Dear friends in Christ, our freedom means a lot to us. Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the births of our two nations and thanked God for the freedoms we enjoy while living in these lands. Freedoms that were hard fought and won with much blood, sweat, and tears. Because slavery was an ugly part of our history, we cringe at the thought of people being slaves—particularly ourselves!
Which is why we may balk at the way in which St. Paul speaks to the church in the latter half of chapter 6 of his epistle to the Romans. He says, in effect, "Don't be slaves to impurity/lawlessness (i.e. sin), but rather be slaves to righteousness." Now the interesting thing here is that there is no non-slavery option being presented. You are either a slave to sin and in rebellion against God, or you are a slave to righteousness (God) and in rebellion against sin. One or the other. No in between. No middle or neutral ground. But make no mistake. You are a slave.
So then, why is St. Paul speaking in this way? Well, he is actually answering a question that he asked earlier in v.15, "Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" That is, "because we live under the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus, why not just go and sin all the time?" Earlier in chapter 6, which we heard expounded last week by Vicar Martin, we learned of the incredible riches and grace given to us in our Baptism into Christ Jesus. That His death and resurrection have now become ours. We have been set free from the dominion of sin, death, and the devil—all by virtue of our Baptism! The danger for us Christians, then, is to think that we are now free to sin however we choose, because we are baptized and so God forgives us on account of Christ. We are in His grace. But this is wrong thinking. For those who have been baptized into Christ have now died to sin and can no longer live in it.
As unbelievers, apart from God's grace through faith in Christ, we presented our "members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness." Even as baptized and redeemed children of God, our sinful flesh looks for opportunities to do this—to indulge our passions/desires/lusts, no matter if they are contrary to God's Word or not. "I am free! I live under grace!" we think to ourselves. "So I can do what I wish, when I wish, with whomever I wish."
Beloved, this simply is not so. Those who live and act that way are not living lives of faith in the Gospel of Christ, but rather lives of unbelief and impenitence, which leads only to death. This is why I have been so disturbed by the recent Borderland Pride Week, which culminated in a cross-border parade yesterday, and a Pride Week church service being held today at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Frances. Make no mistake, beloved, we are ALL sinners in need of Christ's love and forgiveness. But we as Christians are not to walk in sin—embrace it—present our bodies in its service—for that is slavery leading only to death and damnation. Rather, we are to present our members—our bodies—as slaves to righteousness—following God's Word and will for our lives, no matter how difficult that may be. For, being slaves of God, we receive "the fruit that leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life."
Yet we see this same story played out time and time again, don't we? People embracing sin outright as a good thing, either because they are pagans and don't believe in God or His Word anyway. Or, more dreadfully, we see it within the façade of the church—wherein lawlessness masquerades as virtue—supposedly clinging to God's grace in Christ, while outright rejecting Christ's own Word. But you cannot have both. You cannot "have your cake and eat it too." You are either a slave to sin: your own passions/lusts/desires and that of the world and the devil, OR you are God's own baptized child and a slave to righteousness—doing the right thing because God demands/expects it—whether or not anyone else is watching. We follow God's Word not because it is easy, but because it is true and right. We Christians, people who have been bought with the blood of Jesus, cannot embrace our sin and hold it up before ourselves and others with pride and joy—and teach others to do the same with their sin—for this is against the clear Law of God. And God's Law cannot be undone by our whims or the political correctness of the society around us.
The truly sad thing about such situations is that people think they are free! They believe they are doing the right thing and being faithful to God, even while they are blatantly denying and disavowing His clear Word! And this applies not only to sins of a sexual nature, but of any kind whatsoever. The lazy worker convinces himself that his conduct is not actually theft from his employer; the person speeding in the car is convinced that she is not sinning by breaking the speed laws, because she is a "good driver," therefore making it acceptable. Beloved, NO! We are to repent of these things and turn away from them, not being tied to them as slaves bound with chains, but rather be united to Christ with chains of love and mercy.
In your Baptism, the old, sinful self was crucified and died along with Christ, and now you are fixed to Him with cords that cannot be broken, cords that have been forged with His own body and blood given into death on the cross for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Now that "You have been set free from sin have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." Do you hear that, beloved? You are free! Free to keep God's Word—free to live holy and pleasing lives to God by the power of the Spirit working in you. Free to love your neighbor selflessly and wholly, for you yourself have been loved wholly and completely by God in Christ Jesus. His blood sanctifies you—makes you holy and clean and acceptable in the sight of the Father. His blood washes over you and sets you free from the darkness and death that your sin ought to bring to you—all as a gift. You work for sin, which leads only to death, but you are given life in Christ as a perfectly free gift.
For Christ Jesus has borne your punishment, taken your death, received the just end of your sin. All those secret sins of which you are ashamed—the ones you don't think anyone knows about—but which, of course, God is fully aware—the sins that keep you awake at night and cause you to cringe in fear at the wrath of God—those sins—every last one—have been completely paid for by the blood of Jesus poured out upon the cross—for you.
Now I know that our sin is often addicting. And we run back to them as a dog runs back to its own vomit. These are not easily thrown off. Indeed, any addict will tell you that there is no freedom, but only slavery. The alcoholic drinks not because he WANTS to, but because he HAS to. Same with any addict. Yet, this is no longer so for you sinners who are in Christ Jesus. The bonds of sin have been loosed—forever broken by the power of Jesus' own death and resurrection. Yes, "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." He has died your death and now given you His everlasting life, which has set you free to be His slave—His righteous slave—acting in humble love and service to your neighbor—worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in truth. Having been baptized into Christ, THIS IS WHO YOU ARE! Will you still struggle with your addiction to sin and the slavery that brings this side of heaven? To be sure. But now, as a baptized child of God, full of the Holy Spirit and the faith that He gives, you are now a slave to righteousness—and more free than you have ever been. Now, and forevermore. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.