SERMON TITLE: Freedom to Eternal Life
TEXT: Romans 6:20-23(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 finishing up our time in Romans chapter 6 this weekend. Next week — we’ll continue in the book of Romans — going on to chapter 7 — but this will end our focus on freedom and next week we’ll begin our look at the fight we’re all in — a fight for obedience — for godly living — for living for righteousness — because the fight for obedience is real.
But for the past few weeks freedom has been our focus — the freedom given to those whom God has justified — those God has declared to be righteous — not guilty for their sins — because of their faith in Jesus Christ. And today we’re going to see how God’s freedom — is the only freedom — that leads to the eternal life many hope to experience some day — and many more assume will be their experience.
So let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Romans chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 20-23.
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 20.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 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. 22 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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23 ESV)
Now — a moment ago — I said something about eternal life and it being what many hope to experience some day. And that may sound weird to your ears — “only many hope to experience eternal life?” You see there are many who believe in eternal life and want to experience the life we’re going to talk about today but — there are many other folks — who don’t seem to have any concern for what is coming after they die — their only focus is on the life they’re living right now.
In fact — living focused on the here and now — is the life philosophy for many — maybe you know some folks like this — maybe this is you. Drake summed up this way of thinking with the phrase “YOLO” which means “you only live once.” YOLO is the latest version of “seize the day” — a call to live life in the present — to focus on the now — to live life to the fullest — even if that means embracing risky — or even dangerous and destructive — kinds of behavior.
Now one of the reasons why people hold to a “you only live once” philosophy of life is that many think that the only things worth living for are the things you can see — tangible things — things that matter in the present. And for many — this YOLO look to life means that nothing else matters other than the here and now. And this why you may know someone who believes that thinking about the future is more of a problem than it is anything else. “Live for the now,” they tell you. “Do what feels good. Live in the present. Don’t think about tomorrow, or next month, or next year — who’s got time for that?”
Now — to be sure — it’s possible to focus too much on the future. Some people worry so much about the future that they miss out on the present. So “the now” — the present — does matter.
Often a knock against the Christian faith has been that we Christians can be so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good which I’m sure has been true for many Christians. But we can’t lump all Christians together with a statement like that because some — who’ve done the most good in all of history — were heavenly minded people.
But — like I said — we have to admit that it’s possible to be absent in the present by being so focused on the future.
But — for those who believe that the here and now is all there is to life — if that’s true — well it seems to be a philosophy of life that holds up only so long as things are going well for you. But as soon as something — say — like cancer — or a layoff at work — or a prof fails you and you flunk out of the program of your dreams — as soon as something like that comes your way — well how does your life philosophy help you in moments like these? When life’s easy — living for the present is easy. But when life is hard — living for the here and now suddenly becomes — not just unhelpful — but it’s advice that becomes an added burden to your already difficult situation instead of being something that helps to lift the burdens of life off of you.
And this is where the gospel comes in — the Good News of the freedom that Jesus has accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection on our behalf — the freedom that — he not only accomplished — but offers to those who turn to him in faith. The gospel shows us how we’re to live with eternal life in mind while here in the present. That eternal life is both a future hope and a present reality for the Christian. It gives us reason to rejoice when things are going well — in the here and now — and the gospel gives us reason to rejoice when days of difficulty are upon us. Because it shows us that the present is important — but today — is put in its proper place in light of eternity. And a reason why the here and now — the reason why today is important — is because today is a day meant to be lived for God in the freedom he’s given to us.
And the way our text goes about showing us all of this starts off somewhat surprising. Then it gets a bit depressing. And then we’re given hope.
Our verses begin with sin’s freedom — this is the surprise. Next we look at sin and shame — this is the depressing part. And then our text ends by showing us how God’s freedom leads us to eternal life — the part that will give us hope.
Let’s begin back in verse 20. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” (Romans 6:20 ESV)
OK. So let’s talk about the freedom that sin offers — and I know — that sounds weird. But before we do, something helpful to know is that — in this letter — Paul let’s us know that he hasn’t had the opportunity to visit Rome — the city where the people he’s writing to live. He hopes to visit these Christians some day — but up until this point in his life — he hasn’t had a chance to visit them. But Paul knows enough about the city they live in — the culture of their day — that he’s reminding these Christians — whom many he’s never met — about how their faith in Jesus has changed their morals and their values. (Leander E. Keck, Romans, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, ed. Victor Paul Furnish (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 172.) Faith in Jesus always results in a change.
