SERMON TITLE: Freedom for Righteousness
TEXT: Romans 6:15-19 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s great to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
We’re nearing the end of our series in Romans chapter 6 — where we’re learning about the freedom that’s been given to those whom God has justified — those whom God has declared to be right with him. And we’ve seen how this freedom comes with a responsibility — the responsibility to pursue holiness — to pursue godly living — to pursue living under the reign and rule of God’s grace instead of the reign and rule of sin — we have the responsibility to pursue our sanctification.
And we’ve learned that sanctification is a gradual, growing progression in our righteousness. It’s us growing in our holiness. It’s us being used as a weapon for righteousness in God’s hands. And this is a joint work between God and us where — God is sanctifying us — and — where we’re working hard to show the results of our salvation.
Now — for the past few weeks we’ve been discussing the idea of freedom and what it means to be free? And — something fairly common among people today — is to view freedom to mean something along the lines of “complete autonomy.” So you can either be free — and do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want — or you’re simply not free. If there’s anything infringing on your choices — then you’re not free — so the thinking goes.
Now — and this isn’t something we usually connect to the idea of freedom meaning complete autonomy — but — if that’s the case — if freedom really means complete autonomy — then our ‘not being free” is really a people problem. You see the number one reason why you can’t do “whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want” is because of other people.
This is why some folks avoid getting married or having kids.
But you can’t avoid others as easily as you might think.
For example, traffic laws — that infringe on your freedom to drive whatever way you want, whenever you want, and however you want — traffic laws exist because you’re not the only driver on the road — there are other people — your freedom is limited because of other drivers.
This is why HR departments exist in workplaces. HR departments — that infringe on you being able to behave or say whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want at work — HR departments exist because of other people. Your co-workers limit your freedom.
You see, we don’t often realize this, but when freedom is viewed solely from an individualistic perspective — other people become a threat to our freedom. We may never flat out say it that way, but relationships rise and fall — even communities and countries rise and fall — to the degree that we’re willing to allow freedom to mean something more than complete autonomy — freedom has to mean more than being able to do “whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.”
Now — and I’ve said this in previous weeks as well — and sometimes this surprises folks who are new to Christianity — but the Bible prizes freedom. Culture has got it right when it insists that freedom is important — freedom is important. And I’m thankful — and I hope you are too — I’m thankful to live in a country that values freedom. Our country has got some issues — for sure — but it offers amazing freedoms for people that you don’t find everywhere in our world.
But where the thinking of our day has erred — and in many ways this is a blind error — meaning it’s more of an unintended consequence — I think — than something intentional — where the thinking of our day has erred is in its insistence that freedom must include autonomy — or freedom — from others. This way of thinking about freedom misses the point Bob Dylan made in his words, “You gotta serve somebody.” If freedom means complete autonomy then none of us are free — because “you gotta serve somebody.” And the Christian faith teaches that ultimately you’re either serving God — which by serving God — you find freedom — or you’re a slave to sin and living in bondage — because — “you gotta serve somebody.”
And if “you gotta serve somebody” — there’s no better Somebody to serve than Jesus.
So let’s turn to our passage and see how God sets us free — not to do “whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want” — but sets us free to live for him.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Romans chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 15-19.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our weekly podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Romans chapter 6. Beginning in verse 15.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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? 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. 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.” (Romans 6:15-19 ESV)
Now — as we investigate more about what it means to be free — our view of God is extremely important because — remember — biblical freedom isn't about doing “whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want” — biblical freedom — true freedom — is about doing “what God wants you to do, when he wants you to do it, however he wants you to do it.” So your view of God is extremely important.
For example, many people — who reject God as the authority in their life — view God as “the man” — where God’s an oppressive boss type figure that you want to avoid at all costs. No one wants to get called into “the man’s” office — because you know what’s coming — and it ain’t good. Maybe this is how you view God.
However if we swing the pendulum in the other direction, many reject God because they view him as a wimp — someone you don’t need to listen to — I mean — why listen to someone who you look down on? Maybe this is your view of God.
Yet — and this isn’t a perfect analogy — but it may be helpful to think of your relationship with God like going to a doctor. When you refuse to listen to God — when you refuse to obey him — it’s like refusing to listen to a doctor who’s trying to help you deal with a sickness that you have. The doctor knows what’s best for you and how to treat your illness — but if you don’t listen — if you refuse to do “what the doctor wants you to do, when they want you to do it, and how they want you to do it” — well the results may be disastrous. And the same is true when it comes to listening to and obeying God because — if you refuse to do so — well the results will be disastrous. But when you do listen and obey — when you live in the freedom that Jesus has made possible — when you do “what God wants, when he wants, and how he wants” — well things — in the end — will turn out better than you can imagine.
