Divine Justice--A Matter of Life or Death
O dear God, my precious Savior and powerful Lord, I thank You for this day and this opportunity to worship in Your house. Send Your Spirit to bless me as I confess my sins, rejoice in the gift of forgiveness, and grow through a study of Your Word. Amen.
Sin causes great and grave challenges in our lives, even as it did for God’s Old Testament people. Isaiah pointed his readers ahead to the coming Savior, Jesus, to whom we also look for salvation as God’s “Holy People.”
Jesus provided for the needs of about 4,000 people in a miraculous way after they spent three days listening to Him preach the truths of God’s kingdom. We may rest assured that this same Jesus can and will take care of our needs as we likewise listen to Him.
Text: Romans 6:16-23 (NIV)
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Christ Jesus, the Lord and Giver of life, dear fellow redeemed:
A black man is shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. A second black man is shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Five white policemen are ambushed, shot, and killed by a black man seeking vengeance in Dallas, Texas. Some shout, “Black lives matter!” Others counter, “Blue lives matter!” Still others suggest, “All lives matter!” People cry out for justice. After all, they say, “This is a matter of life or death! It doesn’t get more important than that!” Still many others, perhaps even a majority of others, seem simply to want to cover their eyes, plug their ears, and move on with their lives, because they do not want to believe this is happening in America and, after all, it has not affected them…yet!
We want to pray for the comfort of the families of those whose lives—black and white—were lost. We certainly want to pray that justice will be done in these matters. But even more importantly, we want to pray that the eyes and ears of all people everywhere will be uncovered and unplugged to the fact that sin lies behind all such tragedies and that, in fact, there are spiritual facts—spiritual facts that are a matter of life or death, that affect not just isolated families in the suburbs of St. Paul and the cities of Baton Rouge and Dallas, but everyone who lives anywhere in this world! Yes, let us pray for the families involved in the tragedies of this past week, and let us pray for earthly justice in these matters, but let us pray even harder that every human being becomes aware of the issues of which the apostle Paul speaks in our text, for Paul addresses DIVINE JUSTICE, which is truly A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH for everyone, for as Paul declares the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Some of you have had the privilege of meeting Yella Hensley, one of our newer members. Yella is a sincere Christian, whose heart has been touched by the gospel and the needs of those confined in our state’s prisons. He recently was released from the Faribault State Prison. With the approval of the Board of Deacons and the help of our congregation, he is currently ministering to twenty-eight inmates in that prison—men whom he had discipled through Bible Studies while in prison himself. Yella shared his frustration with me several weeks after his release that it is much easier to share the gospel with people in prison than with people outside prison. People inside prison seemed more willing to listen to the Word of God, while people outside prison seem less willing and more distracted. My response to Yella was that people inside prison know they are living in captivity, while those outside think they are free even though they may be slaves to sin. Let us examine that thought on the basis of Paul’s words in our text.
Paul explains as he opens our text: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Notice immediately that Paul suggests there are only two alternatives for anyone in this life—either you are a “slave to sin” or you are a “slave…to obedience.” Now, we might be tempted to interrupt at this point and exclaim, “I am neither of those, because I am not a slave. I am an American. I am free, and I am guaranteed certain liberties by our Constitution!” While that is indeed your outward, political reality, that is not your spiritual reality. Everyone here today—in fact, everyone anywhere today—is a slave…a slave either to sin or to obedience—a slave ultimately, therefore, either of Satan or of God. Have I caught your attention? That spiritual reality is truly a matter of life or death, because sin, Paul says, inevitably “leads to death,” while obedience always “leads to righteousness.”
Now Paul addresses us in this text as converted, believing children of God and so slaves of obedience, but he explains the implications of our previous, natural condition prior to our conversion by saying: “You used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness…. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! … For the wages of sin is death!”
Every human being by nature from birth is enslaved by Satan to sin. They think they are free. Satan fills their hearts with that illusion. “I’m free! I can do anything I want! I can drink myself into a stupor. I can get high at any time of my choosing. I can feast my eyes on internet pornography. I can take the bus to gamble away my life’s savings at Mystic Lake. I can ignore God on the weekends and live life to the fullest at the lake.” But every time anyone chooses to defy or to ignore God and so to sin the chains of iniquity grow larger, longer, and stronger. Every time anyone chooses to sin, Satan gives them the illusion of freedom, because they are living in rebellion against God and what they perceive to be the undue restrictive nature of His law and its demands for righteousness. But every time anyone chooses to follow that path they fall under the condemnation of their conscience, and it condemns them even more. Guilt and shame rear their ugly heads and drive them further from God and closer to the cliffs of despair. Every time anyone chooses to remain enslaved by sin, even should Satan deaden their consciences and they are unaware of their wretched condition, the result is death, “for the wages of sin is death!” That is a spiritual fact, and that ultimately is DIVINE JUSTICE, and DIVINE JUSTICE is always A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!
However, that is not, thankfully, our situation. By God’s grace we have not only been redeemed by the blood of Christ but have been brought to faith by the Holy Spirit using the means of grace—baptism and the preaching of the gospel. Paul writes in our text: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. … [You]now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. ... now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
By God’s grace we are now “slaves to righteousness!” But you might think or even say from our modern perspective, “I don’t want to be a slave, even if it is a slave of righteousness!” But, yes, you do, for the spiritual facts are that you are either a slave to sin and so in bondage to Satan or you are a slave to righteousness and so a member of God’s kingdom. There are no other choices. As a believer in Jesus Christ (your Savior from sin, death, Satan, and hell), you and I find ourselves in a curious situation, for we are not only slaves,but we are also at the very same time sons and daughters of our heavenly Father destined to spend eternity with Him and in His presence! Let us, however, examine our positions.
We are “slaves of righteousness” for God the Holy Spirit dwells within our hearts and moves us to devote ourselves to God’s service—not because we have to, but rather because we want to! Notice how Paul describes our situation: “You have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.” Ours is not a forced enslavement, but a willing service flowing from the love of God which has claimed our hearts! Think of Jeremiah’s words of prophecy: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34)This is our happy situation! We are privileged to live lives not in shear frustration motivated by fear, but rather with absolute confidence driven by love. You know John’s precious declaration: “We love Him because He first loved us!” (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19) When we experience the absolute and unconditional love of our heavenly Father, we cannot but ask in return, “How can I express my love to you, dear Father?” His response in Scripture is very clear and it is two-fold: “Believe on the name of His (My) Son Jesus Christ and love one another!” (cf. 1 Jn. 3:23)
Beyond this, however, notice how Paul goes on to say: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness.” How can we, who by nature are sinners and who must continue to confess as we did once again this morning that we are sinful in thought, word, and deed, ever even hope to approach any level of “holiness?” That would seem to be an absolute impossibility, but it is not in view of Jesus. The apostle Peter informs us: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9) Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” (cf. Eph. 5:25-26) He goes on to explain the plan even further in his letter to Titus: “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) That leads us to exactly where Paul ends in our text for today: “You have been set free from sin…for the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord!”
My dear friends, we certainly want to pray this day and every day for the people with whom we share our lives in this world. Among those prayers will be prayers for comfort and justice in this life. But any and all earthly comfort and justice will be but for a short season. We, above all, want to pray that men, women, and children everywhere will come to understand that there is a God in heaven above, that His justice is indeed a matter of life or death, that they should take sin seriously, repent of that sin, and come to believe in Jesus, for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord! These are the facts! Amen!