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Lent - The Most Free Slaves

You have given up all of your own freedoms and say, "I now fully, completely surrender to You." And that's why we use the word, "Lord."

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
14 min read
Lent - The Most Free Slaves
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the raw, unedited transcript from a sermon given on March 19th, 2023. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! :-)

In our collect this morning, we prayed, “you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” Ain't that the truth? Because I have a hard time with it. I've raised kids. I have a hard time dealing with their own unruly wills, let alone my own. But it is my responsibility as a parent to do that to the best of my ability. And since God is our father, if you are in him, you have been adopted into his family. It is his. I would say he's big enough, we could call it his privilege to order our unruly wills and affections.

We just have to continually learn how to cooperate with that, don't we? And sometimes it will happen when we think it's too late. Sometimes when we hope that the Lord would do this in somebody else's life, we think it's too late. This person is unrecoverable. God does it anyway. Because God hears the voice of His people when they cry out to him. In the Ezekiel passage this morning, it's, it's sort of a classic, you know, them bones. There's a song I'm not gonna sing it.

I'm not even gonna quote it because I would be terrible at it. But how God calls this assembly of dried out bleached bones back into bodies with tissues and sinews and muscles and skin and breath. It's his own people that he calls back to life and they live and they're here still today in the land of Israel. They were gone for, seemingly gone, spread out, dispersed for a very long time. but they became a nation once again, seemed like it was impossible, but God still did it.

When we look at the the Gospel, which, oh, that was a long reading, wasn't it? That was check, please. It was, it's, it's the resurrection of Lazarus. And it, it's, it doesn't on first glance, does not make sense, especially if you're one in the story. I like to put myself in those kinds of stories where it just doesn't make sense. Lazarus is sick. They send him for Jesus. Jesus says he's gonna be fine. He dies. Jesus still says he's gonna be fine. They still don't believe him until Lazarus comes back to life.

And one of the questions people typically ask is, why did Jesus wait, why did he wait for Lazarus to die and then wait that long after he died in order to go back and save him. One of the, the cultural elements of Israel at that time was that you were considered truly dead after three days on the fourth day just because, you know, they weren't necessarily as good as we are at. Calling people dead. They might have been just really, really, you know, super low heart beat, almost no functionality.

But people recover if you watch, er, shows long enough, you know, that, that happens. But after the, after the third day, on the fourth day, they were like, nope, this person is considered dead. Jesus waited that long to raise him from the dead, not in the resurrection at the end times, but the resurrection now to show people that he is the messiah, didn't he say it was for the glory of God, he did. He said this is, this is how it's going to happen. They didn't believe him, but it happened that way.

Anyway, God's plan is weird sometimes it's we, that's why it's called faith, isn't it? That's why it's called trust. Like if God says something, I don't get it, but I'm going to do my best to believe him and he, he does do it. In the Psalm. It's just a beautiful psalm about crying out to the Lord in him hearing he does all this. But there is this element in which we participate in it. I am gonna take a little bit of extra time to read the first part of Romans six because it really sets up the second part of Roman six that we read today.

And then we'll talk a little bit more about how all this works together. Paul says, what shall we say then? Are we to continue and sin? That grace may abound by no means. How can you, how can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ? Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried there for with him by baptism into death. In order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the father, we too might walk in the newness of life.

So here Paul is pointing out to them that the act of baptism, which for them and for many traditions today is full immersion in water and it had to be moving water. It had to be what they call living water, not stagnant pond, pool water, but it had to be like in a river or something or they had specially designed places that were indoors where water was moving that they could, they could do these kinds of baptisms. But the picture is that you go down dead like one goes into the ground and you come up alive in Christ.

This is what that kind of picture of baptism demonstrates. So he goes, you guys were dead, but now you're alive in Christ. Think about this, you're alive in Christ. Keep that in mind for if we have been united with him in his death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in the, in a resurrection like his. Hm We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin for one who has died has been set free from sin.

Now, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has Dominion over him for the death. He died. I love this first for the death. He died. He died to sin once for all. But the life He lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, Jesus who has to do that. We do. We have to consider ourselves dead to sin.

It's a choice that we make and it's a choice that the Holy Spirit alone really can give us the strength to do. And it's not always an easy choice because we rely on old habits. We rely on old patterns. And one of the points that Paul is trying to make is that we have new habits. Now, we have new patterns. We are, we are growing. In this verse 12, let not sin. Therefore reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions. Do not present yourself, do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourself to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness where sin will have no Dominion over you since you are not under the law, but under grace.

