The Power to Change (Romans 7:1-25)

Good morning! I'd like to invite you to pull out your outlines. If you have a Bible and want to follow along, then you can turn to Romans 7. It's page 1274 of your pew Bibles. You can also follow along as we put some verses up on the screen.

This morning, we're celebrating Easter. Easter is the single most important event of history. It's an event that has ongoing effects on each of our lives. You can't experience the power of Easter and stay the same.

But I want to take you behind the scenes of Easter. We could look at the story of Easter - what happened on Easter Sunday. In fact, that's what we normally do here on Easter Sunday morning. But this year, I thought that we could look at what happened behind the scenes of Easter. I want to look at how Easter has changed you, and has changed me.

The Bible teaches that when Jesus died and rose again, it wasn't just about one person dying and rising again. It was also about us. In other words, something happened to you and to me when Jesus died and rose again almost two thousand years ago. And what happened then has the power to change your life today. You are part of the Easter story.

You see, when Jesus died, he died to pay the penalty for our sins. All the wrong things that you've done - all the wrong things you haven't even done yet - Jesus died to forgive them. The Bible teaches that there's a consequence to all the wrong things we've done. But if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you no longer have to worry about paying the penalty for all of your sins. Jesus has already done this for us. You've been set free from the penalty of sin.

When Jesus died, the Bible teaches that all of his followers died. This is a little bit hard to understand, so let me try to put it another way. The Bible teaches that all of us have something called an old nature. It's that part of us that we don't like - in fact, that part of us that nobody likes. It's that part of us that from our earliest days knew how to hit and throw temper tantrums and basically act bad. There isn't a person alive who wasn't born that way. And the Bible teaches that when Jesus died, if we're Christians, our old natures died as well. When Jesus died, he freed us from both the penalty and the power of sin.

But today I want to take you behind the scenes to another aspect of what happened when Jesus died and rose again almost two thousand years ago. Today, we're going to talk about how Jesus changed the way that we relate to God.

HOW WE TRY TO RELATE TO GOD

There's this thing in the Bible called law. In the Old Testament, God gave 613 rules and regulations for relating to him. I didn't count, but somebody did. We tend to make two mistakes when we try to have a relationship with God, and both of these mistakes have to do with the law.

The first mistake that we tend to make is that we try to live by the law. If you ask most people, they know they're not keeping God's law perfectly. But most people would say that when they get to heaven, God will look at how well we've kept his rules and his laws. We hope that he grades on the bell curve, so maybe we can get bumped up a little. We hope that God will evaluate us in comparison with other people. But we think that essentially, our relationship with God is based on how well we're keeping his rules. When we live pretty well, we feel pretty good. But when we mess up, we feel terribly guilty, because we know we're not keeping his law. Most people who go to church fall into this category of trying to relate to God based on his law.

Trying to relate to God on the basis of his law has all kinds of problems. It seems so logical - after all, God gave us the law; why wouldn't we want to keep it? But life becomes very frustrating. The joy evaporates out of life. It's like when you go to one of those swimming pools with a list of rules posted right beside it. No running, no boisterous play, no swimming without showering, no this, no that, and oh yes…have fun. Yeah, right. We're usually stuck with the choice of following all the rules and having no fun, or breaking some of the rules and having fun. People who try to relate to God on the basis of rule-keeping have a very serious problem. It's a very frustrating life to lead.

As a reaction to this, many of us try a different approach. We decide we're going to ditch God's law. If keeping God's law is so frustrating, then why not live life and have a lot of fun instead? If the rules are restrictive, why not ditch all the rules? We're probably living in a time in which this is the most popular approach. A lot of us believe in God, but we think that to follow him would be far too restrictive for our lives. When somebody starts quoting the Bible and telling us how we should live, we tell them to mind their own business and to stop preaching at us. We still believe in God, but we hope that we can live according to our own moral standard, because his is far too restrictive. This is the other way that we try to relate to God.

These pretty well seem like the choices - either follow God's law and be unhappy, or break God's law and be happy. This leaves us with a pretty serious problem. Either you're happy but in trouble with God, or you're unhappy but a good, religious person. Both approaches are wrong.

What does Easter have to do with this? Easter is all about providing a third option. Easter is all about taking away the frustration of relating to God on the basis of a set of rules, or in just living however we please. Easter is about a new way - a way that takes care of our deepest problems, a way that gives us the power to change.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE LAW?

I think that we can agree that if there is a God, then just ignoring his law and living the way we want is probably a bad idea. It may be attractive to us, but it's probably not the best way to live our lives. I think it was Ronald Reagan who said that most of the problems our society faces could be solved if people just followed the Ten Commandments. If we believe in God, we can probably agree that it's not a good idea to just ditch his rules and live however we please. The passage we're looking at today affirms that it's not a good idea to ditch the law. Romans 7:14 says, "The law is good."

Given that the law is good, we're left with the other option: to live our lives based on obeying the law. Some of us try to leave this to the end of our lives, so we don't become too miserable. We may even say, "Great, there goes all of the fun in life." But at some level, we think that our relationship with God is going to be based on how well we obey the Bible and all the rules. When we do a good job, we feel good about ourselves. When we mess up, we feel really guilty and we beat ourselves up.

You may be surprised that God doesn't want you to live that way. The reason we celebrate Easter is because Jesus came to deliver us from living that kind of life. The Bible is very clear that God doesn't want you to relate to him that way - even though it's the way that a lot of people try to relate to him. The message of Easter is that you don't have to relate to God that way anymore.

If the law is good, what's the problem with trying to maintain my relationship with God based on the law? The Bible says that there are three problems with trying to relate to God based on keeping the law. The first problem is:

1. THE LAW MAKES ME WANT TO SIN

We all know this. If you want to drive somebody crazy, then tell them not to do something. The problem with living by the law is that it makes us want to do what we're not supposed to do. Listen to Romans 7:8: "Sin took advantage of this law and aroused all kinds of forbidden desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power." That's the first problem with the law. The law awakens a desire within us to do the things that we didn't even want to do until the law told us not to do them.

They just put in a sign at the bottom of the 427 and the Queensway, near Sherway Gardens. The sign says, "Do not turn right on red li ght." I sit at that red light. You have no idea how much I want to turn right. I may not even be in a rush. It just drives me crazy that I'm not allowed to turn right, even though I don't even want to. It's the same with those no U-turn signs. I may not even want to go in the opposite direction, but knowing that I'm not allowed to do a U-turn just makes me want to do a U-turn. When we live our lives according to the law, we're continually fighting this desire to do things we don't necessarily even want to do, just because we're not allowed to do them.

