Holiness

Wesley Stained Glass WindowA Sermon on Romans 6.1-2, 12-18, 22-23 preached at First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, TN on November 18, 2007

Introduction to the Reading

Since I have been with you, God has called me to preach much about the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Grace, I hope, has been my theme. But, as one person put it, “believing in grace is one thing, living it is another.”[1]

And that leads us to the great unburdening of the heart of the Apostle Paul. This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God. I read selections from the Old Testament in Psalm and then selections from Romans chapter six.

Psalm 19.13

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalms 19.13

Romans 5.1-2

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6.1 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 2

Romans 5.12-18

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Romans 6.12 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. 13 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 14

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6.15 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? 16 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 17 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 18

Romans 5.22-23

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. Romans 6.22 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 23

Thus far the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Let us pray.

Lord, whose truth shall set us free, liberate us from small thoughts that lead to small lives and hurtful consequences. Open our hearts to receive your word. And let the power of that Word of Christ shape our wills and conform our lives to the life of Jesus our Sovereign Lord and Savior. In His name I pray. Amen.

Introduction to the Sermon

I will never forget the day that my Aunt Eva first wore a pants suit. She walked out one day in about 1965 or so and asked me, “Well, son, how do you like my new clothes?” I ran off and cried. How could she, I thought. I had only known her in a dress. That was what women wore. How in the world could she abandon all godliness and sanity and holiness of life and put on the garments of the devil? I ran away crying. She waited for me to return. Something inside of me told me that she was the same Aunt Eva as before she put on the garments of wickedness, as I felt they were. She hugged me and told me, “Son, these are comfortable. And they are not what a man wears. This is what women are starting to wear these days. And don’t you want Aunt Eva to look nice? God doesn’t love me more or less because of what I wear. Won’t you love me that way too, son?”

What happened in that moment was that I was being hung on a cross, but not Christ’s cross. I was hung on the cross of legalism—thinking that salvation or relationship or holiness comes through what we do, rather than who God is. That is one thief: legalism. He sneaks into our lives and steals smiles. He steals joy. He incites criticism of others. This thief of legalism is as present in the pulpit as he is in the pew. In fact he lurks even in the hearts of those who preach grace. Because to preach Grace is one thing and to live it is another. This thief lives in some of you today. And this thief must die.

The other thief, on the side of Christ, that always shows up in the church is license. This thief uses grace as a front, like a Mafia ring uses a candy store to cover up their underground crime organization. Behind the sweet candy there lies the thief, who plunders and feeds his insatiable appetite for the flesh. And this thief is also in the Church today.

We desperately need, as a church in America today, to not only learn about grace but to live it. Thomas Boston, a Puritan, wrote in 1662:

“The days and times in which we live call aloud for holiness.”[2]

If that were so then, how much more now. Shutting down pants suits won’t do it though.

Harry Reeder once preached at General Assembly that “unless you have been accused of Antinomianism you have not preached grace.”[3] I thought Harry was a genius, and he is, but I learned that he just got it from Martyn Lloyd Jones who said the same thing in his commentary on Romans.[4] And of course they both got it from Paul.

What is Antinomianism? It is the other thief called “License”—in other words, literally, “lawlessness” as if the law of God no longer needed to be kept. Unless you have been accused of that, you haven’t preached grace strong enough.

In Chapter 5 as in other places, the message of grace in Paul’s preaching was so strong and so amazingly unique among rabbinical Jewish circles as well as among pagan religions, that some began to apparently accuse him of not caring about keeping the law. But Paul establishes three major patterns in Chapter Six to answer the charge, which we again must assume came or if not he anticipated someone posing it. Paul says in verse 1 and 2 that because of grace which leads to faith in Christ and union with Him we are in fact dead to sin. Our identity is now with the One who has defeated sin. Secondly, Paul gives a charge to Christians, who have been saved by grace and who are in union with Christ, not to allow their bodies to be instruments for sin but to present them to Christ. So Paul does not present a grace that produces a passive response to sin and the following of God’s law. We must sill “wrestle and fight and pray” as we sing in “Soldiers of Christ Arise.” But some miss this and in fact confuse two great truths. This is why Paul also wrote about this to the Galatians when he said:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5.13

St. Peter also addressed this confusion in the Church in his epistle:

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1Peter 2.16

I quote the good old Anglican bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, from his great work called Holiness:

“…the plain truth is that men will persist in confounding two things that differ—that is, justification and sanctification. In justification the word to be addressed to man is believe—only believe; in sanctification the word must be ‘watch, pray and fight.”[5]

