Romans 6:12-23 – New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Slaves to Righteousness
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you haven’t seen the Lego movie yet, I highly recommend it. It is the movie for Kids’ Movie Night in July. Come see it for free. It has a great message. John, you probably already have lots of ideas for the message for the kids at intermission, but I will give you a few more.
Emmet is the main character of the Lego movie. Playing with kids’ toys is good for the soul. I had a great time putting together this little scene the other night while I was thinking about today’s sermon. Luckily, the dog didn’t eat any pieces.
So, Emmet is an average guy. He is a construction worker. He lives according to the instructions. The Lego people have a book of instructions that they follow. Everything in life is governed by the instructions. The instructions tell you everything to do from what time to get up, how to get ready for the day, how to greet your neighbor. Everything in life is governed by President Business. There is one funny TV show to watch and one awesome song to listen to.
At work, Emmet has instructions to follow for building buildings. All buildings are the same – the workers simply follow the instructions for building the buildings. Everything goes according to the instructions.
When asked about Emmet, his co-workers, friends, and neighbors say he is simply average. There is nothing special about Emmet. He is forgettable and blends in, because he follows all the instructions like everyone else. Emmet thinks like everyone else and doesn’t stand out. He does what he is told to do in the instructions.
When I was building my little scene here, I followed the instructions. I couldn’t come up with something this creative on my own. I wouldn’t have been able to put this together without the instructions. I can understand Emmet’s feeling of safety and security in following the instructions.
The Jews throughout the Old Testament into Jesus’ time had the Law to follow. There are 613 laws or commandments (http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm). They start with the 10 commandments and carry on from there. The laws cover everything from prayers, blessings, love, family, caring for the poor, dealing with other races, marriage, sex, seasons, dietary laws, business practices, employees, slaves, vows, oaths, Sabbath, Jubilee, court and judicial procedures, property, prophecy, idolatry, agriculture, clothing, tithes, taxes, rituals, offerings, kings, and war. All in the Old Testament 613 commands to live by.
It is easy to understand why there needed to be Jewish scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Saducees to interpret, teach, and adjudicate the Law. As we see in the New Testament, some had lost the spirit of the Law. Paul has a lot to say about the Law in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 3:20, Paul clearly articulates the Law’s relationship to sin. He says, “…no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In 7:7, he says, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the Law.” And, in 2:12, “All who sin under the law will be judged by the law.”
The Jews had the Law, which was instructions to live by. The Law was meant to help Jews live as the people of God. The Law was not meant to be easy to live by. The Law challenged people to live not according to naturally human behaviors, but to live as a people who worshipped God and treated one another justly. It was not easy to follow the Law, because justice is not easy to govern. It may have been easy to not eat shell fish, but it was difficult to follow judicial and business practices. There were laws that were black and white and a lot of laws that were completely gray. The Spirit of the Law was justice, humility and devotion to God.
Back to Emmet in the Lego movie…Emmet had become a slave to the instructions. Someone finally pointed Emmet in a new direction. His new friend, Wild Style, showed him that there was another way to live. She set him free from the instructions and he became part of a new group of friends. His new friends were free thinkers and creative and didn’t live by the instructions.
With his new friends, Emmet had the freedom to think for himself. In no time, he was thinking outside the instructions. He was building things that he thought up. He was solving problems and forming plans. There was a life beyond the instructions.
The movie illustrates for us how someone can be set free from sin and given a new life. It shows the importance of new friends nurturing your gifts and living as God created you to be a unique and special person. You might say Emmet was set free from the Law and became one under the rule of God’s grace. In our Scripture from chapter 6, Paul says as a new life in Christ “you are not under the law, but under grace (v. 6:14).”
We have to be careful as Christians. We can come up with a whole list of things we should and shouldn’t do as Christians, how we should think, even how we should vote. Doing and not doing some things, thinking or acting a certain way does not make us Christians.