The law is useful in pointing out our character deficiencies, and our sins. The problem with the law is that it gives us no power to fight our character deficiencies and our sins. It shows us that we're sinful, but then it leaves us there. In fact, in pointing out our sins, it makes us want to sin even more. That's why Paul says in verse 13, "So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God's good commandment for its own evil purposes." If you try to base your relationship with God based on the law, you'll actually increase the amount of temptation that you'll have to fight. The more you think, "I can't do this, I can't do that," the more you'll be tempted to do those very things. That's the first problem with living a life based on the law.

There's a second problem with trying to relate to God based on the law:

2. THE LAW IS AN IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD

No matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to keep God's law. The problem with the law is that it's an impossible standard. You could spend your entire life trying to keep God's law perfectly, but you still wouldn't measure up. And it's even worse when you realize that the law demands perfection. James 2:10 says, "And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God's laws." In other words, 99% obedience is a failing grade. Nothing less than 100% is acceptable. That's a pretty big problem. If we try to relate to God based on keeping his law, then we have a pretty big problem. We've chosen an impossible standard.

The verses that I'm about to read are brutally honest about how hard it is to follow the law. The person who wrote these verses wrote a good part of the New Testament. He was one of the religious leaders of his day. He had spent his entire life trying to relate to God based on the law. But he was frustrated. He realized that no matter how hard he tried, he was still unable to keep the law. The law is an impossible standard.

Some people are so shocked by the language he uses, that they debate whether he is really reflecting the experience of somebody who has a relationship with Jesus Christ, or if he's speaking of the struggle he had before he started to follow Jesus. In one sense, it doesn't matter. It doesn't really change the message of what Paul is saying. But I believe that Paul was reflecting his experience as a follower of Jesus Christ - that even as someone who had given his life to serving God, even as somebody who wrote a good part of the New Testament in the Bible, even as one of the leading religious leaders of history - following the law is still an impossible standard. Listen to what Paul had to say:

I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can't help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. I want to, but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don't want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. (Romans 7:15-21)

Can anyone relate to what Paul is saying? No matter how hard we try, no matter how well-intentioned we are, we continually disappoint ourselves and those around us. We continually disappoint God. We end up doing the very things that we hate to do. All the resolutions and all the promises in the world can't seem to change the fact that we can't seem to change.

I can relate to that. I'm a preacher. I'm paid to be good. But I'm continually frustrated by the fact that I keep on doing the very things that I don't want to do. This past week, I was getting a little bit impatient with how slow my son was moving, and I spoke to him pretty harshly. My daughter said to Charlene, "It sounds like Daddy is having a bit of a hissy fit. I'm sure glad I'm not involved, aren't you?" It seems that no matter how hard we try, it's impossible to measure up. We're continually disappointed with our efforts to keep God's law.

One more problem with trying to base our relationship with God on the law:

3. THE LAW ISN'T MY REAL PROBLEM

We're getting to the crux of the problem here. If the problem was God's law, then the solution would be to try harder to keep God's law, and to try to measure up. But the real problem in our lives isn't God's law, and so the solution to our problem has got nothing to do with God's law. If you try to live your life based on God's law, then you'll never be addressing your real problem. Your real problem goes much deeper than the law.

What's our problem? Read Romans 7:14 with me. "The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master." The problem isn't with the law. The problem is with us.

The law is only a diagnostic tool that points to our problem. It's like a thermometer. If we had a fever, it would be like taking a thermometer and throwing it out, saying, "Stupid thermometer." The problem isn't the thermometer. It would be our fever.

Paul continues in verse 22, "I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me" (Romans 7:22-23). Even though we can love God's law, and give our best efforts to trying to keep his law, there's something in the best of us that fights against obedience. Even when you begin to follow Jesus, there's still something in you that drifts away from God, that drifts back to the old way of living. If we try to live according to the law, then we've chosen an incredibly frustrating life. Easter is all about delivering us from that kind of frustration.

What happens if we base our relationship with God based on how well we keep his law? Paul mentions three results. The first is confusion. He says in verse 15, "I don't understand myself at all." The second is frustration. Verse 17 says, "I can't help myself." And then is a feeling we can all relate to - discouragement. Paul says in Romans 7:24, "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?"

It would be a mistake to get rid of God's law and live as we please. But if we try to base our lives and our relationship with God based on how well we keep his law, we lead very confused, frustrating, discouraging lives. There's got to be a better way.

THE SOLUTION

What's the solution? At the peak of Paul's frustration with himself and the law, he says in verse 25: "Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord." The answer is in what Jesus did for us on Easter, almost two thousand years ago.

Romans 7:4 says, "The law no longer holds you in its power, because you died to its power when you died with Christ on the cross." Paul has just given a picture of what it's like to live under the law. The picture is that of a really bad marriage. In that day, females had no power to get out a marriage. The man could divorce a woman, but the woman was stuck in the marriage until her husband died. Paul says that when Jesus died, those who follow Jesus died as well. Their old nature is dead. They've been freed from living a life based on how well they keep God's law. The solution to his problem has been provided by Jesus Christ. You no longer have to relate to God based on how well you keep the law. There's a whole new you. He has given you the power to change.

When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, you were joined with him in a brand new relationship that is free from living in the law. Romans 7:4 says, "And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, you can produce good fruit, that is, good deeds for God." There's a new you. A new life has begun. Now, God and his power can be at the center of your life. God can supply the power that you need to live. God can give you the power to change.

I told you that I wanted to take you behind the scenes of how Easter can affect you today. I want to finish by giving you two very practical ways that Easter changes everything about your life and your relationship with God. Both changes are nothing short of incredible.

The first change is this: you no longer have to relate to God based on the law, based on how well you're keeping his commandments. It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or not. Your relationship with God no longer has to do with your performance. It's not about what you do. It's about what Jesus has done for you.

Most of our lives are spent based on our performance. We're judged every day by how we look, how we behave, how well we perform - at work, when we meet strangers, in almost everything we do. The good news about what Jesus has done for us is that we are no longer judged by how well we do. If you're in Jesus Christ - if you follow him - then you're accepted. You're forgiven. You've moved from the performance plan to an entirely new way of living.

The second change that Easter makes is this: we can experience in our own lives the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Ephesians 1:19-20 says, "I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead." The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available for your life today. It can give you the power to change. It can create a brand new you.

How does this work? I want to close with a few verses from Philippians 3:9-11. These verses will help make very practical what we've been talking about today. Philippians 3:9 says:

I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead!

Would you like to be freed from basing your acceptance with God on how well you're keeping his law? Would you like to experience the power to change? This is how you do it. Stop counting on your own goodness and your ability to obey God's law. Start trusting in what Jesus Christ has already done for you. Jesus died to set you free from the power of the law. And he rose again to give you new life. If you trust him, you can be forgiven. You can receive eternal life.

