Rescued From Self-ObsessionErwin W. Lutzer | March 18, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
A deliberate choice to continue in sin is unthinkable because we’ve died with Christ and we are dead to sin. We are part of His death and resurrection. Our old self was crucified with Jesus.
And because we were taken out of Adam and put into Christ, we are no longer under any obligation to sin—no matter what it tries to tell us. Jesus broke sin’s power over us so that we might live holy lives unto God.
It was Larry Crabb who told us recently that our biggest problem was not abuse or neglect or all the problems we think we have. “Our biggest enemy,” he says, “is self-obsession.” Think about that for a moment. Self-obsession!
Wasn’t it Narcissus who looked into the water and saw his own image and fell in love with himself? I’m reminded of the man walking along Wells Street who I saw some time ago with a t-shirt that said, “Just worship me and we’ll get along fine.” (laughter) That’s self-obsession. Or I think of the woman who said she finally met Mr. Right but she didn’t know that his first name was Always. Self-obsession!
You know, Jesus looked into the human heart and He gives us an analysis that is not flattering. But today I need to be very honest with you and tell you that Jesus Christ’s evaluation is completely correct. I’m going to read you a few words about what Jesus said, and you honestly ask yourself if this is true of you. It’s true of all of us. Jesus said that from within the heart (He didn’t put it this way, but…) we all have within us a sin factory, manufacturing a river of sin, and Jesus defines it this way. Evil thoughts that could include such things as stubbornness, self-will, murder, violence, revenge (you know, people who want to get even), adultery, sexual immorality (Of course that could be explained in all different kinds of ways.), theft, false witnesses, slander and the like, Jesus said, are all existing within the human heart. The seeds are there in all of us. What an indictment!
Now how do we cope with ourselves? How do we live with ourselves, not even to mention those who have to live with us in the home or in a marriage relationship? How do we do it? Well, first of all, we hide from ourselves. We put on a false self, so the person that we are in church is not the person who we actually are at all. The family will tell you that he’s a very different person at home, and even within that there are secrets that are unrevealed. And for the truly evil person, remember the evil that he sees in himself he sees as actually belonging to other people, so he imposes his own evil on them. How can you reason with a man like that?
So we hide. We compare ourselves. We say, “Well, I’m not as bad as So-and So.” Let me remind you that a little bit of Satan’s rebellion has fallen on every single human heart. Self-obsession is our worst enemy.
This past week I was talking to someone who was telling me that they bought a church. They bought a building that was going to be used as a church, and the landowner who has a lot of money was going to sell it to them with liens against the property even in excess of six figures, but he didn’t tell them till just before the deeds were signed. They discovered it and fortunately they were able to force him to pay it but he was so extremely angry. Now I look at that and say, “Well, the man was wealthy. Why would he be so deceptive in business?” There is greed. There is self-will, and our greatest enemy is self-obsession. That’s why I like the book of Romans. And that’s why I titled this series, “Rescued – What God Did to Save Us,” because the book of Romans tells us what God’s answer is for our sinful rivers of hatred and self-will that course from the human heart.
And the Bible tells us that God has two answers. If you have your Bibles and you open them to the book of Romans, look at what it says in chapter 3. Now I know we studied this previously. The first answer that God has to our great unending need is the blood of Christ–the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You’ll notice in Romans 3:25 it says, “Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith to show God’s righteousness.” That big word propitiation means that God was totally satisfied by the blood of Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on that cross, the sacrifice that was made was pleasing to God and met all of His requirements so that you and I can be forgiven.
Well you remember that blood–the blood of sacrifice–is primarily for God. The best illustration is the Passover in the Old Testament. Remember how the Lord told Israel, “Take a sheep; kill the sheep and then you take and you put the blood on the doorpost (the lintel or the side post of the door) and the Angel of Death said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” That’s where we get the word Passover.
And the instructions were that if you do this, you will be spared the judgment of having your firstborn killed. But all those in Egypt who didn’t put blood on their door, their firstborn son will be killed so that the Israelites can leave Egypt. Now let’s imagine for a moment. You are a firstborn son. There’s blood on your door. Your father put blood on the door. You may be a very good son. You may be an obedient son. On the other hand, you might also have been a criminal. It would not have mattered. Even a criminal son would have been exempt from death, because there was blood on the door. God says, “Not when I see your goodness, or when I see your attempts at goodness, will I pass over you.” He said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you,” because God has been fully satisfied in Jesus by the blood and the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made.
