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Rescued From Habitual Sin

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 25, 2012

Selected highlights from this sermon

Sin isn’t static. It will always demand more. It’ll always come back with more ferocity and power. It’ll always be there and it’ll always increase. And its ultimate destination is death—a spiritual and moral death, and for those who don’t know the Lord, an eternal death.

The most powerful thing we can do to combat sin is to stand on the territory that Jesus conquered. He broke sin’s power.

You’re either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. When we’re slaves of God, we have the freedom to be what God created us to be.

Let me begin today with a question. How are you doing in your battle with sin? Did you have some wins this past week? Did you have some losses? Why did you have those losses? Have you taken time to analyze?

And when I talk to you about our battle with sin I’m not only thinking of the “biggies” such as murder and adultery and extortion, and perhaps deceit on a huge level–maybe drug addictions or alcohol addictions. We all know that, and there are some people who perhaps are listening to this message who have done one or several of the sins that I just listed. But I’m also talking about some of the more respectable sins such as anger. To what extent did anger get in your way of relationships this past week? What about envy? Do you envy the wicked? Do you envy the rich? Are you angry with your lot in life? What are those kinds of issues? What about the issue of lust?

In the Sunday evening service, a man came to me last week and said, “You know, my wife has left me. I am alone.” He said, “The assaults on my mind, the temptation to go to that computer are very strong.” Yesterday I was with my prayer partners and in the discussion the confession was made of the fact that our minds are being assaulted today by sexuality on every hand. And people are losing those battles, and not just the men are losing the battle. Where do we go from here?

You know, we are creatures of habit and we develop habits of sin, and we tell ourselves all kinds of lies about how we aren’t addicted or we don’t have a real big problem. I was thinking about the words of Mark Twain. Remember he said, “Of course, I can stop smoking. I’ve done it at least a thousand times.” He stopped for maybe an hour at a time. He can stop whenever he wants to.

You know D.L. Moody said that when he was converted he expected that now his battle with sin would be over and he said, “I discovered that I was actually enlisting myself as a soldier in a new war; the assaults of sin were that strong.”

This message addresses those issues but you may be here today and you are simply investigating Christianity, or you are listening to this message because somebody wanted you to and you’d rather maybe not, but here you are. Or maybe you are listening by way of Internet, radio or whatever other means. Would you hang in? Would you listen? Even though this message is primarily directed to us as believers in Christ, it has implications for all and by the end of the message I want to include you in it and give you an opportunity to put your faith and trust in a redeemer who actually does deliver people from their sins. So that’s where we are going. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Well, let me begin with another question. You know during the Easter season we often sing the song, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” I like a lot of songs, and I like this one but I ask you today: Were you there? I remember as a boy listening to the song and thinking to myself, “Well, that’s kind of silly actually. No, I wasn’t there. Two thousand years ago Jesus was crucified. I’m sure that I wasn’t there. But then as I began to study the Bible I discovered that yes, I was there, in the sense that Jesus died for me, and so my sins were laid on Him. In that sense, I was there when my Lord was crucified.

And now we take our Bibles, and I invite you to do so, and we open them up to Romans 6. It’s a very critical passage of Scripture and we discover something else–that it’s not just that we were there because Jesus died for us, but furthermore, God identified us with Jesus, and when He died on that cross there’s a sense in which we died. Look at the text, for example, in Romans 6:5-7: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

So God put us into Jesus so that Jesus Christ’s history becomes our history. And there’s another way then in which we were there when they crucified our Lord. So to put it rather clearly, Jesus Christ died for me, sets me free from the penalty of sin, and I died with Jesus Christ and that sets me free from the power of sin. That’s why when we sing “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, be of sin the double cure. Save me from its guilt (yes) and its power,” on the cross there is a double cure for sinners like us.

