Primary Text: Romans 6:15-23
Independence Day. The day Americans celebrate their freedom from tyranny by drinking beer and blowing stuff up. In American, freedom means the right to do whatever you want. Thoughtful Americans add, “as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s freedom to do what they want.” Not only is this circular, it’s also not biblical.
How many of you have ever heard someone say it’s okay to do something they know is wrong, because God is going to forgive them anyway? It’s the old deathbed confession trick, right? You live life however you want, and then it a last-minute you pray, “Jesus, I’m sorry. Amen.” And he’s got to let you in, right? That’s totally a thing. Jesus is a nice guy. He’s gotta let me in.
There’s only one problem. It’s a lie. Not Jesus being a nice guy. He is! No normal, non-broken person looks at someone they love and thanks, “Wow. That is one amazing human being. I love them so much, I think I’ll punch them in the face. I’ve always wanted to punch someone in the face, and now, at last, after years of friendship, I’ve found someone so loving, so gracious, so forgiving, that I could punch him right in the face and know that they will forgive me. Finally!” Kapow!
It’s ridiculous. And yet we’ve all said it. Like that guy who parked in my spot last year. I introduced myself and do you remember what he said? “Yeah, we saw the sign said pastor’s parking. But we figured you’re a pastor so you have to forgive us.” Kapow!
They said it, I believed it, and it’s a lie. He didn’t park in that spot because I’m a pastor. He parked there because he didn’t want to walk four extra blocks. He doesn’t care if I forgave him. He’s just a regular human being who will do the right thing as long as it isn’t harder than the other available options. Then why did he say it? And why did I believe it?
Because it’s easier than facing the truth. Paul asks the church in Rome “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” Doing whatever you want and then apologizing on Sunday is not okay. Even in Bible times they knew that.
But he doesn’t just say it’s wrong. He says it’s a lie. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you will obey?”
When we run run around doing whatever we want, we are actually slaves to our own passions. When we run around chasing the American dream, we are actually slaves to consumerism. When we dance to the tune of whatever controls us, we are already slaves.
I told you it was uncomfortable. And it leads us strange places. If we were slaves to sin, does that mean we are now slaves to God? God is a slaveholder? Paul admits it’s a weak metaphor. He says, “I’m using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”
Slaves were about as common as a BMW or a Cadillac. A sign of status, but not something that would make you stare. So Paul grabs that as an example. When you obey like a slave, you already are one.
And to summarize Paul loosely, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Sin is not breaking a rule and getting away with it. Hee hee hee hee. Sin is what ever kills you. Even if it kills you slow. Even if it only kills your soul. Sin is whatever kills you, and when you know it and you do it anyway, the metaphor Paul uses is slavery, the slow death that eats away at your humanity.
And what do slaves need? A lecture? Someone to tell them slavery is wrong and they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Do slaves need a motivational speaker? Someone to teach them the power of positive thinking? Slaves need two things: hope and help. And they need them yesterday. Thankfully, I know a place built on infinite hope, and practical help. Yes, you can do it on your own, but again to quote Paul, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
If you park in my space will I forgive you? Yes. But that won’t help you stop being a jerk. If you drink yourself stupid every night and then pray for forgiveness on your deathbed, will God still love you? Yes. But that won’t fix your liver. When I have a hard time being a better dad, or a better husband, will my family forgive me? Probably. They’re awesome like that. But that’s not what I need.
I need parents who will come alongside me, people I trust enough to be honest, people gentle enough to be helpful. I need people who’ve already walked that road, who can show by their example what might be possible. We need people who love us enough to tell us the truth, who love us so much that they’ll speak it so we understand. That’s real help. And it happens here every week.
And hope? Paul says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sin pays wages. As much work as we spent getting into trouble, it’s going to take at least that much work getting out again.
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Sin is work, but life is a gift. We didn’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. God loves us, and that settles it. That’s the secret that kicked this whole conversation off. God loves us. Does that mean we can go do whatever we want? Sure. You can hold firecrackers in your teeth too. But I wouldn’t call it freedom.