Do you realize what that means for us? That means that the real issue is not the greatness of our sin. Of course, it’s much better that you be a good son than a criminal, most assuredly. But at the end of the day that’s not really the issue. The issue is, as it was in the Old Testament, is there blood on that door? Have you received Christ as Savior, and the sacrifice that He made, the sacrifice of atonement, the sacrifice of propitiation? Have you received that?
Now many Christians understand that part, but now when it comes time to pray in their own individual lives they think that they are going to approach God on some other basis. So they think, “Well, you know, I think God will hear me because I’ve been faithful. I have taught Sunday school. God will hear me because I have witnessed to someone, or I’ve read the Scriptures, or I’ve prayed, or I’ve done something kind this week.” And they approach God with uncertainty because of that, because that’s not the way you ever approach God. The Bible says, “Having boldness to enter into the throne of God, the very throne room of God, by the blood of Jesus,” and it is always the blood of Jesus.
But do you realize what that means? That means that there is no sin that you can ever commit that is so great that devalues the blood of Christ. I receive letters all the time from people who think they have committed the unpardonable sin. There is an unpardonable sin, but it is always committed by unbelievers who say no to God too long and too often. But if you want to be forgiven I say to you today, no matter who you are, no matter what crime is in your background, if you receive Christ as Savior, the blood of Christ is sufficient also for you (applause) and you too can be saved.
Let me say it as clearly as it can be said. There is no sin that you can ever commit that will devalue the blood of Christ. You may not think that the blood of Christ can forgive you, but God thinks differently, and he says, “This blood of Christ is so valuable that when I see the blood, judgment is withdrawn. I will pass over you.” “There is now therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
Now when the sixth chapter of Romans opens you can imagine after Paul explains all of this what the response is going to be. He ends chapter 5 by saying where sins abounds, grace abounds much more. You can never out-sin grace. So you make that statement, and what are people thinking? They’re thinking, “Wow! This is too good to be true. Too good to be true!” Like one wag said, “I like to sin. God likes to forgive. What a wonderful arrangement that is.” Or like a college student said to me, “If I sin in a big way I can be forgiven in a big way and then talk about God’s grace in a real big way.”
You know, when I have explained the Gospel to people, they respond by saying, “Well, does that mean that I can just go out and commit any sin that I want and still be saved?” The answer to give at that point is (with a smile on your face), “Yes,” and the reason that you want to say yes is so that they understand grace. They are close to the kingdom when they say that. Now you have to qualify the yes as we shall see in a moment, but we want people to understand grace and to understand it clearly. Salvation is a free gift. No sin is too great to forgive. When Jesus said, “It is finished – paid in full” to those who believe, He meant it, and that’s why I reach out to those of you who think you have sinned too much for God. You have not.
But how do we answer this business of saying, “Well, if that’s the way it is, I can just go out and sin all I like?” Paul knew that’s exactly what people would be thinking. He knew that exactly. He knew that people who loved sin would think of that right away and so he addresses the issue in chapter 6. He says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Isn’t that exactly the argument of the natural person who lives in love with sin? Paul says, “By no means.” Really literally in Greek he says, “God forbid.” How can we who died to sin still live in it? Wow! We have to stop there, don’t we, and catch our breath?
Notice what the Apostle Paul does not say. He does not say, “Now if you abuse grace that is proof that you were never saved.” There are some people who say that-that any Christian who abuses grace has never been saved. Paul doesn’t say that, nor does he say something else like, “If you abuse grace you lose grace, and you are no longer saved.” What he does is he begins to help us to understand that continuing in sin–a deliberate choice to continue in sin–is unthinkable because we died with Christ and we are dead to sin.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, that needs explanation because I am a believer but I am not dead to sin.” All right! That’s why I am here today with the help of the Holy Spirit to help us to see the key of breaking sin’s power.
