Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because He said, Do it, or once abstained because He said, Do not do it. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you.
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Second Series – The Truth in Jesus
Christian Freedom – to Obey the Law
July 4th is the day we remember the founding of our country, and the day we celebrate the freedoms we have because we live here. Here is the next question: What does the word “freedom” mean to you?
Freedom is defined as the power to act, speak, or think, as one wants to, without being forced. There are different types of freedom. Freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion means you get to choose what you believe. Intellectual freedom means that no one can make you think a certain way. Political freedom means that we have the right to choose our leaders.
Freedom is also a biblical idea. The word freedom, and the related word liberty, are in the Bible more than 200 times. One of Jesus’ great statements is that “the truth will set us free” (John 8:32). In Galatians Paul tells us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). However, the freedom we enjoy as citizens of this country is not the same as the freedom we enjoy as followers of Christ. They are similar, but different. What I want to talk about this morning is the freedom we have as Christians – gospel freedom.
Last week we started looking at this idea of Christian freedom. We focused on freedom from the law. Our salvation does not depend on what we do, on following certain laws.
Freedom from the law means that our salvation depends on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. This freedom means that we don’t have to worry about our justification or our salvation. It is God’s gift to us and that allows us to live with confident assurance in the gift of God’s grace. Today, I want to talk about a second type Christian freedom – freedom to obey the law. Let’s look at what Paul says about this in our passage from Romans.
To understand what Paul says here it will help to get a little background into Paul’s thinking. Paul’s worldview is that every person is controlled by some sort of a power. No one is completely free and autonomous. Before Jesus came, everyone was controlled by sin. Paul calls us “slaves to sin.” Sin is a force, a power, that controls our lives. And because we are under the power of sin we are incapable of obeying God, of doing what is right. Because of the power of sin in our lives we all commit sins. Without Jesus you can’t help but sin.
God gave the law to the Jews. The law showed them what was right and wrong. The law shows us how God wants us to live. That is why we read the Ten Commandments. However, because of the power of sin in our lives, we may know what is right but we are not able to do what is right. Simply knowing the law does not mean you obey the law. I know the speed limit, but that doesn’t mean I always follow it.
Stephen Hawking, the brilliant astrophysicist, said this about his life. “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” His definition of simple is rather different from mine! Hawking has a brilliant mind, yet he also has Lou Gehrig’s disease. As smart as he is, he can tell his body to do something, but it won’t obey. Because of his disease his body can’t obey. The same thing is true for a person who is a slave to sin. They may know what is right, they may tell themselves that they will do what is right, but because of sin they are not able to do it.
The good news is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit works into our lives, we have been set free from the power of sin. We are no longer slaves of sin. Now we are slaves of grace, and that gives us the ability to obey the law. Through Jesus we are free to obey.
In our passage Paul responds to one of the objections to this idea. Since we are no longer under the power of the law, but under grace, should we sin so that grace keeps coming. Paul’s response is “By no means!” Most translations include an exclamation point after that statement to show Paul is trying to make a point. To be honest, I think most of these translations are lame. The Greek phrase is Me geneto. It’s fun to say – Me geneto. A better translation would be “What a stupid idea! How idiotic can you be? Of course we shouldn’t keep sinning. You used to be slaves to sin and now you’ve been set free from sin. Why would you go back to being a slave again?” Because of what Jesus has done for us we are free to obey. Without Christ we can’t obey. It is impossible. But with Christ, it is possible to obey.
In the fourth century Augustine put it like this. Freedom does not mean doing what you want to do. Freedom is being what you were created to be. Humans are created in the image of God and created to be in a relationship with God. Sin distorts God’s image in our lives and breaks our relationship with God. True freedom is not doing what we want, but what God wants. Freedom means obedience. Through Jesus Christ we are free to obey. Therefore, do it. Obey God’s law.
Obedience is not the most popular topic. It is also dangerous. Obedience must never be proclaimed as the way you earn God’s love. God loves you just as you are, whether you obey or not. Obedience is the way we respond to God’s love. And the good news is that because God loves us we are able to obey. Even more, obedience is important because it helps us to live in the way God wants us to live, in the way that is best for us.
Let me tell you a story about the importance of obeying. To understand the story it will help to remember that in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the word “obey” is the same as the word “to listen.”
In June 1998, Robert and Wesley were flying from Indianapolis to Muncie, Indiana. Wesley was the pilot and was flying a Cessna 172, a single-engine plane. Shortly after they took off Wesley slumped over the controls and died. Robert grabbed the controls and got the plane somewhat under control. Then he got on the radio and begged for help.
Nearby there were two experienced pilots who responded. They started giving Robert a steady stream of instructions, how to steer and how to climb and how to descend. The nearest airport was at Mount Comfort. Emergency vehicles lined the runway for what they thought might be a disaster. These two experienced pilots gave Robert instructions and had him circle the runway three times before having him try to land the plane. Robert listened and followed the instructions as if his life depended on it – because it did. The Cessna ended up going off the runway into a patch of grass, but Robert was not injured.
Imagine what would happen if everyone of us listened to God’s word and obeyed God’s word with the same passion and diligence. Each of our lives and our life together would be transformed. Please remember that we are free from the law which means that we don’t have to obey as a way to earn God’s love. God loves us freely and through the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are set free from sin and set free to obey the law.
Thanks be to God. Amen.