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17th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, In a letter to James Madison in 1787 Thomas Jefferson quoted a Latin phrase: malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem, which means, “I prefer the tumult of liberty than the quiet of servitude” or to say it differently, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” Now, of course, the context had to do with government and the founding of America, but there is truth to that statement, isn’t there? There’s a certain quiet in slavery and a certain danger to freedom. With laws and rules there isn’t much room for choice. You have to do this and you have to do that, there are no questions, no wondering what I should do. But with freedom and liberty there’s a bit of difficulty. Now, I have to decide what to do, now I’m no longer just told what I should be doing, but I get to choose. Now I have to think, now I have to weigh my options, now I have to make a choice, now I have to take responsibility. So, do you prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery?
Today we’re looking at the freedom that we enjoy as Christians. And I think all of us here would agree that freedom is a good thing, something that we enjoy, something that we want. But with this freedom comes certain challenges that we need to consider. So, let’s consider this today: we need freedom, we have freedom, we live in freedom.
First of all, we need freedom. The Bible is very clear about our condition born into this world. We were not born into this world neutral, we were not born with a blank slate, we were not born partially good and partially bad. God’s Word tells us we were born descendants of Adam and Eve, not only did we inherit our physical DNA from them but we inherited their sinful image. David says in the Psalms, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Earlier in the book of Romans we were told, “There is no one who does good, not even one, all have turned away, there is no one righteous, not even one, no one who does good, we have together become worthless.” Then later in Romans we heard that “the sinful mind is hostile to God it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” And Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” We weren’t born in freedom, we were born in slavery, slavery to sin.
So, what’s it like to be a slave? Being a slave means that you literally do not have control over your life. You can’t go wherever you want to go, you can’t do whatever you want to do, you can just see whomever you want to see, you can’t eat whatever you want to eat. Your time belongs to someone else, your energy belongs to someone else, your work belongs to someone else. We were born enslaved to sin. There’s a Lenten hymn that says, “Enslaved by sin and bound in chains, beneath its dreadful tyrant sway, and doomed to everlasting pains we wretched, guilty captives lay.”
And yet, every time we sin, every time we turn our back on God’s Word, every time that we do what WE want to do instead of what GOD wants us to do, every time we’re selfish, every time we’re prideful, we’re asking to be enslaved by sin. Sin doesn’t bring freedom, sin brings slavery, sin brings guilt, sin brings anxiety, sin brings pain. So, what do we need? We need freedom. That’s the first point.
The second point is, we have it! That’s also the message of the book of Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.” Jesus existed in all glory, freedom, riches, honor, Jesus couldn’t possibly gain anything more for himself, but he graciously came into our world, subjected himself under God’s law. His hands have done what was required of ours. His lips have spoken what we should have said. His ears have heard the pleas for help to which we should have listened. His heart has loved the Lord with the love that we owed to him. His mind has maintained the purity and truth that God demanded from ours. His blood has paid the penalty we deserved. So there is nothing left that we are required to do. He paid the ransom price to set us free from our slavery of sin with his blood shed for us on the cross, rescuing us, redeeming us, liberating us from our slavery to sin. Then in further grace he sent the Holy Spirit to you through water and the Word to bring you to faith so that the freedom he won on the cross might be yours personally. Jesus has set you free. You are free from all laws. You are free from having to do anything in order to go to heaven – Jesus did it all. Jesus fulfilled every obligation you are under and set you free. You are truly free. There is no fine print, there are no catches, there are no strings attached. That’s the 2nd point: we have freedom. Glorious freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil forever!
Lastly, how do we live in this freedom. Here is the joyful, but not always easy part. And this is what the apostle is addressing in our text. Having been rescued and redeemed by the Lord we want to serve him with our lives. How do we do that? Well, we look into God’s Word, there God tells us what it means to live as his child in this world. But what if it’s something not addressed in God’s Word? What if it’s something that isn’t commanded by God or forbidden by God? What should we do? The term we use for these things is called “adiaphora” and we have Christian freedom to do or not do things that God has neither commanded or forbidden. Here’s what God says, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” Why do we worship on Sundays? It’s not because Sunday is a more sacred day than any other day of the week. We worship on Sundays partly because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, partly because we’ve done it that way for many years, partly because it’s the day that most people can come. Would it be wrong if we decided to have worship on a different day of the week? No. We could do that. The problem comes when someone says, “We must only worship on Sunday.” That would be adding something to God’s Word, that would be legalism. God allows us to choose when to formally worship Him.
“Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” There’s nothing wrong with eating certain foods, there is nothing wrong with not eating certain foods. Finally, the underlying question to ask about things that are not commanded or forbidden in God’s Word is: Can I do this or not do this to the glory of God? God gives us incredible freedom. In Christian freedom we, as a church, can decide how it is that we want to worship God in a fitting and orderly way. In Christian freedom, we as individuals, can decide how we want to serve God with our lives. An example that I read preparing for this sermon is actually one that we’re somewhat facing as a congregation. We have an increase in worship attendance and we have an increase in our gradeschool enrollment. Some may feel that since the worship service affects the most amount of people and is an integral part of the life of our church that expanding or improving our church facility should be the priority. Others may feel that since children are the future of our congregation that we should focus on expanding our school facility. With is right? Both are. But if the majority decide opposite from what I think, love says, “Even though this is not what I wanted, I’m going to support it.”
Why so? “For none of us lives to ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Christ set us free not to be selfish but to have self-less love for others.
Martin Luther once wrote: A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. What does that mean? That’s our lives. We have been set free, gloriously free, free from sin, death, and the devil. Free to live here and free to live forever in heaven. We are free to live our lives to the glory and praise of God. At the same time, we don’t use our freedom selfishly or in self-serving ways. Rather, in love and in freedom, we live for the good of others, we live to serve the good of others.