Alive and Free!
A sermon based on Romans 6:19b-23
Sunday, April 22, 2018 – Easter 4B
Crack! The whip snapped and hit hard across his back. It felt like a dagger stabbed between his shoulder blades. In fact, he did have a deep cut where the whip struck. He could feel the blood start to flow down his back, mixed with the sweat. The master screamed, "Pick up that shovel, boy! You get back to work!" And so, he picked up the shovel and got back to work, feeling a blister on his hand pop, he knew that that pain was less than another crack of the whip.
At the end of a long, hard day, he was shoved into a cage with chain and lock preventing his escape. He was given a small blanket and a dish of some food that was hard to identify and a container of dirty water. Nearly starved he devoured the gruel in seconds and gulped the water to chase it down. This was a tough life—the life of a slave.
Thank God that slavery is now outlawed in our nation and that the idea of one man owning another as if he were only a possession and less than human now seems barbaric. Of course, that wasn't always the case, in this nation or in other countries. In fact, slavery is still alive and well in some parts of the world. Sex slaves are sold and trafficked in an underground market that leaves people feeling trapped and helpless in the abuse they daily endure.
And it is this picture of slavery—one perhaps more familiar to the Romans of his day than it is to us in the land of the free—that the apostle uses to describe the new life we have in Christ. Though we were once slaves to sin, we've been set free! And now, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, we gladly offer ourselves to be slaves again!—not to sin, but to God. Our text for consideration this morning is found in Romans 6:19-23…
19 Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If a slave were able to escape, to run away from the abuse and the pain, the humility and shame, if he could take his family with him and flee to the north on the Underground Railroad… well, as long as there was a reasonable chance of success, who wouldn't want to be free?
But sadly, many view God as an abusive master, chaining us to boredom and cruelly punishing us whenever we disobey his arbitrary will. And so they try to run away from him. But the "freedom" they gain is no freedom at all. It's more like the teen who runs away from home to get the freedom she so longs for – the freedom from the rules that mom and dad so strictly impose. But once she's made it a few miles from home, she sees how great that freedom really is. No shelter, no warmth, no food, friends.
That's how it is with each of us and God, isn't it? We act like spoiled brats! "God, don't tell me what to do! Don't impose your strict laws and commands on me! Who are you to tell me what I can and can't do?!" And so, we run away from home. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…" (Isaiah 53:6) We choose our own morals, our own lifestyle, our own way. And we end up alone… and worse…
Imagine that that teen that ran away from home was then picked up by a gang of so-called friends, eager to help her out. But in reality they were eager to imprison her, to sell her body, to gain from her pain. What a terrible fate—to trade the benevolent "captivity" of mom and dad, for the malevolent captivity of such evil men.
In such a way the supposed freedom from God always ends in genuine slavery. "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." But that freedom didn't end well. It ended in slavery to sin, death, hell. The whip of the law cracks! It cuts us open! "Do this! Do it perfectly! Work harder! Become better! Be more kind! Be more loving! And if you don't… well… there's hell to pay!" Freedom from righteousness means slavery to sin. And, as Paul so bluntly put it, "Those things result in death!"
What we deserve for running away from God is death—that is to be separated from him forever for separating ourselves from him in rebellion. We, who run away from God, deserve to be enslaved to satan and hell for all of eternity for offering ourselves, "as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness…" That's what we earn. That's what we deserve. That's what our compensation should be. "For the wages of sin is death…"
One night, after a long hard day of work, the slave shivered curled up under the thin blanket of his cell. But hearing a noise at the door of his cage he bolted upright. "Who's there?" he demanded. The stranger replied, "Shhhh! We don't want to get caught!" And with a crack as loud as the whip that struck his back, the lock broke in two. The stranger opened the door of the cage and helped the slave to his feet. "Come on! Follow me! We're getting you out of here! You're going to be a free man!"
When we were enslaved to sin and satan, to death and hell, God sent his Son on a rescue mission. He took our place as he lived chained to the law for us. And try as it might, the whip of the law couldn't reach Jesus as he kept every one of its demands perfectly. But then, he who was totally free from sin and death, took our sin on himself and submitted to death. The Master of all, humbly became a slave. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
And by his death, he broke chains of sin that held us captive. By his resurrection, he shattered the doors of death! "Now… you have been set free from sin… and the result is eternal life." And we did nothing to aid in our emancipation! God did it all and gave it to us as gift! Though we earn hell as the wages of our sin, eternal life is free gift from God! "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 6:23 is a verse well worth memorizing because it so succinctly captures the message of the entire Bible! We earn death—separation not just of the soul from the body, but separation from God—for all the times we've wanted to be free from him. But we don't get the death we've earned. Instead we get eternal life!
Romans 6:23 is a verse well worth memorizing because of the sweet comfort it offers. Salvation, emancipation, freedom, and ultimately eternal life is given to us as a gift from God. Now, if I tell you that I will give you a gift if you help me clean my garage first… well, that's no gift anymore, is it? If you have to do something (anything!) to get a gift it's a wage, not a gift. A gift has no strings attached. Ponder that for a moment and take joy in this truth: Eternal life is a gift. You don't have to clean up your act. You don't have work yourself up to the proper level of repentance. You don't have to have a "strong enough" faith. You don't have to do anything! It's all been done by Jesus. And eternal life is given to you as a gift, free of charge, no strings attached.
But, because we are recipients of such an awesome gift, we want to clean up our act, practice daily repentance, and strengthen our faith. Because we are recipients of such an awesome everlasting gift, because we've been forgiven, because we've been set free, we willingly make ourselves slaves to God. And we will be blessed as we do.
Think of it this way: Who here has a pet at home? A dog? A cat? Where's the best place for that pet to be? Free? In the wild, scrounging for food, trying to keep warm in the winter, avoiding predators, and struggling to survive? Or in the confinement of your home where that pet is well-fed, warm, and loved? At the end of a leash that keeps it from running into traffic or going after the bear? Real freedom for a dog or cat is found in being a pet, enslaved, if you will, by a loving master who cares for it, feeds it, loves it, and yes, even puts it on a leash to protect it from getting lost or hit by a car.
And real freedom for a human is found in being God's slave, cared for by him, fed by him, loved by him, and yes, even curbed by his law to protect us from losing our faith and falling away. So we gladly submit to God and to his law. And if we don't understand a law it's not because the law is arbitrary, the fault is in our understanding, not God's commanding. So trusting the one who set us free from slavery to sin and satan, to death and hell, we gladly submit to him and to his loving will. "Now that [we] have been set free from sin," we willingly and gladly, "become slaves of God." And, "the benefit [we] reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."
And God needs no whip to compel us, no chains to keep us in line, because the Gospel compels us, we gladly get in line to live for him who set us free. So, rejoice, dear friends, that you have been set free—from sin that controls, from satan who would forever lock us up, from death and its final effects, from the hell that we've earned as our wages of sin. Thank God that you are alive and free, that eternal life is your gift from God with no strings attached. And now, in thanks to him, become his slave, strive to be more holy until that awesome day that you fully realize the perfect life of freedom that is ours in heaven. In the name of Jesus, our Master, amen.