This morning we will look at living a holy lifestyle. Is it really important? Why should we bother? Let's find out...
This message is based on Romans 6:12-23.
There was an article in Our Daily Bread several years ago, that told a story about Queen Mary. The Queen made it her practice to visit Scotland every year. She was so loved by the people there that she often mingled with them freely without a protective escort. One afternoon while walking with some children, she went out farther than she’d planned. Dark clouds came up unexpectedly, so she stopped at a nearby house to borrow an umbrella. “If you will lend me one,” she said to the lady who answered the door, “I will send it back to you tomorrow.” The woman didn’t recognize the Queen, and she didn’t introduce herself as the queen, so the woman was reluctant to give a stranger her best umbrella. So she handed her one that she intended to throw away. The fabric was torn in several places and one of the ribs was broken. At least if she didn’t get it back it wouldn’t matter.
The next day another knock was heard at the door. When the lady opened it, she was greeted by a royal guard, who was holding in her hand her old, tattered umbrella. “The Queen sent me,” he said. “She asked me to thank you for loaning her this.” For a moment the woman was stunned, then, she burst into tears. “Oh, what an opportunity I missed,” she cried. “I didn’t give the Queen my very best!” This morning, we’re going to talk about holiness, about living a holy lifestyle. And I want to suggest that it’s simply giving Christ our very best.
Let’s jump into our reading this morning. I was tempted to read a little more than I did, to start a little earlier. The passage we started with, started with the word, “Therefore”, which means it builds on what came before. So what came before? I’m going to summarize Paul’s comments here, but essentially, he said that Christ died and was risen. We can all accept that, right? Then he suggests that if we die with Christ, we will also live with Christ.
There are two ways to look at this, first, we can take it to mean that we will live eternally. That’s the one we most often think about. That after this life, we go to heaven to live with Christ there. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about. I think Paul is suggesting that when we live with Christ, we live in relationship with Christ, right here, right now. Christ is with us, in the here and now, and our life is different, better, as a result. The high points are higher, the low points aren’t as low. Sounds good, right?
How do we get there? Paul tells us that if we want to live with Christ, we have to die to sin. Walking with Christ implies a death to sin. That’s where we start this morning. In verse 11, Paul wrote, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Then in verse 12, the first verse we read this morning, “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God…”
What does that mean? Paul can get a little technical in his writing, he has a tendency of packing a lot into his letters. But I think he means simply – Don’t sin, instead follow God.
If you want to get a little argumentative here, you could ask the question, Why? Why not sin? What’s the big deal. Everybody does it. Why does it matter? Paul seems to know that we would ask that, and he gives us an answer in our reading. Essentially, he says you’re going to be a slave to something. Everybody on earth is a slave to something. You can either be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can be a slave to righteousness which leads to life. You can choose: life or death.
If you don’t do your best to fight the sinful desire, to do the right thing, and avoid sin, then you become a slave to sin. And sin leads to death. That’s why it’s so important to fight the sin in our lives. Because there are only two options. We can be alive with Christ, or dead without Him. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s an easy choice. I’m going to choose life with Christ. I’m going to choose holiness. So what’s involved with this choice? How do we live a holy lifestyle. I’ve got three tips for you…
First, know that holiness comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The first step in holiness is admitting that you are a sinner, repenting from that sin, which means you’re going to do your very best to not sin anymore, and seeking God’s forgiveness. In Acts 2:38, Peter tells the crowd to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians by saying, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sanctified simply means set apart for God, belonging to God, or as Paul wrote in our reading, slaves to Christ Jesus, or slaves to righteousness. So those who call on the name of Jesus are sanctified, they belong to God, slaves to righteousness.
This just means that we try to live for Jesus. When the wife of missionary Adoniram Judson told him that a newspaper article likened him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, “I do not want to be like a Paul or any mere man. I want to be like Christ. I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, and place my feet in His footprints. Oh, to be more like Christ!” Judson had a relationship with Jesus Christ. And as a result, he was a slave to righteousness. He belonged to God and lived a holy lifestyle.
