freedom

Sinning After Salvation

Romans 6:1-14 (NLT)

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! 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? 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. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.


I suppose I should give up theft, as Paul says we should not keep on sinning. But I’m stealing this morning from a great preacher named Martin Lloyd-Jones, who in the 1960’s gave us a very useful analogy to help us understand what Paul is saying in today’s text. I want us to meditate awhile on the image Lloyd-Jones offers.

Imagine two fields separated by high rock walls, typical of fields in Lloyd-Jones’ Wales. Or, for our context, we could say “separated by barbed wire,” as that is what surrounds most of our fields here in Tennessee. The point is, you are born in one field and you cannot get out on your own.

In that field, you have a master, Satan, and feeling obligated to respond to Satan’s voice, you sin. Of course you do. You were born in his field, and you really know nothing else.

Now, here’s the great miracle. Through Christ, God comes along and plucks you up from one field, setting you down in the adjacent field, the field God controls. Satan, who for many good reasons is terrified of God, will not move from one field to another to regain control over you. You are free!

You also are new to this field. In terms of behavior, all you really know for sure is life in the old field, a life of sin. Now, Satan won’t cross into the new field to get you, but he knows you. You were born in his field. He trained you to his commands.

And, being the kind of determined fallen angel who never wants to let go, Satan calls out commands over the divide between your old life and your new life, hoping you will obey. You are in a new field, but you find yourself committing some of the same sins that were part of your old life.

“Ah, I hate that,” you say to yourself, cringing in the after-effects of your sin. “Why do I do that? I’m in this beautiful new field!”

Or to quote something we’re going to hear Paul say in the seventh chapter of Romans: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

This is our situation as Christians. We accept Christ, we know we are accepted, and yet, we continue to defy, at least from time to time, the one who has gone to such great lengths to rescue us from sin.

Here’s another analogy for those of us who grew up rural: You can scrub the pig up all nice and shiny for the county fair, but if you don’t watch the chubby porker closely, he’ll wallow in the mud the first chance he gets. It’s what the pig is used to doing. (For those of you not from the country, the verb is pronounced “waller.”)

The solution to the problem, or at least the beginning of the solution, is to hear again what I said earlier: You are free!

Satan no longer has a hold on you, thanks be to Jesus Christ and the cross on which Christ died. You don’t have to listen to Satan’s voice. You can tune Satan out, with no repercussions.

Yes, you really have the power! People are often shocked to learn that the devil cannot make you do it, whatever “it” may be.

When Satan issues his old commands, it’s okay to put your hands over your ears and say, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, I’m not listening I’m not listening I’m not listening … .”

Look around you. Look at the glory of your new field. There is a new voice in this new field. It’s … it’s strange, at first. In a worldly sense, the old voice could sound wise and even beautiful, but it kept hurting you, right?

Would any of you disagree that the old voice kept leading us down paths of sin, and that ultimately, sin hurts, even if it initially seems like a good idea?

The new voice is different, though. The voice of Christ calls us to peace. The voice of Christ tells us, “Fear not,” while the old voice ran his field on fear—fear of not measuring up, fear of finishing last, fear of running out, fear of aging, fear of loss, fear after fear after fear.

The voice of Christ calls us toward a kind of beauty that is otherworldly, that never fades. Everything the old voice offered you looks cheap and dangerous compared to what we are offered in this new field.

Oh, it just struck me—some of you considering what I’m saying today may still be in the old field. Guess what, even from there you can hear Christ calling you to a better place, a better way of living now. All you have to do is call out, “Save me!” and you’ll be lifted into the new field.

Once we’re in the new field, we have to do something very important. We have to move away from the old field, away from the divide. Run from your old owner. Run deeper into the new field so it’s harder to hear his voice.

Recovering addicts and reformed criminals know exactly what I’m talking about. What’s the first big rule when you start a new life? Avoid the people who are part of your old life. Through your old friends, you will hear Satan’s voice calling you back. Stay away from anything that may be a conduit for Satan’s old call.

Eventually, you may be strong enough to run and jump in the new field and call over the divide, telling the others the way out of the field of sin. “Hear a different voice!” you’ll cry out.

I had a friend several years ago who worked with people who struggled with the same kinds of addictions she had once suffered. She estimated a person needed to be clean of a particular sin at least ten years before trying to help people with similar sins. The siren call of Satan is too strong early on, she said, despite the fact we are free.

There is more to the Christian life than simply running from Satan’s voice. It’s important you know that. Oh, there is so much more. This is a rich, beautiful field, one we explore with great excitement now and for all eternity.

There are ideas and experiences here to give us great joy. That is what we will talk about next week: how to explore the field, how to move deeper into it, how to truly experience our new home.

Until then, stay away from the fence.

Freedom!

Freedom is certainly what we’ve been celebrating in the United States these past few days. We look back to a time when people were much less free, living under the control of a king.

They were not free to speak as they wished. They were not free to worship as they wished. They did not have the influence they thought they should have in their government, particularly when the king and his men were deciding to tax them.

So, people in what is now the eastern edge of the United States revolted. During the course of the war, about 376,000 of them actually valued freedom enough to take up arms and risk dying to secure freedom for themselves, their families and their neighbors. More than 23,000 of them did die from death or disease during the war.

This idea of freedom certainly stirs people’s hearts, motivating them to great acts. Our Bible reading today shows us the deepest source of freedom. Freedom is a gift from God, expressed through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:1: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Why did Christ die on the cross for our sins? Here’s one way to understand the atonement: We were trapped, bound tight, in slavery to Satan because of sin. When Christ died on the cross, he broke the chains. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free … .”

