Romans: Freedom!

Good morning.  Welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here on staff.  Today we are continuing a series that we are doing about the letter that Paul – one of the most influential and important leaders in the early church – wrote to the church that met in Rome, about 55ad.

Paul had never been to Rome, and so this letter that he is writing is chock full of theology.  He wants them to be grounded in the basics.  And so he starts off with the ultimate of basics – by writing that Jesus is God in the flesh.  Who came to earth because humanity was in deep trouble.  Our rebellion against God’s leadership had caused an irreparable rift between God and us.  Irreparable to everyone but God.

So Jesus came to earth in order to take our place.  See we took God’s place when it came to the leadership of our lives.  We took God’s place when we said, “I’ll be the boss around here, thank you… “ .  But God, in his love and mercy, because we decided to take God’s place – God decided to come and take our place – and so Jesus willingly died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sin.

Now – we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus.  This phrase is the heart of the heart of Christianity.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.

In chapter 6 – Paul answers questions he thinks a reasonable person might ask.  If it is true that God has done all the work – and you and I can and need do nothing other than receive such a gift of salvation – well, Paul anticipates someone asking – then what difference does it make how I live my life.  If God gets the credit – the glory – for saving such a wretch like me – wouldn’t he get even more glory if I am more of a wretch.

Romans 6 NLT

1Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 

And also in verse 15…

15 Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?

I love that Paul brings this up.  These questions are like the most religion things religion has ever religioned.

Because religious people are always asking – how much can I get away with and still be technically okay with God?  How can I follow the rules but also still do anything I want?

Since religion is about rules and regulations, every person who has ever been caught up in the soul crushing grind of joyless and meaningless religion wants to know – what are the workarounds – the loopholes – that allow me to say I’m righteous but still gives me the freedom to do whatever I want…

So, for instance, if your religion requires you to fast during the day – then sleep during the day and party hard at sunset.  Technically, what’s God going to do?  It’s his rules – he should have tightened them up.

Your religion forbids sex outside of marriage?  Marry a prostitute for a one hour period of time, like many people do in many places in the world.  Gotcha God.  Technically – I’m obeying but I still can do whatever I want.

And in case you think Christianity is immune from being turned into a religious game?  Ha!  Christianity – if turned into a religious game, has the biggest loophole of all of them…  1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us out sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

You mean I can do what I want and just ask God to forgive me afterward?  What a giant loophole – does God even know what he is doing?  How can he let this slide?  But hey it’s his rules.

So Paul anticipates the religious games people play – by asking – if God is glorified by forgiving sins – maybe I should glorify him by living any selfish way I please.  It’s God’s rules, right?

Listen – we are going to read how Paul responds – but here’s the deal – this bible isn’t about rules and regulations of a religion.  Jesus didn’t come to set up a new world religion.  Jesus came to turn you and me into a new kind of human being.  A human being who doesn’t mask our selfish motives behind a religious veneer.

See there’s nothing new about the kind of human who asks – how much can I get away with?  How can I appear to be a good person but still do what I want?

Can I just paint for you a picture of the kind of human being that God intends to turn us into?

See, when we come to the place where we think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with the day to day operations of our life – and we cross the line and are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  That line of faith we cross isn’t a finish line.  It’s a starting line.

It is God’s intent to lead us through a process – empowered by the Holy Spirit of God – that will utterly transform us from the inside out.

We will become the kinds of people who naturally and easily seek to obey and live by God’s word – the kinds of people who are so abandoned to God that we do not struggle and deliberate as to whether or not to do what they know is wrong to do.

It is God’s plan, and should we submit ourselves to God then it is in fact inevitable – that we can become the kinds of people who don’t feel we are missing out by not engaging in sin.  We don’t feel deprived or disappointed.  We see sin – not as something pleasurable or good – but as slop.  So we don’t plan, strategize, formulate, fashion ways to indulge our sinful nature.

Such a life is attainable – you don’t have to wait until you die to receive it.  It’s attainable through the quietly transforming friendship of Jesus.

It will never come to you if you look at faith as a religion.  Religion always deforms the soul. Instead, the Bible offers us a friendship with Jesus.  A daily walk with him.

How does Paul respond to these questions?  With a resounding – “May it never be!”

Paul has just spent the first three chapters explaining the tragic condition of humanity because of sin.  Then he spent the two chapters after that explaining what God did because of our sin.  Now he is going to spend the next three chapters talking about the transformation of a soul that occurs after we place our faith in Jesus.

And it begins here in chapter 6 with Paul’s declaration that sin’s reign is over.  It’s done.  Sin no longer is your master.

The big idea of chapter 6 is simply – the reign of sin is over.  Because of our union with Jesus, we’ve been set free from our slavery to sin. 

