Jews and for non-Jews, that is, for Gentiles.
Now, if we start at chapter 6, we're obviously coming in on the 2nd or 3rd act. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has been establishing some foundational truths about our real condition as human beings.
He tells us that even though we were made by a good and gracious God according to His image, our response as humans was to turn around and attempt to remake God according to our image.
This is how Paul described our condition in the first chapter of this letter:
...Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...(1:21)
The consequence of this shift from God-centeredness to us-centeredness or me-centeredness was a life filled with all of the things we see trumpeted on the nightly news and in the tabloids, things we have an easy time pointing out in others, but often struggle to see in ourselves: greed, violence, bitterness, unfaithfulness, indifference, confusion, despair, and so on.
The prophet Isaiah described it this way, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (53:6)
This basic broken condition is what the Scriptures call "sin". And because God is just, it is this condition that makes all of us guilty before God, that places all of us under his just sentence.
But listen to what Paul tells us in chapter 5:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly... Since, therefore, we have now been justified [declared in right standing with God] by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God [i.e. saved from God's just sentence]... If, because of one man's [i.e. Adam's] trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (5:6, 9, 17)
And so, through faith, God responds to our sin with grace because of the death of His Son.
Now, why did we talk about all that? Because that sets us up for the twisted thinking that Paul is trying to address here in chapter 6. Listen to what he says here:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
Now stop there. Do you see the strange thinking Paul is trying to confront here? Because God, through Christ, responded to our sin with grace, some were saying, "Well maybe I should continue living with me at the center of my life, that way God's grace can be poured out even more because of my need."
Now what we're going to see here is Paul smacking this twisted idea to the ground. But what I really want you to notice is how he smacks it down. Listen to the reasoning behind Paul's rejection...
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
A. Sin and the "Old You" (6:1)
Now this is the point at which we need to come back to that question I asked earlier. Remember? "Why is "a new you" so appealing? What is about it the "old you" that needs to be replaced or repaired or reconfigured or rejuvenated?
Well, I think Paul answers that question here, in light of everything he's said up to this point. The reason all of us, deep down, whether we admit it or not, the reason all of us are searching for "a new you" has nothing to do with the shape of our body, or the amount on our paycheck, or the craziness of our schedule, or our need for romance, or the grade level of our education.
No, the reason you are searching for "a new you" is because the old you is gasping for air. Like an astronaut whose line has been severed in the middle of a space walk, you and I are choking because we have cut ourselves off from the One who gave us life. Do you feel it?
Sin, that disposition that turns us away from being God-centered to being me-centered, this disposition that gives rise to the many ‘sins' which we commit in thought and word and deed, this sin is what shackles the "old you". That's the weight you feel. That's the weight from which you are seeking to be free.
B. A Drastic Solution (6:2)
But those shackles don't keep us from trying to get free. Not at all. We try. The sin that Paul is addressing here, that he has been addressing throughout this letter, that sin is what drives us to try to fill in the gaping hole that is left when God is gone.
We look for that "new you" in so many places: in careers and commendations, in relationships and retreats, in sex and success, in liposuction and Lamborghinis, in surgeons and science, in fitness and finances, even in church attendance and charitable giving. We buy, we sell, we move, we quit, we strain, we marry, we divorce, we remarry, we look, we run, we compromise, we vote, we participate, we enjoy, we drink, we use, we rationalize, we nip and we tuck, and still we are left longing for that "new you". We're still gasping for air.
But the promise is not just empty words.
Paul alludes in verse 2 to our only hope. As strange as it might sound, my only hope, your only hope for a "new you" is death.
Now, there have certainly been men and women, even, tragically, boys and girls, who felt like the only way they could be free from the shackles of the "old me" was by taking their own life. But that's just another example of how we look in the wrong places for answers. That's not the death I'm talking about. That's not the death Paul is talking about.
He's not talking about you coming to the end of your life. He's talking about you coming to the end of yourself.
And when you come to the end of yourself, there is nothing left that YOU can do. Do you believe that?
C. Death by Proxy (6:3)
But even though we're not talking about physical death, someone does have to die physically if we hope to die to ourselves, because physical death is the result of that sin we've been talking about. So how can we die to ourselves right now without dying physically right now? How can we die but still live?
Look at where Paul directs his readers in verse 3:
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
The dilemma that "there is nothing left YOU can do" has been solved by God. Jesus Christ has done what we could not. Without wavering in his God-centeredness, Jesus took our me-centeredness, with all of its ugliness and all of its consequences, and he killed it on the Cross.
Therefore, we are able, by the grace of God, to participate in the death of Jesus Christ. Just as He died, because He died physically, we can die to ourselves through Him. How do we do that? Look at what Paul tells his readers here. If they have been baptized into Christ, they have been baptized into His death.
So is Paul saying that because they were dunked in some water that they have died to their old selves? No, he using the idea of baptism here because he wants to use baptism in the last part of this verse to talk about the idea of being initiated into the death of Jesus. And so the first baptism he mentions here is merely another way of talking about placing our trust in Jesus. He can use baptism in that way because baptism was typically an immediate expression of one's faith in Jesus.
