20/5/01 10.45 a.m. Romans 6:1-14 ( Mark 8:34-38 ) : United with Jesus.

[This will be preached at an ecumenical service with Anglicans, Baptists and Methodists]

One of the most notorious characters in modern Russian history was a religious charlatan and opportunist known as Rasputin. For more than ten years he maintained a hold over Czar Nicholas II and his wife through his ability to relieve the pain of their son Alexis' hemophilia, a painful and often fatal blood disease. Rasputin's real name was Grigory Yefimovich Novykh. He was born in Siberia about 1872 and all his life he remained an illiterate peasant.

His reputation for wild, licentious living earned him the nickname Rasputin, meaning "debauched one." For a time he stayed at a monastery where he learned a doctrine that he corrupted into his own belief This said that the best means of salvation is to indulge one's appetites as much as possible. His motto was 'Sin that you may obtain forgiveness'. He considered that those that sin most need most forgiveness, so a sinner who continues to sin with abandon enjoys, each time he repents, more of God's forgiving grace than an ordinary sinner.

This is the erroneous doctrine that Paul anticipates at the start of Chapter 6. The reason he anticipates it is found at the end of Chapter 5 20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Chapter 5 Paul had taught that the Old Testament law had no power of itself to save people, because everyone is cut off from God because of sin. Some would have been fearful that new life in Jesus would free people to do whatever they wanted, leading to immorality. Paul makes it clear that Jesus frees people from sin to do God's perfect will.

In 3:21-5:21 Paul had explained how God has provided for our redemption and justification. From Chapter 6 he explains the doctrine of sanctification, the process of growing in holiness by which believers become more like Jesus. He treats this subject in three parts: (1) freedom from sin's tyranny (ch. 6), (2) freedom from the law's condemnation (ch. 7) and (3) life in the power of the Holy Spirit (ch. 8).

I have entitled this sermon, 'United with Jesus'. We will look at this passage under three headings : United with Jesus in his death; United with Jesus in his life; United with Jesus in his righteousness.

United with Jesus in his death;

Last week we looked at how the whole human race has been corrupted with sin since Adam let sin loose into the world by his one act of disobedience. This sin leads to the death of our relationship with God. But God sent Jesus to show us his undeserved favour through his death on the cross. And God sent his Holy Spirit to convict believers of their sin and their need to repent and turn to Jesus.

If we make a U-turn we turn our back on the way we have been looking and face a completely different direction. This is what is involved in rejecting sin, evil and death and following Jesus. This involves putting to death our old, corrupt sinful nature that we have inherited from Adam.

Mark 10:34: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 or whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Following Jesus is not an easy option. It involves self-denial, putting God's will and the well being of others before our own interests. It involves taking up a cross, an instrument of humiliation, extreme pain and death.

Have you noticed the spate of television programmes that are being, or have recently been launched that appeal to people's nastier nature ? Most of them involve people being excluded in a cruel way. Big Brother, The Weakest Link, Dog Eat Dog, and a new one called Greed are examples. Jesus said that those people who selfishly cling on to their lives will actually lose them. But those who give up their lives for him and the gospel will save them.

During World War I Czar Nicholas went to the front to command Russian troops. This gave Rasputin the chance to become the most powerful man at court. He appointed church officials and cabinet ministers and even intervened in military matters. Finally a group of conspirators lured him to a private home. There, on the night of Dec. 29-30, 1916, they poisoned and shot him. Still he did not die, so they tied him and threw him into the Neva River, in which he drowned.

I would like you to imagine that, the day after Rasputin died, an invitation arrived at his house to a drunken orgy that one of his friends was organizing.

How would Rasputin have responded to such an invitation to revel in sin? He couldn't. Why not ? He was dead !

This illustrates the point Paul makes in verse 2, We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

A tombstone in Great Yarmouth had this enscribed upon it...

"Owen Moore has gone away, Owin' more than he can pay."

Once you are dead you cannot owe anyone any money, you cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence, and you cannot sin, verse 7. Death frees you from these things. So every Christian is free from the rule of sin. 14 For sin shall not be your master,

There is a difference between the death that we died and the death of Jesus. Verse 10, The death he died, he died to sin once for all; Jesus was perfect. He didn't die because he had sinned, he died and took upon himself the punishment for the sin of the world. This once and for-all sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price for every sin that has ever been committed and will ever be committed.

Paul illustrates dying to self and turning to Christ using the picture of baptism. In Jesus' day Gentiles, non-Jews, were baptised into the Jewish faith. So, by submitting yourself for Christian baptism, someone would accept that they were outside God's people but, by faith in Jesus, evidenced by baptism, they were joining God's people. This would be an obstacle for a Jew, but the early church details how, very soon after conversion, people were baptised.