So the first half of this chapter, Paul paints the picture of you were dead. Now you are alive in Christ. That's tough on its own. Ok, I'm alive in Christ. It's, it's I'm always gonna refer back to Galatians 2 20 I, Paul says I've been crucified with Christ. I no longer live. But Christ lives in me and the life that I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. That's a good one to remember. Now, Paul takes it to the next step.

We're alive in him. Now, what do we do? What then are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace by no means. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey either of sin which leads to death or of obedience, which leads to righteousness. But we don't like that. We're a slave. We have a bad history with that word slave. Other translations might say servant. And they both have an element of color, of, of accuracy in them.

This, this word for a slave is one who has willingly voluntarily given their life over to another master to serve them. Usually for the rest of their life, we might call it an employee because it feels like the rest of your life. You're gonna do that thing. Now, I'm depressed. No, I'm OK. You, you know Joseph in the Old Testament was a slave. He was literally sold as property to someone else. Yet in the household of, of Potipher, he became like the second in command over the entire house.

Yes, he was a slave but he was also in charge the, the degree to which we think of the word slave, I think has less to do with the person's role and more to do with the person over them's treatment of this person. Does that make sense? They say that, did that come out Yoda, did that come out? OK. You know, if, if your picture of a slave is of a master whipping and beating and abusing in every sense possible, then that's, that's a picture of two people, actually not just of one person, but here, Paul says a slave, a servant, somebody who is usually hopefully well cared for because they take care of the person's house, they take care of the person's Children.

Paul calls himself a slave. A is the word to Christ, but Jesus didn't Jesus say no longer call you servants. I'll call you friends. Yes. But the fact is there's a lot of different pictures in the Bible of how we are related to God. And sometimes it is a child relationship. Sometimes it is a spousal relationship where the bride of Christ, Israel was also called the bride of God. The sons, the Children that in that sense, the Children. There's a lot of different pictures and God even called Israel his servant.

And we are Paul here saying, present yourself as, as servants, slaves to God, which means that you have given up all of your own rights. You have given up all of your own freedoms and say I now fully, completely surrender to you. And that's why we use the word Lord. That's a big word that we Americans don't like no lords. I'm in charge. I decide, but that's where sin comes from. We've talked about I'm boss. I decided what's right and wrong. Paul says no as obedient slaves.

You are slaves of the one whom you obey either of sin, which leads to death or, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness. Verse 17. But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. Disobedience has to come from the heart, not just the head, not just OK, fine God. I'll tell you what I'll do what you tell me to do. It has to come from the heart, but that heart is also undergirded with the teaching that is received.

It's, I guess you could use the word justified by the teaching that is received. It is, it is undergirded. It is, it is made, it made sense by this teaching. So it's, it's both, it's willingly surrender and heartfelt. But it's also what does this mean? What does this look like? And that's why Paul is writing to remind them of the things that they've been taught. 19 in verse 19, he says, I'm speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. I'm using, I'm painting a picture that you will all understand, which would have been a common picture for people in that time in the Western world.

But particularly Rome would understand this would be like, oh yeah, this is everyday language for us. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness. So now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Does this sound a little repetitive? You think Paul is trying to make a point? I think he is. I like how he says, leading to sanctification. We've, we've touched on this a little bit. There's this and a way, not the only way but a way to talk about salvation is that we have.

I said this, I think even last week, we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved, right? The other words for that would be I have been justified. I'm being sanctified and I will be glorified, past present, future sanctification is now, it's a, depending on how stubborn we are. It could be a chipping process. It could be a pruning process. It could be a clay shaping molding process. It could be a clay smashing and starting over process. It could take a lot of different shapes.

But sanctification is essentially God shaping and molding us into the thing he wants us to be and we have to cooperate with that and that's not always easy. Please don't prune me. I like that part. Ouch chop chop. Jesus says in John 14 or 15 about about how the father, he says I am the vine. You are the branches and the essentially the father prunes off the branches and then burns those up because that's extra. We don't need those. They're taking away the essential life that could be gone.