Now what the Apostle Paul does is he goes through a series of steps and he begins with the first step, which is called knowing. For example, even back in verse 3 it says, “Do you not know that all of us have been baptized into Christ?” and in verse 6 it says, “Do you not know that our old self was crucified with him?” There’s something that you have to know and that is that when Jesus died, if you are a believer, you died there too. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I sure don’t feel very dead, and if you had seen my secret life this past week you would know that I’m not dead. I’m not dead to sin.”

Now Paul does say that sin isn’t dead. We explained this last week, but he says that we are dead to it, and so you say, “I don’t feel dead.” Well, how do you like this? You are leading somebody to faith in Jesus Christ. You want them to believe the Gospel and then they say, “Well, you know I don’t feel that Jesus died. I just don’t feel that he died on the cross.” You say, “Oh, spare me. You don’t feel that he died. It’s irrelevant how you feel. The fact is that he died.” Or somebody else says, “I just am going to pray that Jesus would die for me.” And you say, “Well, I don’t get that at all. Don’t you get it that it already happened? And no matter how you feel about it, and no matter how you as a believer feel about it, it is as silly to pray that Jesus would die for you, as it would be for you to pray that He would crucify you when He died.” That’s equally foolish because when Jesus died, the Bible says you did too. The power and the obligation you and I have to sin is over. That’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross.

Now, Paul says in Romans 5 that we were in Adam, having to obey all of Adam’s dictates and sins. Now we are in Jesus Christ with whole new obligations and we have no obligation to serve sin. He’s talking about the reigning power of sin in our lives. So he says first of all, “You have to get that.” Do you have faith to get that God made provision on the cross for sin’s power in your life to be totally broken? Or more accurately He actually broke it on the cross. And then the next step, Paul says, is reckon. As I mentioned last time, I prefer the word “reckon” to the word “consider,” though they mean the same thing.

In verse 11 it says, “So you must consider yourself to be dead to sin and alive unto God.” Consider it as true. And I pointed out that reckoning doesn’t make anything true. If you have a thousand dollars in the bank and it’s actually there, then you can reckon by writing out a check based on that amount of money. You can reckon it to be true. But, you know, it could be true even without you ever reckoning it. You never use the money. It’s true that you have a thousand dollars but you never reckon it to be true. In that sense it’s of no value to you. But on the other hand you can’t create a situation in which you say, “I am going to reckon it to be true,” and that will make it true. Like the wife who said to her husband, “Of course we still have money in the bank. Look at all of the unused checks in our checkbook.” You can’t create money by reckoning it to be true, but you can reckon something that is indeed true.

Maybe this illustration will help. Many years ago in the lobby of Moody Church after a service a woman met me and said, “You know, I am living with a guy and we’re not married,” and she said, “I know this is sin, and I want to get out of this relationship, but there’s no way that he’s willing to separate from me.” And I said, “Well, what you need to do is to just move out. Take your stuff and move out.” She said, “It isn’t that simple. I own the apartment.” All right, I see now that it isn’t quite that simple, but I said, “Don’t you understand that your obligations to this man are over? I mean, you own the apartment. You are standing on conquered territory. He may be bigger than you. He may be much stronger than you, but that’s not the point. Your obligation is over. You are dead to any obligation toward him.” But he won’t leave. So I suggested, and I don’t know if this was good advice, but I said, “You know, I’d call the police and I’d have them come and I’d have them take that man somewhere else and help him to understand why he should never come back again, with a little help from the reliable Chicago Police District. That’s the way I’d take care of it, and then I’d get a restraining order against him because you have no obligation to him.”

See, that’s an example of what Jesus did for us. We are standing on conquered territory. We have no obligation to sin, but sin is going to come along and say, “Oh, yada, yada, yada, you still have obligation to me.” We don’t and you need to understand by faith, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit based on the Word that our obligation to the old man, as it is sometimes spoken of, is over. Now maybe what that women needs to do is to join a support group, and maybe it could be entitled Young Women Who Want to Get Rid of Men Who Don’t Leave Them Alone.” That might be a support group with a lot of attendees. (laughter) Yeah, I know you are laughing but the point is it may be difficult to reckon it because of all this persistence, but the game is over. There’s no obligation.