Now, Paul begins by saying you have to know certain things. You’ll notice he says in verse 3, “Do you not know that all of us that have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Verse 5 says, “For we have been united with him in death like his. We shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified.” Wow! What’s Paul talking about?
The best way for me to explain that is to say this: When you trust Christ as Savior you are put into Christ. You know that little phrase “in Christ” occurs about a hundred times in the New Testament. Believers have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and that’s means that they are in Christ. God does that for us, uniting us with Christ.
For example, let’s suppose that I were to take this piece of paper and fold it like this. I don’t want to fold it too badly because I actually intend to use this sermon illustration that is on here at the end, but it is put into my Bible. Now whatever happens to the Bible happens to the paper. I leave the Bible on the organ, the piece of paper is on the organ. I mail this Bible to a friend in Dallas, the piece of paper goes with it to the friend in Dallas.
God says that when you believe in Christ, the history of Jesus dying, being buried and being raised again is really your history. The implications will be clear in a moment so just hang on to what I am saying. In fact, he’s saying that your crucifixion is more intimate than the crucifixion of the two thieves who died on either side of Christ. They were on separate crosses, but when Jesus died you were on that cross. Your old self was crucified with Jesus. You were on His cross–not even a cross that was next to His.
And so we need to understand that God put us in Jesus so that Jesus Christ’s history is our history. I mean, Paul says it. He says, “You are buried with him in baptism unto death.” We have been baptized into Christ. He’s talking here, I think, about the baptism of the Holy Spirit which makes us members of Christ, because he says there in verse 3, “You have been baptized into Christ,” and that’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now we believe here at The Moody Church that the baptism of the Spirit spoken of here should be symbolized by water baptism. And that’s why when somebody is baptized here we actually put him or her into the water symbolizing the death of Jesus. We bring them out of the water symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus. That’s why we baptize adults in that way because we are symbolizing the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Here’s a parenthesis. There are some Christians who say, “Well, you know, I am saved. I am on my way to heaven but I haven’t been baptized. It’s no big deal.” Really? Let us suppose, for example, a wedding were to take place right here in this sanctuary, and the bride comes down the aisle with her father and the proper questions are asked and answered, and then the vows are taken and then the pastor (maybe me) says, “Now would you like to exchange rings?” and the guy says, “I don’t want to exchange rings. I love her. That’s why I’m marrying her, but I don’t want any symbol of our marriage.” I think he’s going to have a mother-in-law to deal with if he takes that point of view.
Baptism is the symbol of our faith and union with Christ. Why would you as a believer not be baptized? But anyway, what the Apostle Paul is saying is that we are so united with Jesus.
Now let’s talk about this business of death. He says, for example in verse 7, “For one who has died (and he’s saying we died in Christ) has been set free from sin.” Let’s catch our breath again because we need the Holy Spirit of God to help us get this, and I hope that I am used of the Spirit to help all of us get it.
When we think of death, notice that Paul does not say sin died. Oh no! If sin died, then you and I would never be tempted. If sin died, no Christian would ever struggle with an addiction. That’s not what he says. He says, “I am dead to sin (why?) because I died in Christ to the old life.”
Let’s suppose that you were born a slave. What is the way out of your slavery? Well the only way out really is death. When you die you no longer have any obligation to your master. You die, and what the Bible is saying here is that when Jesus Christ died on the cross those who believe in Him are put into Him in such a sense that they died to the slavery of sin that we had in Adam as it says in chapter 5, and they are now alive to Christ. Bottom line, they have absolutely no obligation to obey the old nature and the old Adam. The obligation has been broken.
Maybe a better illustration for us to get our handle on is something like this. Let’s suppose that you lived in a condo association and the landlord is very mean to you. He barks out orders. He is an extortionist. He tells you if you don’t give him more money you are going to be in trouble; he’s going to turn you in. And you live in fear and you are just subject to him moment by moment. Then eventually that complex is sold and it has a new owner who is kind, who is loving, who is trying to win your heart and do what is best for you. Now that old owner can still show up. He can still shout to you through the windows. He can still meet you on the sidewalk and hassle you and you can still feel the same fear that courses through your body, but do you know what? Your obligation to him is over. It’s done. You don’t have to obey him anymore. You can if you want but you don’t have to because you have died to any obligation you have to that owner. And so the Apostle Paul says, “In Jesus Christ we die to any obligation that we had previously to be slaves of sin.” “We died to that,” he says. “Your obligations to sin are over.” What a wonderful truth, and then he goes on to say, “Consider it so.” You know, for example, the Apostle Paul says in verse 11, “Consider yourselves dead to sin.”