The culture of the day — in places like Rome — and in most of the known world of Paul’s day — for that matter — was known for all sorts of immoral things. In another of his letters Paul talks about the kinds of things accepted in the culture of the day. He writes, “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people — none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NLT)
Now that’s quite the list. I’m sure you noticed that lots of sexual sins were included on the list — along with stealing, and greed, and abusing others. In fact — if you study the list — you’ll find some things that our culture is very much against these days — things — no matter your religion — that you are opposed to. Yet — there are other things on Paul’s list — that our culture has deemed to be acceptable behavior — things on his list that you think he was to narrow minded about. What I find intriguing is how similar our twenty-first century is to the first century when it comes to what both cultures approved as acceptable behavior. As a 19th century French author wrote, “The more things change — the more they stay the same.” (Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr) Some of the same sins — our culture approves of — were accepted thousands of years ago.
But Paul’s list gives us insight to the kinds of things the culture of his day approved of. These were the “seize the day” — the “you only live once” — kinds of things people were caught up in. But there’s more — something that will be very disturbing to our modern ears — going on in the culture of Paul’s day. And it has to do with the slavery language and imagery that he’s been using — both in these verses — but throughout the chapter. And it’s an aspect of slavery rarely talked about.
You see — in the culture of Paul’s day — it was common for slaves to have to be sexually available to their owner’s desires. Now this may be appalling to us today, but this was an acceptable practice in the culture of Paul’s day. The slave had to be constantly available for whatever demands their owner had of them — including — and if you thought things were bad already — the slave had to be available not just for the personal demands of their master — but the slaves had to fulfill the sexual demands of any friends or guests of their owners as well. Now — because this is so shocking to our ears — it’s hard for me to help you understand how common — and accepted — of a cultural gesture this was to the people of Paul’s day. It’s somewhere in the realm of us offering a drink to a guest in our home — again — shocking to our modern ears — but normal in the first century.
Now I’m guessing you’re outraged — disgusted — a little worked up on the inside by the cultural unrighteousness of Paul’s day — but the people living in these times weren’t repulsed by this way of thinking — they weren’t outraged by these kinds of behaviors — this was the norm — this was living it up in the here and now — this was how they “seized the day” — this was their YOLO. And let this remind us of how blinding and powerful sin is as a slavemaster. Makes you wonder what sinful cultural norms we’re blind to in our country?
Now — because the culture of Paul’s day had approved of these things — because the popular vote was that these things were perfectly acceptable — it may make you wonder how the slaves felt about all of this? Well many of the slaves willingly complied — often volunteering their bodies — because they were desperate to please their owners in order to not become destitute. (For more on this disturbing topic see J. Albert Harrill. Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social and Moral Dimensions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005); Sandra R. Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World in The Cambridge Introduction to Romans Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Keith Bradley, Slavery and Society at Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Thomas Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery (Abingdon: Routledge, 1989).) The slaves accepted this as their norm — this was their reality — this was their YOLO — as disgusting as this is to us.
And — again — this is all shocking to us because of something we haven’t talked much about yet — which is the freedom that sin offers. Yes — you heard me right — sin does offer a kind of freedom — but it’s not what you might expect. So — and this is a bit counterintuitive — but in being a slave to sin — the freedom you have — with sin as your master — is the freedom from righteousness. Meaning when sin is your master you’re free from right living. Your master — sin — doesn’t want you doing any kind of right living. So you’re free from living the right way with your fellow human beings — thus slaves were being sexually abused the way they were in the first century — and you’re free from being right with God — thus people ignored how they were supposed to treat their fellow human beings because our relationship with God influences our relationship with others. In fact — sin — as your master — doesn’t want you right with God or with other people.
And the freedom sin offers also includes the freedom from not being innocent — meaning you are guilty — and this is the really big lie your master tells you. You see, sin wants you to think you’re free from being guilty — that you’re innocent — that everything’s OK — sin — as a wicked deceitful master would do — convinces many that they are innocent and yet the day will come as an eternal shock when they stand before the judgment seat of God and find out it was all a lie that they fell for. Some kind of freedom, right? Yet this may be the only freedom you’ve ever known.
