Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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Weapons of Righteousness

Romans 6:12-23

 One of my favorite authors is Norman Maclean.  I had the chance a few months back to read collection of short stories he wrote.  One of the stories is called, “The Ranger, The Cook, and the Hole in the Sky.”  

It came to mind when I read this text.  The story is about Maclean working for the Forest Service back in the nineteen-teens and how the forest rangers came back to town at the end of the summer to gamble and drink and so on.  At a certain point, he writes about he suddenly became aware that he was “becoming part of a story.”  And “the story” takes on a life of its own.  He plays a part in it, but it’s no longer his story, it’s “the story.”  

The Christian life is also “becoming part of a story.”  We live in the story of the exodus, the journey from slavery to freedom.  In the Old Testament, the exodus was a literal journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  The New Testament tells the same story, just a little differently.  When Jesus knew he was going to the cross, he intentionally put that journey into the context of the Exodus.  He was crucified at Passover, the remembrance of the Exodus.  And it’s part of the same story, but now the exodus is from slavery to sin and death to the freedom of new life in Christ.  

The story shapes all of life.  It tells us about the character of God.  And it also tells us a lot about the character God desires for his people.  

I would suggest to you that not only is this our story, but it is THE story, the one story that permeates life.  Look how often the same story shows up.  The signing of the Magna Carta was a journey from slavery to freedom.  The signing of the Declaration of Independence was part of the same story.  The Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights movement, apartheid in South Africa; all the same story.  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars; the same story.  It is told over and over again.  The details change, but it’s all the same story.  

Sometimes, only half of the story gets told.  The story is slavery to freedom; but freedom for what?  For what purpose are we set free?  Just to do whatever we want?  I would argue part of our problem in America today is that everyone wants freedom, but most people aren’t really sure what they are free for.  

There is a dangerous idea out there in the world.  “God accepts us just as we are.”  It’s not dangerous because it’s false.  On the contrary, it is true.  The danger is that it’s only half the truth.  The whole truth is “God accepts us just as we are, but God will not leave us where we are.”  Without the rest of the truth, it becomes dangerous.  

We have freedom for a purpose.  We are set free from sin for righteousness.  We are set free from death for a purpose:  To have abundant life in Christ.  

In the Old Testament telling of the story, Israel was set free from slavery in Egypt to become God’s own people, a sacred nation, a kingdom of priests, a blessing to all the nations of the world.  

You and I are set free from sin for righteousness.  We are set free to become a sanctified people.  We are set free to reflect the character and the goodness of God to the world around us.  

The Apostle Paul is beginning with the assumption in this text that everyone is a slave to something, and if it’s not God, then we are slaves to sin.  In some form, each person who is not free in Christ is a slave to sin.  Being a slave is not like having a job, though some jobs feel like slavery.  When you are a slave, you are never “off the clock.”  You don’t have a part of your life that belongs to you.  And the wages of sin is death.  Contrary to what we might think, many slaves in the first-century Roman world were paid wages.  The wage of a slave was called a peculium.  Certain kinds of slaves, like those that worked in the fields or the mines, were not paid.  But many “household slaves” were, and often times they were able to buy their freedom at some point.  But as the Scriptures say, the only wages we find being a slave to sin are death.

Christ has set us free from slavery.  One of the ways out of slavery was something called “sacral manumission.”  A slave could pledge their service to a god and to that god’s temple.  If so, they were “set free” from their master to spend the rest of their life serving that god and his or her temple.  That might the idea Paul has in mind here.  

In Christ, we are set free from the dominion of sin.  We call this “regeneration,” new life in Christ.  God’s Spirit sets us free from the power of sin over us.  Sin’s presence is still there, but it is no longer our Lord.  We are free to come under the Lordship of Christ.  But it requires our cooperation.  We have to seek out the full freedom from sin in our lives.  And sin won’t let us go easily.  It wants to regain its mastery over us.  

But as I have said, we are set free for a purpose.  The purpose is to become a part of God’s work against the powers of evil in this world.  One of the things we might miss if we don’t really study this passage is how it is permeated with militant imagery.  

In verse 13, the word translated here as “instrument” can also be translated as “weapon.”  And that’s probably the better translation because verse 13 also tells us to “present ourselves before God.”  The normal use of the phrase “present oneself” is to describe a soldier at attention, armed and armored, ready for battle.  

And in the last verse, verse 23, Paul speaks of God giving us a gift. The Greek word is CHARISMA, or in Latin, DONATIVUM.  The normal use of that word was that, from time, the Roman emperor would give gifts of money to the soldiers in the army, usually on special occasions like his ascension to the throne or his birthday.  

To be sure, some Christians are uncomfortable with militant imagery.  For example, some years ago, the United Methodist Church did a survey about which songs in the hymnal should be included in the next edition.  They asked people, “If you could remove one hymn, what would it be?”  The number one answer was “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  They also asked people, “If you could keep one hymn, what would it be?”  And again, the answer was “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Obviously, these were different people giving these answers.

But some Christians are wary of militant imagery.  We’ve seen the results of militant Islam:  “Convert or die” and “Death to the infidel.”  And in our own history, we have the pope telling Christians it was their duty to go on the Crusades, to retake the Holy Land by military force.

But I think the better thing to do is to correct the misunderstanding rather than indulge it.  Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.  Our struggle is against the powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.  Our struggle is against sin and evil in all the forms they take.  As the baptismal vows say, our struggle is “to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”  

The Church is the Body of Christ.  If Christ is going to do something in the world, then he is usually going to do it through the Church.  And we have been set free from sin and death to become a part of the struggle against evil, both the evil within ourselves and the evil in the world.  And that is our part in the story.

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