When we begin to set up parameters to live by we build a religion. We don’t need religion. Christianity is not meant to be a religion. The New Testament says only one thing about religion. James 1:27 says “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
We were set free from sin not to be religious, but to be spiritual beings. As spiritual beings, Paul says we now owe our allegiance to righteousness leading to holiness. The first half of Romans Chapter 6 was about our justification. We are now counted righteous by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. This second half of Chapter 6 is about sanctification, “the process by which a sinner becomes not just counted as righteous, but actually transformed for holy living” (Ted Smith, Feasting on the Word, Year A…). We do not earn grace by becoming sanctified or holy. “Sanctification is a free, joyful response to God’s gift of justification” (Ibid).
Sanctification comes through vowing allegiance to God. For Paul, we were not set free to do whatever we want; we were set free to choose God. He draws on the institution of slavery, because it was familiar to everyone. Truthfully, even if we are not indentured servants, we all have a master. We all have something that governs our lives and to which we pay homage. Paul says we have a choice – sin or God. Choosing God leads to righteousness which leads to holiness.
Being a slave to righteousness versus sin is a choice we make with every action. Will we allow ourselves to pursue wealth at any cost? Will we give into passion or practice self-control? Will we seek honor for ourselves or humility before God? Freedom from sin is not about the freedom to do whatever we want. Freedom from sin is the opportunity to consciously decide to follow God’s will. It is within our human nature to choose the easy way or the self-gratifying way, but, when we choose God, we have to make decisions that are difficult. We can choose to have our happiness and ease now or the blessing of eternal life.
Choosing to be slaves to righteousness takes power over ourselves which is a difficult task. Throughout Paul’s writings, he attests to 3 ways we receive power to be devoted to righteousness community, and prayer. Community is the gathered people of faith in which we remember the promises of God and encourage one another to live righteously. Prayer draws us more closely into relationships with God and one another and reminds us of our dependence on God (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1527).
I am hesitant to tell you how we can live righteously. That can lead to writing parameters to live by thus creating a religion. Or, it can lead to us thinking that we earn grace by acting a certain way or doing certain things. Religion does not lead to sanctification. Sanctification is a journey toward spiritual maturity. It comes from God’s power and grace.
There are many ways we can grow spiritually to reach maturity. We read our Bible, study the Scriptures, pray, gather as a community, tithe, share communion, and worship God. There are things we do in our private lives and things we do together in order to grow spiritually. But, spiritual maturity cannot be reached by private practice or communal worship alone. It is both/and.
This is where I think the spiritual, but not religious crowd gets it wrong. I don’t like the language used, because spirituality is what Christianity is about, not religion. But, for the spiritual, but not religious gathering as a community is religion and spirituality is what you do on your own. One cannot be a Christian apart from community. The spiritual, but not religious seek spiritual maturity apart from community, but you cannot attain the blessings and rewards of Christian grace and hope apart from community. You are growing spiritually just because you gather here. Be a part of this community because it is good for your soul.
For most of my life, I spiritual, but not religious. I wouldn’t have defined myself that way, but that is what I was. I believed in God, thought I was going to Heaven, and prayed, but I didn’t know Jesus. Then, someone invited me to church. He didn’t talk about sin, judgment, damnation, grace, forgiveness, the cross, or eternal life. He simply invited me to church and left the rest up to the Holy Spirit.
It is within a Christian community that I discovered that there was more to life. There was grace, hope, faith, and love. I learned the Scriptures and came to know God in a new way. Without community, I would have never discovered the truths of Christ. That is why it is so important to invite people to church.
It may open up their lives to the truth that there is more to life than the feeble hope they have without Christ. You don’t need to explain sin and grace. You don’t need to lead them through some special form of praying into salvation. Just invite them to church and let the Holy Spirit take it from there. We trust the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Let the Holy Spirit work in the lives of others. Invite people to community, the community you love and the community in which you grow toward righteousness and holiness.