By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | July 2, 2023
Click to listen to the service
Read Romans 6:12 – 23
If I am being totally honest, this was a tough week for me as I reflected on the subject for today’s sermon: TRUE FREEDOM.
With the recent decisions handed down by the Supreme Court that seem to encroach more and more on the freedoms of particular groups of people, it was a challenge as I thought about the upcoming Fourth of July celebration which is supposedly Independence Day… and yet so many people are being faced with ever increasing discrimination and marginalization… as they watch their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness eroding in real time… not exactly a great cause for celebration.
But even as I sat with my frustration and anguish with what is happening in 2023 that hearkens back to an era several decades past… I was reminded of the TRUE FREEDOM that comes not from the laws and policies of our world’s system of government but rather, the TRUE FREEDOM that is found in Christ Jesus alone.
And that gives me hope, even in the midst of these seemingly dark and hopeless times in which we are living right now… because despite what anyone else may say to the contrary… our text reminds us today that we are no longer living under the law, we are living under God’s grace.
Grace… God’s unmerited favor… something we have been given that we truly do not deserve… Grace… God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours. It says so right there in the last verse of our text this morning, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It pretty much goes without saying that it was our sin, not His own, that nailed Jesus to that cross at Calvary…
He “came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Jesus paid the price that our sin demanded because He loves us just that much.
And in return for that love, all Jesus asks is that we love God and the people of God… and that we demonstrate that love by caring for those who are in need… showing kindness and compassion… rather than malice and contempt.
But for some reason, we seem to keep getting it wrong… just turn on the news and see for yourself.
Now, as we look at our New Testament lesson for this morning, Paul was writing to the believers in Rome in the middle of the first century… but his words are still just as relevant and true for us today as they were back then.
Paul wanted to encourage the believers that because of God’s grace, they had been set free from being slaves to sin… from doing that which led to separation from God.
Now, sin entered the world way back in the Garden of Eden and has continued to plague the human race ever since… Throughout the Old Testament we read about the futile attempts the people made to atone for their sins… making all types of ritualistic sacrifices… only to turnaround and go right back to sinning.
It was for this reason that God sent His Son into the world… to save us from our sin… to set us free from unrighteousness… to do what we could not do for ourselves with our vicious cycle of sin and sacrifice… sin and sacrifice… sin and sacrifice.
If we look back just a few verses before our text to Romans 6:10, we read, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” In other words, Jesus gave His life once and for all to pay the ultimate price for all of our sins…
Now, Paul also wanted to warn believers that just because Jesus paid the price and they were now living under God’s grace instead of the law, that did not give them, or us, a license to just keep on sinning.
Let me ask this… have you ever come across someone who seemed to have no qualms about doing something that was wrong because they believed they could count on Jesus to forgive them of their sin?
Better yet, have we ever caught ourselves doing something we know we have no business doing… because we are relying on the promise found in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”?
Some of us like to use the excuse that we just can’t help ourselves… it’s just in our nature to do things we know are wrong. In fact, Paul wrestled with that very same challenge. In Romans 7 (21 – 25a), we read:
The fact of the matter is that we have been set free from slavery to sin and yet, more often than we probably care to admit… we are like prisoners who have been released but for some reason we keep walking right back into prison… we keep going right back into the very places where Jesus already came to rescue us from ourselves and our sinful behavior.
If that were not the case, this society would not be in the shape that it is in today… doing everything in its power to turn back the hands of time… taking us back to a very disturbing place in our history where man’s inhumanity to man was not only accepted… it was celebrated.
But that does not have to be our story… because of God’s love and grace, we can change the narrative so that we do not find ourselves being taken against our wills to a place where we do not want to be…
I want to share with you these words that our General Minister and President, Rev. Teresa Hord Owens posted on social media the other day:
Let me suggest that we can change the narrative and we can change the trajectory of our journey so that we are on the road to love which is the only road that is able to lead us to TRUE FREEDOM…
TRUE FREEDOM which can only be found in Christ.
It is in John 8:32 that we read, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” and just a little further on we read in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Following Jesus is the only path that leads us to TRUE FREEDOM.
It is later on in John 14 that Jesus tells His disciples He is going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and that they know the way to where He is going.
But one of the disciples, Thomas, asked the question that they were probably all thinking, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To which Jesus responded, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14: 5, 6).
Jesus is the way that leads to eternal life.
Jesus is the truth that sets us free so that we can receive the gift of eternal life.
And the fact of the matter is that Jesus is life itself… He literally sacrificed Himself so that we can spend eternity in God’s kingdom. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
And according to the Scriptures, Jesus says that we are His friends if we obey His commands.
As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, we have been set free from sin to become obedient to righteousness. As verses 17 and 18 of our text read in the Message Paraphrase, “But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!”
When we make the decision to follow Christ… that is when we will be able to live in the TRUE FREEDOM that only Christ can give.
Now before we move to the Communion table, there is something else that I want to share… something else that the Lord has laid on my heart in light of recent events that have been happening in our country.
The other day, Christine King Farris, the older sister of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. passed away at the age of 95.
Mrs. Farris was said to be a quiet force behind her famous brother’s fight in the Civil Rights Movement and following his death, she continued to work alongside his widow, Coretta Scott King, to advance his work and his legacy.
And so, in honor of Mrs. Farris’ life and the memory of Dr. King, I want to invite us to listen to just a brief passage from Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.
I would encourage you to take the time to read the speech in its entirety when you have time, because it still speaks volumes to our current situation… but for now let me just remind us of these closing words of his speech:
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.
Dr. King was a man of faith who had a dream that we would all live in TRUE FREEDOM someday… and in spite of the recent setbacks that have threatened to undo so much of the work that Dr. King and so many others did to bring about his dream… we can still live in hope… trusting that TRUE FREEDOM is ours for the taking when we are willing to trust and obey the One who gave His life to set us free.
And if you have a desire to live in that TRUE FREEDOM, won’t you stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: Trust and Obey #556.