First – we can’t keep on pretending as though nothing has changed, because everything has changed.  We are united with Jesus.

What does this mean?  Imagine for a moment my wife Jody – in the early 90’s she developed this little thing she called the Iphone.  And she worked on it and eventually created it and she began selling them – and she sold I don’t know –  a couple of hundred million of them, but only for like $1000 a phone.  Anyway, and now she is very very very very wealthy.  IN fact – since we are pretending, let’s pretend Jody was the richest person in the world.

One day Jody crosses paths with me –  a lowly school bus driver.  (Empty Pockets)  But we fall in love and low and behold – we get married. Guess who is now one of the richest persons in the world.  Moi.  I’m so rich I use French phrases like Moi.

What have I done to earn this?  I was united with my wife – and that’s all.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we are united with him in the heavenlies.  All that he has is ours.  All that he has accomplished, is ours.  When he died for sins, through faith, we died with him.  It’s as if our old self with all its sins was crucified on the other side of the cross with Him.  When he was buried – we were buried with him.  When he was resurrected to new life, we were also resurrected to new life.  We are united with him through faith.

Our union with Jesus means that we are now dead to sin.

Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?  Paul here refers to baptism because he is assuming that all the believers in the church have been baptized – and that they understand it was a symbol of their union with Jesus. Baptism didn’t accomplish anything for them – Jesus did.  But baptism is a clear sign – I am a follower of Jesus.  I am united with him.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.

Should we continue to look at sin as something desirable in our life?  Of course not.  Sin is dead to us.

Ever use that phrase, even jokingly?  I saw a friend that used to come to Journey in McKinney’s just this week – I said hey man, how you doing?  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, how are you?  And he said, “We’re fine – we are going to Christ Community Church now.”  And I said unto him, “You’re dead to me.”  I was joking – but I don’t think he got my sense of humor which is probably why he’s at Christ Community now.

Now – did that person cease to exist?  Of course not.  What was I really implying?  Even though you are standing there in front of me – our relationship has changed  – I will no longer allow you to be an influence in my life.  I am revoking your influence.

Paul says – when we are united with Jesus we are dead to sin.  We revoke the position it once held – we dismiss out of hand its opinion about how we ought to now live.

Now obviously, the bible isn’t teaching that we aren’t tempted by sin anymore.  Sin still exists – (for now) Right?  Sometimes people place their faith in Jesus and they are surprised to discover they still find sin desirable.

In Chapter 7, Paul is going to talk about the battle that lies within us as we continue to fight it out with the old, self centered tyrant called the self – that still wants to have it’s way – the part of us that actually thinks that sin will somehow satisfy us – although you’d think we’d learn our lesson by now.

So Paul doesn’t deny that we fight with our old self that wants to do whatever it feels like doing.  But what Paul is saying is that our relationship with sin has changed because of our relationship with Jesus.

Sin isn’t the boss anymore.  We are not united with it any more.  We broke up with sin, we’re with Jesus now.  And so sin doesn’t have to win, anymore.  We already have what we need to be freed from sin.

Our union with Christ changes our identity.  Because not only are we dead to sin – but we are now alive to God in ways we never knew possible before we placed our faith in Jesus.

And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.

It’s more than just saying goodbye to our old way of living.  It’s saying hello to a whole new way of living.  But it will take some time to get use to it.

You know why?  Because we’ve spent so much or our lives believing the lies that sin doled out to us – the empty promises to fill us up, to satisfy our needs – we became delusional – thinking that sin could quench that part of us that wanted significance.

It takes some time to get our soul to the point where it believes Jesus and sees sin for the slop that it is and that it isn’t missing out on anything by pigging out on sin.

So Shall we continue to sin? Paul says – come on, man.  Sin is dead to us.  It’s old news.  We died to sin – we are not obliged to allow it to be influential in our decisions.  So don’t give it power.

Don’t give sin power by allowing yourself to think you are somehow missing out.  there is no life there, only death.

At the end of this chapter Paul responds by asking his own question to people seeking a way to righteously sin…

21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 

You are dead to sin – and now are alive to God through our union with Jesus.

And this brings us to the interesting part of this passage – see we are used to thinking that somehow we are the ones in control.  We like to think of ourselves as the captain of our own destiny.  And as the captain we feel we are somehow being deprived of some good thing that sin offers us.

We think we are in control.  But here is where Paul lays the lumber right across the face.  We aren’t in control of diddly.    In fact – we are never in control of sin.  Rather, this whole time we thought we were in control of sin, it was sin that was in control of us!

The good news is that through faith in Jesus we are free.

b We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.

17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin…

But – Paul says – you aren’t free to do whatever you want – now you are a slave to God.

22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God.