Finally, Paul uses the same rhetorical question that he started with, once more with feeling, in verse 15:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

And look at verse 17—this may very well be the juicy tenderloin of Chapter Six for if you sink your spiritual teeth into the doctrine of this verse, you will leave full and satisfied forever—:

“But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin in have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Wow. Paul is teaching that grace has done something in you. Once you were in bondage to sin and sought to keep the law out of that. It was impossible! But now, through Christ buying you back from the auction block of sin and shame, you are under a new power. Now you are in the velvet shackles of love and grace in Jesus that allows you to keep the law from your heart. Praise God! And so now, finally, in verses 22-23 all of the blessings of the law of God become yours:

“…the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life…”

Those are the key moves in Romans five: verse 1-2—union with Christ, verses 12-18—Union which causes us to seek to live free lives and pursue holiness of life, but which effort is fueled by obedience from a new heart; and verses 22-23, which shows us that this new way of life, which can in fact keep the law through love, leads to a true holiness that will lead us all the way home to God.

What golden teaching. But I thought this week, how can I teach this and allow the truths of Romans Chapter Six to come to everyone who hears? I came up with these truths while I was shampooing my hair. I had to stop and write them down. So fresh from the faucet of God’s Spirit I bring you these four life giving truths about grace and holiness from Romans Chapter Five:

First, Grace precedes holiness. Second grace produces holiness. Third, grace promotes holiness. And fifth holiness requires heart obedience.

First, grace precedes holiness.

If Paul is teaching anything in Chapter Five it is that we are saved only through a grace that comes from Jesus Christ keeping the law for us and dying on the cross for our sins. You cannot get the cart before the horse or you will wreck! This is what I was doing in a childish way: thinking that Aunt Eva’s wearing of a dress—something that I had heard from, of all people, a man who claimed to be a minister of the Gospel, saying. But that is a lie. What you wear cannot produce one iota of goodness and merit before God. Grace, which brings faith in Jesus Christ, is the only thing to bring justification. Holiness, being conformed more and more to the Master, comes after receiving Jesus Christ as Lord by his grace.

His grace is extended to you now to receive Him. His grace is extended to you now to know the difference and stop living the lie and to rest in Christ alone. You have no holiness but Jesus. And as Jim Kennedy used to put it, “works is simply an eternal thank you note to Christ for what he has done for you.”

So that is first, grace precedes holiness.

Second, grace—actually—produces holiness.

This is what Paul is saying. When you come to Christ you are baptized into his death. And you are raised to a new life. You are in union with Him. And this new identity in Jesus includes a heart that can now keep the law. Before you were in sin and that was the power, but for a true believe the power of life is union with Jesus that includes a new heart. And that new heart is the way you obey. Grace actually produces holiness. You can no more produce holiness with your works than a cow can produce honey. If you want honey, you need a bee and some flowers to start with. If you want holiness before Almighty God, if you want to grow in Christ, you need a new heart. And to have that new heart you need to be baptized into his death and then be raised with him. Now what does that mean? It means that you must die to yourself and receive Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. You must let Him live in you. And if you do then you have a power that will produce the honey of life. Then and only then could you possibly say with David, “Lord I love thy law.”[6]

Third, we see here that grace not only precedes holiness, produces holiness, but…

Grace promotes holiness.

The doctrine of grace creates such a delight in Jesus that you love Him more than you love sin. This does not mean that because you are in that position you will not be tempted. You will. Or that you can never fall again once you receive Christ. You can. You surely will. But it does mean that the over riding power in a believer’s life is the power of grace. God’s beautiful saving work in your life produces a love for Jesus that is stoked by Word and Sacrament and Prayer, so that you want to do what He wants. This is what Luther meant when he taught, “Love God and do whatever you want to do.” That statement certainly passes the test of Harry Reeder to preach grace so strongly that you risk being called a hater of the law. But what Luther taught, and he was teaching Augustine and Augustine was teaching Paul and Paul was teaching Jesus, was that if you truly love God you can do what you want, because your want is now under the power of love to Jesus. It is like this. When a young man falls in love with a maiden, he cares only for her. He wants to show her his love. He asks her to marry him. He can think only of her and no one else. So a friend comes and says, “Hey I can get you a date with the prettiest girl I have ever seen! Come on and go with her.” That young man, if he truly loves his girl, will say, “I want only my girl! I have a girl! I want no other!” And he is liable to hit the guy who tempted him! It is an insult to think that he would go with another girl. In his heart, you see, he has room for no other girl but the girl he is in love with. The very thought of pursuing anyone else is abhorrent to him. He is under the power of love.And that is how grace promotes holiness. The compass of your heart always points north. If Jesus is placed a King of your heart and you have seen how your sins were placed on the sinless Son of God and how He lived under the whip and the lies and depravation he endured all for you, and you are in love with Jesus as Your Lord and Savior, you want to serve Him. Grace promotes holiness.

