by Pastor Doug Stratton — June 28, 2020
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 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. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 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?
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. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
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. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
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. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
CCI: For the last few weeks we have been looking at Paul’s letter to the Romans.
In this letter Paul presents the state of humanity (living in sin), the provision of God (freely given grace), the promise of God (no condemnation/no separation) and the expectation of God (Be transformed by God’s Spirit). In the first half of chapter 6, Paul speaks mostly about the work God does in declaring us not guilty. Here is the second half, he moves to our responsibility to serve God. In theological language the first half focuses on “justification” and the second half on “sanctification.”
Before we go any further, we need to address a piece of Paul’s imagery. Paul uses the slaves and masters throughout this passage. Today, when we hear the expression slave, we immediately think about the institution that began in our country 401 years ago with the arrival of the first African abductees to the Virginia colony. These slaves were ripped from their homes and families and treated like animals, herded onto ships and transported to a world about which they knew nothing, where they were sold as property.
This chattel slavery, which was not limited to the North American colonies, was one of humanities most abhorrent sins. While slavery in ancient Rome was evil, there was a form of slavery to which I believe Paul was referring when he wrote this part of the letter.
A person could become a slave in the Roman empire is several ways.
- She could be born a slave if her mother was a slave.
- He could be sold into slavery by his family.
- She could become a slave when the country in which she lived was conquered in battle. And,
- Men would at times sell themselves into slavery to pay a debt they owed.
I believe this 4th manner of enslavement is what Paul was thinking about. That is why he said, “when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey.” Paul is implying that slavery to sin or to righteousness is matter of decision. So, who will we serve? Who will be our master? To whom, or what will we sell ourselves?
There are many potential masters. We encounter these masters everyday of our lives. Our master is anything or anyone to whom we look to find validation, happiness or fulfillment. That is why Paul said “you are slaves to the one you obey…” That may be our appetites as we feed our stomachs, or our sex drives, or our insatiable longings for possessions. Our masters may be our friends or employers to whom we look for validation. Often in our society, our children become our slave masters as we strive to ensure that they like up and regard us as friends. We all know people who seem to worship their health or their bodies or their families or their political views.
Our egos are power masters that can enslave us in multiple ways. Any, and all, of these can become our master when we look to them for validation, happiness and fulfillment. And none of these masters will ever be satisfied. Paul tells us that in reality it is a binary choice, we will choose either sin or righteousness as our master. Sin leads to death and an ever increasing demand on our lives. What Paul calls righteousness will lead to peace, to contentment and to life. The choice is our own.
But to choose to obey righteousness requires that we face our needs and weakness, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and our anxieties and problems and bind ourselves to God through these things. Let these realities in our lives be the glue that attaches us to God’s love and grace. While we would prefer joys, success and strengths alone, these will never cause us to cling to the heart of God.
Brian McClaren has written:
“Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . .”
But there is a path of descent that we must journey before we are even
able to make these requests.
I love the Psalms of Praise. I love the Psalms that promise. I love the Psalms that declare, In you, oh Lord, have I put my trust, you make the trees produce fruit and supply the needy with shelter. But these psalms will not result in the deep and abiding presence of God. They are encouraging, we need to raise our voice in praise, but before we can raise in praise we must learn to cry with the Psalmist, “Out of the depth I cried…” or “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave  coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.”
As McLaren said, when we can learn to cry for help, then then troubles can be distilled and the relationship forged in that time of need will stand the test of time.
But we must descend into our need, we must face our fear, we must acknowledge our guilt, then and only then will come to place ourselves in Jesus’ hands, hands that knew fear, hands that cleansed guilt, hands that healed broken hearts.
Barbra Brown Taylor wrote:
“While those who are frightened by the primal energy of dark emotions try to avoid them, becoming more and more cut off from the world at large, those who are willing to wrestle with dark angels break out of their isolation by dirtying their hands with the emotions that rattle them most. So the best thing to do when fear has a neck hold on you is to befriend someone who lives in real and constant fear. The best thing to do when you are flattened by despair is to spend time in a community where despair is daily bread. The best thing to do when sadness has your arms twisted behind your back is to sit down with the saddest child you know and say, “Tell me about it. I have all day.”
The hardest part about doing any of these things is to do them without insisting that your new teachers make you feel better by acting more cheerful when you are around. After years of being taught that the way to deal with painful emotions is to get rid of them, it can take a lot of re-schooling to learn to sit with them instead, finding out from those who feel them what they have learned by sleeping in the wilderness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
This is the descent into service, and this is where we find true freedom – freedom to serve in the midst of our anguish.
Who will you serve?
~ Pastor Doug