JUST KEEP SINNING?
So let’s take a closer look at Paul’s words and see how obeying God is what freedom is really all about. Let’s begin back in verse 15.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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?” (Romans 6:15-16 ESV)
Now Paul has asked this question just about every which way you can ask it. Obviously, some folks were pretty confused on the matter. The whole idea of “being free to sin all you want — because Jesus has set you free” — is just nonsense to Paul.
We looked at this some time ago — but back in chapter 3 — Paul addressed this kind of thinking when he wrote, ““But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?”
Apparently this is what people were saying. “When we sin, we show how righteous — how sinless — how “always doing the right thing” — God is. So how dare he punish us? I mean, if it wasn’t for our sin — if we were sinless like him — then he wouldn’t look all that great!”
This is like one spouse saying to the other, “You know, if I was as faithful to you as you are to me, well then your faithfulness wouldn’t radiate like it does. So I’m going to go have an affair so your faithfulness looks really awesome!”
This is the kind of ridiculous of an argument Paul is tearing apart. He goes on to say...(This is merely a human point of view.)
This kind of thinking isn’t from God. Only humans could come up with a sick argument like this. And what’s Paul’s response to the people saying it’s unfair for God to punish them for their sin? Paul says...6 Of course [it’s] not [unfair]! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? 7 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?”
“Come on God. My lies make your “always being truthful” shine. Your truthfulness wouldn’t have anything to be compared to if I didn’t lie — so that’s why my lying is OK. It makes your truthfulness look awesome.”
8 And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!”
There it is! “Sin more so God can grace us more.” What does Paul think of all of this? Well he thinks that...Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.” (Romans 3:5-8 NLT)
Now there are many people — and maybe this is you — who believe something like, “Well I have faith, Josh. And that’s all that matters — I mean — you say it all the time — it’s faith alone — there’s nothing we can do to make us right with God.” But — and many have said this before me — “Salvation is by faith alone — there’s nothing you can do to save yourself — but the faith that saves is never alone.” What does that mean? It means that true faith in Jesus — always bears fruit. Justification — being declared righteous before God — always comes with sanctification — your gradual, growing progress in holiness. You see, part of the gift of your salvation is the responsibility of obedience — where you’re free to not live for sin anymore — but are free to now live for God.
This is what Paul is getting at — he just goes about saying it in a rather odd way in verse 16. “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16, NLT)
Or as another translations says, “You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits.” (Romans 6:15-18, MSG)
Now some of us know well — from our own experience — that obedience matters. You know that some acts — in the name of freedom — end up destroying freedom. You know this, but you’re caught up in temptation right now. Maybe you’ve given into the same temptation so many times you may have started to lie to yourself about your situation. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that occasionally giving into sin isn’t that bad — where — instead of resisting sin — you’re resisting your sanctification — you’ve justified giving into sin.
I mean, God — right — God doesn’t really expect us to be perfect or anything like that, does he? He knows what we can and can’t do on our own — so it’s okay to indulge in sin from time to time — as long as — for the most part — you’re kind of — sort of — maybe on the sanctification track, right?
Well this kind of thinking doesn’t line up with Scripture. This kind of thinking definitely doesn’t line up with Jesus’ words about the road that we’re following him on. It’s a narrow road. It’s not a road of indulging in the occasional sin or two — or any amount for that matter — and being OK with it — or worse — thinking he’s OK with it. Following Jesus is about being loved by him — in a way — that stirs up a desire — and empowers an obedience within you — to follow him because he’s the One who’s set you free. Where you grow in your holiness — and fight against sin — as you follow Jesus.
SLAVES WHO OBEY
And this leads to — what’s been called — “an odd truism” (Alexander Pallis, To the Romans: A Commentary (Liverpool: The Liverpool Booksellers’ Co., 1920), 89.) here in Paul’s words. You’re either a slave of sin or a slave of righteousness — a slave of sin or a slave of God. 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)
Now Paul keeps interchanging the words “God” and “righteousness” in this chapter — so “slave of God” and “slave of righteousness” mean the same thing. (Brendan Byrne, Romans, Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 202.) So what does being a “slave of righteousness” mean? Well it means that we Christians are to not only trust that our salvation is based solely on the righteousness of Christ — a gift given to us from God because of what Jesus has done for us — but to be a slave of righteousness means that we’re to live in obedience of all that God has commanded of us — his people.
