Freedom In Christ

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 6:12-23

You know, whenever I see a police car I always tap my brakes.  I may not have been speeding in the first place, but my natural reaction assumes I was. And whenever I see a police car pull behind me, I get nervous that he wants to pull me over – even if I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.  Ever have that feeling?

Imagine you have a special license plate that told the police they couldn’t pull you over or write you tickets for anything at all.  How would you drive that car?  Would you observe the posted speed limits – or would you go whatever speed you want?  Would you park on the far side of the parking lot or right up front in on of the 8 unused handicap spots?  Would you come to a full stop at stop signs?

I’ll say this, if my car had a set of those ticket-me-not plates, I wouldn’t tap the brakes just-in-case anymore.  I wouldn’t get nervous when a police car pulls behind me.  And I don’t know how much I would care about the speed limit.  Sounds pretty great, right?

As long as it’s just me, it does.  But when you go to places like Bangkok or Mexico City or Rio you soon discover that you love traffic laws.  In the US – despite what you might think – drivers are very, very civilized. In a lot of other places in the world, drivers have no regard for things like traffic signals, or lines painted on the road, or curbs or other drivers.  You don’t willingly drive in those places.  You hire a driver to free you up to close your eyes and pray that you get where you’re going.

The idea of being free from the law is nice.  But the reality of lawless living isn’t.  And I think that’s why we have such a hard time really embracing what Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans. He says that if you are under grace, you are no longer under the law.  But that can’t be right, can it?

I mean, if I’m no longer under the law, then what’s to stop me from sinning?  What’s to stop a Christian from just doing whatever he wants?

Nothing.  The problem isn’t that he has the freedom to do what he wants.  The problem is in what he wants.

See, the law never makes a person good.  The law can curb someone from acting badly.  Obeying the law can give a person the appearance of being good.  But the law cannot make you good.  But that’s what God wants for you – He wants you to be good.

I think that being good is far more desirable than acting good.   The evil person who acts good relies on the law to stop him.  And the law becomes for him the dividing line between what is good and what is not.  The good person does what is right because it is good.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were utterly obedient to the law.  They were, in all honesty, slaves to it.  To be a Pharisee, you had to commit to observe every single point of the law perfectly, all day, every day.  But that commitment did not make them good.  If anything, they became horrible, judgmental, prideful people – who were greatly offended by actual goodness when they were confronted with it.

Paul says that living under grace – not under the law – is where sanctification happens.  Sanctification is the process of being made holy.  It is how genuine goodness is grown in us.

We don’t have to be soft on what we mean when we say that we have freedom in Christ.  I think we can talk about that as an absolute statement.  It may make you nervous to hear someone say, “A Christian can do anything and God will forgive him!” It can sound like permission to do terrible things.  But bombarding that person with God’s Laws won’t make them want to do those things any less – and Jesus says that wanting to do them is just as sinful!

Living under the law is rigid and full of fear.  And it leads to an obsession with being sure everyone else is following the law like us… after all, it isn’t fair if we have to follow all of these rules but other people don’t!  And it becomes easy to sort out the good and bad people by how well they adhere to the law.

On the flipside, a lawless life isn’t good either.  I don’t want my life to be the equivalent to a taxi cab ride in Rio – reckless and only concerned about whether or not I arrive safely where I want to go.

Paul offers a third way forward.  Sanctification.  God offers you absolute freedom in Jesus – but without genuine goodness, that freedom is a curse.  Rather, God invites us to take this gift of grace and really consider what it’s for.

See, you don’t need God’s grace to live a life of sin.  You can do that without Jesus, no problem.  And you don’t need God’s grace to be rigidly legalistic.  Every religion in the world will tell you how to act good.  But what God’s grace offers you is real goodness.

We’ve been talking about discipleship – that is, being a follower and apprentice to Jesus – for a couple weeks now.  And this is the kind of thing that really only happens in the framework of discipleship.  Sanctification is very much about learning to love what Jesus loves, to hope for what He hopes, to work at what He desires.  The law – as a list of do’s and don’ts  – becomes less and less relevant… but at the same time, you will be more and more obedient to God.

And as we start to experience a life of righteous freedom, our attitudes towards each other begin to change.  Our message to the outside world begins to change.  We can be less and less concerned with whether or not people seem to be acting good.  When we start to care about real goodness – the kind that only comes by God’s grace – then judgment turns into compassion and forgiveness. And the gospel becomes more than a doctrine to and for you; it becomes an invitation from you to the world.

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