By Pastor Cherie Johnson
For the last several weeks, we have been talking about looking at life through Resurrection tinted lenses or glasses. The life that is possible for us is different than what was possible before this period. Up to this point we have been looking at how the disciples wrapped their heads around the idea that even though their Messiah died, with his resurrection, their whole idea of what was possible, what was important, completely changed. Their ideas about the Romans and their occupation of Israel seems like small potatoes compared with the cosmic consequences of Jesus effectively defeating death, like death was a physical enemy in the way that the Romans were.
It was a complete paradigm shift for them, and it took a while for them to make the adjustment. We talked about it being like seeing colors that we’ve never seen before, except this is like discovering possibilities for life that we may not have imagined before.
The last several weeks we’ve been looking at it from the perspective of the disciples, but this week we will start looking at how it applies to our lives now. Because many of us, while claiming the name of Christian, or follower of Jesus, are walking around without our Resurrection glasses. We know that Jesus died for our sins, but we don’t experience the new life we can have through Jesus resurrection. We still try to live life the old way.
We will be looking at a lot of different scriptures today, but our theme verse describes our relationship with Jesus.
John 10:22-30 NIV
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
The verse I want to highlight here is verse 27. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
It is this idea of knowing and being known. It is about developing a personal relationship with Jesus. The disciples were Jesus students’, of course. If we want to be a disciple, we are Jesus’ student, but what did Jesus do with those 12 students? He developed a relationship, and through his contact with them, his example, how he treated them, they learned, and they were changed. They knew Jesus and were known by him. That is important for us, too. We can go out and try to be good, to do good things, help people, but it’s through the relationship that we understand the why. Why is it important? Why does God want this for us, for the world? Life is more pleasant if we all would do all the things that Jesus talks about in the gospels, follow the themes in the law of the Old Testament, but that doesn’t seem to help us do much better in following those rules.
The Apostle Paul sums up the predicament very well in his letter to the church in Rome, otherwise known as Romans. In chapter 7 starting at verse 15 he says this:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do – I do not do, but what I hate – I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”
This was Paul’s situation before putting on his Resurrection glasses, and of course, he didn’t put it that way. But, this was when he was a Pharisee, trying to follow the law. In a way, it can sound like a Dr. Seuss book, but it is also rather profound, as Dr. Seuss can be profound. It is a question that Greek and Roman philosophers had been debating for centuries. It describes the Human Condition.
So let me read it again. Paul says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do – I do not do, but what I hate – I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”
This is something we all deal with, and it not only applies to the law in the Bible. We not only have trouble following the laws, commands, rules of the Bible, we don’t follow our own rules. Have you tried to love your neighbor when they “borrow” your tools and don’t return them, play loud music at all hours of the night, pass you on the highway, and their tire throws a rock that cracks your windshield? And much much more. It’s tough to do.
What about our own rules? We have an internal sense of what we ought to do, but sometimes we don’t do it. We say, “This is what I should do. This would make me feel better. I’d be happier. I’d be healthier. I’d be a better friend, a better spouse. I’d be a better person.” But then, there’s a part of us that does the opposite. We have reasons and rationalizations about why we do these things, but Paul is going to give us his explanation.
Picking up at Verse 18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do, no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
Regardless, whether we believe the Bible or not, we believe this part of the Bible or at least can relate to this passage. The question is, why don’t we do what we’re supposed to do? We know what we’re supposed to do. Do we really need to be told? Do we really need more advice? We just can’t figure out how to do it. That’s why there are so many self-help books that really regurgitate the same ideas. So again, we learn more about what we ought to do, but experience more guilt when we still don’t do it. We can train our pets, but we can’t train ourselves. What’s wrong with us?
Paul is going to tell us what he thinks the problem is and the solution. If you’ve been in the church a long time, some of this is going to be familiar, but some of it may be new. Because we, as Christians, seem to get stuck on what Jesus did for us through his crucifixion, he died for our sins, very important, has to come first, but we don’t realize the benefits we have through his Resurrection.
Part of the reason that we lose it is because the book of Romans is complicated. It’s dense, or as we might say in Christian circles, it’s deep. Also, Paul was probably dictating this letter, and he would go back and explain a detail, and come back to the main point. They didn’t have computers where they could backspace. They didn’t even have white out, so we have something that sometimes isn’t as straightforward as we might hope.
We are going to follow the main thread, so we put on our Resurrection classes, we can understand how this works.
