Slavery and Freedom:
A Sermon on Romans 6:19-23
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Slavery at the Fall:
Adam’s sin earned him the just reward of death and condemnation. Though he had the freedom to choose between good and evil, he chose evil. Desiring to free himself from God’s Word, he enslaved himself to sin, death, and the devil. Falling into the devil’s temptation, he lost the righteousness with which God had blessed him, and, instead, clothed himself with shame and sorrow. He chose evil instead of righteousness.
Though Adam had the ability to make a choice between good and evil, his children do not. This “choosing of evil” has been passed down from generation to generation. His descendants are diseased: stained in his likeness, in his image of sin. His offspring are infected with the choosing of evil. It is with this sickness, and into this slavery, that we, mortal sinners, were born: delivered into the slavery of sin, bound only to evil.
Slavery After the Fall:
Being enslaved to sin, we thought we had freedom and free will; but, we, in fact, did not. When it came to God, we knew nothing of Him or His righteousness. We only knew sin. To be enslaved to sin means your freedom is limited, and your will is confined only to hate the things of God. You could only choose between evil and evil, sin and sin, or death and death. Pick your poison: every option leads to death. Understand, it is not that the option for good did not exist, it is that we are ignorant of what is actually good! Since you cannot choose, decide, or believe in what you do not know—and since we did not naturally know God or His Word—we could never choose good, but only evil. Why? Because only God is good, and we were born without faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
Moreover, not only were we born as slaves to sin, but we are guilty of entangling ourselves even more in the chains of unbelief and disobedience. We committed these sins freely and willingly. However, that too was slavery to sin. To do only what you want to do is not true freedom: it is to be dominated by your desires. We were in bondage to the cravings of our sinful heart. You could do anything in the world, but keep the ten commandments! As a result of the sin we were born with, and the sin we have since added to ourselves, we have also earned the just reward of our death and condemnation: the wages of sin is death. Our only freedom was to rot and decompose in our guilt and shame. We entangled ourselves in the miserable need to sin. What a deplorable slavery that leads only to death.
Freedom in Christ:
But, God, in His rich grace and mercy, saw your miserable condition and chose to cause your salvation from before the foundation of the world. Knowing that you were shackled to sin, enslaved to the devil and that you could not by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus or come to Him, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…” (Galatians 4:4-5). Moreover, when He found you owned by the devil and under the dominion of sin, He purchased you, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent, bitter sufferings and death so that you might be His own. He freed you by paying the wages of your sin: temporal and eternal death. He did this so that you would no longer be enslaved to sin, death, and the devil, but belong and live with Him forever. He unlocked the gates of hell, freed you from damnation, and placed you in His kingdom. He washed away the stain of sin from your heart and hands in Baptism, and He called you out of the darkness with His Word. Before you could ever choose Him, He chose you. Before you could do any good work, He accomplished the Good Work of salvation in your stead. In His life, He freely chose only the good, and freely He imputed all of these good works to you.
Dear saints, the Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, exhorts you to live in the freedom which Christ has purchased for you! God says,
“For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free concerning righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Take these words to heart! You have not freed yourself from sin; but, “…you have been set free.” Concerning your freedom from sin, you were passive; God was active. It was not your work, but His! St. Paul reminds you that your freedom from the slavery of sin is God’s gift to you! You would expect the text to say, “The wages of sin is death”…and, “the wages of good works is life.” But, contrary to our reason and expectations, it says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Salvation is not earned or decided by us; God gives it through the death and resurrection of Christ!
Now that you have been set free from the slavery of sin, what are you to do? Are you to return to that enslavement? Are you to go back to rejecting God and His Word? Of course not! Earlier in this chapter, St. Paul exhorts all Christians saying,
“How can we who have died to sin still live in it? Our old man was crucified so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. . . . For he who died is justified from sin. . . . Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness. Sin will have no dominion over you.”
Adam was free to choose; he chose evil. You were born in this evil; you could do no other but evil! However, now that Christ has freed you, you have a choice! He says, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” Why is this? Why does he talk to you as if you are free? It is because you are. John 8:36 says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be freed indeed.” The Gospel does something: it truly frees you! You are no longer dead in your trespasses and enslaved to sin; you are alive in Christ and free in Him!