I memorized the book of Romans many years ago when I was very much younger in the King James Version of the Bible. That’s why when I quote Scripture I still sometimes quote the King James, and at this point, I love how the King James translated it. It says, “Reckon yourself to be dead.” Now you have to follow very carefully. Reckoning itself doesn’t make you dead because it’s not a fanciful thing that you do that has some magical qualities to it. If you are reckoning something that isn’t true, it’s of no value. Reckoning, of course, is an accounting term, and isn’t it wonderful that mathematics is the only thing that we finally get right? Two plus two is equal to four all over the world. We get that right. Everything else sometimes becomes a little more complicated, but reckoning itself doesn’t do it.
Example: I have here my wallet. Let’s suppose I’m buying gasoline, and let’s suppose I’m not using a credit card and I want to pay for it in cash, assuming that the station still takes American money. And so I have an empty wallet but I say, “I’m going to fill it up,” and then I am going to go into the station because on the way to the station itself where you pay I’m going to say, “I reckon I have $50. I reckon that I have $50. I reckon that I have $50.” I open up my wallet. It’s empty. The reckoning didn’t do anything. But let’s suppose before I leave home that morning I put $50 into my wallet and I know it’s there. By the way, one time something like that happened to me. I knew that the money was there but one of my daughters had raided my wallet. So you always have to reckon on fact. That’s where this is going.
What if I knew for sure in the morning I put in $50. As a matter of fact I’ve got $50 here. Do you see that? Do you see that $50? I put it in. Now I go to the filling station and I fill it up for $48.50. I now reckon as I take out my wallet and I reckon with confidence. Why? It’s because my reckoning is based on a fact. I know that I am reckoning something that is actually true.
My Christian friend, we have come to an impasse in this message that you need to get. This is very, very critical. It is true that you, if you believed on Jesus, are crucified with Christ, that you were taken out of the old Adam and you were put into Jesus in such a way that you have no obligation to sin anymore. Your obligations are over and therefore it can be said you are legally dead to sin. Jesus purchased the victory for you on the cross. Hear this carefully. On the cross Jesus died for me, but on the very same cross I died with Jesus. The blood of Jesus that was shed for me gives me my forgiveness and my cleansing. The victory of Jesus on the cross and my identification with him is the basis of my victory over sin. God doesn’t just save us to get us to heaven. God saves us that we might live holy lives that break the power of sin in our lives. That’s why I’m glad next time I am preaching another message on the same passage as we move through the last part of Romans 6 because it’s truth we have to get.
John Owen, the Puritan, who wrote a book on this said that you and I should kill sin. If not, sin will kill us. Sin in the life of a Christian is very serious. Yes, I know that there is forgiveness, but if we deliberately sin, or if we look at sin as if it’s no big deal, we are really compromising our love for Christ. And what we are really saying is this, that sin was so hideous that Jesus died and made this beautiful sacrifice that we might be forgiven of our sins, but now we go along and we think it’s not that bad after all, and we take what is hideous to God and it becomes a part of our lives. Sin in the life of a Christian is very serious. Yes, I know that there is forgiveness and there is cleansing. And we have all struggled with sin, believe me. I have and you have too, but it cannot be treated lightly.
Shall we continue in sin that grace may increase? God forbid. Its power has been broken. That’s why we sing the song, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.” He forgives us the sin and then he cancels the sin, but he also breaks its power, and you need to see it as having been broken on the cross.
Let me discuss a little bit more as to what we are really talking about. The way of victory in the Christian life is grace–not law–that gets us out of sinful habits and sinful burdens. And we need to understand this. You know the whole idea should I continue in sin that grace may abound? Let me give you an illustration. Let’s illustrate it with a young woman who falls in love with a man who wins her over because of his kindness, his love, and his thoughtfulness. He wins her over and then they marry and he, because he is a person of integrity, says, “Under no condition ever, ever, ever, no matter what you do, I will never, never divorce you.” So can you imagine her saying, “What a great deal? I can now sleep around because after all, you know he’s promised me he’s never going to divorce me, and the more I sin and the more I sleep around, it demonstrates his wonderful grace and forgiveness.” To that the Apostle Paul would say, “God forbid.”
