Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Slavery to Freedom

Romans 6:12-23

Now the image of slavery is not as familiar to us as it would have been to Paul’s readers. Slavery is still alive and well in our world, but now it’s under the radar. And our understanding of slavery from our own history is different in some ways from the slavery that they knew. Many of Paul’s readers either were slaves or they had been slaves. In any case, they were all familiar with slavery, since it was a part of daily life for them. More than half the population of the city of Rome were slaves.

Since slavery is no longer an everyday thing for us, fortunately, sometimes I’ve heard sin described in the language of addiction instead. And perhaps that’s helpful, though if you stop to think about it, addiction itself is really a form of slavery.

And there’s something helpful here, even if slavery is not a daily reality for us. It has been observed that the entire human experience can be summarized as the journey from slavery to freedom. That story is told over and over again in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a literal story of slavery to freedom. Sometimes it’s a story of political freedom. Or social freedom. Or personal freedom. Or financial freedom. And so on.

And sometimes the story can be mistold. I would argue the “sexual liberation” movement of the 1960s was a mistelling of the story. When we think about how much divorce, addiction to pornography, abuse, and other sexual issues we have in our society today, I think the story was mistold. But just because a story can be mistold doesn’t change the essential truth of the story. Human beings were meant to be free. That is our story.

The Bible is essentially a story of slavery to freedom. In the Old Testament, it is the Exodus, the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. In the New Testament, it is a New Exodus, a journey from slavery to sin and death to freedom and life in Christ.

Now the Hebrew people in the first century believed that they were not slaves to sin. They believed that because they had the Law, they were free. They believed all the Gentiles were slaves to sin, but not them. One of the arguments Paul has been building up all through Romans is that this was not, in fact, the case. The Hebrew people, Law or no Law, were also slaves to sin. The Law brought an awareness of sin, it exposed what sin is, but it did not give freedom from sin. It gave one no power over sin.

Christ alone gives power over sin. That’s the focus of the first half of chapter six. We died to sin. We are joined to Christ in his death and his resurrection. Our sin is crucified with Christ so sin might lose its power in us. As such, we are no longer slaves to sin. That’s the focus of the first half of chapter six. The second half deals with the question, “What should we

do now?” The first half is primarily theological, and the second half practical. That’s the pattern we see over and over in Paul’s writings: If this is the truth, then what should we do?

Paul is refuting the “antinomian argument” here. Antinomian means “without any law.” That’s a theologian’s term. We don’t actually see it in Paul’s writings, but it’s what he’s talking about. The antinomian says, “If Christ has saved me from sin, then there is no longer such a thing as sin. Therefore, it makes no difference how I live. I can whatever I want.”

Paul says, “Do not let sin control you.” This is an imperative command, a call for action, but it’s based on the declarative statement in the first half of the chapter: “You are no longer a slave to sin.” If this is true, this is what you should do.

The fourth century theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote that apart from Christ, a person is “non posse non peccare,” Latin for “not able not to sin.” A slave to sin, in other words. No matter what you do, you will inevitably sin. But in Christ, we are “posse non peccare,” “able not to sin.” We are free from sin’s power over us. It no longer has dominion in our lives. But we can still do it. We can still choose to sin. Now we must choose whether we will continue in sin or seek the righteousness of God.

In addition to the slavery image, Paul also uses a militant image here: “Do not use the parts of your body as weapons for wickedness.” The word here for “tool” or “instrument” is really better understood as weapon. There’s a war going on in the world, and rather than allowing any part of us to be a weapon of wickedness, we should devote our whole being as a weapon of righteousness for the glory of God. Every word, thought, and action should be brought under the dominion of Christ for the glory of God.

“Do we go on sinning?” Of course not! Because if we do, then we make sin our master again. If we obey something, we make it our master.

The great misconception is that freedom is doing whatever we want. Freedom from God is the great illusion. The truth is that real freedom is freedom for God, not freedom from God. We find true freedom in reflecting the image of God, under the lordship of Christ. The power to live in that true freedom comes from joining our story with the story of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Sin offers us freedom, but it is a lie. Sin will only make us slaves to sin. Sin always begets sin. The first time we do something we know to be wrong, we typically do it rather hesitantly. We know it’s wrong. Perhaps we feel ashamed to do it. But the second time is easier. And the third time easier yet. And sometimes the thing that we were once hesitant to do becomes the thing that we must do. That imagery of addiction can be helpful to understanding sin.

The result of sin is death. Sin breaks our relationship with God, and when we are cut off from relationship with the author and giver of life, we will die. The wages of sin is death.

Paul is again using the imagery of slavery here, but it might seem strange to us. Why would slaves receive wages? Well, the fact of the matter is that most slaves in the first century world were paid wages. Not all slaves. The slaves that worked in the mines or in the galleys of the ships were generally prisoners of war or condemned criminals. They weren’t paid wages. But household slaves, which constituted the majority of slaves, were paid wages. Their wages were called a “peculium,” and this was how slaves became freedpersons. They saved up and bought their freedom. Typically, a slave’s wages would be seen in positive terms. But Paul uses it as a negative: The only wages you earn being a slave to sin is death.

On the other hand, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. The word “gift” here is the Greek CHARISMA, or the Latin, donativum. Now we’re back to the militant image. A charisma was a special gift given by the emperor to all the soldiers in the army to mark a special occasion. It was not part of the soldier’s pay. We would call it a bonus today. One time when emperors would give this was after they won a great victory. God, being victorious over sin and death in the resurrection of Christ gives a gift to us, his “soldiers:” Eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Sin might promise us freedom, but it only delivers death. God, victorious over death, gives us a gift of eternal life.

We are not trying to satisfy the demands of the Law in the hopes of earning life. Instead, we are responding to the grace, the gift of God. God’s gift should inspire us to be free from sin. Inspiration is a greater tool than the burden of a law. Rather than feeling burdened to live in such-and-such a way, we should feel inspired to reflect the image of God, just like Christ who loved us so much that he died for our salvation. What greater thing could there be for us to aspire to?

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