Set Free to Serve God

Set Free to Serve God

In the world we live in, paying someone up front for the work they promised to do is usually considered foolish. Half now, half on completion, something like that. Why? Because once they have our money, what’s the incentive to finish the job? The objection that Paul addresses is similar. Paul, all this grace up front is going to keep people from a righteous life. There’s no incentive. Paul is saying, Oh, no, no. Grace is the incentive. And already in chapter 6, Paul has argued that it is Jesus who sets us free from sin. He flips the coin. He now speaks of being a slave to God’s righteousness. And immediately you’re like, Well, how can serving someone connect us with being free? Doesn’t being free mean I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want? However I want. In his great work, The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther, he answers that we’re all like a horse. Either God’s in the saddle or the devil’s in the saddle. Nobody is out there walking free. This idea of neutrality is one of the great lies that humanity has bought into. There’s this idea that somehow I can live my life in a moral way like Switzerland, this moral neutrality.

It’s not The other great lie is that you can have freedom without responsibility. Everyone growing up, I believe at one time or another has said something to the effect of, I can’t wait till I’m grown up and I can do whatever I want to do, generally in the context of going to bed. You’re sitting in the bed like, Oh, so unfair. When I’m an adult, I can go to bed anytime that I want. Then most of us also heard from our parents like, Whatever. I can’t do whatever I want. These are the best years of your life. Just wait till you have responsibilities. And that war goes on. Lie one, I can be morally or religiously neutral. Lie two, I can be free without responsibility. Because we’ve been made to serve the Lord. We will only be truly free when we are united to him. And Paul tells us that human autonomy is a lie. But then he goes on to tell us what seems like a complete paradox. He says that when we think we’re free, we’re actually enslaved. But when we become enslaved to God, that’s when we’re actually free. We’re looking first in this understanding of we’re free to sin, which means we’re actually bound up.

Back in verse Paul says this amazing truth, For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law, but under grace. Great truth. Calvin, speaking of this, he reminds us, he says, But as they carry about them the relics of the flesh, they cannot do otherwise than to walk somewhat lamely. That’s somewhat being very charitable, isn’t it? We walk lamely. Not somewhat. But Jesus has set us free from the power and the dominion of sin. And so Paul goes on to restate the objection that he already spoke to earlier. What then? Are we to sin because we’re not under the law but under grace? By no means. He’s already said we’re dead to sin because we’re united to Jesus. But that’s not the end of the matter. He continues, do you not know that if you present yourself to anyone as obedient slaves, you’re slaves to the one you obey, either a sin which leads to death or which leads to righteousness. He’s blowing up any sense of human autonomy. The riderless horse doesn’t exist. Now, before we all shake our head in agreement, yeah, Paul, we all agree with that. Just think about this for a minute.

This absolutely cuts against our own American values that we have breathed in from birth. Nobody can tell me what to do. I’m my own man. I do the things I’m going to do and how I want to do them. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Liberty means I get to do what I want, how I want, and believe whatever I want. That’s what we’ve breathed. Very familiar poem, William Ernst-Tendly, called Invictus. It captures this sentiment. Here’s just a few lines from it. I thank whatever God’s may be for my unconquerable soul. Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed. It matters not how straight to gate, how charged with punishments to scroll, I am the master of my own fate, I am the captain of my soul. He’s, Yeah. You tell him, Ernest, I’m the captain of my own soul. Here the apostle Paul is saying, Yeah, Go sell that garbage to the tourist. I’m not buying it. It’s what it is. It’s just trash. You’re enslaved to whatever you serve. And if you think you serve your own human autonomy, then you’re a slave to it. I mentioned last week how easy it is to see this with addictions.

The pursuit of pleasure, it totally enslaved, and then it destroys the very pleasures we’re seeking. We see that very easily in drugs and alcohol. But it’s true of all sin. It just can be harder to see at times. There’s this observation that often when a major film or TV starlet, she gets in her 40s or 50s, she often poses nude. Why? Because her star is falling because of age, and she’s so desperate to keep the Fame and her recognition going in order to keep generating attention. So that seems like a pursuit that will keep her in front of everybody. Pro basketball players losing that step, can’t graciously retire. So it goes from one small market team to another, trying to keep it going, eventually maybe ends up in China, as it has been playing for them. And all along the way, you hear nothing but these repeated refrains of, I’m not getting the respect I deserve. Because there’s a loss of the very thing that fed them. You see it in the Olympics. You see it how in countries trying to cheat through steroids or whatever. Why? Because of nationalism of glory, trying so hard to have this reputation, even if it’s a phony one.

