Today’s topic from the lectionary is freedom of faith, what the author Paul describes as an enjoyable state since we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:12-23).
“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Romans 6:12). Here Paul encourages us to no longer be captive to our sinful nature. This is great advice because once we become followers of God we have declared ourselves to be free from sin’s eternal grasp. The difficult part involves thinking, feeling and acting in a manner that demonstrates a liberated spirit.
We mustn’t ignore some of the implications and ramifications of Paul’s use of slave and master terminology. Most of human history has involved the horrendous institution of slavery, a practice condoned in both the Bible’s Old Testament and New Testament. Such a shameful legacy cannot be justified morally or rationally. This puts slavery defenders in an impossible position because they have created for themselves a quandary. For all of their desperate gyrations, they cannot reconcile enslaving human beings with Jesus’ teachings about compassionate love.
History reminds us that even in the United States slavery led to a civil war and generations of Jim Crow laws. Prejudice and discrimination attempt to demote African Americans and other minorities into second-class or even subhuman categories. Therefore, as we celebrate our nation’s freedom from control by England through the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, so also should we declare freedom from slavery. We must remain vigilant that new forms of imperial control and slavery do not again infect humanity.
Part of our duty as followers of God is to help set people free from all sorts of slavery, including literal servitude where humans are bought, sold and traded just like animals and other commodities. We must also reject the even more pernicious slavery of authoritarianism and demagoguery which, like a virus, can consume a nation by infecting hearts and minds. Political parties and leaders of all stripes exploit peoples fear, ignorance and anger, thereby creating a cancerous slavery infecting a nation’s soul.
Paul lived in a time when brutal slavery was woven into the DNA of a supposedly civilized society. Sadly, many Christians have continued to casually accept slavery into present times. Despite his own shortcomings, Paul’s warning against sin slavery is valid because those captive to it are often blinded to their plight. Bad habits can become so ingrained that people fail to perceive their own sins. “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
Part of our responsibility as Christians is to share God’s truth with one another such that we are encouraged to become new creatures, transformed by faith. We are redeemed from not only real and abstract slavery, but also from the slavery of destructive living. “But now you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life” (Romans 6:22). Do you feel set free from the power of darkness and negativity? Are you liberated from all that would imprison you?
Churches exist to be helpful in the process of helping people freely connect with God. Therefore we at St. John do whatever we can to help people choose the freedom of light and life rather than the slavery of darkness and death. Our collective mission as a spirit-based organization is to help people achieve the total freedom of spirit and body for which nothing can substitute. Are you ready to do your part?
It is liberating to recognize that we are no longer slaves to the Old Testament ritual Law with its spirit-crushing burdens. Instead, Paul reminds us that we are set free by God’s grace under the new covenant established by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you feel free to be all that God is inviting you to become? If not, seek discernment about what might be holding you back from realizing God’s promises.
God doesn’t want to take away our freedom. Yet it is our responsibility and privilege to make the best choices among the many we face moment-by-moment. Some religions attempt to police humanity by offering a seemingly endless list of rules and regulations. Read through the Old Testament and you’ll find a bewildering litany of “do this” and “don’t do that” commands. Rather than rules, God wants us to embrace principles. The best instruction emerges from Jesus’ life and teachings about the over-arching dominance of compassionate, sacrificial love.
The problem with a rule-based religion is that you can never come up with enough regulations to govern all areas of life. Slavery to complicated, convoluted commands are not the answer. Instead, we are invited to treat others as we wish to be treated and to demonstrate love above all else. Jesus reminded us that the principle of love is the greatest, that with love all things are possible and without it nothing else matters.
Do you feel free? Are you sharing God’s love that will free your spirit and others from bondage? Choose wisely by following God on the path of righteousness. Enjoy true life liberty by accepting God’s love, mercy and grace. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Declare your spiritual liberty and celebrate true independence. –Rev. Larry Hoxey