That could go towards growing fruit in the rest of the the vine. That's this sanctification. I heard there's a great author on marriage who says that He thinks spouses are one of God's main tools for sanctification. Why are you laughing? No, I'm kidding. And they are because they or Children. I will say that too. For some people, it's just plain old traffic, sitting in traffic will be a tool of sanctification. And he uses this illustration and I don't have a bottle of water surprisingly to show you this.

But he does this really great thing where he has this bottle of bottled water. He takes the lid off it and it's a full bottle of water. And he, he says, OK, watch. And he, he shakes it and what happens? Water comes out of it, right? And he, and he asked why? And I'll ask you, why would water come out of that? Because I shook it wrong because water was already inside it. So here we are in our lives when our life is shaken, whatever comes out of us in that moment is not because we were shaken.

It's because it was already in there. So if somebody makes us really mad in this situation, that anger was already in there, any kind of bitterness was already in there, any kind of fear would already be in there. It's out of the abundance of the heart. Jesus says that the mouth speaks it. Whatever is already inside of us is what comes out when those things happen. And God will use the shaking to say, look at that. Let's work on that, shall we? That is sanctification Verse 24. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

But what fruit were you getting at that time? From the things of which you are now ashamed for the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God. The fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end eternal life. For the way classic verse, the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ, Jesus, our Lord. When you work and you get wages, it's what you've earned. And when we sin, what we have earned is death.

But God's free gift is eternal life. And I think we said some weeks ago, it doesn't cost you anything to become saved or to walk with Jesus, it costs you everything to keep on walking with Jesus, doesn't it? That's where the death comes in the death and life. That's where they're presenting yourself as a slave comes into play. Now that sounds kind of impossible sometimes. So I want you and I to cut ourselves some slack because Paul goes on to say in the next chapter chapter seven, Leading up to this particular verse, let's start in verse 21 of Chapter seven.

So I find it to be a law that when I wanted to do right, evil lies close at hand. That's the bottle shaking for, I delight in the law of God, in my inner being. But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members, ain't it the truth? And we're still in this plane of existence. We're still stuck in these bodies. We've been saved, we're being saved. We're going to be.

It's all God looks at all of this from the outside, which is why he can talk this way to us. And Paul says, wretched man that I am. I'm gonna pause at that spot. Monday was the first day of the clergy retreat. I went to work the first half of Monday and then I went down to the retreat down in Mount Angel. Of course, I took a detour to Salem where the in and out is and then went backtracked up to Mount Angel.

It's, I've done it two years now. So now it's a tradition I have to do it. But I get down there and I start, hey, we have a, a little session and then dinner and then evening stuff. And for whatever reason, when I got there, this weird stuff just started going through my head. I can't even pinpoint exactly what it was only that it was very negative. And the only way I could describe it to somebody who I eventually asked prayer for was this, now, this relatively old book called This Present Darkness, which is a story.

It's not doctrine, although some people take it as doctrine, which is really sad but I digress. They use this picture of a, a demon will land on somebody's head and their claws will get in their head and just start poking and, and just manipulating and just suggesting, and it just kind of felt like that like there was something like I just, I shouldn't be here. I'm not supposed to be here and I could not sleep that night and I almost packed up and left in the morning.

I was due, I was asked to serve at the table for our session later that morning. And I started to think I'm a relatively new deacon who has served a deacon's mass for his whole short six month career. And when a priest comes, it throws me off you guys. It's like, I don't know what to do. Now, I forget how this works. And now I have to do that with the bishop in front of a room full of priests again. Check please. Can I go home?

But I pulled Father Ben aside and I told him what I just told you and we prayed and I got through it, but I felt like, oh, wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death at a clergy retreat at a monastery, a holy place where there should be none of that. Well, guess where there is probably the most of that up there on this holy hill. Well, Paul does not end there. He says in verse 25, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin. And he goes on in Chapter eight, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Jesus. If you feel condemned, if I feel condemned, there is no reason to because if I men in Christ, there is no condemnation, it's done. I might condemn myself, which I did other believers sadly might condemn other believers. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

For the law of the spirit of light, excuse me, the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. So it does kind of come back to a choice. It kind of comes back to surrendering to God. And I want to read the call again for us. And let's, let's just use this as a closing prayer. Almighty God, you alone can bring into order, the unruly wills and affections of sinners, grant your people grace to love what you command them, what you command and desire, what you promise that among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found Through Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with you in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

And we all say, A-men.



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