Does anyone here today like a good buffet? I used to love them. In my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, there used to be a restaurant called Hoss’ Steakhouse. I loved going there — not because of the steak but because of the massive all-you-can-eat salad bar that went way beyond just salad. As a kid, I loved the idea that I could finish my plate, grab a fresh one at the bar, fill it up, and repeat! And what was even better, Hoss’ had an ice cream machine with sundae toppings available for any patron of the salad bar. That meant multiple trips for dessert too.
I used to love buffets, but at my age, I’m not a fan. I can’t eat nearly as much as I used, and I’ve figured out that I can no longer just eat whatever I want and never feel a difference when I button my pants. Those days are gone. But the real reason I don’t love a buffet any more? I love a good value. If I’ve paid $15 for a buffet, my brain shifts into how I can beat the system by eating $30 worth of food. Skip the bread, it’s filler. Find the protein. Make sure I get at least two desserts. Your get it, right?
In honor of today being the golf scramble, I think this line of thinking applies to my golf game as well. If a round of golf is going to cost me $50, doesn’t my value increase if I take more shots than those around me? I mean, the good golfers are getting ripped off when then only take 75 strokes in a round, right?
My buffet-mentality applies pretty well to a similarly faulty line of thinking that Paul is addressing in our passage in Romans 6. If salvation is by grace alone through Jesus, wouldn’t it make salvation that much more significant if Jesus had to save us from far worse troubles than the average decent human being gets into? If Jesus is paying the bill, shouldn’t I just order more off of the menu since that makes his payment so much more impressive? Or, to use Paul’s words, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
We know the answer to this. It’s “no.” Actually, Paul uses some of his most emphatic language right here. He writes, mā genoito, which our text renders as “by no means!” Other versions opt for “may it never be,” “of course not,” “God forbid,” “No, no!” and “What a ghastly thought!” (All of these have an added exclamation point to emphasize it.) Just as it’s a terrible idea to keep heaping my plate full at Hoss’, so too, it’s a terrible idea to persist in sin so that the work of Jesus in your life can be that much more impressive. Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? No way! That’s a terrible idea!
There are really two churchy concepts at play here. The first is justification. Basically, justification is the idea that God through Jesus has saved you. Receiving that is a gift of grace and faith. There is no behavior you have to do to be justified. That’s God’s work and gift in you. The idea is this: When a person stands before the judgment seat of God, instead of seeing you, God sees what Jesus has done for you. That’s the gift of salvation.
But the second concept is sanctification. That’s really what Paul is addressing here. Once a person has embraced what Jesus has done for them, the Holy Spirit begins the forever-ongoing work of sanctification. Through this work, God is making a person more and more Christ-like. It’s a process. There are basically as many steps backwards as there are forwards. But that’s what should be happening when a person becomes a Christian. They shouldn’t sin all the more so that grace can abound. Rather, they seek to live more and more like Jesus, which should lead to a person living according to God’s will and way more and more. That’s the work of the Spirit in you.
In our passage Paul uses baptism as his way of explaining this. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For we have been united with him.”
We have union with Jesus. Have you ever done a three-legged race? You know, the race where you and a partner have your middle legs strapped together and you have to coordinate your movements well to get forward. If you don’t, you fall. Think of having union with Jesus a bit like that. Jesus is Jesus. He’s perfectly human and God. He’s loving and gracious and smart. And then there’s you and me. We’re imperfect. We’re definitely not God. We waver in how we love and treat others. So, how do we keep step in our three-legged race with Jesus? We act in unison with him. We become more and more and more like him, which is what makes life with Jesus go the right way. If you spent your whole time not in step with Jesus or actively working against what he is up to, well, you’re not going to get very far, are you?
To stay in step with Jesus means sanctification. It means becoming more Christlike, not because it earns us salvation (that’s already done for us – justification!) but because it reflects the best way to live in the world.
Moving to our gospel text does present a challenge to what I just said. It’s tempting for pastors to present Christianity as a solution to all the hardships in life. I think of prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen who sell millions of books with titles like Your Best Life Now. Life united with Jesus actually will not fix your problems, line your bank account, and make everyone love you. (Sorry to say that. If that were so, my job would be so much easier.) One commenter remarked, “The church that always manages to glide through life without ever rubbing anyone the wrong way may have reason to question whether it is truly this Jesus it honors as master and Lord.”
In Matthew 10, Jesus is teaching his disciples as he prepares them to go out in mission on their own. It’s a talk that takes up the whole chapter, but this is no pregame speech of a coach getting his team ready for the big game. Rather, Jesus is addressing the reality that the world into which Jesus sends his disciples actively opposes what Jesus is doing. Our passage begins, “A disciple is not above the teacher….it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”
What does it mean to be like Jesus? According to Jesus in this passage, it is hard. Blessedly, he does tell us twice “not to fear,” but that feels a little to me like a flight instructor sending a student off of her first solo flight. No matter how much training she has, of course there will be fear! His talk goes on to mention all kinds of hardships. Don’t worry about people killing you; they can’t harm your soul. I didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. Even your family will turn their backs on you because of me. Pick up your cross — that is, carry around the same instrument of death that will end Jesus’ life — and follow!
Or in other words: Your Best Life Now.
This is not a great PR campaign. But it’s true. Jesus sends the disciples out. This creates conflict because it intends to radically change the social order. “If Jesus were really the enlightened and affirming nice guy we often insist on imagining, should he not have been able to stay out of trouble?” Yet, he doesn’t. People call him a “prince of demons.” He wrecks families. He gets crucified. Jesus stirs up good trouble, and following Jesus will lead down a similar path.
But I don’t want to leave you on that hard point. Remember, this is all about keeping in step with Jesus. That means union with him in salvation and sanctification. That means being like him in how we live. Pastor Tom Long assures us that four things will become apparent when we face conflict raised by following Jesus.
First, the Holy Spirit will surely be present with us and never abandon us. Life in step with Jesus is our best life, and it is a life that we never live alone. Jesus promised the Spirit. The Spirit is with us. And the Spirit has gifted us with the community of saints right here in the church. We get to carry each other, and that is a gift.
Second, we will come to recognize that our suffering is not wasted, but is a testimony to faith. We shouldn’t seek out hardship for its own sake, but we should also recognize that hardship is also something that builds us up. I ran the Riverbank 25K this spring, which was its own chosen, special kind of suffering, but I trained for months to be ready for it, logging over 350 miles to run those 15.5 miles. The training in hardship builds up the endurance to persist.
Third, even in the midst of hardships, we will know that nothing can eradicate the gospel or destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful. When things seem to be falling apart around you, remember that this project has been going for thousands of years. We’re an important part of the story, but it’s a really big story. Don’t get discouraged when things aren’t going your way.
Fourth, while family disruption will surely take place, Jesus is not against the family. Rather, there will be times when allegiance to Jesus causes a crisis of loyalty and forces a decision. The gospel shakes up values, rearranges priorities, and reorients goals.
Friends, I’d be lying to you if I said following Jesus will fix your problems. It won’t. It will save your life, to be sure, but it will also put you in places of difficulty and hardship. It is through those that we learn best about who we are. It is there when keeping in step with Jesus is most vital. It is there where we lose our lives in order to truly find them. God in Jesus offers salvation. God through the Spirit is making us more Christlike. But make no mistake about it: the path of Jesus is fraught with challenges. But it is also the way to the eternal kind of life we are seeking right now.
So, let us keep in step with Jesus. It’s the best way to live.