What's more, you can experience a new power in your life. You can experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. You can not only be freed from the law. You can experience the power to change.

"Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:24-25). There's no better time than Easter to experience what Jesus has done for us in freeing us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the demands of the law. Jesus Christ has given us the power to change.

I want to close with two prayers. The first for you if you'd like to enter into this new relationship with God. It's not about becoming religious or beginning to follow a set of laws. It's about admitting to God that you're a sinner, realizing that Jesus died to free you from the penalty and the power of sin, and asking him to be your forgiver and your leader. Let's close our eyes. If you'd like to receive this new life, please pray along with me.

Father, I admit that I'm a sinner. But thank you that don't have to depend on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law. Thank you that I can rely on Jesus Christ, who died to save me - who died to make me right with you. I want him to change my life. I want to experience his power. I invite him to become the forgiver and the leader of my life.

If you've experienced this power in your life, I wonder if you would join with me in the words that Paul spoke when he was frustrated and discouraged and confused with his life. Would you join with me in making this your prayer. Let's read together Romans 7:24-25:

"Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:24-25). Thank you, God. In Jesus' name, Amen.

How to Act New (Romans 6:1-14)

For the past few weeks, we've been looking at a great passage in the Bible that explains the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. If you haven't been here, it's a little like walking into the middle of a movie, but I'll try to catch you up. The Coles notes version is this: you and I were born in sin. Before you ever made one decision or one bad act, you were already a sinner. That sin has caused incredible damage in your life, and even worse - it's separated you from God and brought death into your life. That's the bad news. But the good news is even better.

The good news is this: that God sent his Son to undo the effects of sin. Jesus came to free you from the penalty of sin, but he also came to free you from the power of sin. Jesus came to make you right with God, and the more you've sinned, the more grace from God you get to receive. Romans 5:20 says, "As people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant." If you're a believer in Jesus Christ, you've been forgiven - more than forgiven. And you've been set free from the power of sin in your life.

But I have a question. How many people here feel like they've been set free from the power of sin? How many people here feel dead to sin? Probably not that many. We can be honest here. How many people feel very alive to sin- that sin is still very much an issue in their lives? We can be honest. It seems as if most people I meet will admit to having a tendency or a habit or a sin that they can't seem to control. I'm not talking Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream here - something more than that. There's some area of our lives in which we feel we're in the grip of a bad habit. We're not the master - we're the slave of this area. And it doesn't seem to matter how much we pray about it, or how much counseling we get, how many articles we read, or how many sermons we hear - we just can't seem to conquer this area. It could be anger, or lust, or materialism, or gossip, or a critical spirit. But it's in control, and you're not.

Sometimes, when we read verses like Romans 6:7, "For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin," we say, "Not me! It didn't take. I must have done something wrong. But I am definitely not dead to the power of sin." Do you ever feel like that? You're still a Christian, you're still forgiven, but sin is whipping you. What do we do? Is there any hope that what God has promised, we can experience?

I'm constantly disappointed with myself. I didn't know this before I got married, but God has given me a very sensitive wife, and I've learned that I'm not a very sensitive person sometimes. I say things that occasionally can be very hurtful. Is there any hope for me? I mean, I not only want to know, I think my wife wants to know if there's any hope for me. Whatever it is in your life - you've tried, you don't like it, but nothing seems to change.

If that's you, then you need to know that the Bible does offer you hope. I love that the Bible is brutally honest that this is our condition - that although we're dead to sin, that we still seem to struggle with it. But the Bible also offers practical help for how to not only believe that you're a new you, but how to act like a new you. The Bible gives some practical wisdom on how you can change so that even your worst habits and your deepest struggles will no longer control you. We're going to look at Romans 6 today, which is on page 1272 of your pew Bibles. This passage teaches us how we can be what we already are. In other words, it teaches us how we can actually live out in our lives the way that God already sees us - how what's actually true can become really true in our own lives.

As we pick up Romans 6, Paul's just finished telling the Romans that the more we sin, the more God forgives. It's almost as if Paul realizes that some people are going to think, "Wait a minute - maybe if I keep on sinning, then I'll get more of God's grace." So Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, "Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not!" And then Paul gives us a foundational truth which can completely change all of us. What's the truth? It's one that doesn't always seem real in our lives. Romans 6:2 says, "Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?" Here's the truth: you are dead to sin. Our old nature that we inherited from Adam - if you're a Christian, it's dead. And dead people don't sin. You've never seen a dead person sin, and you never will. So you don't have to sin either.

You may be thinking, "I've never seen a dead person sin, but I sure know that I can sin, so I must not be dead." So Paul begins to explain what's happened to us. In fact, Paul gives us three instructions for living in victory over sin. The first one is this:

1. REMEMBER THAT YOU'VE CHANGED

The first instruction isn't to change this or do that. The first instruction is to understand something - something that Paul says we should already know. The first instruction to living in victory over sin is to understand how God has changed us. We haven't been improved. We've been killed. There's a brand new me. It begins with understanding what God says is really true about us.

Paul says in Romans 6:3, "Have you forgotten?" or "Don't you know?" Sometimes the problem is that we forget, or we don't fully understand, what the Bible says that God has done for us. The solution isn't to begin to do things differently - it's to remember the truth. It's to remind ourselves of what's really true, because Jesus stressed the importance of knowing the truth. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

You may have seen or heard about the movie The Princess Diaries. A 15-year-old girl discovers that she's the princess of a small European country, because her long-absent father, who turns out to be the king, has recently died. She's the princess, and the throne is available to her. But it began with understanding and knowing her position. We can't act out who we are until we understand who we are.

So what's the truth about us? Romans 6:3-4 says:

Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

When Paul wrote this, baptism was handled a bit differently than the way that we handle it today. Today, people become Christians, and sometimes wait years before they're baptized. Back then, baptism happened right at the time that somebody became a Christian, so it was seen as being part of the process. Baptism is an important part of coming to Christ and following him. It's a picture of what takes place when we become Christians. We're going to celebrate Easter this week. Baptism is a reminder that when Jesus died, we died. When he was buried, we were buried. When he was given new life, we were given new lives. All the powerful acts of his death, burial, and resurrection have been applied to our lives. Because Jesus died for our sins, we have died unto sin. Jesus broke the power of sin in our lives, and he's given us new life.

Romans 6:6-7 expands on this truth. We need to understand it, and to never forget it. It says, "Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin." Last week, we looked at the fact that we were all born with these sinful natures. When Jesus died, our sinful natures were nailed to the cross with him. God killed our sinful natures on the cross. They're dead, and we're dead to sin.