For some of you, it may be a review, but for many it may be brand new. If we understand it, it can change our lives. New colors. Vivid life. Forever changed. Paul is going to explain why we don’t do what we know we should and vice versa. We’re going to back up in Romans to chapter 5 verse 6.
Paul says, “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Here we have a word that might bother us, ungodly. Paul doesn’t know us. How can he know we’re ungodly? He didn’t even know the people he was writing to personally. Part of it is that we associate that term, ungodly, with something that’s not just a little bit off, it’s terrible. It’s the worst, but here it is not an insult. We merely are not God.
None of us would call ourselves ungodly. We would say that we are not perfect, but God is perfect, without flaw. We are imperfect or un-perfect, so we are not like God. We are un-god-ly. Turn to someone near you, hopefully not someone you have to go home with, and tell them, “You’re ungodly.” You’re ungodly. I’m ungodly. It’s just a fact.
“You see at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…” Continuing, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person, someone might dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us [a whole different category than ours] in this: while we were still sinners [transgressors, mistake makers] Christ died for us.” (5: 7-8)
What is so significant about this is that when Paul was writing it wasn’t 2,000 years ago for him. There were people still around who were when Christ died. Paul was alive when Christ died, whether or not Paul knew who he was, but likely as not, Paul was even in Jerusalem when Jesus died. After all it was Passover. If you were Jewish at that time, and you could make it to Jerusalem for Passover, you did it.
So, imagine this, while Jesus was being executed, Paul was nearby – doing those things he knows he shouldn’t, but he’s doing them anyway. We learn in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters that he was a strictly observant Pharisee in those days. He knew the Jewish law, and he knew he messed up as much as or more than anyone else. So, Jesus is dying for him – for you, for me – while Paul was actively messing up, actively sinning, not even time to feel sorry or feel guilty yet. In that moment, Jesus is dying for ungodly Sinners. Who would do that?
Occasionally, you might find someone who is willing to lay down their life for a good person, or someone we think of as innocent. Think of a firefighter who goes into save the children inside, or even the soldier who takes the bullet for his or her buddy. But who would die for the sins of another person while they were sinning, or for future sins of people who have not even been born yet in the future. Who would do that? That is why this is a different kind of love.
Christ died for past sins, the ones we’re doing right now – keep looking straight ahead – doing right now, and future ones. Once for all.
The next question is, what actually makes us ungodly sinners, ungodly mistake makers, ungodly people with bad judgment – even very smart people which obviously you are, or you wouldn’t be here? Is it the fact that we made these mistakes? No, it’s actually before that. It’s the reason we make poor decisions.
Picking up in chapter 5 verse 12, “In this way death came to all people because all sinned-“
Here, Paul refers to sin as a noun, not verb. It’s a thing. This thing, this power, let’s call it a disease. As I referred to death as an entity to be defeated, sin is like a disease that needs to be cured.
Once upon a time, there was no sin in the world. It was pristine. Then, sin entered the world. The Bible says it entered through Adam, and whether you take that literally or not, the Hebrew word adama means ground, or another way to put it is Earth man. It could mean a man named Adam, or a shared ancestor a long time ago. He was infected with what we could think of as a genetic disease called sin. We all have inherited this disease. So, in this case, sin is not an activity, or a verb. It’s a thing, sin, that results in sinning.
One of the reasons that we don’t do things we know we should and do other things that we know we shouldn’t is that we have been addressing the symptom, the result, not the disease or the cause.
So, the disease of sin, power, force, whatever you want to call it, entered the world, and death came as a result of sin. That can sound a bit harsh, even under the most extreme circumstances, but especially when it comes to what we think of as harmless sins, like white lies we tell in order not to hurt someone’s feelings. Yes, even for that.
If we think about it, we’ve all experienced this, not necessarily a physical dying, but perhaps. But think of a bad habit, an addiction, or just a plain mistake. You’ve seen the death that follows these sins, death of relationships, finances, jobs. Paul says that wherever there is sin, death is nearby. The reason that we know that we are ungodly is that we’re dying.
This is Paul’s explanation of why we don’t always do what we know we should and so on. Not because of something we did, but something we were born into, like a genetic disease.
For illustration purposes and simplicity, we’re going to call our shared original ancestor Adam.
We were all born into Adam, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, my mom, even me, even you …
You can say it’s not fair, and it’s not fair. Just like it’s not fair to anyone who’s born with an inherited disease. Babies born with AIDS, malnutrition, War refugees. The list is endless because the disease of evil and sin is worldwide. And it’s not fair, not any of it, but it’s true. And that’s why God sent Jesus to start the healing process.
