A New Life
On this day that Christians around the United States celebrate as Sanctity of Life Sunday, we will have the honor in a few hours of celebrating the life of Judy Kovalik, a dear sister in Christ who departed this life a week ago today.
And as I considered my message for this week’s worship service, I looked at the series that we’ve been working our way through — one that I’ve titled Time for Something New — and I realized I’d made a mistake in the order of the messages I plan to present.
We’ve already talked about the new heart and the new Spirit we receive, by God’s grace. And we’ve talked about how believers are made into new creatures with new ambitions because of their faith.
I had planned to talk this week about the Bible’s promise of a new name for those who are overcomers in Christ.
But then, I realized we can never BE overcomers if we are not alive in Christ. And so, I saw that I needed to switch sermon topics this week and talk, instead, about the new life we are promised as believers.
And, when I noticed that this was Sanctity of Life Sunday, I thought, “Oh, how appropriate!” But then, I realized that we’d also be burying Judy today, and I wondered whether this message might not be the wrong one to deliver, after all.
What I came to understand, as I struggled through the sadness of this week, and as I spent time with Rich and then worked on the message for Judy’s memorial was this: The only reason there is any hope in the midst of such a loss is that Jesus died and rose again so that those who follow Him in faith might have LIFE.
And then I realized that, as He so often does, God was working all things together for good, even in the planning of this message today. He showed me the connection between this church’s support of a ministry that saves the lives of unborn babies and the joy we can have in the knowledge that the spirit of Judy Kovalik is alive in Christ, waiting in heaven for the day when she will be reunited with her resurrected and glorified body and the day when her savior and mine will make ALL things new.
And so, we turn our attention to the third promise of newness to believers, the promise of a new life.
The Apostle John waits until the second-to-last chapter of his book to tell us his Holy Spirit-inspired purpose for writing the Gospel of John.
But when he does so, John gives us his Gospel’s purpose statement in words clearer than just about any we see elsewhere in Scripture.
We see that purpose statement in John 20:30-31:
30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Jesus performed many miracles throughout His three-year ministry here on earth. And he performed these signs and miracles out of love for the people who benefitted from them.
But even more than that, He performed them to demonstrate the authority of the message He was bringing mankind from God.
The idea was that someone who could do such impossible things as restore sight to the blind, make lame people walk, and raise others from the dead MUST have been sent from God and with God’s authority. And if that person came from God, then the things he said must also have come from God.
And so, what John says here in verse 31 is that he has described the miracles in his Gospel so that those who would read about them in later times might believe that Jesus is who He said he is: the promised Messiah-Savior and the very Son of God.
And the result of that belief, John says here, is LIFE. Life in Jesus’ name.
Now, most of you have heard me say before that the word “life” in the Bible means more than simply a physical description of biological processes.
And I wanted to start today’s message with this verse, because I think it’s clearer here than, perhaps, anywhere else in Scripture that this is the case.
We can tell from verse 31 that John isn’t talking about life in the sense of the physical act of a heart beating and lungs respirating.
We can tell that, because the people John expected to read this Gospel are people who are already experiencing those biological processes. If they weren’t alive physically, they wouldn’t be reading or hearing his words.
And that’s a key to understanding some other important things in the Bible, too.
Think, for example, about what God told Adam and Eve would be the result of eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil back in the Garden of Eden.
We see this all the way back in Genesis, chapter 2.
16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Now, you know the story. Adam and Eve were tempted to eat from that tree by the serpent. He told them they’d be like God if they did so, and they wanted the ability to choose for themselves what was good and what was evil, just as we do today. And so, they ate the fruit from that one forbidden tree.
And they DID die, but in Genesis, chapter 5, we learn that Adam lived to be 930 years old and that he had fathered many children with Eve. So what happened?
God had said that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.” So, why didn’t they die that very day?
Well, there are two things going on here. First, God is gracious and merciful and loving. And if he had not allowed fallen mankind to procreate, then He would have had no way to demonstrate His great grace and mercy.
And so, just as He has for all mankind since that time, God demonstrated His patience and His grace and His mercy by forestalling His final judgment on sinful mankind.
But the second thing that’s going on in God’s statement in verse 17 is something that’s easier to understand when we know that Jesus came to give LIFE to those who were already physically alive.
For mankind, at least, there is more to true life than biological processes. There is a spiritual component to life that Scripture tells us is even more important than the biological component.
