Transformed: Bondage to Freedom

Transformed: Bondage to Freedom

Sermon Podcast Audio 

This article is going to tackle the topic of SIN.  I know this isn’t exactly what most of you are interested in reading about,  but don’t worry – I’m not here to condemn you for your sin or to give you a list of ways to try harder to fight it.  My hope is that by the end you will have a good idea of what it means to move from bondage to your sin to full freedom in Christ.  

In thinking of how to begin this sermon, I was thinking of stories I could tell you about how I have been bound to sin and felt really guilty for it.  But the only stories I was willing to share with you were cutesy stories from my childhood that would make you smile and laugh, and not take the sin seriously.  And my stories about the serious sins in my life, my arrogance, judgmentalness, and lust – I’m too embarrassed to share with the whole world.

But in the absence of a detailed story about my sin, you know what I’m describing.  You too have stories in your life of where you royally messed up over and over.  You sinned against God and others.  Maybe you hid it for a long time and might even still be hiding it.

Like me, you have things you are ashamed to talk about.  And like me, have sins you continue to fall into and are ashamed to say you can’t stop doing these awful things.  Maybe you can’t seem to control your eating, or your anger, or your bitterness, or your love of juicy gossip.  Maybe you keep hooking up or looking at porn late in the night.  Maybe you drink too much, too often.  Maybe you’re just a selfish, prideful person who spends all your time judging people with the issues I just mentioned. 

And when we think of our sin we can’t seem to get under control, we may find solace in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he describes our struggles with sin and the law.

Unpacking Romans 7:14-8:2

In this letter Paul is writing to a church with both Jews and Gentiles.  He has already written about how the law of Moses actually brought the increase of sin.  And now listen to his words in 7:14

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Think of what that powerful statement means.  Sold as a slave to sin.  Slaves don’t have choices – they have to do what their master commands.  And Paul is saying his master is sin.

 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

How many of you have felt that way before?  You know the pattern of sin in your life is wrong and you want to stop but you simply can’t!

 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. u For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

This is the second time Paul says it is the sin living in him which is controlling him.  Have you ever thought about the power that sin has in our lives?  Sin isn’t a topic we tackle from our pulpit very often, probably because we heard it so much as kids that we need a break.  But that doesn’t diminish the incredible power sin yields over this entire world.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!

Do you see the dual masters Paul is trying to serve.  In his mind, he knows how God wants him to live but there is another master – a different law – the law of sin, waging war in him.  Have you ever wanted to just say to yourself, “I’m such a mess”  That’s basically what Paul is saying here.

But he doesn’t stop there in a pity party over his defeat.  Look at what he says next:

 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This is the transition point of Paul’s entire argument here and it leads us to ask a lot of questions.  Obviously, this passage has some twists and turns, but with some closer inspection I think we can find the best way to understand this section of this letter.

First, let’s look at 8:2 – “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  We have to ask – how can Paul write that right after writing in 7:14 that he is “sold as a slave to sin”?  The big question here is, Is Paul still a slave to sin or is he set free from sin?”  And obviously, how we answer that question has huge ramifications for our own lives – are we still slaves to sin or are we set free from sin?

A bit of background information is necessary to fully understand the point I believe Paul is making here.  As I already said, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome which was made up of both Jews and Gentiles.  But in the sections leading up to this, and this one, it seems like Paul is specifically writing to the Jews in the church.  His audience are those who are trying to follow the law of Moses and live as Christians and followers of Jesus.  And those Jews were continuing to feel the guilt of not measuring up to God’s law that had been the problem the Jews had been facing for centuries – knowing the law and knowing they always fell short of it.  And in that guilt, these followers of Jesus were feeling condenmned by God.

And that is why I believe Paul wrote these words.  In the first section he wrote about the shared experience they have of feeling like they can never measure up to the law, but then he points them to Jesus Christ and the fact that because of him and his sacrifice – they should no longer feel the guilt of failure.  They are no longer condemned!  They are free from sin and the law.

Sermon Podcast Audio 

Here’s an interesting fact many of us miss – the law of Moses is intimately tied to sin.  In other parts of this letter, Paul writes about how God gave the law specifically to point out people’s sin.  The law is part of the Old Covenent, and Jesus fulfilled the old covenant, breaking the power of sin and the need for the law of Moses.  So as followers of Jesus, we don’t need to be slaves to sin or to the law.

Where this meets your life and mine is that while we are in Christ, we so often forget we are free or don’t realize what we are free from.  We think we are free from sin, but we know we still sin so we are left confused and wonder if sin still has control over us.  Also, to fight our sin, we often run to the law thinking that will save us, “If I just try harder and don’t smoke, drink, dance, or have any fun, then I will be saved.”  We don’t understand we are free or know what it means to us.  I can tell you that you are free, but do you know how it actually makes a difference in your life?

Not Unlike American Slaves

Speaking of being a slave of sin, have you ever thought about what happened to all the black slaves in the South after the Union defeated the Confederacy and abolished slavery?  Without Twitter and Facebook – news didn’t spread to the slaves like news spreads today.  They just kept working in the fields, day in and day out.  They were legally free, but didn’t know it, and so they didn’t act like it.  In fact, the only way they found out is that the union army had to travel through all the states announcing freedom to the slaves.  It was 2 months after the end of the war before the last of the slaves around Galveston, TX found out they were free.  And even worse, I found an article about a black family who were never told about the war and so they lived as slaves until 1960 when one daughter finally ran away and found out – they had the legal status of Free this whole time!