Paul says, “You no longer now need to let sin reign in your mortal body.” For it to reign you have to let it. For this man to have authority over her she has to let him because he has no legal ground to stand on at all. Kick him out. Put him out on the street and help him to understand why he shouldn’t come back.

Now in the case of the Bible, here the most powerful thing we can do is to believe. You’ll experience a tremendous amount of spiritual power if you really understand that standing on the conquered territory of Jesus you have no obligation to sin. Your passions tell you “Yes, you do,” and you say, “No, I don’t,” not because you are saying that makes it true but because it is true. Jesus broke its power. So Paul says this. He says, “First of all you have to know it. Then you have to reckon it,” and then he says, “Present yourself to God,” and that’s in verse 13. He said, “Until now you have been presenting yourself to unrighteousness.” In verse 12 he says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” You have to let it. “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law but under grace.” And grace abounds and has broken the power of sin. So he says, “Present.” The imagery here is that of worship. “Present your bodies,” Paul says in chapter 12, “a living sacrifice.” It means that I now present myself to God. Why? First of all, because I value God!

In our prayer group yesterday, we were talking about how wonderful it would be if our passion for God were greater than our passion to sin. And when you and I present ourselves to God what we are saying is, “God, You mean more to me than my sin does. I believe that You are of more value,” and by the way, this passion that we develop for God isn’t something that comes to us by osmosis while we are asleep. It comes because we are reading the Word, we are meeting with the people of God, and we are in fellowship with God’s people and with Him, and our love for God grows and grows and grows until we become passionate lovers of God. That’s part of what happens when we present ourselves to God. But also it means not only that we value God. It also means that God owns us. After all we have been purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ–the precious blood of Jesus. Therefore, we are owned by God, aren’t we?

We are very much owned by God. We are His privileged possession, the Scripture says. So that means I yield myself to God. I yield my eyes to God. I say, “God, these eyes are Yours. Help me to turn away from evil,” and Jesus said, “If your eye offends you pluck it out and cast it from you.” What He’s saying is “Do whatever you need to do so you don’t keep going back into the same sin.” I mean, cut off your cable television if you have to. Do whatever you have to do because the temptations are great. There’s no obligation but the old man comes knocking and so what you do is you present your eyes to God. You present your ears to God. You present your hands to God, your feet to God wherever they take you, and you say, “Totally, as far as I am concerned, I am an offering to God.”

I have a pastor friend who said when he was trying to get this across he actually had one of the ushers bring up an offering plate and he stood in it. Well, I’d try that but I don’t think our baskets are quite strong enough to be able to hold me, but that would get the point across. What you do then is you yield to God, and then what? You begin to serve.

Now if you look at your Bibles, as I hope you are doing, you’ll notice in verse 15 and following Paul gives a contrast between being a slave of righteousness and a slave to sin. He uses the expression “the slavery of sin” at least five times, depending on how you count them–maybe six–and he uses the same expression as being slaves to righteousness. And all the way through from verse 15 to the end that’s what he’s doing. He’s contrasting it.

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” He says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching which you have received and you are obeying righteousness.”

Let me make a couple of comments. First, when the Apostle Paul uses the word slave he means slave. He doesn’t mean servant. If you are somebody’s servant you might be able to leave serving that person and go serve somebody else. Slaves are owned, and you and I are created to be owned, and what Paul says is, “Either we are going to be slaves of sin or we are going to be slaves of righteousness.” We’re going to be one or the other. I think that Bob Dylan was absolutely right when he used to sing, “You’re going to have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be Lord, but you’re going to have to serve somebody,” and my friend, you are serving somebody today.