We're not only dead to sin, but we've also been given new life. Romans 6:8 says, "And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life." You have the power not to sin, because you share in the new life of Jesus Christ. Your old nature is dead, and your new life is the life of Jesus Christ living in you. That's the truth about who you are in Jesus Christ.

The Message paraphrase puts it this way. "We've left the country where sin was sovereign…When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace - a new life in a new land!" The relationship with sin that we used to have has been completely and irreversibly changed.

Somebody's said that it's like one of those British country scenes, with two fields enclosed by high rock walls. We all begin life in one field - a field ruled over by Satan and sin. We have no chance of escaping that field. The walls are too high. We hate it there, but we can't get out. God, in his grace, reaches down and takes us out of that Satan-ruled field, and puts us in the adjacent field - a field ruled by Christ and by righteousness. We can never go back. We're in a new position, and that can never change.

But in that new field, we can still hear Satan calling across the wall from that old field of sin. Out of habit, we sometimes still obey his voice - even though we don't have to. But we're in a new position. We're no longer ruled by sin. Understand - remember - that you've been changed.

You probably have seen those electric fences they use with dogs. The dog wears this collar with an electrode. As soon as the dog crosses the fence, the dog gets zapped - not a lot, but enough. After a while, you could turn that electric fence off, but the dog still wouldn't cross that line. The power's off, but the dog doesn't know or understand. And even though that dog is free, and the power of that fence has been shut off, the dog remains confined because it doesn't understand.

The Bible says that the power of sin has been turned off in your life. But some of us don't know it. Paul says, "Don't forget. The power of sin has been turned off. You're free to break habits. You don't have to feel the way you used to. Believe that it's true, because it is, and it will begin to change your life."

If you have a hard time believing that this is true, I'd encourage you to obsess over these chapters for a few weeks. You could even memorize them. In the bulletin today, I've included a card with Romans 6:14 on it: "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." I'm going to ask everyone to take that this week and memorize it. We really believe that there is a Satan, and that he doesn't want you to know that you're free. Who would want to go through life not understanding the freedom that they've been given? The first step is to understand what's already too.

Paul spends about half the chapter encouraging the Romans to understand this fact. It isn't until verse 11 that Paul gives the first command of what to do with this understanding. Paul's second instruction goes this way:

2. ACT AS IF YOU BELIEVE YOU'VE BEEN CHANGED

Romans 6:11 says, "So you should consider yourselves as dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus." In other words, you now understand the reality of your new position. Now begin to act as if it's really true in your life. Paul actually uses an accounting term, and it's in the present tense, which means that it's something that we have to do continually. Just as you make a deposit to the bank, and then go out and write checks and make withdrawals believing that the money is in the bank, you can live and act knowing that what God said is true. It's a done deal. We just have to translate that knowledge into action. Consider it true that you're dead to sin.

I heard this week of a toddler that was adopted and brought to North America. Her new parents fed her Cheerios for breakfast. She was so used to going without food that she held on to those Cheerios in her little hands all day. They would give her a bath at night and open her hands, and she would still have these soggy little Cheerios in her hands. Although she lived in a land of abundant food, and hadn't experienced hunger since moving to North America, she still considered herself famished. What was actually true hadn't yet become really true in her life.

Once in a while, you read of a homeless person who died with a net worth in the hundreds of thousands. It's possible to live in such a way that you're denying what is actually true. That's why Paul says, understand that you've been set free, and then begin to live your life knowing that this is true - because it really is true. You've been set free from sin. You may not feel like it, but it's true anyway. So start living as if it's true!

This may seem like possibility thinking, or something right out of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking - but it isn't. Positive thinking has no power, unless the thinking is also true. But there is tremendous power in thinking in line with what is true. You are able not to sin. It's not, "If I believe it enough, it will be true." It's, "Since it is true, I need to believe it." "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11 NIV).

Paul goes on later in the chapter to use the metaphor of slaves. It's possible to be set free as a slave and yet still to act as if you're a slave, when you're really not. It's possible for us to think that we're still a slave to sin when God has set us free from sin. So start enjoying the freedom that God has given you. God has given you new life, and he wants you to start living it.

I want to give you a practical way that you can consider yourself as dead to sin. How many people would say that they have some sort of character flaw, or quirk, or sinful habit that keeps on popping up in their lives? A short temper, a sarcastic attitude, lust, whatever. We have a tendency to identify ourselves with that area of sin - to say, "I have an anger problem," or, "I tend to be a lustful person." It's almost as if we identify with that sin so strongly that we see that sin as part of us.

Paul says, "Don't do that. See yourself as dead to sin." And he gives us a practical way to consider ourselves as distinct from whatever it is that you struggle with. It's a different way to thinking about sin. Treat sin as a separate entity. It's not me. I'm not sin. See sin as a separate entity that's trying to get control of you, rather than sin as part of your character.

Read with me what Paul says in verses 12-14:

Do not let sin [he personifies it here - you could almost say Mr. Sin] control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires. Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning. Instead, give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God's grace.

Do you see what he's doing? When we're tempted, we usually think, "I want to do this, but God wants me to do that." It's almost as if we think it's us against God. But the reality is that if you're in Jesus Christ, you don't really want to sin. If I asked you an hour or a week later if you really wanted to think that thought, or to go with those people, or to say what you said, you'd say, "No." There's only one of you - and you're dead to sin. So stop identifying with sin so strongly that you think it's you. Start to see sin as a separate entity, and start to see yourself as dead to sin.

Here's how sin operates. Sin comes along and says, "Can I borrow your mouth?" And we say, "Sure!" And we say things we wish that we hadn't said, and sin says, "Thank you very much." Or sin says, "Can I borrow your eyes?" We say, "Sure. You can have them all weekend." And later we wish that we hadn't let sin borrow our eyes or our mouths. And Paul says that when sin asks to borrow your mouth, you can say, "No, sin." When sin asks to borrow your eyes, you have the power to say, "No, sin." Because that sin isn't you. Sin is a separate entity. You are dead to sin, and you can live knowing that the power of sin has been turned off in your life.

You may say, "I still don't feel like I'm free from sin." With all respect, it doesn't matter how you feel. Your feelings aren't always accurate. We think we should feel differently, or think differently. The reality is that we still are tempted. Sin tells us, "You still feel the same. You haven't really changed. Identify with me." But God says, "It isn't you. You have changed. You've been set free." So begin to count it true in your life. Talk to sin out loud - maybe not with people around. Say, "You're not me." Externalize sin, and understand that you've been set free from it's power.

