Freedom — A Big Responsibility

Title: Freedom: A Big Responsibility

Text: Romans 8:1-17

Time: October 7th, 2006

We always think of the benefits of freedom here in the United States but we often forget to think about the responsibilities of freedom. The more freedom we enjoy the larger our responsibilities to use our freedom wisely. In America we have a lot of freedom and therefore we need to be aware of the many responsibilities we have also. But imagine if you had almost unlimited freedom, imagine the huge responsibilities that would mean. There was an old movie created by Orson Wells called The Invisible Man that told the story of an inventor who came up with a drug that would make him invisible. Imagine being able to go anywhere, do anything without anyone seeing you, without anyone knowing it was you. The movie showed the tragic consequences of this man, this invisible man, who started out good but eventually ended up evil. His lack of accountability and unlimited freedom corrupted him. The temptations to do evil with his freedom were too much for him; he gave into those impulses and they corrupted him. He died a tragic death. The Apostle Paul writes about the responsibilities of freedom in Romans 8, the section we are now beginning to study today. He first starts out explaining how through Jesus Christ we are now free from the law, sin, and death. Through Christ’s own life, death, and resurrection; through our spiritual identification with Christ at our conversion, we have been set free from our former slavery to law, sin, and death. Now with our freedom we are faced with a big responsibility: whether to use our freedom for good or bad, whether to return back to our former slavery, or live in our new life in Christ. Paul urges us to choose life, choose to live in the new life we’ve been given, to never go back to the former slavery Christ freed us from. We know how our original parents, Adam and Eve, used their freedom: they chose to disobey God at the urging of temptation. They were totally free to do good or bad, and they used their freedom to choose to disobey and sin. Now that Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death, we too are free to choose good or bad. But the difference between us and our original spiritual parents is that we have the power and example of Christ in our lives to inspire us to do right. We also have the wisdom of hindsight; we can see the history of the destructive power of sin in our very own lives and throughout the ages, and this alone gives us a wisdom that Adam and Eve didn’t have in the Garden of Eden. Of course, we too can choose sin today, but Paul tries to show us that would be a foolish mistake. He explains how returning to the old way leads to death – all the aspects of death that include mental death, emotional death, and spiritual death. He explains how in choosing life, we can live the kind of way that leads to the fullness of life, which includes mental life, emotional life, and spiritual life. Put that way, who would ever want to return to the old way of sin and death? Let’s see how Paul explains this further.

 

First, there is now no condemnation. Romans 8:1-4, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Whenever I read the words “Therefore, there is now no condemnation,” I think of the old Methodist hymn “Amazing Love” by Charles Wesley that goes:

“No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love how can it be, That thou my God should die for me

That hymn describes a little of what the Apostle Paul is trying to communicate in the passage above. When Jesus died on the cross he died not only in respect to biological life, but he also died in respect to the law. He died for our sins and took our place of death on the cross also. By our spiritual identification with Christ through faith we also spiritually died to the law, sin, and death. So we are set free from all these things through our faith in Jesus Christ. Our conversion to Christ and our symbolic baptism means that we are truly free. In America we like to think of ourselves as free people because of our democratic tradition, but the freedom Jesus gives us is far greater than anything the founding father gave us in 1776. Spiritual freedom is the highest form, as Jesus explained to the Jews many years ago: “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son set you free, you will be free indeed,’” John 8:31-36. Paul says that we are no longer under condemnation of the law, we are free from law of sin and death. But he says more.

Second, there are two ways we can go with our freedom. Romans 8:5-11, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Here is where the responsibility of freedom comes in — we can choose to set our lives on a course led by our old sinful desires, or we can let ourselves be led by God’s Spirit into a new life. Before we converted to Christ we didn’t have a choice because we were slaves to the law, sin, and death. Our original sin mixed with our own personal sin made us slaves to sin which leads to death. But since Christ set us free from sin and death at our conversion we are truly free to live life as it was originally intended by God. That original good life that Adam and Eve first had in the Garden of Eden, that is life as God intended for everyone. Adam and Eve were free to pursue that original good life, and if they had done so successfully all would have gone well. But as we know now, they choose to take the wrong path in life, they chose to disobey God and sinned, and in so doing they brought down the whole human race, including each of us, in the process. But now Jesus offers us an opportunity to live life as it was originally intended to be lived, by choosing righteousness instead of sin, life instead of death. We can now make that free choice because we are truly free. Remember the words of Jesus: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” John 8:36. It’s amazing how many people in “the land of the free,” America, who think they are free, but they really aren’t. It’s amazing how many people think that if they have political freedom or economic freedom, then they are truly free. But according to Jesus, and then later, Paul, we are only truly free when we are set free from the law, sin, and death. We are free from the law because Christ lived a perfect, sinless life in fulfillment of the law, and our identification with Christ makes Christ’s fulfillment of law, our fulfillment of law. We are free from sin because Christ’s death on the cross paid the price for our sins and canceled it out on our behalf. We are free from death (the death-kind-of-life) because Christ died to death once and rose again to a new life, and we being identified with Christ, did the same spiritually. Yes, we do die physically and materially; nothing can change that. But our life is no longer characterized by death (despair, guilt, shame, fear, foolishness), but rather by life (peace, love, joy, faith, hope). These are the two roads that we can choose in life as free people. Is there any question how we will choose? Paul explains further.

