Slaves of Righteousness
Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, I would like to look at our Epistle Lesson, Romans 6:12-23.
In December of 1525 Martin Luther had published what would turn out to be one of his greatest works, On the Bondage of the Will. It was his reply to a fellow by the name of Desiderius Erasmus and his book, On Free Will. Let me just same something real quick, we do not give our children awesome names anymore. How many Melanchthons or Desideriuses do you know? We just do not do it. Anyway, back to our little history lesson. The debate centered on whether people have free will after the Fall.
Erasmus was the reigning luminary of his day. To debate him would be like to get in a debate of physics with Stephen Hawking or philosophy with Aristotle or Plato. You just are not going to win. He argued that grace simply helped humans come to a knowledge of God and supported them as they used their free will to choose between good and evil—choices which would lead to salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Luther destroyed him. Erasmus’ career was basically over the day On Bondage of the Will came out. In summation from Wikipedia because mine was way, way too long: “Luther's response was to reason that sin incapacitates human beings from working out their own salvation, and that they are completely incapable of bringing themselves to God. As such, there is no free will for humanity because any will they might have is overwhelmed by the influence of sin. Luther concluded that unredeemed human beings are dominated by obstructions; Satan, as the prince of the mortal world, never lets go of what he considers his own unless he is overpowered by a stronger power, i.e. God. When God redeems a person, he redeems the entire person, including the will, which then is liberated to serve God. No one can achieve salvation or redemption through their own choices—people do not choose between good or evil, because they are naturally dominated by evil, and salvation is simply the product of God unilaterally changing a person's heart and turning them to good ends.”[i] Now see how this mirror’s Paul, 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 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. 22 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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23).
There are two ways to declare yourself free from sin. The first requires a gardening metaphor, or more accurately, a yard work metaphor. I have a lot of experience when it comes to yard work things. I worked ground maintenance for a golf course in high school and college. I learned all about grass and weeds. In Michigan, when I lived there I learned the difference between care for fescue grasses and Bermuda grasses. And, even though I have lived all over the United States one thing I had never experience until I moved to Kansas was nut sedge. Nut sedge is an awful weed of a grass. It hurts to walk on. It takes over the whole yard and garden. And it is almost impossible to kill. Round-Up will not touch the stuff. You have to get a special herbicide for it. However, even though I have all this knowledge and know how, learning from experience and others there is only one, I repeat, one way to make a yard or garden 100 percent weed free. Are you ready? You might want to write this down. Here is the secret to a perfect yard. First, a definition: a weed is simply any plant growing where you do not want it to grow. So, how do you get rid of weeds? Go out to your yard or garden when you get home and loudly proclaim so that all can hear: “Everything growing here or that will grow here is supposed to be growing here!” Viola! There are no more weeds in your yard or garden because there are no unwanted plants!
In a similar way many people deal with the sin in their life. Oh, we might not say that this sin is supposed to be here. But, we simply stop caring that we sin. We make excuses and justifications for our sin. “That’s just my cross to bear.” “The devil made me do it.” “If people weren’t so stupid I wouldn’t have to be so mean.” Name any sin that you repeatedly and habitually do, you have a justification for it. “The woman that you game me…” “The serpent said…” And, so to cover up our sin we sin the more.
But, notice again what Paul says, “For when you were slaves of sin…But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” You and I, we are no longer a slave to sin. Rather, we need some more herbicide in our lives. Sanctification, the process of becoming holy, is a long one. We struggle with it our whole lives.
We struggle to truly recognize what it means that God sent His Son, who knew no sin, to become sin for us so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). You see, once you were owed death. It was what you worked and labored for. Because the end of sin is death. Now, your actions lead to eternal life. Not that you earn it, but because God declared it, “the free gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23). This is the second way to be declared free of your sins. The free gift of God, the gift of Christ on the cross. One moment in time that pays for all creation’s sin. Here is the atonement, the payment.
Now, I wish I could say that once you leave here you will never sin again. But, I cannot. So, what now? Should we “continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Rely on God and use the tools given to us. Make church a priority. Do not disdain the gathering of fellow Christians to hear God’s word and receive God’s means of grace, namely baptism, confession and absolution, and communion. Luther, in answering a question on how to become a theologian, once gave three simple words: oratio, meditatio, temtatio. In English: prayer, meditation, and temptation or trial. Temptation? What?
Prayer: "You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through his dear Son, graciously to grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding. As you see, David constantly prays in the psalm.”
Meditation: “Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means…For God wants to give you his Spirit only through the external Word.”
Temptation or Trials: “Thirdly, there is the tentatio, testing (Anfechtung) [literally, attack]. This is the touchstone. It teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme. This is why you observe that in the psalm indicated David so often complains of all sorts of enemies…For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real [theologian] of you.”[ii] And then the whole cycle starts again.
May God keep us in our baptismal grace. And, may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
[i] "On the Bondage of the Will." Wikipedia. June 13, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Bondage_of_the_Will.
[ii] Luther, Martin, and Ewald M. Plass. What Luther says: a practical in-home anthology for the active Christian. Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2006. Pp. 1359f.