You say, “Well, I don’t want to serve sin. I don’t want to serve God. I just want to serve myself.” Well, isn’t that sweet? But there is no third category. I’m impressed but there is no third category. You say you are serving self. The essence of sin is self. You’ve just voted to become a servant of sin. That’s what you have done.

Now, let’s look at these two phrases. The servant of sin! What does that look like? Those of you who struggle with cocaine addictions, alcohol addictions, and sexual addictions of any kind understand this phrase very, very well because you know right well that ultimately you aren’t in charge. You can swear it off. You can say this is the last time. You can obey your conscience and say, “Never again,” but it will happen again. Why? It’s because slaves don’t tell their masters what to do. A slave doesn’t wake up in the morning and say to his master, “Now, Master, today I think we’re going to do this.” Uh-uh! The slave wakes up and says to his master who is sin, “What do you want me to do today and how can I get by and manage the consequences?” That’s what the slave says, and sin is always a bad idea. And notice what the Apostle Paul says here. He says (and I’m in verse 19 actually), “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness.” Sin isn’t static. It leads to more lawlessness. You begin that direction and it will always demand more. It will always come back with more ferocity and power. It will always be there and it will always increase. That’s why you never want to become an alcoholic. You say, “One thing I never want to do as an alcoholic is do illegal drugs.” I have some good advice for you. Never once touch the stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience that works. You’ll be able to walk through a store and see all of those shelves of alcohol and there will be absolutely nothing within you that will say, “I need this stuff.” It is best for you to simply say no from the beginning because once it gets its stronghold then it demands more and more and more. “Lawlessness,” Paul says, “leads to more lawlessness.”

Now you say, “Well, you know, I’m not into those sins,” but what about anger, self-will, and envy? All those increase in power as well until you become as miserable to live with as your wife says you are. (laugh) I thought I’d just throw that in as we’re going along the road here.

You see, there really is no safe sin, and you and I think that we can manage the consequences, but what is sin’s ultimate destination? There in verse 23 we have it: “The wages of sin is death.” Now the free gift of God, thankfully, is eternal life but the wages of sin is death. In other words, you are getting your wages and it’s death. It’s not just physical death, which all of us participate in, but it’s a spiritual death and a moral death, and for some who don’t know the Lord, it is an eternal death–a horrid, horrid future. So that’s the wages of sin.

Do you see how sin really falls under the category of false advertising? Oh, this is the way to happiness. Think of what you can do if you get into these sins. Oh yeah? In the end it leads to death, and even those pleasures that are sinful, what does the Bible say? He who is in pleasure is dead even while he lives, and that’s why people need drugs and alcohol just to deaden the pain of an empty life. The wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life.

So having looked at the slavery to sin, what about the slavery to righteousness–the slavery to God? When we become slaves of God now we’re talking about the freedom finally to be what God created you to be, the freedom to live with a clear conscience, the freedom to be able to say, “I’m walking in what my created status is all about,” the freedom to be able to listen to a song (as we had today), How Great Thou Art, and to be able to know that that great God belongs to me. And I rejoice in the privilege of being His slave because to be a slave of God is to live a delightful, joyful, meaningful, eternal existence. Can you get it better than that? (applause) I don’t think so. It’s a delightful kind of slavery.

You know, the bottom line that the Apostle Paul talks about here is the fact that in Jesus (and I want you to get this today), in Jesus Christ the power of sin for believers has been broken. You must believe it. If you believe it and you apply it (and some of you say, “Yeah but I’ve tried to get rid of this sin for so long,” and I understand that), you die to all obligations to continue along those sinful habits. Your obligations are over.

There’s a story that D.L. Moody, who founded this church way back in 1864, liked to tell apparently. The President of the United States on one occasion said to the leader of the prison commissions, “I want to hand out five pardons to a prison (evidently in Ohio) and I want the warden to award these pardons to the inmates who have the best example of conduct for six months; but don’t tell the inmates. I don’t want them to just behave because they want to get a pardon. I just want them to be observed by the leadership, and then you choose whom it is who gets the pardon.”