Third, Choose life, not death. Romans 8:12-17, “Therefore brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Here Paul talks about freedom’s responsibility or obligation – to live according to the Spirit. The whole purpose Christ set us free was for us to live in the new life of the Spirit as children of God, so our obligation is to live that way. It is certainly not the purpose of Christ to set us free from the slavery of sin so that we might return to the slavery of sin. No! Our responsibility to God for setting us free from sin is to serve Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine a Special Forces group risking and losing their lives to break into an enemy’s prison to rescue you; and you escape. Now imagine that you are safe and sound back in your home country alive and well. What is your response to such a great blessing? – to go back to the enemy’s prison and live? No! It should be like the Private James Ryan in the popular movie “Saving Private Ryan” who in response to the brave men who gave their lives to bring him back home during the war carried with him a sense of gratitude and determination to live the kind of life the men who died for him would have been proud of. He felt he owed them that much; he felt obligated, responsible to use his freedom wisely. They died so that he might live free, so he intended to live that way, responsibly. He did so to honor those brave men. As Christians we must think of our salvation in Christ a little like that. We were set free from the law, sin, and death, but not to return to any of these, but to live by the Spirit in the new life God has for us in righteousness. We are now longer slaves, but free; but not only that, sons and daughters of the King; but not only that, heirs with Christ to glory in heaven! So you see there really is no rational excuse for returning to the slavery of sin and a life characterized by the qualities of death. We are destined as children of God to be heirs of glory with Christ Jesus. Instead of living in the lowest dungeons of sin and death, we are destined to live in the highest places in glory in heave! And we can begin our ascent into theses privileged places here on earth by walking in the way of righteousness by following the leading of the Spirit. We get all this by choosing life. Why would we choose anything else?

Paul begins to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the most detail here in the Book of Romans. After Christ lived, died, and rose again to life for our benefit he didn’t just leave us to ourselves after he ascended into heaven. Christ left the Holy Spirit to be his living, invisible presence in our lives. But even the Holy Spirit doesn’t violate our freedom; the Spirit doesn’t compel us to obey God’s will, he inspires us, convicts us when wrong, motivates us, but never coerces us. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s invisible presence in our lives to lead and empower us to live the new life we were destined to live. “Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God,” Romans 8:14. And one of the key things the Holy Spirit does in the life of the believer is reminds us that we are truly are sons and daughters of God: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” Romans 8:16. That’s important because the main reason why Christians depart from the way of righteousness is that they forget who they are and whose they are. There are many Christians who are presently in various stages of “back-sliding” or falling away from the way of truth and righteousness. Why is this? Because they forget what they have been saved from, they forget what they have been saved for, they forget who they are in Christ, and they forget whose they are – God’s. We live in a fallen world and unfortunately most of it is still in rebellion against God, caught in the slavery of sin that leads to death. We live in this world and can’t help but be influenced by it; and we are influenced by it. Sometimes we are led astray by something or someone in the world. Sometimes we allow ourselves to forget what we have in our new life in Christ. Sometimes we forget our true identity as sons of God and heirs of eternal glory with Christ. I’ve heard of people who get amnesia and forget who they are or their true identity. If they happen to be royalty and they forget their identity, they might have to live out their lives as commoners when they are really royalty, all because they can’t remember who they really are. That’s the way it is with Christians sometimes. They are freed from the slavery of the law, sin, and death, made God’s children, heirs with Christ to eternal glory, but if they forget all that or doubt it then they might live their lives like slaves again. That’s why we need to always pray, we always need to be reading our Bibles, we always need to be participating in church — in order not to forget, in order never to forget who we are in Christ. How are you doing in remembering who you are in Christ? Do you forget often? Does your life look like a life that knows who you are in Christ, or does it look like a life that suffers from an identity crisis? Paul is urging us all to stay very close to God by continually choosing righteousness and continually being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must never take our faith for granted; we must ever be grateful, and never be led backwards towards slavery.

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