Forgiven to Live in a COVID-19 World

Forgiven to Live in a COVID-19 World

Romans 6:1-14

On April 6th Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Bollea) posted something on his Instagram that shocked many.  His comments drew praise from some and criticism from others.  He said:

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”

Hogan then quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14,”If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He then concluded with the following recommendation that got some upset: “Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.”

Hogan’s observations on 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 was not the only time someone linked the coronavirus to a potential act of judgment from God.  For decades this passage has been cited by well-meaning Christians.  They share the idea that if we humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and turn from our wicked ways as a nation, then God will heal our land and return us to some level of prosperity.  What people miss in citing this passage is that it was not written for America but for Israel.  When 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 was shared with the Hebrew people at the completion of the temple that Solomon had constructed as the center of worship for Israel, God reminded them that their prosperity and land was a promise contingent on their faithfulness towards God. 

Although 2 Chronicles 7 is not about America, it is a prescription for how God’s people can, and should, respond to their sin in repentance towards God.  When you read through the Bible regarding the history of Israel as a nation, it becomes clear that the sins of the nation were a culture that began with the leaders of the nation.  It also becomes clear that the spiritual climate of spiritual leaders eventually become the spiritual climate of the people of Israel.  The prescription that God gave his people to get back to the place of spiritual health and vibrancy is for all of God’s people.  I want to share with you, very briefly, the four things that are required of anyone who would like to experience the kind of relationship God wants for all of his people:

  1. Humility: The first step is to humble yourself by subduing your pride and submitting to the will of God for your life.
  2. Prayer: The second step is to prayerfully acknowledge your sin and plea for God’s mercy (e.g. Psalm 51:1-2).
  3. Seek: The third step is to humbly and prayerfully pursue God as the only hope for your deliverance.
  4. Turn: The final step is to turn from your sin by rejecting it for the purpose of satisfying yourself in God. 

According to Romans 1-5, there is nothing we contributed to our salvation.  All of the grace, love, and mercy that we received from God is all because of God.  You have heard me say that any religion that says you must contribute to your salvation with religious activity or good deeds is not good news, but an arrogant attempt to put God in your debt by making him obligated to forgive you of your sins.  The gospels and the epistles push against this kind of thinking.  The other error that we can fall into is the belief that, so long as I said a prayer expressing belief in Jesus or at some point in my life “believed” in Jesus, then I can live as I want without any fear of hell.  Believing that you can contribute to what Jesus did on the cross for your sins, or thinking that you can live the way you want to live without any fear of judgement, are the two primary dangers Christians face today. 

Both responses to the cross of Christ discounts the greatness of the grace of God that was provided to all who would believe in Jesus for the salvation of our souls. One response says that the cross is not enough and the other cheapens it.  So let’s unpack Romans 6:1-14 and then come back to 2 Chronicles 7:14 toward the end of my sermon. 

Jesus Died for Our Justification

In Romans 5, Paul explained how all of us were born helpless in our sin and that it was Jesus who died for us in our place to reconcile us to God. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (vv. 6-8).  Consider some of the things Paul wrote about what it means to be forgiven:

  • For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (v. 10)
  • But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (v. 15)
  • For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who received the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in the life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (v. 17)
  • For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (v. 19)

An appropriate response to Romans 1-5 is, in the words of Julia Johnston’s famous hymn, Grace Greater than Our Sin: “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace that is greater than all our sin!”  An inappropriate response to the grace of God is to think that we can just continue in our sin because of the greatness of God’s grace.  There were some in Paul’s day who responded to the gospel with the following attituded: “I can sin, sin, and continue in my sin, because the grace of God covers it all.” What was Paul’s response to this sentiment?  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (vv. 1-2) 

Paul even goes as far to say that to live or think that grace covers it all so you can continue sinning makes no sense at all.  Paul goes on to respond: “Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (v. 3).  His point is not that water baptism washed away your sins, but that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he became your sin.  What that means is that all of your adultery, all of your lying, all of your lust, all of your hatred, all of your cheating is the reason Jesus suffered and died. 

Your justification cost Jesus his life! You are the reason he had chunks of flesh torn from his back when he was flogged, you are the reason a crown of thorns was forced upon his brow, you are the reason he was mocked and spit upon, you are the reason he carried his cross to the place of the skull, you are the reason behind ever hammer blow that forced the nails through his hands and feet that fastened him to the cross, and you are the reason his cross was raised up so that he could die. 

In other words, Jesus died so that you can now “walk in newness of life” as one who is now united with him.  Your identity is now found in the death and life of Jesus.  There is a phrase that is used over 70 times to describe what it means to be a Christian, and that phrase is in the form of two words: “In Christ.”  You, who were once dead in your sins, are now alive “in Christ.”  What that means is that sin no longer has the power that it once did, because Jesus broke the power of sin over our lives when he suffered and died in our place. 