As those who were baptised went under the water which symbolised their death and burial, writes Paul, As they come up out of the water this pictures the rising to new life, which leads me onto my second point...

United with Jesus in his life;

9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. This affirms that Jesus is alive forever. We can know him forever as our saviour, master and friend.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

This can have two meanings, both of which are equally valid. One is looking forward to being with Jesus in eternity. Those who are united with Jesus are joined in passing through death into eternal life with him, through the power of God, verse 4. Eternal life which, as we saw last week is a right relationship with God ( John 17:3 ), begins now. There is more to come though. We will follow Jesus in having perfect, resurrection bodies and going to be with him, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in heaven.

St. Peter was showing a newly arrived Vicar round heaven. They came to a high wall. From behind it came a loud noise of singing, speaking and shouting. The Vicar asked St. Peter who was behind the wall. Peter replied, 'Oh, that's the Pentecostals, they think they're the only ones here !' ( apologies to any Pentecostals, but this sermon will be delivered to an ecumenical service with no Pentecostals ! )

We will also join all the saints throughout history in worshipping and serving God in heaven. Earlier we looked at baptism. When someone is baptised they are not baptised into an individualistic heavenly state but into the imperfect body of believers. When you read the visions of heaven in the book of Revelation they all involve God's people being with their God.

I can tell when we are approaching the start of summer because people ask me to sign their passport photographs. Someone who is expecting to have a good holiday will look forward to their break and make preparations. Getting their passport, buying suntan oil, packing their suitcases, cancelling the milk and newspapers, loaning the dog to Aunt Ethel, and so on... Our expectations will affect our conduct now. This is true of eternal life. Paul writes of this In Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

This leads us to the second meaning of verse 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. This is our third heading...

United with Jesus in his righteousness.

We discovered last week that Jesus not only justifies us before God, he also gives us righteousness. So, in God's eyes, we are morally perfect. We also reminded ourselves that this does not mean that, once we become Christians, we immediately become morally perfect !

What is our response to be then ?

The wife of the German poet Heinrich Heine urged him to beg for God's forgiveness. He retorted, 'God will forgive me, that's his trade.' I have met some Christians whose commitment to sanctification seems so slack that I fear they share their theology with Heinrich.

Those who are righteous in God's sight have a duty to live up to that righteous status, aided by the Holy Spirit and the freedom that they have from sin. This has to involve a conscious effort to turn away from sin and to turn to God, following His ways. This is a continuous process because we will not be perfect this side of glory. But that doesn't mean that we should give up and consider that it is God's job to forgive. This is what verses 11-13 are about.

6:11 count or consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is a deliberate, conscious effort. The first step toward victory over sin in the believer's life is to realize and believe that (s)he is dead to sin and alive to God. By faith (s)he is to live in the light of this truth, in Christ. The first occurrence in Romans of this phrase, which is found often in Paul's writings. True believers are "in Christ" because they have died with Christ and have been raised to new life with him.

Galatians 2:20, 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'

Verses 12-13 are a call for the Christian to be dead to sin (see vv. 5-7) and alive to God (see vv. 8-10). The second step toward the Christian's victory over sin is a refusal to let sin reign in his/her life, rejecting evil desires (v. 12). The third step is to offer himself to God (v. 13). The language here is one of sacrifice, reminding us of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and the sacrifice of our lives that we are to offer in response.

Paul returns to this theme later in Romans, 12: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.

A sacrifice normally has no choice about its vocation. Someone else decides it will be a sacrifice, and to which god they will sacrifice it. Our sacrifice is to be deliberate and we are not dead, but alive ! Whilst that sacrifice will be by individuals it will be a corporate one. Sacrifices have to be made when Christians come together to worship, witness, pray and study God's word together. It is good that, over the last six years, our churches have been meeting together to do these things, witnessing outdoors and in the Freeport shopping mall, and distributing joint Christmas leaflets. If our unity with Christ is real, it must be shown in unity with fellow believers. What unites us is far more important than what divides us.

Verses 11-13 remind us of the spiritual battle that is going on within us. However, we must remember that we have died to sin and that it no longer reigns over us. But we have to make the choice to follow God's way.

An African who had just become a Christian was explaining to a friend what the change was like. He said, 'It feels like there are two dogs fighting inside me, one white and one black.' 'Which one wins ? ' asked his friend. 'It depends which one I feed', he replied.