Now that you have this freedom in Christ, why would you choose something that only brings you death? Why would you want the evil works that embarrass you, cause you great shame, and burden your conscience? Why would you choose to reject God and His precious Word? Why would you return, and remain in the filth from which you were freed? Take heed, lest you put on the shackles of sin and bind yourself to the devil again! Be careful not to take this freedom for granted, or that you think of sin lightly. Do not reject the grace of God by receiving His forgiveness for granted, lest you slide back into your original state of corruption! If so, your latter condition will be worse than the first! [2 Peter 2:20-22]
You have not been freed to sin, but freed from sin and its dominion over you! Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace.” Don’t return to your filthy sins of idolatry, adultery, and covetousness. Rather, leave your sin where Jesus crucified and buried it. Being freed by Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, choose what is right and holy. Reject what is evil and wicked! Present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification! Know that this freedom from the slavery of sin is found only in Jesus. Whenever you follow God’s Law, you simply move, speak, and act by His Spirit. For example, when you fight off your sinful flesh and keep the 3rd Commandment by coming to church, holding God’s Word sacred, and teaching it to your children, you are acting freely by the Spirit of God. Alternatively, when you keep the 6th Commandment and stop living together before marriage, and repent of committing adultery, and other sins of promiscuity, it is because you have been freed from those sins and are now a slave of God and His righteousness. The same goes for the other eight commandments as well!
As you rejoice in this freedom, you must also know that your flesh will stubbornly resist God and His Word. Sin still clings to your flesh! Your life is to be a life of repentance. There will never come a time in this life when you do not have to repent. You will always need Jesus and the freedom which He gives to you. When you do sin out of the weakness of your flesh, don’t turn to your personal commitment to Jesus. When you slide back into sin, and when you see the lack of righteousness in your flesh, don’t look at your works. When guilt burdens you and when you find nothing good in your heart, don’t try to revive yourself through emotional songs, self-help books, or rededicating your life to God. Rather, when you find yourself moving back to the sins from which Christ has freed you, run back to hear God’s promise of commitment and dedication to you. When you fall back into sin, don’t turn to your efforts to get you out; they did not free you in the first place! Rather, cling to the gift of God which is the forgiveness of your sins. Rejoice that He has made you His own! Don’t turn to your efforts; move on to the cross and see how your Lord has freed you.
God’s forgiveness is your freedom. He has given you His Word, and, through it, the faith to believe it. The faith His Word gives you is not dead, but living. This faith is bound to bring forth good fruits; in faith, you are a slave to His righteousness. Where He is, you will also be. What He has done, you are bound to do also. You will do what is already yours by faith. The works you do lead to sanctification, that is, to holiness.
Freedom in the Resurrection:
Dear Christians, rejoice, because although you find no rest for yourself in the struggle between good and evil, know that God has promised you rest at last. He has promised to take you from this vale of tears and sorrow, and give you everlasting peace. In the resurrection, you will not only be freed from the slavery of sin, but you will be freed from sin itself. God will free you from backsliding, or any re-enslavement to sin. In that day, He will cleanse you from all sin and its remnants. God will confirm you in His holiness so that you will no longer be able to fall out of that blessed and happy state through any sin.
In that day, you will be equal to the angels (Matthew 23:30), and you will see God face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12). On that day, much more will be restored to you through Christ than was ever lost through Adam. Why? Because the freedom that Adam had was the ability not to sin; but, your freedom, dear saints, will be to be unable to sin! Every error will depart, every grief removed, and every fear taken away. All these things will be replaced with that for which you have struggled and hoped.
May He carry us to this full and complete freedom in body and soul! May the Author and Perfecter of our salvation complete the good things which He has begun in us, and may He be blessed forever. Amen.
My soul was carnal, blind, and bound
By sin, and never sought Thee,
Lord Jesus, though I ever found
All else no comfort brought me,
No peace, no rest
Within my breast;
My troubled soul remained unblest,
Of Thee I ne’er bethought me.
In pity, then, Thou cam’st to me,
Thine arms to me extending;
I heard Thy voice: Come unto Me
And rest in peace unending.
Love thee full well,
He saves thy soul from death and hell,
In perils thee defending.
To me the preaching of the cross
Is wisdom everlasting;
Thy death alone redeems my loss;
On Thee my burden casting,
I, in Thy name,
a refuge claim
From sin and death and from all shame-
Blest be Thy name, O Jesus!
Trinity 7: Romans 6:19-23
July 10, 2016 AD+
[This sermon was preached on Trinity 7, July 10, 2016, to the saints of St. Paul Lutheran Church and Trinity Lutheran Church in Iowa, under the spiritual care of Pastor Andrew Preus]