But here’s a wonderful — unexpected — bonus from God. The power and the ability and the desire to obey are all included in the gift of salvation that God has given to us. Meaning when God gave you a new heart to believe — he also gave you new power and abilities and desires so you can now obey him. So our obedience isn’t something we have to conjure up on our own — it’s like your salvation is a brand new car — and the moment of your salvation is when God starts the engine. It’s time to drive. But — good news — you’ve got a full tank of gas and a powerful engine so you can now do “whatever God wants, whenever he wants, however he wants” — you’re now free — and fueled up with power — to obey God’s commands.
And our obedience — coming “from the heart” — is an important detail to not overlook. You see, the idea of slavery — that most of us have — is where someone is forced to externally behave whether or not they internally are on board — a slave can outwardly comply and inwardly be in rebellion, right? But that’s not the kind of slavery God wants for his people — that’s not the commitment he’s looking for — he wants the inward commitment — so it’s not just about behavior — God wants our hearts — our desires — our passion to be for him.
And this idea of slavery — especially with our country’s history — can be a hard concept for us to accept. You may wonder why Paul chose this kind of language — it’s not like slavery has ever been a positive thing — surely there’s a better analogy to use. But this is the analogy Paul chose to show us how someone can be free — and yet — be a slave. And the reason why this is hard for us to grasp is because of our western concept of freedom. Remember, most in our country equate freedom with being able to do “whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want” — where freedom is being able to “choose from unlimited options without being influenced by anything or anyone” — that’s what many mean when they talk about freedom in our country.
But in Paul’s day there was a different view of freedom. As one German scholar suggests, “It is presupposed here [in our verses] as elsewhere that a person belongs constitutively [meaning that a person “is dependent”]...and lies under lordship,” either to God or to evil powers. (Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 179.) So here’s a big difference between our worldview and Paul’s.
Paul viewed everyone under the reign of a ruler — either of evil powers — Satan, sin, death, and Hell — or under the reign of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So Paul’s definition of freedom — which is what we’re working with here — includes the idea of having a lord — a king — a ruler reigning over us. And the question for Paul’s audience — and for us — is who is ruling over you? Who is your lord? Your king? The one you’re enslaved to? These are the questions we’ve been wrestling with for the past few weeks as we’ve talked about freedom. Who is your master?
Now let me pause — for a moment — to encourage some of you. There may be some folks among us — and when you hear all this talk about enslavement — you can relate. Maybe you feel hopeless — you don’t think you’ll ever figure out this whole “be obedient to God” part of the Christian faith because you keep having setbacks. Maybe it’s an addiction or a relationship that keeps dragging you down. Maybe it’s poor financial decisions that keep trying to bury you alive — it could be a number of things.
Well here’s something — if this is you — that I want you to remember — something I want you to believe — I want you to trust this.
You — if you’re a believer in Jesus — your choice of obedience isn’t based on your situation.
Your choice of obedience isn’t based on your education.
Your choice of obedience today isn’t even based on yesterday's decisions.
Your obedience is always choice — and obedience is always possible. Why?
Because by God’s grace you are free.
And — remember — he not only saved you but has given you the power, ability, and desires to obey him. So rest in God’s grace — meaning — trust in God’s grace and in his promises to you. Sit back in the seat of that brand new car — with that powerful engine and full tank of gas — and see what kind of life journey God wants to take you on.
But remember — he’s given you all that you need — and he’s set you free — to obey him and to live for righteousness — to live a life of obedience — to do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants.
Trust that God’s grace in your life — through your faith in Christ — isn’t lacking in power. God hasn’t held back some of his grace to you — as if other Christians were worthy of a bit more of it than you’ve got — you’ve been given 100 infinite percent of God’s grace and all of the promises that come with it.
There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NLT)
And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:2, NLT)
And...you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:9a, NLT)
And Christ lives within you... (Romans 8:10a, NLT)
And...the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. (Romans 8:11a, NLT)
And God...adopted you as his own child. (Romans 8:15b, NLT)
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. (Romans 8:17a, NLT)
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28, NLT)
So...what shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one — for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one — for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?...No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, NLT)
And — if you don’t know — all of these promises come from a chapter in Romans — which I can’t wait for us to get to next year.
And because of these promises — promises that empower us — and give us new abilities and passions — because of these promises that fuel us — having been set free — we’re to present ourselves as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification — we’re to work hard — by God’s power and strength — to show the results of our salvation. Or as Paul tells us — in verse 19...