Paul starts talking about why this is significant, continuing in chapter 5 verse 15, “But the gift is not like the trespass [this error, mistake, sin that is represented by what happened in the Garden … but the gift is not like the trespass]. For if the many died by the trespass of one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gifts that came by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
This gift is through what Jesus did. God sees us as sinless, mistake-free, and therefore we can have relationship with God. A relationship like the one that is so beautifully described in the 23rd Psalm that we heard earlier.
So, when you became a Christian or follower of Jesus, or should you decide to do so, you are taken out of Adam, and you are placed into Christ.
This difference between these two things is so big and so practical. Many of us learned that being a Christian means we get to go to heaven when we die. Yes, sure, eternal decision, very important, but that is not what Paul is talking about here. Paul doesn’t mention Heaven or Hell in this discussion. He’s talking about the kind of life we can have right now, how we can escape the cycle of doing the things we regret, things that we know are going to hurt other people or even ourselves.
This happens because we were born in Adam, but the solution, the gift, is more powerful than the power of being born into Adam. That’s why only God could do it.
Paul continues in verse 16, “Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
And here we come upon another interesting word, justification. When we are taken out of Adam and placed into Christ, we are given the gift of a right standing with God. We are given the gift of justification. If we grew up in the church we say, and that means we get to go to heaven when we die, and Paul would say, “That’s not what I’m talking about.” This is more practical with the life we are living right now. It is a lifestyle for living here, now. It’s not about trying harder, but it’s about what is no longer true about us. What has become true of us.
Romans 5:17, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of Grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ!”
All through Paul’s Epistles he says things like in Christ, through Christ, many times. This means that having been placed in Christ, you have a brand new operating system, a new identity, in this life. It is part of what Jesus was talking about in our theme verse, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them…” (John 10:27) We know what life looks like through Adam, which overpowers us with the power of sin.
Is it possible to live through Christ in a way that overpowers and supersedes what happens to us when we were living through Adam?
Romans 5:18, “Consequently just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in the justification and life for all people.”
Of course this only works because the one person that did that righteous act was Jesus. This act of dying on the cross for sin, overpowering sin, breaking the power of sin, paying the penalty for sin. Adam did something wrong, and it affected everyone. Jesus did something right, and it has undone what Adam did. Jesus has provided a way for us to live a new kind of life.
Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous.”
If your approach to the Christian Life is, “Thank you for forgiving my sins. Now I’m going to do my very best to be like Jesus and do what Jesus wants me to do.” Paul says, Good luck with that.
It was from that standpoint that Paul wrote that he agreed with God’s law, but he couldn’t seem to do what he ought to do.
The good news is that there are massive implications when we think about and accept what God has done through Christ, and when we are taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. Something happens to us fundamentally when we place our trust in Jesus. Unfortunately, no one told most of us because it’s a little complicated, and we have short attention spans.
We still try to do it ourselves in our own strength, and it looks like living in Adam. We go to church on Sunday, and we learn about what we’re supposed to be doing. And yet, we still don’t do it, or we don’t do it consistently. More guilt, more condemnation, more sin, we don’t experience the new life that we are given through the Resurrection.
Like with the disciples that we’ve been following the previous three weeks we have to wrap our minds around the fact that there has been a change at the core of who we are when we are placed in Christ.
In the coming weeks, we will learn how to live out of Christ rather than live out of Adam. It’s about reigning through this life through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The amazing thing is that it is something that we may have had for a long time, but we didn’t recognize it because we weren’t wearing our Resurrection glasses. It can be a bit like The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. “You had it the whole time.” “I did?” “Yes.”
In the same way many of us didn’t know. It’s okay. Paul will teach us. He starts out one of the sections with the question, “Didn’t you know?” No we didn’t know. We try to be better versions of people born in Adam, and Paul says, No, that’s not what it’s supposed to be like.” We get to experience the newness of life, eternal life, now. It’s not about heaven. It’s about reigning in this life. By learning to let Jesus Christ live through us just as we did with Adam’s sinful nature.
So this is what I would like you to do this week, and you’ll have to be brave and bold. Say to someone, “You’re so ungodly.” Perhaps, not, but it could sew a seed, spark a conversation, give you an opportunity to tell them that we’re all ungodly, and invite them to church. If you do say it, make sure not to sound “judgey.” And, next week we’ll learn more about how to actually do this.
Adapted from Andy Stanley’s series “Free.”