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Sin: I'm against it, but...

The highway just north of Kuwait City was dubbed the Highway of Death as Coalition Forces exploited the retreat of the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War.  This was but a snapshot of death.  Death has been a part of our lives since the beginning.
The highway just north of Kuwait City was dubbed the Highway of Death as Coalition Forces exploited the retreat of the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War. This was but a snapshot of death. Death has been a part of our lives since the beginning.
Tom Spence

Read Romans 5:12-21

Sin: I’m against it, but…

We will come back to that.

The Letter to the Romans is often called the Gospel according to Paul.

Some people use the term Pauline Theology.

Peter wrote in his letters that sometimes Paul is just hard to understand.

None of the first century apostles and gospel authors sat down and wrote or intended to write a guidebook for Christian Theology that would last 50 or 100 or 2000 years.

They wrote letters in the course of their ministry. Many were likely in response to specific issues. Perhaps these came in the form of questions from the congregation or maybe through reports by other believers that crossed paths with Paul or other New Testament authors along the way. We are not privy to that part of the equation.

Paul saw fit to address the topic of the Lord’s Supper to the church in Corinth. He saw fit to admonish believers in Galatia about making circumcision and abiding by the Law of Moses supplemental conditions to salvation that came by grace alone. He felt it necessary to tell those in Thessalonica who were sitting day by day on the street corner just waiting for Jesus to come pick them up that they needed to keep on living, or as he put it to the church in Philippi, to work out—live out—their salvation.

But as the gospel had preceded Paul to Rome, he felt that he needed to write something a bit more comprehensive to this church that he hoped to visit one day.

Paul got to indulge his bent, his propensity, his proclivity, for theology. Paul finally had an excuse to write a very long letter.

Do you know how Paul’s letters are organized in most of your Bibles?

It is not by the presumed date of the letter but by length. The Letter to the Romans is Paul’s most substantial work and thus it is the first to follow the gospels and Acts in your Bibles.

None of the first century apostles and gospel authors sat down and wrote a guidebook for Christian Theology that would last 50 or 100 or 2000 years, but Paul got pretty close with his letter to the Romans.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is difficult to cut out small pieces and study them without understanding the whole. So my challenge to you is at some point in the weeks to come, set aside an hour or so and read Paul’s Letter to the Romans in its entirety.

For now, we look at the second half of this fifth chapter with a few ventures into some adjacent chapters.

Through one man—Adam—sin entered the world. We know the story. Men probably remember the story better than women. This is the story where Adam reminds God that the woman that he gave to be with him gave him the apple.

In any case, sin entered the world very early in the advent of humankind. Humankind knew good and evil and sin was in the world.

There was another tree in the middle of the garden. It was a tree of life. It was the tree that Eve should have told the serpent that she would eat from instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But that’s not the story we know.

Sin entered the world and with the expulsion from the garden so did death. Neither Adam nor Eve would taste the fruit of that other special tree.

To this day, we contend with both sin and death. It is a condition of being human. Regardless of whether you read the first three chapters of Genesis as literal or literary, sin and death have been in the world for as long as people have made decisions in the world.

Paul is telling his readers that this is the world they were born into. Neither they nor their parents had any control over this. We know this because all humanity shares a common bond—death. The ongoing price of our sin is death. From the moment that we are born into this world our days are numbered.

Sin and death are part of our existence.

This stands somewhat in contrast to a very familiar verse from Romans that we quote quite often.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

This is talking about living out our humanness. We have all sinned. We have all missed the mark. There is a God-given standard and we can’t measure up.

But in this fifth chapter, Paul is talking about humankind existing in a world that contains sin and is bounded by death. Sin and death are part of who we were born to be in this world. This has nothing to do with how we live.

Your existence is made up of your anatomy, breathable air, a body that metabolizes substance and produces energy, gravity, and sin.

You existence is a terminal condition. You will die.

And you didn’t do anything to deserve this condition. Sin and death were a part of this world long before you were born.

Paul says that through one man sin came into the world.

He didn’t say through “that woman” sin came into the world.

He didn’t say through “one man and one woman” sin came into the world.

Sometimes we might think, “That’s just not fair. I could have done better and we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

That’s when we reflect on the verse: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Had we been up to bat first instead of Adam, I think we might have struck out as well. We can armchair quarterback this condition all we want and sin will still be in the world. We can second guess to our heart’s content and the situation remains the same.

Paul continues with this dose of theology stating that until the law was given there was sin in the world but God did not hold individuals accountable for their sin. Sins were not recorded on an individual ledger.

