Our passage this morning is the second part of the Justification/Sanctification passage Paul wrote in Romans. Here Paul talks about sin, enslavement and living and dying with Christ. So for us to understand the second part, first I will read the justification passage. If you like grammar then you will like that this is written in the indicative, meaning stating facts, that have already happened. The second part is written imperative, making it a command for us to do. First let’s hear what Christ did for our salvation over and against what we will do in response to be sanctified. READ 6:1b-11. Because Christ died on the cross, when we die with Christ we are free from sin. That is the message of justification. It is not what we do, but what Christ has already done for us. Christ has already accomplished our justification. And yet we respond to this grace and that is the process of sanctification. READ 6:12-23
Recently I heard a woman’s story of growing up in a conservative Presbyterian church where as a child she could not sleep at night because she was so afraid that God would come. Fear of sin and fire and brimstone kept her up at night. At church she heard fear and punishment instead of love and grace. She said the only night she could sleep was Sunday because surely God would come on the Sabbath. With tears in my eyes I apologized for the religion that had brought her such pain.
I start here, because we can get lost in this message of sin and death and not see the grace that is woven through it. If all we see are the commands to live a better life, a righteous life, a sinless life, then we can fall into the trap of thinking our sanctification our very salvation is up to us and our choices. But that is not the case – Paul would say – by no means! The agency in our salvation is the love of God and what Christ was willing to do for us on the cross. Our “old self has been crucified” and we have been united with Christ in the resurrection (6:5-6). Quoting Paul, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ” (11).
Alive to God in Jesus Christ gives us a new freedom. A choice in how we live our lives. Because of grace, we have the promise of God’s love, but we also have the choice of how we live our lives. This is where slavery comes in. I would guess we all hate the term slavery because of all the hurt and injustice that it brought to bear. The pain it has caused our great nation. But for people in Jesus’ time slavery was simply fact of life not a racial issue. It was a teaching tool on who or what has your allegiance. So, you can be a slave to sin, doing things you know are wrong, things you are ashamed of, or you can be a slave to your master Jesus Christ who wants what is best for you. Paul then promise, “Now that you have been freed from sin and entrusted to God, the advantage you get is sanctification” (22).
So what does it mean to be sanctified? One commentator wrote, “Paul says those who are not under law are “sanctified.” It’s important to note that this is not the moral outworking of some system or program of Christian moral piety. Sanctification is the theologically loaded translation of the Greek word hagiasmos. As many of us learned, it generally means to be “set apart.”
This “set-apartedness” is the fruit of the transfer that is signified by baptism; it is the outworking of God’s grand work of deliverance from the old humanity. We are “set apart” for God’s use, rather than sin’s.
While the reality is that we’ve been transferred, we still need to adjust to the new life. Sanctification is both immediate and ongoing, but it is fundamentally positional and relational, not achievement based” (Kyle Fever, Working Preacher).
Sanctification is not achievement based, and yet we do participate in it. At our Bible gathering this week we talked about sanctification being like those jug handles or turnabouts in some parts of the nation where you must go right to turn left. By dying on the cross, Jesus made a way, built the road for us to get back on the path of going according to God’s plan. We might take strange turns but the path back to God is already there for us because we are justified by what Jesus has already done. Without that we could work really hard and never find our way back to God. God’s grace paves those roads and brings us back to God’s care.
When we get back to God, or even when we are away, or we sin, we can sing praises to God like our Psalmist did in today’s reading. When we read it on Wednesday everybody like the passage, but it had so much more meaning when we learned that Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the covenant with God torn, and yet they sang God’s praise just the same. For those at the Bible gathering it meant that even with our struggle with global warming, and political unrest we can live in the light of God’s presence. We do not need to panic, but rather keep the faith because God’s loving kindness is with us. We too can sing, just like they sang of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness for their King, the holy one of Israel.
On this the Sunday before the 4th of July, we too can look at our freedoms. Our forefathers came to this nation to escape the enslavement they felt from the king and the pope and sought a new life. A new life where their religious freedom could flourish. You see freedom can be a freedom from something like tyranny, meddling or oppression. Just like Paul said we could be free from sin. But you can also seek freedom for something. The freedom to live a life of your choosing, much like the early pilgrims. Our very nation was founded on freedom. The first Amendment protects: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
We value freedom. The Revolutionary War was based on freedom for our nation, for religion and for people. The Civil War was fought to offer freedom, to end slavery in this nation. Which is why it is so hard for us to consider being slaves to anything or anyone. Yet we all know people who are enslaved to fashion, to technology and the latest gadgets, to politics and of course those enslaved to work. We just call them workaholics. Paul is asking us to examine our lives, see what and who we are enslaved to while making the case that being enslaved to God is far superior to any and all of the alternatives.
Because the wages of sin, the payoff of a sinful life is death. Because when we sin we are separated from God, we are removed from the light of God’s presence and we are left to our own human devices, without grace or God’s love.
What Paul is offering instead is God’s amazing love, the reality of you being justified by Jesus, having a road of grace to return to God’s loving presence. As you walk this journey called life, you can seek to be slaves of righteousness, obeying God when you do, you are living in the free gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.