Jesus dies on the cross to rescue us. He redeems us. He puts us into Himself in such a way that the power of sin is broken and then we turn around and say, “Well, let us continue in sin that grace may abound.” May it never be.
There’s a final lesson here as we try to become who we really are in Christ, which is really what the Christian life is all about. The final lesson is this: that right living ultimately is based on right believing. You have to believe the right thing and then you’ll live the right thing. And as your pastor I am not so much concerned with teaching you how to live, though that of course is part of it. I want to by God’s grace teach all of us, myself included, how to believe, because if we believe, we will experience the blessing of God.
Remember this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who diligently seek him out.” And you say, “Well, if what you presented today is all true, why do we have to go to church, and why do we have to do this?” And the reason is this: It’s because you and I struggle with believing, don’t we? We struggle with believing the victory of Jesus on our behalf, and God intends that it is in community, praying together, and bearing one another’s burdens that we are able to access the power and the victory which is already legally won for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul is going to say this. He’s going to say that we should put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit of God. “If you by the Spirit,” he says, “put to death the deeds of the body.” And that’s why I am thinking and praying about it and you can pray along with me, but in several weeks I am thinking of beginning a series of messages on the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit’s power that we need to know about so that the truths of Romans 6 are both understood, they are believed and they are acted upon.
Now as I come to the end of this message I need to tell you that we are going to be having again people in the aisle who are willing to pray with you–prayer partners–because some of you have come here with heavy burdens and it may pertain to what I’ve said, and it may not pertain to what I’ve said. Some of you are bearing burdens for your children and your grandchildren, or you may be going through a time of financial reversal and pain. Maybe it’s the rupture of relationship, and God intends that the truths of His Word be experienced within the life of community. Yes, we have to believe right, but we have to believe right together so that we become a part of it. That’s why the book of Romans, especially in chapter 12, begins to talk about spiritual gifts and relationships within the church.
But I do conclude with this, particularly for those of you who have no idea what your relationship with God is like. I told you earlier that the entry point of the Christian life is accepting Christ as Savior, and the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. And I came across this information regarding J.P. Morgan, a very famous name, of course, in the financial world.
Now in another era when the original J.P. Morgan died, he was such a multimillionaire it was found the year before his death he had made his will. It consisted of 10,000 words and 37 articles. He made many transactions, some of which (get this) could disturb the financial equilibrium of the world. You money lovers should listen up because he apparently knew how to make money. But there is one transaction that evidently stood out in Mr. Morgan’s mind of supreme importance. In his will he said this: “I commit my soul in the hands of my Savior, full confidence that having redeemed me and washed me with his most precious blood, he will present me faultless before the throne of my heavenly father. I entreat my children to maintain and defend at all hazard and at any cost and personal sacrifice the blessed doctrine of the complete atonement of sins through the blood of Jesus once offered and through that alone.” Wow!
The things that we seek after, money, fame, even good health, will never get us in the heavenly kingdom, or doing good so far as that is concerned. It comes only by entrusting ourselves to a Redeemer who died, whose blood is sufficient for you and your sin no matter what it may be. Jesus paid it all. He is the victor and we participate in His victory and blessing. (applause)
I’m going to ask now that we stand, and prayer partners, would you take your place. You’ll notice that if you are in the balcony there are going to be prayer partners at the head of every stairway that is up there. Just stay here for a moment. We are going to pray together, and as you have a spiritual need the prayer partners are there to pray with you. And what they are committed to do is to simply find out your first name. Give them one sentence as to what your need is and they will pray with you. And also if you’d like they’ll follow up with you and they’ll remember you in prayer all week. If God has talked to you would you talk to one of those prayer partners?
Father, as we sing together now may your Holy Spirit give great freedom and we ask that spiritual victory shall be won because we have prayed in the blessed name of Jesus and His very, very adequate blood. Amen.