Now – first – when Paul talks about slavery he isn’t talking about American slavery – which was based on race and cruel.  Paul is talking about first century slavery which was different in that – in the first century – if you were facing an enormous debt – it wasn’t uncommon to sell yourself into slavery for a time until you pay off your debt.  So in the first century you have doctors and lawyers who are also slaves.

But what Paul is saying here is very interesting.   Paul reveals to us is that all of mankind is a slave to someone or something.   And what Paul is saying is that we get to choose.  We can serve God or we can serve something else.  But we will offer ourselves up to something.

And to Paul there is only two kinds of people in the world.  Period.  There are people who are offering themselves completely to God or you are a slave to some kind of sin.

Perhaps you find that idea demeaning – but the bible is rather insistent that everybody lives for something.

Everybody has something that is his or her main source of significance and identity and security.  If it’s not God it’s something – and what you might not realize is that whatever “It” is – controls you.

The bible talks so much about the dangers of idolatry.  But idols come in all shapes and sizes and rarely are they visible.  Usually they are something that starts out as important or healthy something good.  Most idols are good things that have become an ultimate thing.

What’s the ultimate thing in your life?  It’s either God or something unworthy.  It’s God or it’s something that should be beneath your dignity to be enslaved to.

Have you allowed a good thing to become an ultimate thing in your heart?  good things – like our career – or family, or spouses, or our image, or our net worth, or our desire for romance – or our desire for power.  Normal things, even healthy things, – nothing wrong with these things – until they become an ultimate thing.  Then they turn deadly to the soul.

I want to share with you three tests that I picked up from author and pastor Tim Keller – three tests to identify your spiritual master.

  1. Anger – if something blocks you getting a good thing you get angry – but if something blocks you from your ultimate thing? Then you get Over-angry – and over anger is a good sign that it’s your over-lord.  See – when God is your ultimate – then rage subsides.  God’s in control and my soul trusts in his provision.
  2. Fear – if something good is threatened you worry. But if something ultimate is threatened you have uncontrollable anxiety.  If you have uncontrolled fear or anxiety about something in particular?  You might have discovered your ultimate thing.  See – when God is our ultimate thing – fear and anxiety subsides.  Nothing can threaten Him and so nothing can threaten us.
  3. Sadness – if you lose something good – you weep and it takes a long time to get over. If you lose something that is ultimate you want to die.   Because there’s nothing left for you now.  But with God as ultimate – we feel joyful, even in our times of sadness.  The sadness isn’t permanent.  Joy runs in the background.

When we are saved by grace through faith, we surrender control of ourselves to God and allow Him to become our new master and Lord.  We voluntarily give ourselves to his service.  And we rejoice that we no longer have to fend for ourselves.

Should we go on sinning Paul?  Should we keep on living as though we are the boss?  Paul says, Of course not!  You used to be a slave to sin but Jesus paid for your freedom.  You’ve been set free and now – we are going to consider ourselves dead to sin’s influence in our life.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 

Now listen – I know that at times it feels so difficult to overcome the sway of sin in our lives.  And you wonder if you will ever be free.  It takes work.  It takes effort.  And we will talk more about the process in the coming two weeks.  But it also takes a mindset.  And I think this is where Paul begins.

We need to think differently about who we are and our union with Jesus.  But it’s not easy to break free of what used to be.

I’ll close with this illustration from a preacher named Dwight Moody – who was invited to preach at a prison in Ohio.  He was preaching to 1100 men in the state penitentiary when in walked the warden.

The Warden stepped to the microphone and said, ‘Men, in my hand I hold a pardon from the governor.”   He pulled the first pardon and read the name.  “Reuben Johnson – come and get your pardon.  You are now a free man.”

Not one moved. All eyes turned to Reuben –  He was well known; he had been there nineteen years.  But instead of springing to his feet – he himself began looking around to find the fortunate man.  Finally the chaplain caught Rueben’s eye, and said: “Reuben, you are the man.”

Reuben turned around and looked behind him to see where Reuben was. The chaplain said the second time, “Reuben, you are the man”; He had to say three times, “Reuben, come and get your pardon.”

At last the truth began to steal over the old man. He got up, came along down the hall, trembling from head to foot, and when he got the pardon he looked at it, and went back to his seat, buried his face in his hands, and wept.

When the prisoners got into the ranks to go back to the cells, Reuben got into the ranks, too, and the chaplain had to call him back. “Reuben get out of the ranks; you are a free man, you are no longer a prisoner.” And Reuben stepped out of the ranks. He was free!

As we come to the communion table – we celebrate the price that was paid for our freedom!

Lord, some have been freed but don’t believe it!  Set us free – give us a vision of life in Christ.  Keep us from the lies of the evil one.  And allow you to be our ultimate.

Post a comment