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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Resurrection Life - Gracious Freedom (Romans 6.1-3,14-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - April 21, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Arise, My Soul, Arise" (Indelible Grace)
Song of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues" (David Crowder)
Hymn of Praise: "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" (HYFRYDOL)
The Word in Music: "A New Psalm of Celebration" (Joseph Martin)
Offering of Music: "I Will Sing New Songs of Gladness" (Dvorak)
Song of Sending: "
Arise, My Soul, Arise" (Indelible Grace)
Postlude: "Fugue and Ciacona" (Buxtehude)

"The Resurrection Life: Gracious Freedom"
(Click triangle to play in browser; Left-click link to play in new window; or right-click to save)
Text: Romans 6:1-3,8-13

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This is our third week of talking about “life after Easter” – why the resurrection of Jesus matters for us. We have been and continue to be in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul is offering a series of images to explain our connection to the died-and-risen Jesus.

We’ve talked about being buried and raised with Jesus; we’ve talked about being united to Jesus like a man and woman united in marriage; we’ve talked about being dead to sin and alive in Christ; we’ve talked about presenting ourselves to God as instruments for His good and right purposes rather than presenting ourselves to sin as weapons to hurt and destroy ourselves and others.

This week, in verses 14-23, Paul offers one more picture of resurrection life in Christ: freedom from slavery. Paul goes to some lengths to chart out two different paths our lives can take, one enslaved to sin and one offered in service to God through Jesus Christ. Today we’ll look at those paths: similar in some ways, but radically different in where they lead us. And we will consider finally what it means to be truly free in Christ.

Two Mutually Exclusive Alternatives

The overall image Paul uses in these verses is one of slavery and freedom. Actually, to be more accurate, his image is of slavery to one of two masters. Either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to righteousness. A problem for us reading this is that slavery is such a negative image, that Paul’s language drives home the dangers of enslavement to sin, but may not lead us running with joy toward Jesus! When we hear “slavery” we think of the horrible practice of forced enslavement of one race by another as practiced in our country from the 17th-19th centuries. When Paul speaks of slavery, he is describing a Roman practice of paying off large debts. When the debt was paid, a slave in the Roman Empire could buy their freedom. I know the language stirs up different and stronger images for us, but if you can stick with his point (and it is only an illustration after all), he will show that slavery to Jesus Christ is no slavery at all, but a joyous freedom.

Paul continues to hold up the alternatives, moving through a series of comparisons and contrasts.  Let’s look at some:

Under Law/Grace (v. 14) – Paul begins by exhorting the Christian, “Sin shall not be master over you!” His reason…? You are not under law but under grace. The Law (specifically God’s Law) is for humanity mastered by sin. It is like the water the Samaritan woman drew from the well. Jesus told her she would be thirsty again. But he offered something different, something more. God’s grace through Jesus Christ is living water, sufficient for sin once and for all. God’s grace is not measured out like the Law, one pardon for one sin, but as an extravagant ocean of grace, wastefully sufficient for all the sin in us. Why then can Paul say, “Sin shall not be master over you?” It is because our debt is paid. We owe nothing for our sin. We need not work off our guilt or shame. It is finished and we owe the Law nothing, for Jesus has paid it all on our behalf.

Presenting to Sin/Righteousness (v. 16) – Paul goes on to ask more questions: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…?” He picks up his language of “presenting ourselves” from earlier verses (remember last week’s military language?). It is not enough that a sin-debt is paid if we keep showing up to make payment. Imagine if someone paid off all your debts – credit cards, mortgage, everything. You are free, right? But what if you keep presenting payment month after month as if the debt still existed? That’s what Paul is describing. As long as you are presenting yourselves in this way, you are still enslaved, even if in reality you are free! Who would do that, right? But we do it all the time!

Resulting in Death/Righteousness (v. 16) – In verse 16 Paul goes on to spell out the consequences of “presenting ourselves.” If we present ourselves to sin, the end-result is death. If we present ourselves in obedience to Christ, the end-result is righteousness. As we’ve seen in past weeks, this is not because we can generate our own righteousness, but because we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection, thereby gaining HIS righteousness as our own. (Cue all the marriage analogies I made!) How do we “present ourselves to Christ?”