Fourth, we must see though—and this is answer to the thief of legalism who accuses you that you care nothing of God’s law—that while grace precedes holiness, produces holiness, and promotes holiness…

Holiness requires obedience.

To be holy you have to obey. One Puritan writer put it every so plain and ever so true when he wrote:

“No unjustified man can be saved, and no unsanctified man can be saved.”[7]

But what we have been saying is that if you are dead to sin and live to Christ by being in union with him, if grace has produced a faith that clings to Christ’s life and death on the cross, then you will indeed desire what God desires. And you will be willing to “wrestle and fight and pray” to seek holiness of life. This will require you as a believer to know God’s law and seek to follow it—not to be saved, but to be happy and to finally attain unto eternal life.

A genuine believer will want holiness. He will want to obey. That is what Paul is teaching. And that will lead to eternal life.

Paul ends with that great summary statement of all that he has been teaching:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I love receiving new members and interviewing them and hearing how God has worked in their lives. One of our new members is a teacher. I told her, “You know we only have one simple qualification for entrance into the Church here.”” “Oh what’s that?” she replied. “Well, you have to be perfect. And if there were any sins of any kind whatsoever in your life then there must be justice done.” She just looked at me like I was crazy. “Let me explain…”

When I talked to her I told her about our principle “Johnny B. Wax.” It was rumored that there was an electric paddle in his office. It was battery operated, as the rumor went, and when it hit you it sent volts of electricity shooting through your posterior. I admitted that I, yes I, had actually been sent to Johnny B. Wax’s office to face him. And for my crime, which I would rather not repeat, I was going to face the paddle. He indeed asked me, after warning me that if I continued to throw the corks off of bottles in science class—uh oh, I just told you my sin—that I would end up in Angola Prison, to bend over and hold my ankles. Then he reached into his desk and I had to turn around and look, and there it was: the electric paddle. I didn’t see any wires, it was just a wooden plank with holes drilled into it to increase the pain. And he gave me three whacks with it. And I must tell you that I felt the voltage all through my body. But it wasn’t electricity from the board but from the nerves in my backside!

Jesus Christ kept the law and Jesus passed the test of perfect holiness of life. He aced the SAT. He had a perfect score. And when you believe in Him by God’s grace you will get Jesus’ score on your life. God will look upon you as His Son or Daughter and will not see your sin but Jesus’ life. Jesus Christ also bore the penalty for your sin. But it was not an electric paddle, but a Roman Cross. And this sinless Son of God became a quivering piece of sin on a cross that was filled with shame. And God made Him who knew no sin to become sin so that we who are sinners could become the righteousness of God. Jesus secured Your holiness by His life and by His death. And if you receive Him today you get His life and He got your sin. You are free, really free. Free to love. Free to follow. Free to become the person God made you to be.

She joined the Church. And so can anyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord Jesus.

So God and love God and do whatever you want to do. But if you have known this love, if you have experienced this amazing grace, you will hear Jesus and smile:

“If you love Me keep my commandments.”

For in the heart of obedience, transformed by His grace, is no conflict between love and law. “What you have required, O Lord, you have provided.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

References

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Romans; an Exposition of Chapter 6, the New Man. Grand Rapids, Mich.,: Zondervan Pub. House, 1973.

Packer, J. I., and J. C. Ryle. Faithfulness and Holiness : The Witness of J.C. Ryle : An Appreciation by J.I. Packer. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002.

Swindoll, Charles R. The Grace Awakening. Nashville: W Pub. Group, 2003.


[1] Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Nashville: W Pub. Group, 2003).

[2] J. I. Packer and J. C. Ryle, Faithfulness and Holiness : The Witness of J.C. Ryle : An Appreciation by J.I. Packer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002).

[3] From personal notes from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, 2001.

[4] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans; an Exposition of Chapter 6, the New Man (Grand Rapids, Mich.,: Zondervan Pub. House, 1973).

[5] Packer and Ryle, Faithfulness and Holiness : The Witness of J.C. Ryle : An Appreciation by J.I. Packer.

[6] Psalm 119.97.

[7] Packer and Ryle, Faithfulness and Holiness : The Witness of J.C. Ryle : An Appreciation by J.I. Packer.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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