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Sin, what is it good for?

Romans 6:12-23 - NIV

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(after reading)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


The epistle lesson for today is part of a really long section from Romans about how to live as Christian people. It is about the tug-of-war between going our own way and doing what God wants for us. The words that Paul the Apostle uses to describe the two polar opposites in this tug of war are sin and righteousness.

In the section that we are looking at today Paul takes a bit more of a pragmatic look at the “sin versus Righteousness” choices that we can make in our lives.

These days what it means to a lot of people to be free is the right to choose. It is all about having the right to choose your own course to opt out, to say no, to be the captain of my own ship, the master of my own destiny etc.

We all think we know better than anyone else how to live our lives, don’t we? As someone involved in Pastoral care, it is very frustrating to support people when they make decisions that you know are going to end badly, but it is their right to make them, and we can’t tell people how to live, just be there to support them and hopefully help them to learn from the consequences.

We know there are way of living that have worked for 2000 years and counting, that have helped good people avoid a lot of pain, and live happy and contented lives. It means living according to the commandments God has given us, living in love and service of others.

However a lot of people have trouble with this and call the sort of poor fools who would live this way insulting names like “followers”. But for those of us who believe, the title of follower is not an insult, but something that we revel in, and take further. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, yes. But I WANT to be a disciple. Madness to a lot of people these days.

But to those people who don’t like the idea of living the way God prescribes, who want to rebel and be the boss, Paul puts this question:

What benefit did you reap at that time when you lived that way? (Other ways instead of the way God has given us) In other words what good ever came out of any sin? Of going your own way and not God’s way? Yes, you may have the right, but does that make it smart? Before you came to know god, how was all that working out for you?

Let's think about this a different way “What makes something a sin?” You might say “it's something that hurts others” and perhaps you would be right. You might say it's any act that stems out of selfishness, and again perhaps you would still be right.

But what do we say theologically: what makes something a sin? Well God does, through his law. He tells us what is a sin and what is not.

When he gave the people of Israel 512 rules or laws that told them what they could and could not do, that made some things forever sins.

But why are some things sins and others not? Yes it is because God said they are, but is that all? Is there really no reason behind it? Is God an arbitrary God who just likes some things and not others? And because he doesn’t like them he doesn’t want us to do them either?

So if I was God then country music and coriander would be sins, and would be off limits to all people? Just because I don’t like them? No just because I like something or don't like something is no reason to call them a sin and I believe it is the same with God.

So Paul asks this really interesting question: what benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? In other words what sin was ever good for you?

I think this gives us a hint about why God made some things sins and others not. It is like the safety warnings that come with the instruction manual to anything you buy these days. The maker of the item knows what is good for it and what is not and wants you to avoid certain things.

God himself our maker knows what is good for us and what is not and wants us to avoid certain things not just because he doesn't like them like I don't like country music or coriander, but because he knows how dangerous and harmful they are to us.

Yes God can forgive any sin that we commit. What Jesus has done for us on the cross is enough to cover any sin. But that doesn't mean we are free from the human results of our sin. You can't go around abusing everyone you come across and expect your relationships to be rosy. If you put enough evil out there it will come back to you. If you lie steal and murder you will have to face the human consequences including jail time. You see God knows not only what is best for you but what is best for a society. And specifically he has given us guidelines about what is best for his society, his community: the church.

I think Paul has a really realistic understanding of how rebellious we are. We want to do what we want to do and how dare anyone tell us we can't. And people suggest that the most fun things that are out there to do are the things that God tells us not to do and he's called sins. Like God is just against fun. But so many of those things are empty vessels, dry wells, that cannot satisfy us and lead to more and more problems in the long run.

If you want to see an example of this in the Bible look at the sins of King David, who progressed from lust to adultery and then to murder to cover up his sin. The snowball effect was terrifying.

God the maker of the human body did not make beauty or physical attractiveness to be evil. He did not make sexual attraction a sin. But knowing what is best for us he gave us guidelines on how to use it to our own good for the good of others and for the good of community. And David broke these when he saw Bathsheba.

There are some people who think that we are forgiven so we can go on sinning however we want and it doesn't make any difference. But we have already seen that it definitely does make a difference to those around us. And it also makes a difference in our relationship with God.

The apostle Paul hints at this here in his letter to the Romans. It is easy to think that just because we are under grace and are forgiven we can go on sinning. God has taken care of the separation between he and us, our sins are paid for so it doesn't matter what we do right?

We call this concept cheap grace, and cheap grace forgets that there was a cost to our sin. It cost Jesus his very life.

So we don't want to go on sinning because our allegiance is now to God and the life that went on sinning would not show our thankfulness to him. This life of living in a certain way because we are forgiven, showing our thankfulness to God and wanting to become more like Jesus we call discipleship. And it is one of our guiding principles.

You don’t earn a place in heaven by living a certain way. But we strive to live a certain way BECAUSE we have a place in heaven.

Don’t be afraid to be a follower, to be told what to do and to not only put up with it, but to revel in it. This is the life of a disciple, a life of blessing. It is life in the communion of saints, the community of God.

God bless you as you live his way, thanking him for everything that he has done and continues to do for us.


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