We stand justified before a holy God, not because of anything we have done, but because of the costly sacrifice of Jesus in our place. This action is what Paul was explaining when he wrote in verse 5, “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.” 

Jesus Rose for Our Liberation

Not only did Jesus die for our justification, but he rose on the third day for our liberation from sin and death!  Paul continues in verse 6, “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.”  What does this verse mean for those of us who have placed our faith and trust in Jesus?  It means that the presence of sin may linger, but its reign is finished in our lives forever.  One theologian rightly said, “It is an ontological contradiction to continue living in sin.” 

Listen, the Christian has been liberated from the tyranny of sin and death.  Do you know how the Bible describes the Christian in the grave?  Those who have died in Christ are describe as being asleep. Will we experience the sting of death?  Yes, but its stink is not permanent.  I heard a story about a dad who had picked his child up from school one day.  Upon seeing a bee in the car, the child began to panic: “Daddy, daddy, daddy, the bee, the bee, it’s gonna get me.”  The father reached out his hand and grabbed the bee and held it in his clenched hand for a few seconds and then let it go.  The boy began again in fear and panic: “Daddy, daddy, daddy… the bee is gonna get me!”  The then said: “It is okay son, the bee can’t hurt you.”  He then opened his hand and showed his son the stinger and then said: “That bee can’t hurt you anymore because it already stung me.  It only has one stinger; all that it is doing right now is making a lot of noise.”

When God sent his Son to the cross, Jesus reached out and caught the stinger so that death could no longer harm us. Therefore, the Bible describes death for the Christians as “sleep,” because the Christian is never truly dead.  The reason it makes no sense for Christians to run back into habitual sin is because we are no longer spiritually dead.  This is why the apostle Paul wrote in verses 10-11, “For the death Jesus died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Just as the power of death has been broken over our lives, so has the power of sin been broken over our lives. 

But that is not all! Since we have been raise with Jesus in his resurrection, our lives ought to reflect the resurrection power of God because of our union in Jesus. 

Jesus Reigns in Us for Our Transformation

The only command (imperative) between this chapter and the one found in Romans 12:1, is verse 13, which states: “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.”  This does not mean that Christians cannot sin, it just means that sin no longer has the domineering power over the life of a Christian that it once had. 

The reason verse 13 is a command is because we are no longer dead and we are no longer slaves to sin.  What we now have the ability to do, that we did not have the capacity to do before our relationship with Jesus, is keep sin from reigning in our mortal bodies.  Sin no longer has the authority to make us obey its passions (v. 14).  

There is a story I heard about Saint Augustine, who, in many ways, was a womanizer before he became a Christian.  He had multiple sexual encounters with different women leading up to his conversion.  One day, after he became a Christian, while on a walk, he encountered one of his former mistresses.  This mistress was one of the women Augustine was attracted to and it didn’t help that the first encounter he had with her after he became a follower of Jesus was one where she propositioned him by inviting him up to her place.  Augustine responded in a way that he never would have responded before he was a Christian. He said kindly: “Thank you very much; I am glad to see you, but no, thank you.”  As he started to walk away, the mistress thought that maybe he didn’t recognize her, so she shouted to him as he walked away: “Augustine, it is I!”  Augustine turned around, smiled, and said, “Yes, I know.  But it is not I.”

So what did Augustine mean when he said, “It is not I!”?  What he meant was, that before he was a Christian, he needed female affection, he needed to have his appetites satisfied, he needed to fill the emptiness in his soul.  What he said to his former mistress was that he didn’t need her anymore because of who he now was in Christ.  No longer was he a dead man walking, but a man who was alive in Christ. 

Conclusion

What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (vv. 1-2 NIV).  The question I want to leave with you this morning is this: What sin(s) for which Jesus died and from which he liberated you, are you still holding on to?  What is the “mistress” in your life from which you refuse to deny?  You, who claim to be alive in Christ, why is it that you are still living for sin? 

There are some of you who are watching at this very moment, that the Holy Spirit is stirring in you to flee from sin that you treat as a master over your life.  I don’t know what it is, but the Holy Spirit is speaking to you right now, and you can hear his voice in the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “Humble yourself and pray and seek my face and turn from your wicked ways…

It is possible that there are some of you who are listening that have never really received the free gift of salvation through Jesus.  It is possible that you have never really understood the grace of God offered to you through the person of Jesus Christ.  The words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to “Humble yourself and pray and seek my face and turn from your wicked ways…” is a plea to give your life to Jesus, who became your sin on his cross so that you can be reconciled to God by having your sins forgiven.  Later in Romans, we are told: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).

If there has ever been a time to turn from your sins by humbling yourself before the living God, whose son became your sin so that you can live for him in a COVID-19 World, today is the day!  Today is the day of your salvation.  Humble yourself, pray, seek God, and turn from your sins.

Amen.