Rev'd Rory Redmayne
SIN, RIGHTEOUSNESS & SANCTIFICATION
I am going to focus on three words which form the central theme of today’s epistle reading - sin, righteousness and sanctification.
Sin is a state of being - of being separated from God.
Sin is to be distinguished from sins.
Sins are what lead us into a state of sin.
That is, individual sins lead us to being separated from God.
When we talk about sins its easy to think big - to think “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these”, (Gal. 5:19ff) - I quote, of course, from St Paul’s eye-watering list of sins in his letter to the Galatians.
Looking at this compendium of sins, we see that all the examples that Paul names are essentially acts of selfishness; sins which arise out of putting ourselves first, ahead of God and neighbour.
And it’s not just these headline sins which separate us from God.
Over time the accumulation of all those minor acts of selfishness - laziness, impatience with our spouse, taking the largest biscuit, for example - they too end up separating us from God - and of course from neighbour.
Do I hear you saying, “don’t be such a misery-guts; there’s nothing that terrible about taking the largest biscuit on the plate”.
And it’s true that the largest biscuit will not lead to the Lord booming from the sky, “Go straight to hell. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect $200”.
The point is that taking the biggest biscuit is done by someone who puts their own desires before those of others - who is self-focussed rather than neighbour-focussed or God-focussed.
Being self-focussed is similar to being like a collapsing star: all your energy is concentrated inwards until, like a collapsing star, you become a sort of personal black hole from which nothing can escape - you are concentrated inwards and God is out there.
You and God are immutably separated.
You are indeed in a state of sin.
I hope you get my point: it is not the act of taking the biggest biscuit or occasionally being cross with your spouse or the children that of themselves separate you from God.
Rather it’s the selfish attitude from which those actions come.
That leads us on to the second of today’s words - righteousness, which is the very opposite of sin.
Righteousness can be well described as being in a right relationship with God and neighbour.
A righteous relationship with God is about knowing who I am in relation to God and so responding appropriately.
It’s about knowing that God is my wonderful, loving creator; my support in joy and sadness; my light upon my path.
And knowing that I am the creature of God; profoundly loved by God, but still God’s creature.
And knowing all that, living a life of conscious and thankful obedience to God’s will.
It might illustrate the point to just consider how we start worship each Sunday.
We usually begin with a hymn of praise; a hymn which reminds us how wonderful is the God into whose presence we have come; a hymn which leads to an attitude of thankfulness and leads us back towards a right relationship with God.
With all that by way of preparation we can turn our attention to today’s epistle from Romans, chapter 6.
St Paul presents sin and righteousness as opposite poles.
He says we must choose one - choose the one to which we will be slave, to use his imagery.
We can choose to be sin-focused, to choose to be slaves to sin.
That, says Paul leads to death - and Paul is talking here of spiritual death, but actually may include physical death too.
And here the black hole analogy is useful.
If we choose to be sin-focused we will eventually disappear; we’ll be alienated from God and neighbour and find ourselves sucked into a black hole existence filled only with ourselves. Sounds like hell to me!
Alternatively, we can choose righteousness - choose to be God focused.
Then, says Paul, “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”, (Rom. 6:14).
Here, let me point out, is an important element in choosing the way of righteousness.
It is not a lonely path of struggle against the temptations of “the devil, the world and the flesh”, to quote from the baptism service in the Book of Common Prayer.
No, Paul says, when we choose the righteous way we “come under grace”.
That is, the temptations to sin still exists, but those who are God-focused are helped in their focus by the grace of God.
The choice of the righteous way, says Paul, leads to righteousness for sanctification.
Which, of course brings us to our third word of the day - sanctification.
This is an important word in the context of this passage.
It’s easy to think that Paul is suggesting that we have only to choose righteousness instead of sin and life will be hunky-dory, in glorious unity with God and free of the temptations which we actually experience as being an all too present part of life.
As I’ve suggested above, that’s simply not true.
When Paul speaks of “presenting our bodies as slaves of righteousness for sanctification”, (Rom. 6:19), it might be better expressed as “righteousness towards sanctification”.
The word Paul uses for sanctification is a word not of completed action but of process.
So being God-focused isn’t in practice a guarantee of committing no further sins, but rather the focus which sets us on the path to sanctification, to true holiness, to a life of focus on God, uninterrupted by the intrusion of sin.
Such a focus is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”, (Rom. 623) - heaven, you might say.
This brings me now to the practical application of all this; and here St Peter is very helpful.
Peter says in his first letter, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”, (1 Peter 2:9).
Peter is writing to people who have already chosen the way of righteousness over the way of sin.
That means he is writing to people like you and me.
So Peter encourages us to think of ourselves as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”.
(Do you think of yourself in that exalted way?)
Being “a chosen race … and so on” has a very particular purpose in God’s economy.
It is “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”,
Being in a right relationship with God is about so much more that enjoying a wonderful personal relationship with God.
It’s about sharing the excitement of that way of life with others.
Share the excitement by the manner of your God-focussed life - and you can use words if you have to!
To finish, this epistle passage is a gem of encouragement.
May I suggest that you make this passage a focus for your reflection this week.
And rejoice in the promise at the end of the passage:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God is good …
All the time.
All the time
God is good.
About 1230 words Filed as Sermon 20aJune
1. All Souls, Merivale St Albans OT 13/P4 28 June 2020 8, 9.30, 11.30am