Freedom I can believe in – part 2 (1/4)

I have a small hearing problem…

Some of you may now think! Yes! You see, you see? I knew it? Pastor Patrick isn’t listening to me sometimes…

No that’s not what I mean…

Let me start again. I have a slight hearing problem in my right ear. When I was 7 years old I had a surgery and my ear never fully recovered. It’s working, but perhaps not how it should.

That is not so nice, but it’s not too bad though.

It gets worse when our spiritual ears are not working properly. That would be a bigger problem. When we read the Bible and God says something, what are we hearing? How do we hear? And consequently, how do we respond to what we are hearing?

This is the second message of 3 in total, last time I kicked off with Romans 6 about “freedom I can believe in”. Next week we’ll explore it from the perspective of Romans 8 which could be like a summary of all the previous chapters.

OK…Romans 7…It’s on now…

Probably this chapter is one of the most misunderstood, misappropriated and misinterpreted chapters of the whole bible. So, we need to be careful here in putting this in perspective.  In order to do that, we need to recap some things from the previous chapters of the letter to the Romans. It’s a bit unfortunate that the chapters are there, because originally it was one big letter. One line of thought, argument and application. We chopped it up and get it potentially very wrong if we just separate it by reading it out of context. Please, bear with me for a while.

Romans 1 – Paul introduces his gospel of which he is not ashamed, because it is the righteousness (right-standing with God) of God for those who believe. It’s important to understand that grace and faith work hand in hand. Grace is God’s tool activated by faith to make our new identity a daily reality. He transforms us daily back into His image, something that was lost when Adam sinned.

The dark side of the Good news is that all have fallen short. That’s what Romans 1:18-3:20 is about. Jews and gentiles are guilty as charged and totally incapable of redeeming themselves through works. It’s not going to happen.

That’s why Jesus Christ came to exchange our guilty record with his clean record (Romans 3:21-26). He took on the sin and shame of the whole world and put it on Himself, crushing it in the process. The holy demands of the law are now satisfied through the innocent blood of Christ, setting us free for God. Righteousness means to stand in a right relationship again with God. He is taking us back to the place before Adam and Eve ate from the tree. That’s Good News! We are justified before God.

Yet, justification is by faith. Faith is a big, big deal. That’s where Abraham comes on the scene in chapter 4. His life displayed the very requirement of standing in that right relationship with God; FAITH! He tried it several times on his own terms and it just got him into trouble. It was at the point of his life that human effort would not help any longer, that God ‘showed’ up and took over. What was impossible in human terms, became possible in God. This way Abraham became the father of faith for both the Jews AND the gentiles. Everyone is included here!

Paul continues unpacking in Romans 5 what justification by faith means in terms of the ‘benefits’. Peace, hope, joy, love, character and integrity, reconciliation…they are all part of the best package deal I heard of. It sure is Good News!

But remember! Paul is writing to a mixed church of Jews (who confess Christ as Saviour) and gentiles. It’s the Jewish part of the church that is still wondering where they stand in relationship to the Law of Moses. After all, they observed that Law for over 1500 years. The Law cannot be all that bad all of a sudden, can it?

On top of that, they are also afraid that all this freedom talk of Paul may very well lead to libertinism. Another word for it is antinomianism (living without any laws) What is that? Simply put…It may be a thought like this: “I am a forgiven sinner, free to do whatever I want and if grace will supersede sin, why not keep on sinning so that God’s grace will be all over me…” It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what some pastors and leaders are afraid of when you talk of righteousness and freedom in Christ…there have to be some rules there to stick to be OK with God. If not, it’s going to be chaos!

For the apostle Paul the thought of sinning and getting away with it because God is love and gracious was down-right preposterous. That’s why in Romans 6 several times he makes his point about the relationship between the believer in Christ to his life, sin and righteousness. The Christian believer died to sin. That’s where the picture of baptism comes in. It’s a powerful declaration of faith saying to the whole world that we, following the very steps of Jesus Christ, also died to sin to live in Christ. In that sense baptism is a contact point of faith and remember what faith does? It activates grace to make the new identity a reality in our lives. We are saved by grace through faith! Never forget that!

It’s one thing to say something about freedom to you. It’s another thing to actually believe it. Paul goes to great lengths to make his point that we are free. Its’ really a freedom we can believe in.

We don’t continue in the practice of sin because we died to it!

Verse 2 ‘How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

Then he goes on about baptism as the reference to this new identity.

But he says this more times…I think Paul is really pushy here? Why repeating himself?

Verse 7 says it again!

“For he who has died has been freed from sin.”

I think we got it now…not quite perhaps. That’s why Paul continues hammering this nail. He really wants to make it abundantly clear.

Verse 11 (in relationship to the death of Christ) “Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Verse 12 “DO NOT let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lust.”

Verse 13 “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin…”

Paul is on a roll here, but he isn’t done yet. Let’s keep on reading.

Verse 14 “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

I wonder if we are seeing the bigger picture already. I think that freedom is a big deal for Paul.

Paul keeps on hammering the nail…

Verse 18 “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

It’s not bad slavery here. No. It simply means that we are tied to Him now and that we are compelled to think no other.

OK OK Paul. I think we got it by now…

Well, one more time, just to make sure

Verse 22 “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness and the end, everlasting life.

So, what is Paul saying here? In plain English: you are really free! Believe it and it will lead to living holy, leading to eternal life. It’s not trying to live holy. That’s still works. It is living it because you believe you are a new creation, set free from the power of sin. It’s the spirit-filled life.

Paul was debating with his readers and probably also with his opponents that were in fact persecuting him for preaching a message that was offense to them. It’s the human inclination to protest even when truth is presented. There are two magical words that express that very clearly. Do you know which ones?

YEAH BUT!?

Yeah but Paul…and then human reasoning takes over…

Before the Jewish readers even come to that point, Paul makes an illustration to show the new relationship between the believer and the law. He’s using the analogy of marriage. Marriage is a legal commitment and a covenant relationship in one. It means that we are bound to our spouse by law, but we are ‘bound’ because we are in a covenant relationship first of all. It’s a covenant of sacrificial, giving love. Because it is so precious and self-giving, it is also protected by law. But the law itself does not withhold people from getting a divorce. What keeps them back might be finances, kids or even social status. In the end what keeps people together is not ‘feeling that they are in love’. It’s the self-giving love. It’s till death do us part!

The whole point that Paul is making here is this. In order to be alive and born again, something first needs to die. WE die to the law and are therefore free, but we are free in the sense that now we marry Him who set us free in the first place; Jesus Christ! We die to live in Him! Isn’t that amazing?

It’s Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). He is our Husband to whom we are bound now. In order to marry Him, we first need to die to our first husband (the Law) so that we may live with Him. Did you get that?

Die to live. The Christian life is an upside down one! It seems an oxymoron, a contradiction-in-term. But it only seems that way.

In the next blog I will unfold this even more. Stay tuned.