And it was this spiritual component that died for Adam and Eve the very day they sinned against God in the Garden of Eden.
You see, what they had been given when they were created and placed in that garden was a life of contentment in the presence of and in complete dependence upon God.
He walked in the garden in their midst, and He provided everything they needed for peace and contentment.
But when they sinned against Him, they chose to turn away from their calling to demonstrate the character of the God in whose image they had been made.
Instead, they chose to take upon themselves the character of Satan, the deceiver who had appeared to them in the form of a serpent. They wanted to make God into their OWN image, rather than displaying His image in them.
They rebelled against God. They rebelled against their Creator-King. They severed the very connection for which they had been made.
They could no longer be in the presence of a perfectly holy and righteous God, because they had chosen unrighteousness. And so, they were cast out of the Garden and out of God’s presence.
They were spiritually dead, even as their bodies began to decay. “Dying, you shall die.” That’s the literal translation of the Hebrew in verse 17. “In the day that you eat from it, dying you shall die.”
Their bodies would slowly die, and while their bodies died, they would be spiritually dead.
And we won’t spend time going through it, but if you look at the last half of chapter 4 in Genesis, what you’ll see is a long list of Adam’s descendants, all the way through Noah.
Each one is named, along with his firstborn son, and each one’s lifespan is listed. The repetition is important. “He lived, and he died. He lived and he died. He lived and he died.”
And the point is that death now reigned on the earth.
In their disobedience, Adam and Eve created a problem that we still have with us today. Where there is sin, there is death.
We see the physical manifestation of sin’s effect on the world in stark terms on days like today, when we gather to bury a loved one.
And we see the spiritual manifestations of it every day on the front pages of newspapers, in the broken homes of children whose fathers have deserted them, in friendships shattered by greed and adultery, in the poverty-stricken streets of Haiti or Nicaragua or so many other places.
There is no place we can turn our gaze upon the earth that is not stricken by the spiritual consequences of sin.
And that’s because, as the psalmist wrote, “There is none righteous; no not one.”
Each one of us, as the Apostle Paul wrote, is “dead in our trespasses.”
We are the walking dead. The biological processes that animate our physical bodies may be pumping our hearts and moving our lungs, but the life that matters most — the spiritual life of fellowship with the God who MADE us for that — is DOA.
We cannot have that fellowship with God for which we were made any more than Adam and Eve could have it after they’d sinned against Him.
And the reason is the same: We are all sinners; we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfect standards. We’ve all rebelled against Him in small ways and great ways.
They severed the connection with Him. But we confirm that we’re just like they were every time we lie, every time we cheat, every time we steal, every time we think hateful thoughts about someone else, every time we put our own desires above the needs of others, every time we gossip or quarrel or deceive.
And make no mistake: We’re not just sinners because we sin. We sin, because we are sinners. We have inherited the image of our first parents, those first sinners, and we are born into slavery to sin. We are born subjected to sin and therefore subjected to death, both physical and spiritual.
That’s at the root of a Christian doctrine known as “total depravity.” Total depravity doesn’t mean that we’re as bad as we can possibly be.
Rather, it means that every part of us is infected by sin. And because we are so infected, we are separated from a holy God; that most important relationship is dead to us.
But God is good. And God is gracious and merciful. And God loves us. And so, He sent Jesus, his unique and eternal Son to live among us as a man.
He experienced all of the temptations that we experience, and yet He did not sin. He was obedient and in perfect fellowship with God throughout His life.
And because of Jesus’ great love for mankind, He gave Himself as a sacrifice at the cross, taking upon Himself all of our sins — yours and mine — and the just penalty for those sins.
He suffered both physical death and the spiritual death of separation from God at the cross so that we who follow Him in faith can have the life that truly matters, the life for which we were all created, the spiritual life of eternal fellowship with God.
And in His resurrection from the dead on the third day, Jesus demonstrated that He has the power to keep His promise of bodily resurrection for those who have followed Him in faith.
Jesus, who described Himself as “the resurrection and the life,” came to die so that we who were already spiritually dead in our trespasses might have true life. So that we might experience the life for which we were created — in eternal fellowship with Him and with His Father through the Holy Spirit.
Born again by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we receive new hearts and a new Spirit. We become new creatures with new ambitions. And we are given new life by the Holy Spirit within us.
