A Slave to Freedom: Romans 7:14-25
Pentecost 3 – Proper 9: July 3, 2011
Pastor Richard Mau
Immanuel Lutheran – Des Plaines, IL
Psalm 145 Romans 7:14-25a Matthew 11:25-30
The apostle Paul understood freedom. He was born both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He enjoyed rights and privileges that a great many of his Jewish people did not have. Paul also understood slavery. It was a common practice in the Roman world. Paul understood and experienced being a prisoner. Despite his “freeman” status, Paul often describes himself as a servant or slave or prisoner. In his epistles he calls himself a servant (a type of slave) four times and a prisoner two times. He writes that this is not his doing but is by God’s will three times and God’s command another two. Paul also states that he has been “set apart” two times. All of this, he writes, is for the “Gospel of Jesus Christ,” [Romans 1:1] to proclaim the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus [2 Timothy 1:1] and the hope of eternal life [Titus 1:2]. Paul was literally in chains as a prisoner in Philippi and in his last recorded venture from Jerusalem to Rome.
Today Paul writes as a “guy-in-the-pew.” Growing up he undoubtedly was privileged to have the finest educational opportunities. His family home was Tarsus that housed one of the finest universities. He was schooled in the Pharisee tradition under Gamaliel, arguably the most prominent Jewish teacher of the time. Paul recognized that neither his birth status nor his roman citizenship nor his “privileged” educational experiences nor anything else separated him from being the same as you and me and anyone else in this world. He knew the gifts in the freedoms he had. He knew the responsibilities he had as a citizen. He knew God’s law and prophecies in the Old Testament. He knew the traditions of the church. He knew obedience. He knew how to work. He knew how to read and write quite fluently. He knew life and death both physically and spiritually in front of God. Paul knew the powers of politics, the powers of church structure, and the powers of persuasion. Paul knew his strengths. Paul knew he was helpless and hopeless in his sinful condition before God.
Paul knew himself inside and out. Paul knew the greatest thing he had was having received God’s love in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of all of his sins and the sure and certain hope of eternal life through Christ’s suffering and death. Paul knew that his greatest freedom was being held as a captive and as a slave/servant to the Gospel of Jesus Christ above all else in this world. Paul knew that without Christ he was held captive in the clutches of death, both in this world and for eternity.
Prior to this chapter, Paul has outlined that in faith in Jesus Christ each one is dead to sin and alive to God. In faith each one is buried in Jesus’ death to walk in newness of life, no longer enslaved to sin. Believers were formerly slaves to sin but now are slaves to righteousness in Christ. The fruits of sin is death but the fruits of slavery to God leads to sanctification, being made holy again for eternal life. [Chapter 6].
In this section Paul reminds us that God’s law is by God’s design and institution for good for all people. God is good. His law is only good. It is the temptation and falling away from this law that is bad, it is evil. That is sin. There is nothing good in sin and nothing good comes from sin. Guilt and shame and anger and envy and hate all are the results of sin. In our natural state in this flesh, each one is owned by sin, just as a slave is owned. There is no hope of freedom from this condition. Roman slaves and all slaves of all times longed to be free from whoever/whatever owned them. Knowing what freedom is in opposition of slavery makes one even more eager to have that freedom.
As Christians, each one longs to follow Jesus in all ways. As Christians, each one is as Jesus describes us inGethsemane, having willing spirits but weak flesh. It is the internal war that goes on inside each person whether Paul or Peter or you or me. The continual falling back into sin is beyond what anyone can understand, even Paul as he writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…So it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” We hear Paul describing the tension he lived in, the tension each Christian lives in day in and out while in this world.
It takes us back to Gethsemane. The disciples wanted to stay awake with Jesus. The disciples wanted to fight with and for and die with Jesus. But they fell asleep. They ran in the time of trial. They went out and wept bitterly. They hid behind locked doors. They hoped for something they did not understand what they were hoping for and something that would have to be a miracle. Jesus fulfilled all of that for them. He fulfilled all of that for you.
The Lord is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
The preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
This week we celebrate two freedoms. Tomorrow the freedoms God has given all to enjoy in this nation. Today and always the greatest freedom, that from guilt and shame and anguish that has been won by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross for you. That freedom from the entanglement of sin is your joy in this struggle in this earth.
We know that the freedoms we have in this nation come with responsibilities. We know that the freedoms we have in this nation have limits. We know that the laws of this nation are intended for the good of all, to keep all things in balance so that each one can enjoy his/her freedom. We know that God’s law is there for each one’s good. We know that knowledge of the law tells each one how enslaved to sin we are. We know that Christ took all of that sin yoked onto his shoulders to the cross. Today he gives you the yoke of sins forgiven, the burden removed, and life everlasting with him. Being yoked or enslaved to him is pure and perfect freedom, now and forever. Amen.