So afraid of failure, a student cheats on exam, and now they’re locked into this descending spiral of doing whatever it takes to succeed at all costs. So maybe next is plagiarism, buying papers, cheating in other ways, lawsuits against professors for giving them bad grades. I must succeed at all costs. We fill our lips, our butts, our chest with silicone, male and female, to either change our appearance or try to maintain it. We are enslaved to a standard of beauty that’s killing us, making us miserable, but we do it anyway. You can choose your own identity, be who you want to be. We’re miserable. It doesn’t work. Can’t make it up. You tell a lie that entraps you. We spend so much time and energy trying to keep it going, trying to remember who we told what, and afraid it will happen as the truth comes out. And on and on it goes. If you serve recreation, it will own you in the end. If you serve work, it’s going to own you in the end. Same with sex, entertainment, wealth, and even the good things that we can turn into idles, family, financial security, a good name, and so forth.

And even in the midst of that, we’re trying to break free of that sin is just sit there whispering to us, Are you really going to let me go? Do you really want to get rid of me? I’m just going to sit real quiet over here on the corner. I won’t give you much trouble, but I’m here when you need me, and I think you’re going to need me. For all of our talk about freedom, We are sure a bunch of bound up people. And then paradoxically, Paul tells us that to be a slave to God, it will truly free us. Verse 17, But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. Now, that word committed could also be translated as to which you were handed over to. It seems odd that Paul is telling us, as believers, we’re handed over to a teaching. We expect him to say something like, You were handed over to Christ. I appreciate you put it in your bulletin, Charles Barrett. He said, One expects a doctrine to be handed over to believers, not believers handed over to doctrine.

But I think John Stott has God it right. He said Christians are created by the word of God and they remain subjected to it. Who do we believe in? We believe in Jesus. Which Jesus? The Jesus of the Bible. The teachings that he has given to us. As believers, there’s a submission to God’s word to the teaching that we have received. Then Paul says, And having been set free from sin, we become slaves of righteousness. We submit ourselves to this teaching. Then in verse 19, Paul says, I’m speaking in human terms because your natural limitations. All he’s saying there is that this metaphor about slavery, it’s okay, but it has its limits. Don’t Don’t store us the analogy too far. It is a poor but useful analogy. And he uses it because slavery was everywhere present in the lives of the people he’s speaking to. 30 or 40% of those in the Roman and Greek society were slaves. Now, it wasn’t a race-based slavery like in our American South. People could actually sell themselves into slavery from time to time to pay off debts. Many were well-respected, well-educated, well-cared for. And at the same time, there were some who were horribly abused by those who owned them.

It was always a mixed fact, but it was a very familiar one. And Paul goes on. For just as you once presented your members as as slaves to impurity, to lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness. So now present your members yourselves as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification. Holiness, it’s not optional for the Christian. We cannot separate our actions from our beliefs. We are called to become what we now are in Christ Jesus, and we are becoming what we will one day fully be. And Paul points to the past before knowing Jesus. He said, You were once slaves of sin, free in regard to righteousness, but you’re now ashamed of those things that you used to do. The end of those things was death. I have not heard anybody as they’ve gotten older, at least seriously, look back on their life and say, I wish I would have slept around more. I wish I would have gotten drunk and stone more times than I did. I wish I would have spent more time at the office rather than playing kids. I haven’t heard anyone say that. You know, I wish I spent more time worrying about the things I couldn’t change.

I worry that I can’t change that. Who does that? Nobody. You look back and you’re like, Oh, I spent a lot of time doing worthless pursuits. I wish that that would be different. And then Paul goes on. He says in verse 22, But now that you have been set free from sin, you have become slaves of God. The fruit you get leads to sanctification. It’s an eternal life. The fruit of slavery to God is wholeness. It’s sanctification. It’s not, as Wunrata puts it, justification by faith and sanctification by struggle. It flows out of our union with Christ, of being united to him. Sanctification It is a fruit of that. Paul gives this summary then, which is really well known to us. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. That word wage there, it was often used to speak of a wage that was paid to a soldier. What Paul is saying is that if you are a faithful follower of sin, if you are a soldier of sin, it will justly pay you your wages. You will get what you deserve. No dispute, no need to go to arbitration, no need for a union rep, no need for the Better Business Bureau, because sin will sit down the table with a broad smile on its face and give you a Cash payment for everything that you have done.