Why would any slave return to the master once set free? Simple. We sometimes will trade freedom for what seems familiar.

In the laws the Jews lived under, there even was provision made for a slave who was freed but preferred to continue to live under his master’s control. (We’re talking about slaves who were what we might call indentured servants, existing as someone else’s property for a limited time rather than a lifetime.) If the slave expressed a desire to remain, the master would put the slave against the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, marking the slave as the master’s property for a lifetime.

Now, in Old Testament times, a slave might have good reason to do this. Maybe his wife and children were still slaves and he wanted to be with them. Maybe he feared starving if he could not find regular work.

There is no good reason to re-submit ourselves to Satan’s slavery, however. There is nothing to be gained. There is everything to be lost, including the most precious gain of all through Christ, eternal life. We must never let the sins that may seem comfortable, familiar and even beautiful in this life to cost us our freedom.

Galatians 5:13-15: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

The gift of freedom carries with it great responsibility. We voluntarily begin to serve one another, not because of some mandate of the law, but because we now know the power of love. We begin to live and love as Christ lived and loved, and sometimes, that means living sacrificially, knowing even the loss of our lives in this world means nothing when we consider eternity with Christ and one another.

Galatians 5:16-21: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Providentially, we are not in this life alone. Not only are we set free, God becomes our companion as his Holy Spirit works within us. We are elevated, lifted above those actions that previously bound us and pleased our old master Satan.

Yes, our earthly selves, our flesh, will continue to chafe at the presence of the Spirit and pull us in the wrong direction. Trust what God whispers to us within, knowing his Spirit works to change us through Scripture and prayer.

Galatians 5:22-25: By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Now, here’s the really good news. When we let God work alongside us and within us, this freedom we have gained is never a chore. Instead, we experience a life of constant reward. Who would not want the fruit of the Spirit in their lives?

We taste this fruit occasionally and know we want more. I doubt if any of us experience or express the fruit of the Spirit all the time. I know in just the past week I would have liked to have better exhibited God’s Spirit to those around me. But I also knew immediately what I was lacking when I exhibited other, poisonous fruits.

If we are a Christian nation, what is true individually should also be true corporately. A Christian nation will show godly fruit more often than not. In particular, our leaders will show these traits most of the time. I will leave it up to you to decide whether we as a nation do enough to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Once we see such evidence of God’s presence expressed nationwide, we will know freedom, freedom rooted in God, has established itself deeply. There will be a taste of heaven on earth, and we as a people will shine as a light for all the world.

An even greater revolution than the one in 1776 will have occurred.

Freedom from Bondage

July in the United States is a time when we think about the value of liberty. I’m going to spend the month in a sermon series where we look at the freedom God offers us.

Specifically, I’m going to use texts from Exodus, an Old Testament book where we hear the story of God’s special relationship with the Israelites and the miracles God performed to free them from oppression in Egypt.

Today’s text, Exodus 6:1-11, has a couple of key points I want to highlight. First, God is revealing himself to the people of Israel in a new way. Through Moses, God is offering a deeper relationship with his chosen people by telling them a more intimate name by which they can know their God. In English translations, we usually use the word “Lord.” One transliteration of the name in Hebrew is “Yahweh.”

I also take particular note of how God continues to plan and pursue the Israelites’ freedom from Pharaoh despite their unwillingness to listen to Moses, a disbelief brought on by prolonged bondage and abuse.

It’s a powerful story, one that has inspired people enslaved in one way or another for centuries. But what does it mean to us today?

Well, first of all, we see how God desires freedom for his creation, in particular the people made for a relationship with God. God’s actions in Exodus are a precursor to God’s efforts to free the world from the bondage of sin, returning us to a state of holiness so we can be in his presence. Working as Jesus Christ on the cross, God breaks the power of sin and death, freeing us for eternal life.

Secondly, even as people freed from sin, we sometimes continue to wrestle with bondage in different forms. We can fall back into sin and find it difficult to escape despite the power we’re given; we can suffer in other ways, too, as we await Christ’s return and the final destruction of the evil that remains.

I’ve experienced my own form of bondage in recent years, something I’ve kept to myself for too long. It’s a spiritually crushing problem that’s hard to talk about, especially if you’re a pastor trying to live out the stereotype of never looking weak.

I get depressed, sometimes to the point where it’s difficult for me to focus on Scripture, prayer or other activities that keep me connected to God. This depression hits me particularly hard in winter, making me think it’s probably a seasonal, light-related thing.

I thought I had it licked this winter, taking precautions that are supposed to help. In late winter and early spring, however, it hit hard, swallowing me up like a soggy blanket.

My wife, Connie, noted dryly I had mastered the art of Lent, that somber season when we share in Christ’s passion and the walk toward the cross. It’s an important season to pass through, but the joy of the resurrection is supposed to snap you out of it! It didn’t this year, at least not right away.

I bring this up because I am reminded in Exodus how God worked in community with the Israelites, just as God works in community through the Holy Spirit now. God willing, I’ll experience another winter late this year and early next year, but I pray that this time I’ll remember I’m surrounded by people I can trust, people who can pull me up when I find myself sinking low.

Depression is just one form of bondage. There are so many others. Ongoing sins and various addictions come to mind. None of us should be afraid to admit we find ourselves bound from time to time. After all, church, that gathering of God’s people, is where we go to have the hateful knots untied.