Paul gives one more instruction:

3. YIELD YOURSELF TO GOD

We've already read this. Let's read verse 13 again, this time from the NIV: "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." This week, what I'd like you to do is to pick part of your body - part of it that causes you the most trouble - and dedicate it to God. It could be your eyes, or your mouth. It's probably your mouth. Take it, and dedicate it to God as an instrument or a weapon of righteousness. Put your mouth, your eyes, at God's disposal. Yield yourself to God.

If you struggle with saying the wrong thing, or blowing up, begin every day to say, "Father, today I dedicate my mouth to you as an instrument of righteousness. I yield it to you. Take my lips. Take my hands. Take my life." Spend time everyday dedicating a member of your body to God, dedicating it as an instrument of righteousness.

I don't know what it is in your life, but I'm here to tell you that the Bible says you can be free. You may think, "Yeah, but you don't know my story." I don't need to know your story. I know that because of what Jesus did for you, and because of the power of the Spirit who lives in you, you are a new person. You've been set free. And what God says is really true about you can become actually true in your life as you live out the freedom that God has given you.

We're heading into Easter. Jesus came to give his life for you so that you could be changed from the inside out. The Bible says that this plan gave God great pleasure. God is in the business of changing lives. Romans 6:7-8 says, "For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life." We've been set free from the power of sin, because of what Jesus has done for us. I don't know why we would want to keep living in sin. Because where there is sin, there is death. Paul says later in the chapter that we can choose to continue sinning, but then sin once again will become our master, even though we've been set free from its power. If you're a Christian, you won't go to hell, but hell will come to you on earth. That's not how you're supposed to live. Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free" (John 8:36).

This is a process. But I'd invite you to do what I'm doing: to begin to obsess over these verses until they become the way that we think. Make them part of your lives. Act as if they're really true, because they are. And begin to enjoy the freedom that Christ has given us - not just in heaven one day, but right here and right now.

Let's pray.

I know there may be somebody here today who's never come to Jesus Christ. You may have thought that Christianity is all about being forgiven, but it's about more than that. You can be forgiven. But you can also be changed here and now. Those bad habits, those destructive tendencies that you have - they can be changed. There can be a new you.

Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons...All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 The Message)

I want to invite you to pray now for the first time and give your life to the one who came to settle the relationship between you and God, who came to give you a fresh start by offering you the forgiveness of sins.

Father, I pray today that you would open the eyes of our hearts. I pray that you would help us to see ourselves as you see us. We've been set free. We're dead to sin, and able to live for your glory through Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that what's actually true would become what's really true in our lives. Help us to memorize the verse we've been given and obsess over this passage until we understand and live it. Help us to experience the freedom you've given us, we pray. In the name of our Savior and liberator, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Natural Born Sinners (Romans 5:12-21)

When I was a kid, I used to rush home for lunch. I was only a few minutes away from school, so I could run home, make a quick sandwich, and turn on the TV in time to watch the lunchtime episode of The Flintstones. Remember that? We would rush back in time to make it back to school, but almost every day we would have time to see what was happening in the life of Fred and Wilma.

Occasionally, when Fred had a decision to make, these two characters would pop up over his shoulders and fight with each other. Fred was in the middle, and he would have to make up his mind which one to listen to. One was evil - the bad side of Fred. It had the pitchfork and the horns, and was red, and it would try to convince Fred to do the wrong thing - which wasn't very hard. Then there was the good Fred, like an angel, making a case that Fred should do the right thing. Most of the time, Fred would end up making the wrong choice and end up doing what was wrong.

I know it's only a cartoon, but I wonder: why is it so much fun to do the wrong thing? We like to think of ourselves as fundamentally good people, so why do we even have this battle going on in our heads? Why do we get that momentary rush when we give in to one of our passions - even when we know that we're doing the wrong thing? I mean, when you give somebody a piece of your mind, doesn't it feel good to have put them in their place? When you give in to a craving and do something that you know you shouldn't be doing, doesn't it feel good - at least for a moment - to have indulged yourself?

Most of us go through life believing that we're fundamentally good people. I don't know many people who walk around saying, "I'm bad. I'm evil to the core." Most of us honestly believe that we're really good people at the core, who want to do good things but occasionally mess up and make mistakes. Even when we make mistakes, most of us think that we just have to try a bit harder and be a bit more sincere and we'll make it. We believe that we're fundamentally good people who occasionally do bad things.

We even believe that when we get to heaven, we'll stand in line and wait for God to judge us. When it's our turn, we probably will be okay, because there's a lot worse than us in line. Sure, we're not as good as Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, but we are pretty good. And when we stand in front of God, we'll admit that we've made mistakes, but then we'll say, "But nobody's perfect." And then we'll just wait for God to look at us, and open the doors, and let us into heaven, because we are pretty good. We could have been better, but we're good. Most of us walk around thinking that we're good, but not perfect, people.

The fact that you're at church probably means that you recognize that you need a Savior. The tendency for a lot of us is to think that we'll do so much, and Jesus will do so much, and together we'll make it into heaven. And we're trying our best to be really good people - but the problem is that we let ourselves down. And we end up beating ourselves up because we keep on messing up. And if you're like me, you're occasionally very frustrated with yourself because you want to be good, but you keep on doing bad things. You can't figure out why you're good, yet you sometimes want to do bad things.

I want to take you to a passage of the Bible today that will explain the problem, and it will also give you a solution. And it's all based on a premise: you're not good. The Bible says that you aren't a good person who occasionally does good things. You are a bad person who occasionally does good things. We don't like to hear that, and it might offend you, but it's the truth about who we are.

That's why we get frustrated. If we're always losing our temper, or getting impatient, or lusting, or being unkind, why don't we just stop? If we were fundamentally good people, we could go for counseling and pay our $90 per hour, and the counselor could just look at us and say, "Stop being bad. Just stop." But instead we find that our issues are deeper, and our struggles are more persistent, and no matter how hard we try, we just can't seem to stop doing the things we don't want to do.

Every person who's stood at the altar to be married has wanted to be a good husband, a good wife. But a lot of us are in marriages now after five or ten or fifty years, and we look at ourselves and say, "We haven't been good. I wanted to be good. But I haven't always been a good husband, a good wife. It hasn't been for lack of trying. I just haven't been good."

There's this pull in us to do the wrong thing, and sometimes the harder we resist, the more we want to do it. We can't figure out what the problem is, but God can. The problem is sin. The problem isn't a mistake. A mistake is when you add up numbers wrong and forget to move the decimal. The problem is sin. The problem isn't an act. The problem goes deeper than that. It goes to our very nature. If you don't believe that, then just think of your children. You never have to teach a child, "Here, let me show you how to hit your sister. Today's lesson is how to be disrespectful to your mother." We don't have to teach that, because there's something in our nature as human beings that just knows and wants to do the wrong thing. And the solution comes when we recognize this as our problem, when we come to grips with reality, and when we also figure out that there's a solution that God has for our most fundamental problem.