And that payment is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Grace is a gift. You get what you don’t deserve. By birth, we are in Adam, and we are a part of that sinful realm, that fallen kingdom. But now in Jesus, there’s been a transfer of ownership. Paul has been talking I’ll look at that in chapter 6. The first 14 verses, he’s been talking about our logic of baptism, united to Christ, gospel freedom. Now in these last verses, he’s talking about the logic of our conversion. Slavery to righteousness means being slave to God. Our conversion is trusting in Jesus, believing the truth, the teaching of Jesus. Paul is reminding us of who we now are. In this transfer from Adam to Jesus, Paul says that We are also transferred from the realm of the law, Moses, to the realm of grace, Jesus. He’s speaking of the condamation of the law. Two realms. There’s a new and coming one, there’s a present and disappearing one. It’s important that we keep that in mind. It is a mistake to think that we are fully arrived now, that we can have some sense of perfection in who we are.

That’s a mistake. We’re not going to be perfect this side of glory. It’s a mistake to think that, you know what? Nothing major is going to happen until we die or Jesus returns. No, substantial change is really ours because of the spirit of Christ in us. Now that we’ve been set free by Jesus, Pursue righteousness with a greater zeal than we pursued our sin. Paul is asking us this question. As he’s stating, We become slaves through the very things we serve serve? Who are you serving? What are you serving? Who’s your master? God or sin? What’s the outcome? Life or death? What’s the route you’re taking? Gift or earned? Paul’s laying that all out very clearly. He’s saying there’s no real freedom without responsibility. That’s what’s killing so many of us. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. It’s a lie. Freedom is not a moral vacuum. It always comes with responsibility. These are not to restrict us, but to enable us to walk in true freedom. New freedom always gets a new framework. Think about it. When you finally were able to get your driver’s license, a whole new world opened up for you.

All these possibilities of where you could go, everything got much closer. But this freedom came with responsibilities. I can’t just drive wherever I want. I can’t turn my lights off at night. I can’t pass on blind corners. I can’t go the wrong way up an interstate. Oh, you’re so limiting my freedom. I can’t believe you’re putting these restrictions on me. No, I’m just not wanting you to be an organ donor by 16. It’s so that you actually enjoy driving. Think about it, if you play a sport, it’s the rules that make the game. You can’t kick a basketball. You can’t use your hands in soccer. You can’t play soccer with basketball rules. That’s playing the game. It’s the rules that give you the freedom to enjoy it. Moreover, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 that we cannot serve two masters. We’ll love the one or hate the other. He’s speaking about God and money, but the same principle applies. You can’t serve two. It’s one or the other. Jesus died for us. He took our sin burden. He who was totally free, gave up his freedom so that we could be free in him. As we follow saying, yes to no to sin.

We develop a stronger appetite for righteousness, a stronger desire to worship, to care for others. It’s the fruit of that. In Jesus, we are a new humanity. We now have been freed, and that freedom enables us to love God and to love neighbor. Jesus dealt with the penalty of our law-breaking, and he has now released his spirit into to his people so they can truly fulfill the intent of the law’s commands. Love God and love neighbor. Being a slave to God is what really sets you free. It’s what you were made for. I think if you’ve ever been in a race car and you’re sitting there and the engine just… You’re stepping on, it’s just wanting to lurch forward. It was made for speed. Not to go around 25 miles an hour. It needs to have some long straight aways. Same if you’re on a thoroughbred horse. That horse is bred to run. And you thoroughly enjoy that horse when you’re letting it go and it’s frothing and running and going and the thrill that is there because that’s what it was made for. To be under grace is to be under obligation of God.

And it’s that freedom then to do What you have been made to do. It’s not a burden. It’s a you get to. And that’s the freedom that comes with that responsibility. They’re woven together. Grace puts us under obligation because grace loves us, wants us to be what he’s made us to be. You see, you are always yoked to something. There’s no person not yoked. Somebody is in the saddle. But if you are yoked to Jesus, he tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light because he loves us. He wants the very best for us to be free, to be really free, not not American free. To do whatever I want, say whatever I want, and run over top of anybody I want. Who gets in my way? No. Jesus free. To lay down your life for somebody. To experience the joy of sacrifice of service to them. Because that’s what Jesus does. And the more we look like Jesus, the more free we are. That’s what we have been made for. That is the fruit of being united to Christ. Flows from our justification. Pray with me. Father Almighty, Lord, we really don’t know what it means to be free very well.

And Lord, we ask that you would open our eyes to see farther, open our ears to hear more, a greater capacity to know and understand what you’ve really made us for. And Lord, we ask, too, that you would forgive us where we have really complained, chafed against you, sought the wrong things. Father, please set us free to serve. Set us free to be bound to you. And you alone is life. Give us this life, we ask. That Jesus, our Lord, would receive glory from we, his people. Lord, that in the midst of the world around us, put us there. Father, committed to your teaching of truth. And Father, through us, may it please you to use us to transform the world around us, the people on our path, to spread the good news of Jesus. We pray and ask these things all in his mighty name. Amen.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.