Two Paths: Impurity and Lawlessness; Righteousness and Sanctification (v. 19) – Paul continues for a while with his analogy, then pauses in verse 19 to remind us that this is all analogy: “I am speaking in human terms” (of a heavenly reality). Then he gets more specific about what this slavery and servitude looks like in day to day life. Presenting ourselves to sin looks like this: “you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness.” It’s an ever-increasing spiral of sin. The alternative works in somewhat the same way: “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” That is to say, when we present ourselves to Christ and are united with his righteousness, life begins to look different! Remember, that’s where we started two weeks ago: life looks different! Scripture also describes that sanctification process as “being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.” When we follow him, when we serve him, we become more like him.  Either way, we aren't standing still; either we are moving towards lawlessness (ironic, right, for those “under Law”!) or toward sanctification.

“Benefits and Wages”: truth and lies

Paul now goes on to spend several verses examining what I will lump together as the “benefits and wages” of the two paths he has been describing. We are human; we like to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Paul gives us some answers and, in the process, sorts out the lies from the truth.

First, he says that blind freedom is no benefit (and no true freedom). It’s there in verse 20: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” That’s the lure of sin, right? I can do anything I want. I’m free of God’s rules and laws and right way of doing things. It sure looks and feels like freedom for a while, until you realize how enslaved you are by it. And that’s what Paul points out in verse 21 when he asks, “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving…? There is, in fact, NO benefit, because benefit means “good thing (done).” The outcome of those things is death and that’s no good thing! Plus, he adds that these are things “of which you are now ashamed.” The person enslaved to sin is so “free” of righteousness that often they cannot even see the shame or wrongness in what they are doing.

In contrast, freedom from sin and “enslavement to God” is no true enslavement, for its result is sanctification (growing more like Christ) and the outcome is eternal life. Now those are truly good things or benefits.

What about wages? What’s the payout? In what has become one of the better known verses of the New Testament, we read in verse 23 that “the wages of sin is death.” That also reveals the nature of the so-called “freedom” of life apart from God. What’s in it for me ultimately is death, not to mention quite a bit of destruction along the way, depending on what particular sins we indulge. In contrast, the “wages” we get from serving God cannot properly be called wages: it is a “free gift” and is eternal life in Christ.

If you have struggled with the language of “enslavement to God,” then this is where it may begin to make sense. Paul was, as he told us, speaking in human terms. Or, as I would say, using an analogy; and analogies are not perfect.

It’s also an analogy full of irony. We tend to see a life apart from God as “freedom” – we are free to do what we want and answer to no one. But, Paul says, that is true enslavement because sin masters us. And there is no benefit, because the wages are death. On the other hand, many see a life of following Jesus Christ as rules, regulations, and lack of freedom… a kind of “slavery.” But, says Paul, that is true freedom and the benefits are real. And “wages” isn’t even the right word because what we receive is a free gift. That makes our relationship to God not one of obligation, but voluntary. We are not slaves paying off a debt, but people freely serving God in gratitude and love.

Forgetting the Old, Living the New

Finally, a word about how this plays out in our lives…

Having said all that I did about the Roman practice of slavery being different than what we think of, I do think our own history can help us understand a part of this: the difficult struggle of forgetting the old life and living the new. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation,” declaring an end to slavery as a primary goal of the Civil War. It was made a legal reality in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. In a very real sense, those actions parallel the work of Christ, whose actions declared and won victory over sin and death. But the implementation of both realities was a longer struggle. Former slaves, rejoicing to be free, would nonetheless have to learn how to live as free. A whole society and culture – white and black – ingrained with generations of slavery, would have to learn how to live out the new reality. In terms of behavior, attitudes, customs, and habits, the new reality was not like flipping a light switch, but a hard and slow change.

So it is with the resurrection life. Jesus has declared the new reality and secured it with his body and blood. A war has been waged against the powers of sin and death, at great cost. And in Christ we have been set free. But we don’t know how to do that. It is often easier to keep doing what we had been doing. It can even be strangely comforting to stick with the familiar, even if it ultimately enslaves us unto death. THAT is the struggle.

So how do we live the life God has won for us? In addition to choosing obedience, which Paul has highlighted throughout this chapter, it also seems we have to learn to trust God. The Good News is that God requires but does not demand our allegiance. In Christ, God has set us free and paid the debt we could not pay. And God gives us good things – benefits like freedom and eternal life – not because we earn them, but because He loves us. The resurrection life is not a requirement; it is an opportunity. It is not Law, but Grace. It is not slavery, but freedom and life. Thanks be to God!

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