So we are talking about how to become holy, and the first tip was to come to Jesus, to repent and seek His forgiveness. The second is that sanctification is the role of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification can only come from the Spirit. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul wrote, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” So the first step was to trust in Jesus, the second is to trust in the Spirit, that the Holy Spirit will do its sanctifying work, and bring you into the image of Christ Jesus.
Paul also wrote in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” In a nutshell then, we come to Christ, and Christ sends the Holy Spirit to save us, to sanctify us, and to bring us into a relationship with God.
Now the last tip I want to talk about today is our response. The first tip to living a Holy Lifestyle is to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. The second is to obey and submit to the work of the Holy spirit, as the Spirit works in us to make us holy – at least to some extent. And it will probably take place over a long time, and you probably won’t even realize it, though chances are, those close to you will see it. What is our response to this holiness that is taking place in us? I see three responses.
Our first response should be repentance. As the Holy Spirit works in us to remove the desire, we need to do our part. Avoid sin, and when you do fall into sin, be quick to confess and repent. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).” I think this means that as we confess our sins, he will forgive and make us pure, meaning that as long as we do our part to avoid sinful situations, and we are quick to repent when we do fall into sinful situations, then He will do His part to help us stand up against the temptation that comes – he will help make us pure. And each time this cycle repeats itself, it becomes easier and easier for us to stand up against sin.
James put it this way, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7,8). I think that means that we repent of our sinfulness, and try to live as Christ did. We stay as close as humanly possible to God, imitating Christ as closely as possible.
Our next response is that of Faith. If we want to live a Holy Lifestyle, we need to do our very best to live by faith. Paul wrote to the Romans, “for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith… the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). The opposite of living by faith is living by sight, only looking at what we can see, at what we can understand, ignoring those “mysteries of the faith” that are very real, but can’t be explained. But in living by faith, we trust in those “mysteries.” We trust in God, who we can’t see, but is still very real.
At the time the New Testament was written, the Jewish people were trusting in the law, trying to be obedient to the law, thinking that by following the law, they could find the righteousness of God. Paul is writing about this in Galatians, where he is saying that’s not the way it works. We only find the righteousness of God through faith, he wrote, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (Gal. 5:5). It’s not by following the law that we are found righteous, it’s not by anything we do, it’s in living by faith. If you want to live a holy lifestyle, you’ll need to walk by faith.
Finally, I think obedience enters into it. We can’t live a holy lifestyle if we don’t live by obedience. I know, I just said obedience to the law doesn’t account for anything. And that’s right, it doesn’t. But obedience to Christ is necessary. Following the law, doing good works, helping people, doesn’t bring righteousness in and of itself. But following Christ does. Obedience to Christ and his teaching is necessary.
Peter put it this way in his first letter, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). How do you purify yourselves? How do you live a pure and holy lifestyle? By obeying the truth. Who is the truth? In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” We purify ourselves by obeying Jesus and his teaching.
So to summarize, living a holy lifestyle starts with a relationship with Jesus. We acknowledge Him in our lives, we give ourselves to him by faith. Then we submit to the Holy Spirit and let the Spirit do the work of sanctification in our lives, allowing Him to form us and mold us into the image of Christ. Finally, we respond in repentance, faith, and obedience to Jesus and His teachings. As we do that, we’ll be well on our way to living a holy lifestyle.
One final story as I close up here this morning. On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, hangs a portrait with the following inscription:
“James Butler Bonham—no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”
They didn’t have a picture of James Butler Bonham, who died defending the Alamo. So they hung a portrait of his nephew, because he sort of looked like him. Sound crazy? Well, there’s no literal portrait of Jesus either. But the likeness of Jesus can be seen in the lives of His followers, as we live a holy lifestyle.