God did not ignore wickedness. The flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah attest to that, but as far as holding individuals accountable for their sin; Paul tells us that occurred only after receipt of the law.

Not until the law was given was there a means to atone for sin. There were offerings made to God before the law. Cain and Abel made offerings. Abraham gave a 10% tithe, but there were no sin offerings or sacrifices until the law.

But there was sin. We know this because death reigned. The price paid for sin continued.

Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses even over those who had not sinned in the manner of Adam. Adam had received a command from God and he disobeyed.

The law brought many commands and much disobedience and much accountability.

One offense brought condemnation to humankind, but today we are aware of our offenses. God’s commands have been around for many centuries. We have more than our innate senses that tells us when we have sinned.

Enough discourse on sin. In fact if you ever have to take a quiz on this material and you need to sum it up quickly, try this.

Sin: I’m against it but as it is a part of this world, I’m thankful that I am not governed by it.

Paul says that by one man sin entered the world but the sins of many were accounted for by one Man, Jesus Christ.

The gift is greater than the sum of all transgression and transgressions.

In a single transgression came death but in the one gift of grace came life and righteousness with God.

In one act came condemnation for all but in the gift of grace came justification for all.

And the law was given so that the offense may increase.

Whoa! That sounds crazy!

Paul knew that this was a provocative statement and he would take a couple more chapters to address it, but he summed up much of it in this verse.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Romans 7:7

The law lets us see the extent of our transgression but more than that it gives us eyes to see a grace that goes beyond the limits of any transgression. The law gives us eyes to see our own brokenness and frailty and the grace that engulfs them both.

We cannot sin more than the grace of God that we know in Jesus Christ will cover.

One man and one transgression set creation adrift but one free gift makes us just as if we had always loved and obeyed God; yet in knowing the that grace abounds this much, we know the extent of God’s love more than Adam could have ever realized.

We not only have knowledge of good and evil; we have eyes to see the unbounded love of our Father. We know this love in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And in this love, this grace, this gift, we have been set free from death.

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

Death no longer has dominion over us. Jesus said that at the moment we believe, we have passed from death to life.

Grace reaches beyond any transgression.

Sin reigned in death but righteousness reigns in grace.

Sin brought a death sentence and the sentence was carried out in one man—in Jesus Christ.

The price of sin has been paid in full.

Not only has the price been paid with a death sentence but the One who paid the price has been brought back to life.

In Adam we all know sin and death and in Christ we all know grace and life. For we died with him and we live with him.

And as soon as we understand that we cannot sin more than grace can abound, our human nature asks a question. Paul anticipated this question.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Should we go on sinning so we can have even more grace? Should we push the limits of sin so that we can know even more grace?

There are some Christians that say, “Yes, that’s exactly what we should do.”

Paul has a different answer: “No!”

Paul, of course, expounds on this answer, but we who believe in the Son of the one true God have been set free from sin and from death.

Neither has dominion over us.

For us to desire our old ways—our old selfish ways—is for us to be blind to the gift of grace.

We so love the fact that we are saved from hell that we forget that we are also saved from sin and death.

We are finally free to live as God wants us to live.

We had nothing to do with Adam’s transgression.

We had nothing to do with God’s grace that we know in Jesus Christ.

We exist smack dab in the middle of a sinful world but we can live without sin and death having a hold on us. We can live fully in a life given to Jesus Christ.

Our geography doesn’t change but our boundaries do.

That thing inside of us that makes us who we are is no longer shackled by sin or bounded by death. We may shuffle off this mortal coil as Hamlet might say, but who we are—that spirit, that soul that is our being—is destined to live in right relationship with God for eternity, and we even get a new body to boot.

Paul calls for us to live that way now.

We have become dead to sin and alive in Christ.

We let go of our Adam nature and cling to our Christ nature.

Now for the standardized test on Christianity make sure that when you get to the multiple choice question on sin that you select choice a) I’m against it.

But when you get to the essay question fell free to expound on how much more we know the love of God as we have witnessed his grace reach well beyond every transgression.

We should not go on sinning so that grace may abound even more, but as sin grows more and more in this world, we should be amazed that God’s grace reaches so much farther.

We don’t thank God for our sin, but having known sin, we thank him all the more for his unbounded love.

God is so good.

We have been so sinful.

We are not only saved by grace but we live and grow in grace more and more each day knowing the love of a Father that we might have never realized otherwise.

We are finally free to be the child of God that we were made to be.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.