Look at me at Romans 5. Paul's just spent a lot of time proving that nobody's righteous before God, but Jesus died so we could be declared righteous despite the fact that we're not righteous by ourselves. But somebody who is logical might have thought, "Paul, what difference does Christ's righteousness make for me? I mean, Jesus was righteous - I accept that - but how does that make a difference in my life?" And Paul begins to explain that there's something in us that can be changed - something that goes far deeper than our behavior. It's called our nature. It's who we are. And Paul begins to explain what exactly it is about our nature that God wants to change.

Romans 5:12 says, "When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned." The Bible describes the effects of the first sin committed by the first person who ever lived as having brought sin and death into the entire world. What Paul is saying is this: God created humanity as fundamentally good. But Adam made a choice that fundamentally changed the nature of humanity: Adam did bad, and as a result all of humanity became bad. And when all of humanity became bad, all kinds of other things happened as well - both sin and death entered the world. Romans 5:12 says that when Adam sinned, all of us sinned.

You may be there saying, "That's not fair. I wasn't there. I never appointed Adam as my representative to decide whether I would be a sinner or not." You may even feel that if you had been in Adam's place, you would have made a different decision. It may not seem fair - but it's true anyway. We can't really complain too much about being guilty for Adam's sin, because we've committed enough sins of our own anyway. It may not seem fair, but it's true.

If a baby is born to a crack mother, I'm told that the baby just cries constantly. There are places in which volunteers come to hold these crying babies all day and all night who are crying, because their mothers used crack. It's not fair that those babies are suffering for a choice they never made - but it's true. And Adam's choice to sin likewise affected you and affected me, so that you are a natural born sinner. You aren't a sinner because you sin; you sin because you're a sinner. It's who we are by nature.

In the 1980s, zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes. They had never been here before. They came in through normal shipping traffic - perhaps introduced by just one boat. Scientists believe that it's impossible to completely eradicate the zebra mussels from the Great Lakes since they've been introduced. One boat may have contaminated the Great Lakes forever. One spore has been known to wipe out 2,200 acres of forest. One sin contaminated all of humanity.

Biologists are discovering the truth of what Paul has written. Time Magazine came out with an article a few years ago called "Science and Original Sin." It said that scientists are discovering that we are born with a genetic predisposition to do wrong. We have a hereditary dark side. In fact, it's possible that some immoral behaviors are passed on to us by our parents - things like a propensity for alcohol, drugs, perhaps even a bad temper. You may be thinking, "Whew! That let's me off the hook. I can't help it. I was born this way." And you'd be partly right - you were born that way. The Bible's been teaching it for years. We were born with a sin nature.

We think, "Okay, I'm a sinner. I know what I'll do to compensate. I'll try to do good things. I'll try to follow God's law." When Paul wrote Romans, he writing to a group of some people who had tried their best to keep God's law as a way to earn his favor. But Paul explains in verses 13 and 14 that their problem isn't even keeping the law or not keeping the law. It goes deeper than that. It goes to their natures. "Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. And though there was no law to break, since it had not yet been given, they all died anyway-even though they did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did" (Romans 5:13-14). That's our problem - not God's law. Even if God hadn't commanded us to do anything or to not do anything, we would still be born with a problem. Breaking God's law isn't what leads to death. The problem is that because of Adam, we were born as something less than God created us to be. The law is only there to show us our problem. Romans 5:20 says, "God's law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were." But the real problem is that we're born with a nature that is less than what God intended. We're born with a sinful nature.

That's why we continually let ourselves down. That's why we keep struggling with issues and can't seem to change. The problem isn't our behavior. That's a symptom of the problem. The real problem is our nature. It's that we were born with a sinful nature, and no amount of trying or effort will fix the problem on that level.

The good news is that God is also able to fix us at the level of the problem. What God messed up, God fixed up. Romans 5:14 continues, "What a contrast between Adam and Christ, who was yet to come!" Most religions have books. Most religions have places of worship and prophets. But only Christianity has a Savior. Paul explains that Jesus came to undo the mess that Adam had made. Jesus came to give us a new nature.

Paul explains that Jesus came to make two huge differences in who we are, at the level of our nature:

1. JESUS CAME TO FREE US FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN

Romans 5:15 says, "And what a difference between our sin and God's generous gift of forgiveness. For this one man, Adam, brought death to many through his sin. But this other man, Jesus Christ, brought forgiveness to many through God's bountiful gift." Adam brought death to us because of his sin. Jesus brought forgiveness to us as a result of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus came to bring forgiveness where Adam brought us death.

Verse 16 continues, "And the result of God's gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man's sin. For Adam's sin led to condemnation, but we have the free gift of being accepted by God, even though we are guilty of many sins." Adam introduced sin to humanity through only one act, but that one sin has rippled down through the ages and caused unimaginable sins. It's caused wars, hatred, murders, all kinds of violence. Think of the most unimaginable acts. You can trace it back to Adam's original disobedience. But Jesus came to bring forgiveness - not only for what Adam did in introducing sin, but in what you and I have done in perpetuating sin. Jesus came to give us the free gift of forgiveness for all the wrongs that we have committed.

Verses 18-19 say:

Yes, Adam's one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness makes all people right in God's sight and gives them life. Because one person disobeyed God, many people became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many people will be made right in God's sight.

You can hear what Paul's saying. Adam - condemnation; Jesus - life and righteousness. Adam - disobedience and sin; Jesus - obedience and a verdict of "not guilty". Just as we were in Adam and all sinned when Adam sinned, we can be in Jesus when Jesus died for us, so that when Jesus committed his "one act of righteousness" - when he died for us - we were there too being made righteous because of what Jesus did for us.

You may have been coming to church thinking that you just had to try harder or to work a little better and being good, but Paul says here - you can't help it. That's not an excuse, it's just a fact. You can't help being bad. You were born that way. That doesn't take away your guilt; it just means that you were born guilty. But Paul also gives the solution, and it isn't to try harder or to be more sincere. The solution is trusting in what Jesus has already done for you. When you do this, you are forgiven and rescued from the penalty of sin.

But Jesus didn't just come to rescue us from the penalty of sin. That's what we usually talk about, but there's more.

2. JESUS ALSO CAME TO FREE US FROM THE POWER OF SIN

Romans 5:17 says, "The sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God's wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ." You may feel sometimes like it's impossible to do the right thing - that sometimes you want to do what's right, but you can't. Paul explains the reason: that before God changes us, death is ruling over us. Not just death, but sin. Verse 21 says, "So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." We've all felt the power of sin, and now we know why. Sin and death have ruled over us.