The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans, chapter 6, and I want to spend the rest of our time this morning looking at a brief part of this passage. We’ll pick up in verse 1.
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
Now, to put this passage into context, I’ll tell you that Paul has been talking about how God’s grace has increased with mankind’s sin throughout history, until it was displayed in all its glory with the willing sacrifice that Jesus made for us and in our place at the cross.
So, Paul anticipates a question that might arise. If increasing sin has resulted in God’s increasing grace, should we who follow Jesus in faith keep on sinning?
“May it never be!” he says. Of course not!
And here’s why not: We followers of Jesus have been baptized into His death. In other words, we have identified with Jesus in baptism. We have marked ourselves as His own.
Baptism symbolizes the burial and resurrection of Christ. Going under the water symbolizes His death and burial, and that we have died to sin. It is no longer our master.
Coming up out of the water symbolizes His resurrection and our new life. In baptism, we die to our old way of life, and we are raised into a new sphere of existence.
What Paul is saying is that the majesty and power of God Himself gives new life to that person who was once dead in his trespasses and sin.
As new creatures whose new hearts beat with the new power of the Holy Spirit within us, our new ambition must be to live these new lives as people who have been freed from the power of sin.
We were born as slaves to sin. But a slave who dies is no longer a slave. And so, as Paul puts it here, having been crucified with Christ — in other words, having identified ourselves with Him and His death and resurrection for us — we are no longer slaves to sin.
We have a new master, Jesus Christ. We won’t spend time this morning looking at the next seven verses, but that’s Paul’s point in the next part of this passage.
We who have died to sin have been made alive to Christ. We have been reborn into new life with a new master, Jesus Himself.
Brothers and sisters, your new life has a purpose, and that purpose is to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ.
But we don’t bring Him glory and honor by turning back to our old ways, by going back to our old master. We don’t honor him by, as Paul puts it in verse 13, “presenting the members of our bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness.”
As Christians, our greatest desire should be that the righteousness of God reigns upon earth. And that righteousness starts right in our own hearts. In fact, that’s the only righteousness we have any control over.
We can’t force people to be good. But we CAN allow the Holy Spirit within us to make US good. We CAN turn from the old ways and walk in the new way, because we have God’s promise that His Spirit will empower us to do so as long as we submit to Him.
I don’t know what secret sins you are dealing with. I don’t know the particular way that you find yourself returning over and over again to your old master.
But I DO know that many of you — perhaps all of us in this room who have followed Jesus — have something that we allow to tether us to the old master, something we’ve refused to let go of in our lives that dishonors Jesus, our new master.
What I want to tell you today is what Paul says here in this passage: It doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN have victory over that secret sin. You are no longer defined by it. You are no longer identified by it, because your identity is now in Christ.
You have new life within you. You are no longer dead. You are alive in Christ. Today, I want to encourage you to BE who you ARE!
But if you have never followed Jesus in faith, then your problem is not sins, but SIN.
If you have never placed your faith in Jesus as the one whose sacrificial death and supernatural resurrection provide your only way to be reconciled to God, then your problem is that you are still dead in the way that matters most. You cannot have true life, because you are still spiritually dead in your trespasses.
But Jesus came so that you might have LIFE. Jesus died for you so that you could TRULY live. He became sin so that you might become the righteousness of God in Him.
You were made for so much more than the biological processes at work in your physical body right now. You were made to commune with the God of all creation. You were made to be His children. You were made to experience true life.
You can have this new life that I’ve talked about this morning, but you can’t have it on your own terms. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus said. “No man comes unto the Father but by Me.”
You’ll have to admit what you are a sinner. And you’ll have to concede that there’s nothing you can do to change it. There’s no amount of being a better person that will change the fact you’re a sinner, someone who has fallen short of God’s perfect standards.
That’s the way many of us try to redeem ourselves at some point in our lives. We resolve to be better people. But that’s not how Jesus says it works. “No man comes unto the Father but by Me.”
You’ll have to turn to Jesus in faith that He alone can redeem you from your bondage to sin. You’ll have to give up the myth that you’re basically a good person and that God will reward you for that. You’ll have to give up the misplaced faith in yourself and put your faith in Him.
Can you do that this morning? WILL you do that this morning? Jesus loves you, and He is waiting for you to trust Him. Your life is sacred to Him.
He is waiting to lift you out of the darkness of your sin and into His marvelous light. Will you let Him do that today?