So the day came to hand out the pardons. And all of the prisoners gathered and the commissioner of prisons stood up and said, “Today I have five pardons in my hand. Whoever gets these pardons will leave the prison today and be free. You can change your clothes and you can be out of here. The rest of you, of course, will stay.” Pardons to be offered!

He opens the sheet of paper and says, “Ruben Johnson. (long silence) Ruben Johnson.” The chaplain sees Ruben sitting in the front row and says, “Hey Ruben, he’s talking about you.” Ruben kind of looks behind himself, wondering if there’s another Ruben Johnson here. Finally, Ruben has the nerve to go up and take his pardon. He sits down. He holds his head in his hand and he begins to weep. The other four pardons also were handed out and then the warden stood up and said, “Time to go back to your cells.” And guess what Ruben did? He stood up and he began walking back to his cell, and the chaplain said, “Hey, Ruben, you don’t belong in that line.”

Let’s review. When Jesus died on the cross for me He broke the penalty of sin. When I died with Jesus He broke the power of sin. My dear brother, my dear sister, you don’t have to be in that line. (applause) You belong outside of that prison. Yes, indeed maybe you have to begin to attend Men’s Fraternity. You have to connect with other believers so that that sin that has had such a great part in your life can be broken, but ultimately the breaking has taken place on the cross because you are standing on conquered territory as a Christian, and you can say no. You can say no. (applause)

“Let not therefore sin reign in your mortal bodies that you should fulfill its lusts,” it says. It’s an impossible command, but what God commands He also gives the grace and the strength to do, no matter how difficult it is. Why? We are under no obligation to serve sin.

When you look at this passage you know that Paul uses a big word as he gets near the end. He uses the word sanctification. He says in verse 22, “But now that you’ve been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Boy is that good news. The word sanctification means to be made like unto Jesus, which is really God’s big agenda in your life. You say, “I always thought that God’s big agenda was to serve here and there.” Yeah, yeah, that will come. The big agenda is the inner part of you to become like Christ. That’s what sanctification is.

Now here’s my point. Justification to be declared righteous happens in a point of time. “The free gift of God is eternal life,” the chapter ends, “through Jesus Christ.” And there are some of you listening right now who have to say, “Jesus, I receive that free gift of eternal life. I come to Christ as I am with my sin and my need and my brokenness and my mess, but I do come to Jesus for eternal life.” And it is a free gift to those who believe.

Yesterday evening I spoke at a fundraising event for a very fine Christian school here in Chicago, and a man came to me later and told about attending Moody Church many, many years ago. And he said that I was leading a small group. Of course, I don’t remember this but he said that he was there and he was an unbeliever, and he was a very angry person–very angry–angry at everything. He said that he listened to the Gospel, and he said, “You put a seed in my heart, though we never ever did go back to your church, but five years later I believed on Jesus,” and he said, “Jesus just took all that anger away.” Now he was standing next to his wife when he said it, so I believed that what he was saying was true. It is a free gift to those who believe.

If God is speaking to you right now–if God is overcoming your stubbornness, and you see that you need Christ, believe on Him, and be saved. And then what you’ll discover later is that this message that you’ve just heard that may have been puzzling in spots will all come together, and you’ll say, “Well, now I get it. I now only experience the fact that Jesus has died for me but I died with Him and now I am on a life-long journey of sanctification, of learning to walk free because I no longer am to be in that line.”
Would you believe? Would you trust? Do we take Him at his word? Do we act on it?

Let’s pray together.

Father, we ask in Jesus’ name, that the words that You have written we know are true words, but help us to believe them and to act on them. Set Your people free, oh God, we pray. We’ve read in Your Word that we need not serve sin. We say no to that terrible, terrible master, and we gladly say, “We are servants of God. Sign us up.”

For those who have never trusted Christ, may they do so even now. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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