But Paul gives us some good news: just as sin ruled over us, so now "all who receive God's wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ." We're going to look at this next week. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you're now dead to sin. You live in victory over sin. Jesus didn't just come to rescue you from the penalty of sin. Jesus came to rescue you from the power of sin.

I want you to look up here. You may find all of this confusing. This may be a completely different way of thinking. That's okay. But it does make a difference in your life. But I want you to hear what this means for your life.

If you're here and you don't have a relationship with God, here's the takeaway. We spend so much time trying to do better and to be better. And what we need to understand is this: I'm fundamentally not a good person. Yes, I occasionally do good things, but my problem isn't really that I occasionally mess up. My problem is that at the most basic level, we are not good people. And at the most basic level, we don't need to try harder or be more sincere. At the most basic level, we need a Savior.

I know it's tough to hear that. Our problem isn't our parents and how they raised us, or our boss and how he just sets us off. Our problem isn't that we need more counseling or education. Our problem is that we need a Savior. That's why Jesus came - not to help you but to change you. Jesus came so that you could me a new you.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, if you're a Christian, here's the takeaway. We spend so much time trying to fight this thing that we call sin. We get so frustrated, because we know we're new people; we know that we should do better, but we still fall into sin. We still get so frustrated, because we let God down. We hurt others. We disappoint ourselves.

For those of us who are believers, the takeaway is this: it's a new understanding. It's to understand what no sermon can make you change, no song can inspire you to realize: it's to understand the basic truth that when you come to Jesus Christ and trust him with your life, sin has no power over you. You are not a slave to sin. When you are in Jesus Christ, there's a fundamental change in your nature. Jesus has not only changed the power of sin over your destiny, but Jesus has also changed your will.

You may be sitting there thinking, "Well, I know my will hasn't been changed. I know that I still want to sin." Yes, and we're going to look at this in the next couple of weeks, and how this new understanding can work itself out in your life. But for today, what a difference to understand: I'm not a slave. This thing called sin is no longer the core of who I am. I don't have to give in. Sin has no power over me.

When you become a Christian, whatever it is - lust, anger, impatience, materialism, whatever - it can still tempt you. You can still make a choice to fall into that behavior. God doesn't take away your ability to make choices. But God does give you the freedom from its power. You don't have to give in. And when tempted, it all begins with saying, "Wait a minute. My nature's been changed. I'm no longer a slave to sin." It's to be able to say to that sin, when you're tempted, "You are not my master." You've been set free.

Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy." We know all about that. We know about what sin can take away - how it can deceive us and damage us. We know how it affects everything - our relationships, our work, our marriages. But Jesus said, "My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." Jesus didn't come to just give you eternal life one day. Jesus came to give you life and freedom from sin right now. Jesus came to give you his life, so that he could live in and through you.

My prayer for you today is what Paul wrote in Ephesians: that you would "understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead' (Ephesians 1:19-20). My prayer is that God would open the eyes of your heart to realize that sin has no more power over you. You've been changed. There's a new you.

Let's pray.

Father, this goes so deep to the core of who we are. I would ask you to do today what no sermon could do, what no Bible study, what no song could do. I ask you to open the eyes of our hearts so we could see that sin has no power over us; that we have been freed from the power and the penalty of sin. Open our eyes so we could see that it's not in our striving but our abiding that we can experience victory in our lives.

My prayer is that we would understand the freedom you've already given us, so that we could begin to experience that freedom perhaps even this week.

If you haven't give your life to Jesus Christ, if you realize today that at the core of your being you are not a good person, and if you want to be rescued from both the penalty and the power of sin, would you pray to receive a new life - to accept what Jesus has already done for you, to accept the fullness of live that Jesus came to give you.

"Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did" (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). May we experience that new life this week. In Jesus' name, Amen.

More than Forgiven (Romans 5:1-11)

For the next few weeks, we're going to look a passage of Scripture that is sometimes hard to understand, but it can change your life. I'd invite you to open your Bibles to Romans 5. In a few minutes, we're going to celebrate Communion. We're going to remember what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago. Romans 5 helps us to understand why an event that happened thousands of years ago still matters. What happened thousands of years ago isn't just a past event. It can change your life today.

The Truth about Us

Here's the truth about us, according to the Bible: there is nothing we have done, or could do, to be righteous before God. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how religious you are. The Bible teaches that there's nothing we can do to be righteous before God. We're going to next week at the fact that we're natural born sinners - that even before we committed our first sin, we were already sinners. It's our nature. It's how we were born. There's nothing we can do that will allow us to stand before God and confidently say, "I'm innocent before you."

A couple of months ago, I had a dream that I had committed murder. It was one of those dreams that was so real, when I woke up I it took a minute or two to realize that I had been dreaming. I thought I had ruined my life. I was guilty of the most horrific act. The Bible teaches that this is our condition before God. All of us stand condemned - even the best of us. That's the message of the first part of Romans. Romans 3:10 says, "No one is good - not even one."

We could do nothing - so Jesus did it for us. The Bible teaches that despite our guilt, we can be forgiven. Because we could do nothing, Jesus did something for us. The Bible teaches that Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins, and to satisfy God's anger against us. Romans 3:25 says, "For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us."

The technical term for this is justification. What it means is this: because of Jesus, God declares us not guilty. Despite the fact that we were born in sin, and we're guilty of sin, God declares us not guilty because he placed our guilt on Jesus Christ. Not only are we declared not guilty, but it means that when God looks at us, he doesn't see all the wrong things that we've done. When God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of his own Son.

If you're not a Christian, you need to understand - your relationship with God isn't about what you could do, because you could never do enough. It's impossible. It's about what Jesus has already done for you. You don't have to do anything but respond to what Jesus had already done for you, by giving his life to take away the punishment for your sin and to give you eternal life. Your response is to accept this gift, and to follow him for the rest of your life.

When we come to celebrate Communion in a few minutes, we're celebrating what Jesus did for us. We're celebrating the face that through his death and resurrection, we're declared not guilty. When God looks at you, he doesn't see all the wrong things that you've done. He sees the righteousness of his own Son. The truth about you is that no matter what you've done, you can be declared not guilty not because of what you've done, but because of what Jesus has already done for you.

More than Forgiven

That's the good news. The bad news is that I don't always feel forgiven. I know that God has forgiven me, but I sometimes feel unforgiven. I sometimes feel that I'm still going to mess things up - that my forgiveness could disappear. I'm afraid that my circumstances or choices or problems could mess everything up.