“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. 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.” (Romans 6:19 ESV)
For Paul, everyone is a slave — but not everyone is free. And for the Christian, you’ve been rescued out from under the rule of sin and are now under the rule of grace — you’ve been set free. And one reason why we’re not to present ourselves as weapons for lawlessness — and rebellion — and sin anymore — and instead are to present ourselves as weapons for righteousness — for godly and holy living — is because other slaves — others who are still held captive to that old tyrant of a master — are looking at us — they’re watching us — they may be wondering if a change in who they’re obedient to is even possible — and they’re looking to you. Do people — who are held captive to sin — do they see in you what it means to be free?
This is why your sanctification — your pursuit of holiness — is important. This isn’t just about you — your sanctification is also about others — those who are still held captive by sin. This is why — though it can be tempting to get a little too comfortable with our life — though it’s easy to go about life without even thinking about our obedience or how we’ve been set free to live for God — this is why we can’t forget that our sanctification matters. Others are watching us — some may even be considering the Christian faith — because they’ve tried everything else and still haven’t found the freedom they’re looking for.
Do they see freedom in your life? A freedom that leads to the kind of living that God has set his people free to live
One final word of encouragement for all of us. As we pursue holiness — even as we stumble and trip up along the way — as we take wrong turns in that new car and end up way off course — which we all do — by the way — here’s an encouraging thought from another pastor — “Our Father in Heaven is not impossible to please.” (John Piper) “Your Father in Heaven is not impossible to please.” Now that’s some Good News — we can please God. He’s not “the man” whose office you never want to be called into. He’s a Father who loves you. And you’ve been set free to please him. You’ve been set free to live in a way that makes your Heavenly Father smile as he sits in the driver’s seat of your life and leads you home. (Adapted from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 75, 80) Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, once again we thank you for setting us free. Thank you for not just freeing us from sin and giving us a bunch of commands to obey — but in your grace — you’ve given us the power, abilities, and desires to live in a way that pleases you. What gifts you’ve given us. And Heavenly Father — we thank you for that — for being our Father. Not the man. Not a wimp. A Father who isn’t impossible to please — help us to find joy in pleasing you. Help us to know that you are pleased with us.
Holy Spirit, for anyone who feels way off track — they’ve taken some wrong turns in life — may you draw them back to the road less traveled. The path of sanctification — of holy living — of living in the freedom you give to your people.
And Jesus — we thank you for loving us and for showing us what it means to live a truly free life. Others don’t have to be a threat to our freedom — others can be who we live for while we are free. This is what you did. You lived for us and yet lived the life of freedom that we long for. Help us — your people whom you’ve set free — to follow in your footsteps and live for you and others in the freedom you’ve given to us. And we pray all of these things in your name. Amen.
COMMUNION (JOSH WILL MOVE TO COMMUNION TABLE)
Today as we turn to the Lord’s Table, we’re reminded once again of what Jesus did to offer us freedom. This meal is a powerful display of God’s love for us — his love for us that compels us to love him in return and respond to him in obedience because we have been set free.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:24b-26 ESV)
And with these words our Lord commands all believers to eat this bread and to drink this cup in true faith and in the confident hope of his return in glory. God graciously declares to us that our sins have been completely forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
PRAYER (COMMUNION SERVERS COME FORWARD)
Father, we give you thanks for your Son, Jesus. For his obedience and suffering during his life on earth, and for his giving up of his body and blood on the cross. Give us assurance that our sins are pardoned through his blood and may your perfect love drive out all fear. Fill our minds with your peace and turn our eyes to Heaven, where Christ is at your right hand interceding for us. Unite us with each other through your Spirit so we continue in the living hope of our Savior's coming in glory. Amen.
At this time, ushers will be passing trays with the bread and the cup down your rows. You may take the bread immediately, but hold on to the cup, which we will all drink together.
Let’s feast on God’s grace together.
PRAYER (TRANSITION FOR WORSHIP TEAM)
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, in your wisdom, you have made all things and you sustain them by your power. You formed us in your image, setting us in this world to love and serve you, and to live in peace with one another. When we rebelled against you — refusing to trust and obey you — you did not reject us, but still claimed us as your own. Then in the fullness of time, out of your great love for us, you sent your only Son to be one of us, to redeem us, to heal our brokenness, to cleanse us from our sin, and to defeat our greatest enemies of Satan, sin, death, and Hell. And now, you call us your sons and daughters. In response to these great truths, we now praise you in song together. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: in temptation; want more of God’s desires; have felt like God has jipped you on his grace)
May you go living in the freedom that God has given you — knowing that he is not impossible to please. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.