But it wasn’t so simple for the freedmen, the former slaves, to transition to a new life.  They had no belongings, no money, nowhere to go, and no jobs.  Many of them became refugees living with the Union army.  But there were so many and the conditions so hopeless in those camps, that many slaves actually returned to their owners.  They didn’t know how else to live!

And sadly, that is the same story for many of us.  We don’t know how to live apart from our sin, to live in the freedom Jesus brings us.  So we go back.  We return to being slaves to sin and the law.  We know we shouldn’t return to our sin, but we find comfort by holding tightly to the law of do’s and don’ts.

Live in Freedom

So how do you live in the freedom Jesus offers us?  By the Spirit of God.  The rest of Romans 8 discusses life in the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God that each follower of Jesus has inside us.

Practically, some of you might be asking what that means? 

For some of you, turning to Jesus and walking in the Spirit will mean that you are instantly set free from the things that bind you – from addictions, destructive habits, hurtful relationships.  For some of you God may do a supernatural work and instantly transform your life.

But that isn’t a promise and isn’t even the normal situation for most of us.  Most of us wrestle with our sin day in and day out even after claiming our freedom in Jesus.  And I think there are 2 main reasons for why we continue to feel bound to our sin even after Jesus sets us free.

1)    Some of you actually like your sin.  

You like how the alcohol affects you.  You like lusting after beautiful women.  You binge eating in front of the TV.  You like having people tell you how good you are.

You are just like the slaves who were set free, were taken in as refugees in the Union Army camps, and found the present circumstances in those camps disgusting and so went back to their masters.  Those slaves were unwilling to sacrifice discomfort in the short-term for long-lasting change.  And the same is true of some of you.  In the moment, you want what you want and you don’t care how destructive it is in the long-term. 

I’ve been there.  I know what you are feeling, but you HAVE to learn to HATE your sin.  I’m sure the slaves who hated their masters the most were NOT the slaves who returned.  If this is you, I encourage you to take some time to think about all the ways your sin is crippling you.  Study it and its effects and learn to absolutely hate it and what it is doing to you.  Then you will be willing to walk away from it.

2)    Others of you are trying to fight your sin on your own.  

That’s the situation Paul was describing in verse 25 when he wrote, “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” That “I myself” is a way of pointing out how he was trying to do it all on his own apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.

We often try to fight our sin on our own through what is called “sin management”.  Its when you create an envelope budget system to deal with a greedy heart, or put safe-search software on your computer to deal with a lustful heart.  These are good ideas to help root out sinful behaviors, but apart from the Spirit of God transforming your heart, the systems will fail you.  And you will continue to wrestle with your sin for years to come.

If you want to live in Freedom, then you have to walk in the Spirit and let Him cleanse your heart, lead your thoughts, guide your actions, and convict you of sin so you can change.  Ultimately your sinful attitudes and behaviors come from your heart.  So if every day you fill your heart with the power of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit, then the sin that has bound you for years will no longer have any claim on you.  You will have walked away from it, free, now being led by the One who cares for you unlike anybody else can.

What Does this Mean for Me?

Non-Christians

Some of you are slaves to sin.  You have never turned to God for the forgiveness of your sins.  You have never put your faith in Jesus so he could set you free from your sinful nature. You may come to church, and you may try to break your bad habits and live a virtuous life, but you know that all your hard work will never help you totally break free from your addictions, bad habits, or destructive behaviors. 

And to you I tell you, if you want total freedom – if you want to live a life free of guilt and feeling controlled by habits you can’t break, COME TO JESUS.  There is no chain he can’t break!  Spiritual chains are broken in the spiritual realm.  Stop thinking you can do this on your own.

Bound Christians

Others of you are free from sin – Jesus has set you free when you put your faith in him, but you need to run free!  You’ve been acting like the slaves after the war was over who didn’t know how to live apart from their masters and so they just stayed.

It’s time you understand what it means to take off the opened shackles dangling from your hands and feet.  Stop reading this passage and saying to yourself, “That’s me!  I’m just being controlled by my sinful nature.”  It’s not supposed to be that way!  You can have victory over the sins that continue to hold you back and cause damage to your life.

Put your eyes on the things of God, not your sins or the law, walk in step with the Holy Spirit inside you, and when you fail, understand that “There is no condemnation.”  Get back up and follow Jesus!

Free Christians

And some of you understand the freedom you have in Jesus.  You don’t let guilt hold you back, you don’t give in to sin, you experience the freedom offered to all who follow Jesus.

If that’s you, use your freedom to enjoy this amazing life God has given you.  Use it to do kingdom work, to love others, to meet their needs, and to tell them that they too can be free in Jesus.  Don’t squander this amazing gift from God.

Conclusion

Life as a freedman, a newly freed slave was a dramatic change.  It required a totally different way of thinking and living.  But in time, these freed slaves learned how to live in freedom.

In the same way, Freedom we receive in Christ changes everything for us and it takes time for us to grow into our understanding of what it means for us to be free from sin and the law.  But I challenge you, to stop viewing yourself as a sinner, filled with a sin nature, and understand that by God’s grace you are FREE.  There is now, no condemnation.  You are FREE!

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