by Pastor Doug Stratton — July 5, 2020
Romans 7:15-25, Matt. 11:25-30
I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
CCI: Only in dependence upon God and God’s provision of forgiveness and community can we know independence from the oppression of sin.
Intro: This weekend we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. On July 4th 1776, 56 men from the 13 states of America united “to dissolve the political bands which had connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, their separate and equal station.” Their declaration enumerated 27 grievances that gave weight to their claim. That declaration has given rise to calls for liberty throughout the world because its basic truth that all are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights is a truth that resonates with all people. The Declaration of Independence is truly an inspirational document.
Today, however, I want to challenge, not the Declaration, but the concept of independence being the goal of humanity. Since the Enlightenment, the idea of the independence of the individual has been central to the way we understand people and government. It was understood that the quintessential American was the rugged individualist who did not need others, but was fully independent. This thinking has even entered the teachings of the church as we have at times focused exclusively on individual salvation. Sometimes it seems like the gospel is the story of Jesus and me.
And so, in the passage we just read from Romans, we have traditionally seen this as Paul’s one man battle against sins in his life. But could Paul actually be calling us to a deeper understanding of our relationship to sin and to God. Might it be that the battle is between sin and humanity as a whole? Paul has been talking about the fact that the Law is Holy, and righteous, and Good, but sin still appears to rule the day. We all know our personal sins, and we think that with Paul, if we just try harder we can defeat them. But in this passage we are being told that sin simply is, because sin is part of the system of this world. Humans crave power, we strive for independence, we look for ways to dominate the people around us, we scheme for control over others, over situations and over our own lives. And this craving and striving and searching and scheming is at the center of sin. No matter how hard we try, we cannot put the reign of sin to rest in our lives or in our communities. A core principle of the enlightenment is that progress is inevitable given time and education. Paul contends that our longing for independence means we will remain enslaved to the destructive power of sin.
And so Paul offers us another approach, not independence, but dependence. He asks, “Who will free us from this unending treadmill of struggle and sin?” And then he declares: “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does lead us to freedom.” Freedom comes when we recognize our dependence on Jesus Christ and the body of Christ. We cannot find victory alone, but only as we surrender to Jesus. This is the declaration of Dependence that will change our lives.
I have asked my dear friend Dr. Bill Livingston to share with us his understanding of dependence. Bill was a VP for a military contractor, led the graduate HR program at Baker College, and has served as a pastor and interim pastor over the years. Once, Bill even moderated a meeting for the church I served in Michigan. But even more importantly our sons have been best friends from elementary school, so it is a pleasure to introduce Bill to all of you.
Bill, thank you for being a good friend over the years, and thank you for being willing to talk to us today.
- When you hear the expression “The Declaration of Dependence” what is your first reaction?
- How do you see independence and dependence working in the Christian life?
- Can you relate to Paul’s words of struggle?
- Is there anything else you would like to share?
The Journey from personal independence to dependence on Jesus Christ, is generally not like traveling through a wormhole that suddenly changes our experience.
Bono, in a personal testimony has said: “Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time…. I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties “let go, and let God.” But it was not like that for me. For all that “I was lost, I am found,” it is probably more accurate to say, “I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.” And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”
My, I wish it were not a long journey, but it is, even for those who have miraculous turn-arounds, it is still a journey that will last throughout our lives. It begins with your own declaration of Dependence on Jesus.
Tim Keller has said, “Here’s the gospel: you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe; you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”
So throw yourself on Jesus whose invitation is clear: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
~ Pastor Doug