And so, we can die to ourselves, to the "old you", by placing our trust in Jesus as our only hope; that He did what we could not because He alone is Lord.
Saving faith is not gasping for air. It is to stop breathing altogether with a complete trust that God will fill our lungs with a fresh wind.
But if we can die to ourselves through the death of Jesus, if that "old you" can be dealt with, what about that "new you"?
D. Empty Tomb, Fullness of Life (6:4)
Look at where Paul goes in verse 4. He tells us here that Good Friday is always followed by Easter. Listen to this verse:
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that [do you see that...our dying with Christ is not an end in itself, we do not die with him simply to have our "old self" extinguished...no we have died with through faith...IN ORDER THAT...], just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
There it is. There it is. It is not the hope of cosmetic surgery. It is not the hope if life-management. It is not the hope of a better degree or a bigger office or a beautiful romance. Our hope for that "new you" is the hope of Easter.
Just as our only hope for death to that "old you" is the death of Jesus, so too our only hope for life as "a new you" is the life of Jesus.
As Paul puts only two chapters later in 8:11...
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
And remember the issue Paul is addressing here. He is dealing with those who claimed to believe in Jesus but were trying to remain in a "me-centered" universe; those who claimed to be touched by heaven, but who were intent to live like hell.
Paul declares clearly, "No, if you have trusted in Christ, then that "old you" is dead. And even more, if you have trusted in Christ, and died with Christ through faith, then you have also been raised with Jesus, which means everything is new. New!
No more of this foolish thinking that somehow we should live for the things or people or experiences around us. No, the hope of Easter, the hope of "a new you" is that we can live for the One for whom we were made.
"Newness of life". Doesn't that sound good? Isn't this the best news you've ever heard?
III. An Invitation to Newness
This morning, please let me speak to you just as God has spoken to me this week through His word.
I don't know what's going on in your life this morning. I don't know what you've been through. I don't know about your hopes and your fears and the wrongs you've done and the ways you've been wronged. I don't know...but God does.
If there is in you any recognition, even the slightest recognition that you need "newness", then please hear what God is saying to us this morning.
Easter is not simply a time for us to celebrate a page out of history. It is not simply a time for us to rejoice that a long, long time ago in a country far, far away, a man came back to life. No, Easter is a time for us to rejoice, to celebrate, to laugh, to shout because that man's renewed life means "newness" for us. The hope of Easter is not simply the hope of new life in the hereafter, in that sweet by-and-by. It is the hope of new life now, right now!
Paul told the Corinthian church, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he IS a new creation.ï»¿ The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (II Corinthians 5:17). Everything is new, now! You are new, if you are in Christ by faith.
Now it may sound like we're slipping a little back into me-centeredness, but we're not. You see, Jesus died and rose again so that through His victory, through his vindication of God's glory and greatness, we can know new life. The greatest joy we'll ever know only comes when God is our greatest joy.
Do you feel that weight this morning? Do you feel like you're dragging chains? Sin not only condemns us under God's perfect justice, it also consigns us, here and now, to a life without peace and without hope. To use the imagery Paul will go on to employ in this chapter, it makes us like slaves: bound, shackled, trapped.
Maybe this reality is all too clear to you this morning. Maybe you've been searching and searching and searching, and trying and failing, and loving and losing, and you know for certain that you need "newness".
Maybe you already know all of this, maybe you know and believe all of this, but still, you find yourself longing for "newness". Maybe you just don't feel like there is "a new you".
Let's be clear. What we're talking about is not a religious solution. When most people think of religious solutions, they think about what they should do in order to be accepted by God. And how many Christians are living with this very mindset? They try and try and try to measure up before God in the hopes that He will accept them.
But what we're talking about is what Jesus did in order for us to be accepted by God. We cannot do anything but believe that Jesus did it all. And we have to keep on believing that. As Paul tells us here, the only thing that changes our lives is faith that in Christ we are accepted by God because of who Jesus is, what Jesus did, because we have died with Him and risen with Him.
If you are here this morning and have never personally responded to God's invitation of forgiveness and new life, then receive it by trusting in Jesus as your only hope. Talk to God right now in the quietness of your heart.
If you are here this morning and you are a follower of Jesus but still feel like the chains of that "old you" are hanging on, then realize, be reminded of, just a Paul his reminding his readers, that you can walk in "newness" of life. That doesn't happen when we try really, really hard to walk in "newness" of life. "I'm walking, I'm walking, I'm walking. I think I feel new!"
No, to live in "newness" is to live each day with faith in the greatness and grace of Jesus. It is to trust that we are right with God; to rejoice in the reality that we are his children. It is to be motivated by that pure love and gratitude that is inspired by the cross of Jesus Christ.
We are surrounded by those who are promising a "new you". But the only one who can give you "a new you" is the one who made the "old you". And he only does that through Jesus Christ.
The promise of a "new you" is not an empty promise, for as Paul writes in another letter, "...no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ."
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