“Freedom in Christ”
Last Sunday we talked about the transforming Grace of God. If you remember Paul was speaking about justifying grace. That is the Grace of God that forgives us and brings us into a relationship with God. It does not mean that all our wrongs and sins are accepted before God, but rather that God has overcome the separation because of sin and brought us to Godself.
Now in Roman culture many would have perhaps argued that a person doesn’t need a changed life to be in relationship with God. This may be a bit to wrap the mind around, but you must understand the thinking of many during Paul’s era. The Romans and the Greeks were very religious people; however, their daily religious life revolved around their concept of many gods. The gods were seen as eternally young, rather distant, often squabbling and vying for power against one another. Often the deeds of the gods were most human, and each god had their own sphere of influence whether it be love, healing, the oceans, the air, war, or death itself. These gods didn’t really care that much about the lives of humans. A human could entreat one of these gods for a favor and offer up a sacrifice or make a vow of some sort, but whether the gods would respond was arbitrary. In as much as the gods did not give that much to a person neither did they require that much. You could worship the gods and live as you desired; as long as you didn’t offend the gods or the ruling authorities over you. No one expected the gods to inhabit their daily life, or to be interested in changing them.
So if Paul preached a way to be in relationship with the one God, that should be a good thing, but what does that have to do with how a person chooses to live? If grace puts me right with God, and abounds for me despite my sin then why worry. Let us continue sinning so that grace may abound all the more.
Paul says, “By no means!” Paul’s concept of religious faith was different than what the Romans were used to. Grace is given that our lives might become something new and alive unto God. Paul is telling us that God personally cares about us and we are to be a person not just in a relationship with God, but a person who is fit to be in such a relationship with a holy God. We are to be changed!
God’s grace is more than just a justifying grace it is a transforming grace. It is a sanctifying grace. It is a grace that is meant to change us in a permanent way.
This grace becomes a matter of choice as to whether we live in freedom or fall back into the slavery of sin. There are two roads and we must choose. The road of sin leads to death and the road of obedience to God leads to life. In 1979 Bob Dylan got it right when he sang, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Paul writes: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I think it is interesting that he used the idea of slavery to make his point. Maybe this is no accident.
One of the most abhorrent stories in United States history is the story of the slave trade, and how men, women, and children were captured and turned over to the slave traders.
The Reverend Robert Walsh was a chaplain aboard a British Frigate assigned to intercept slave ships off the African coast in an effort to end this trade. On the morning of May 22, 1829 he described the conditions found aboard a ship they caught.
“She had taken in, on the coast of Africa, 336 males and 226 females, making in all 562, and had been out seventeen days, during which she had thrown overboard 55. (who had died of dysentery and other complaints) The slaves were all enclosed under grated hatchways between decks. The space was so low that they sat between each other’s legs and [were] stowed so close together that there was no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position by night or day. As they belonged to and were shipped on account of different individuals, they were all branded like sheep with the owner’s marks of different forms. These were impressed under their breasts or on their arms, and, as the mate informed me with perfect indifference ‘burnt with the red-hot iron.’ Over the hatchway stood a ferocious-looking fellow with a scourge of many twisted thongs in his hand, who was the slave driver of the ship, and whenever he heard the slightest noise below, he shook it over them and seemed eager to exercise it. I was quite pleased to take this hateful badge out of his hand, and I have kept it ever since as a horrid memorial of reality, should I ever be disposed to forget the scene I witnessed.”
This short excerpt I read doesn’t begin to speak about the heat, or the smell of such a place. According to records perhaps 50% of those taken into slavery died before they arrived at their destination.
Maybe Paul chose this analogy of slavery because he understood that the person who has not received Jesus into their life is analogous to a person who is on a long sad journey of slavery to sin.
When a person was captured to be sold into slavery the journey never got better along the way. A soul was led with a shackle around the neck for miles to the coast of Africa, and then imprisoned, striped, beaten and branded, before being loaded onto a boat. If a person survived the crossing they were then sold, owned, and forced into labor by threat of violence. Slavery took away one’s family, home, and life. With every step, the journey just kept getting worse. If you could avoid it, you would. Ultimately sin is that long sad journey away from home.
Still Paul does not dwell upon this fact. Rather he focuses on the positive side of the message. A person does not have to be stripped of their person, locked up and led away from home because of sin. There is another greater power in our world that leads us to life.
Paul writes, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, … now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul is telling us that we should be owned by God, and that ownership is not death, but one of life. We are not free to do anything we want, but we are then free to truly live and truly arrive at who we are meant to be and where we are meant to live. I came across an old sermon illustration I hadn’t seen in a while, but it seemed to the point.
The story goes: There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods; but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma’s pet duck.
Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head and killed it. He was shocked and grieved! In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile; only to see his sister watching!
Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch the next day Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes” But Sally said, “Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen.” Then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck?” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, “I’m sorry but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally just smiled and said, “Well that’s all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help” She whispered again, “Remember the duck?”
So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s; he finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck.
Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug and said, “Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing, but because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long before you would tell me what had happened.”
The story illustrates the control of sin within our life. God already knows it all. God has already forgiven us. The only question is how long will we allow whatever wrong that is there to persist within us. How long will we go before we come to terms and accept God’s forgiveness and fortgive ourselves so that we might shake off the controlling power of sin over us?
Coming up is the fourth of July. We celebrate the freedoms we have and we remember the price paid for what we claim as our own. May we be ever mindful that freedom has a purpose. We are free but we are free for a reason. We are free that we may become the people that God has called us to be. We are free that we maybe become more than what we are. Let us make everyday a good day to use the gifts God has given to us. Amen.