When Paul wrote this letter, the Jewish people believed that no matter how forgiven you were now, God's verdict would only be delivered on the Day of Judgment. When Paul said, "You're forgiven," they would have thought, "How can I be forgiven? I haven't appeared before God on the Day of Judgment. How can I know my verdict of 'not guilty' will do me any good then?" Paul's answer: you can know now that you're forgiven. God has already pronounced his verdict over us. It cannot be changed, no matter what. It can't be changed. You can face life and death with the confidence that God has already decided the case on you. You're more than forgiven.

I want to give you three reasons why you can come to Communion today knowing that you're more than forgiven. I want to give you three reasons why you can have confidence that if you've trusted Jesus Christ, your eternity has already been settled, and there's nothing that you or anybody else can do to mess it up. I want to give you three reasons why you can be sure that your position in Jesus Christ will never change.

REASON ONE: OUR NEW STATUS GIVES US HOPE (ROMANS 5:1-4)

Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us." That's our new status. We have PEACE WITH GOD. Peace isn't a feeling. It's not a case of, "I've had a good week. I did my devotions every day this week. I didn't yell at the kids more than three times." Peace with God isn't a feeling. It's a fact. It's a status that we have with God because of what Jesus did for us.

I imagine that most people here know what it's like to have an estranged relationship - a friendship or marriage or some other relationship that's broken down. A few years ago, I noticed that somebody was angry with me. I'd walk into a room, and they'd walk out. I'd walk into the other room, and they'd leave again. If you've been in an estranged relationship, you know how ugly things can get. Imagine being in an estranged relationship with God. That's what we used to have. Because we were guilty, our relationship with God was broken. But not anymore. Our relationship with God is now one of peace. That's what you enjoy with God, no matter how you feel or what you've done. "We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us."

Romans 5:2 says, "through whom [Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (NIV). Our status isn't just one of peace with God. We've also been granted ACCESS TO GOD'S GRACE. We stand in a position of grace. It's like we live in a constant state of God's favor being poured out upon us. Grace has given us a foothold in the door that God will one day swing wide open to us. That's why God's grace is so amazing. God's grace isn't just a one-time thing. If you've become a Christian, you live in God's grace. You live in a constant state of grace.

That's why Paul says in verse 2, "We confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory." He's speaking of the PROMISE OF GOD'S GLORY. You and I don't know how long we have to live. We don't know the troubles that lie between us and death. We don't know the mistakes that we will make. But Paul tells us that our position is secure. We don't have to worry about it. We can confidently look forward to heaven. It's a done deal. We can look forward to it, because nothing can take it away. In fact, Paul even mentions in verses 3 and 4 that not even problems can take our hope away. Hope is what keeps us going when we're ready to give up on ourselves. Our new status gives us hope that we will one day receive what God has promised us.

We're about to celebrate the Lord's Supper in a minute. I bet that there's not a person here who hasn't let God down this week. There are probably a lot of people here who don't feel forgiven. But it doesn't matter how you feel. What matters is how God views you. You're forgiven - completely forgiven. You have been made right with God. You're at peace with him. God has opened up his grace to you so that every minute you're alive, you're covered in grace. God has promised that you're going to share in his glory. Not even problems can change your position before God. Your new status with God will never change. That's part of why we worship God today - because he's elevated us to this status that will never change, and that we don't deserve.

Another reason why you can be sure your status with God will never change:

REASON TWO: GOD'S LOVE GIVES US HOPE (ROMANS 5:5-8)

Romans 5:5 says, "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Verse 5 could be better translated, "Hope will not disappoint us" (NIV). God is going to keep his promises to us. How do we know? Because God loves us. God is madly in love with you.

A few years ago, I attended a camp. Ed got into a lot of trouble because he told the campers, "God is madly in love with you." There were some people who had arguments about whether this was an accurate statement or not. But then I read verses like Romans 5:5 - that God has poured out his love on us. God hasn't given us little drops of his love. He's drenched us with his love. God's even given us his Holy Spirit to communicate that love.

The ultimate proof of God's love is what we're going to celebrate today. The ultimate proof of God's love is the cross of Jesus Christ. Listen to Romans 5:6-8:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

God loves us so much that he didn't wait for us to love him before he made the ultimate sacrifice for us. Jesus didn't die for righteous people. Jesus died for those of us who had messed up our lives. Before you and I had even thought of God, God had thought of us - and he decided to give up his Son for us.

You never have to worry about earning God's love. When you were at your worst, God loved you with his best. God's drenched you with his love. He's given you the ultimate proof of his love. He's given you his only Son. He's never going to give up on you.

The final reason, in this passage, that your position with God will never change - no matter what:

REASON THREE - THE FACT THAT GOD HAS STARTED HIS WORK GIVES US HOPE (ROMANS 5:9-10)

Romans 5:9-10 says:

And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.

Whenever you start to feel unworthy - whenever you get down on yourself because you've let God down - think about this. Think of what it took God to give up his Son for you when you were at your worst. And if God could take you at your worst and put you in a right relationship with him, why would God give up on you now? Why, when God looks at you and sees you completely forgiven - when he looks at you and sees the righteousness of his own Son - why would God give up on you now?

Paul concludes in verse 11, "So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God-all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God."

I want you to listen to this. When I was a kid, I became a follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that on that day, a whole slew of things happened to me. They all have fancy theological names, but the bottom line is this: I was forgiven. I was more than forgiven. I became a new creature that day. My position with God changed completely. I was declared not guilty. From that point on, when God looked at me, he stopped seeing all the bad things that I had done and was doing. When God looked at me he saw the righteousness of his own Son.

Since that day many years ago, I've been a new creature - but I haven't always acted like one. There have been a lot of times I've come into church with a guilty feeling hanging over my head. Some weeks I was almost glad when the preacher yelled a little, because I thought I deserved it. It was my version of penance. I felt that God couldn't possibly love me because I let him down. And I kept letting him down - over and over and over again.

In fact, you may be here today as a follower of Jesus Christ, but you don't feel at all forgiven. And if that's you, then you need to hear: it doesn't matter how you feel. It doesn't matter what mistakes you've made. It only matters what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. You messed up this week? You have peace with God. You feel like you can't get your act together? You have access to God's grace. You've got a sin problem - a tendency you can't control? God's promised that you'll share in his glory. You doubt for a minute that God loves you? He gave his Son for you, when you were powerless…a sinner…ungodly. Sure, you mess up today - but why would God give up on you now? You're more than forgiven.

When God looks at you - if you've trusted in Jesus Christ - he sees his Son. When Jesus was baptized, Luke 3:22 tells us that a voice from heaven spoke, saying, "You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you." When God looks at you - no matter what you've done - he sees his Son, and he says, "You're my beloved son. You're my beloved daughter. I am fully pleased with you. Not because of what you have done, but because of what my Son has done."

Father, as we celebrate communion today, thank you for your love. Thank you that we're forgiven, because he was forsaken. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus' name.