And though — when talked about this way — it seems like a pretty sorry excuse for freedom — this is the freedom many choose to live in today — with sin as their master. Where they do live in a freedom — a freedom from righteousness — as they believe the lie that sin has sold them — that things are going to turn out “hunky dory” for them in eternity — when things aren’t going to be fine.
Now before we play judge and jury on the culture of Paul’s day — might I dare suggest that we — as Jesus said — look at the log sticking out of our own cultural eye before we critique a culture from a few thousand years ago. Like I said earlier, Paul’s list to the church in Corinth has quite a few things on it that our culture agrees are wrong — abusing, cheating, stealing from others. But there are quite a few things on his list that our culture approves of — basically all of the sex stuff. So who are we to look back at the culture in Paul’s day and judge them for their sexual sins — even their abuse of their slaves — when we’re approving of a different set of sexual sins in our day? I wonder what first century folks would think of our multi-billion dollar porn industry? (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/porn-could-bigger-economic-influence-121524565.html) Or the sex slave trade going on in our country and around the world? I bet they’d be proud of how far we’ve come in exploiting others.
Now many — who claim to be followers of Jesus — seem to have missed — or dismissed — I’m not sure which — but they’ve at least misunderstood what Paul’s talking about here. That you’re either free to live for righteousness or you’re free from righteousness — but there’s no middle ground. Some people claim to have been justified by faith in Christ and yet — through things like disconnecting from a local church, or not reading their Bible, or living in ways that God has spoken against — they seem to not understand the importance of working out their sanctification — by that — I mean — growing in their holiness and obedience by living in the freedom they say God has given them.
Often — and maybe you know someone like this — often someone claiming to be a Chrsitian is just as much a believer in “you only live once” as someone who doesn’t claim any kind of faith. Many Christians live lives that appear to be no different than someone who isn’t living in the hope of eternal life. YOLO drives what we do more than the Great Commission does — at least for some of us.
Now maybe something I’ve said has struck a chord with you. If so, an important part of the faith you claim — if you claim to be a follower of Jesus — is living this present life with eternity in view. Where you live in the freedom that Jesus has gifted you with and live — in the present — with the reality of eternity in mind. Is this how you’re living? Is your present influenced by your eternity? Or is the present all that you’re living for?
Let’s see what else Paul has to say.
SIN AND SHAME
Let’s read verse 21. “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. ” (Romans 6:21 ESV)
Notice how Paul says something that — if you’re honest with yourself — you know to be true. Some of the things you did — while a slave to sin — or — as we’ve been talking about — some of the things you did in the freedom that sin gives — freedom from righteous living — freedom from not living a holy God honoring life — some of the things you did in that freedom — you’re now ashamed of. Paul calls it the fruit — the results — of the things we did while under the power of sin.
It’s why you never talk about that season of your life — you’re ashamed of it.
It’s why you keep those walls up that no one — and I mean no one — can penetrate — you’re ashamed of the person they’ll see on the other side of the wall.
It’s why shame is such a heavy weight that many carry around emotionally, physically, even spiritually in our day and age — even in our church.
Someone has said that there are three kinds of shame. (Peter Krol, “Three Kinds of Shame,” thegospelcoaltion.com, April 18, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/three-kinds-of-shame/) Maybe you can relate to one or more of these. First, there's a shame because of our sin against God. This is where we did something that we’re ashamed of and — most of the time — we should be ashamed of it. Shame isn’t always a bad emotion. Sometimes it’s the appropriate response to something we’ve done that we’ve realized was horrible. And sometimes our ability to be horrible — rightfully — horrifies us.
We lie to people who trust us.
We make fun of someone just to get a laugh.
We abort babies.
We touch people in a way they don’t want to be touched.
We sin and our sin causes us shame. This is kind of shame that Paul is talking about in our verse.
Now — here’s the baffling thing about the lie of sin’s freedom. You can know that sin is lying to you — you can be 100 percent aware that the freedom sin offers isn’t really freedom — you can have personal experience with the shame of having fallen prey to sin’s lie — and yet — something all too common — something you may even be struggling with at this moment — is to have experienced shame by believing sin’s lie — and yet — you’re tempted to repeat the very thing that’s already given you shame.
You know — with certainty — that shame is all that will result of going back and swimming in the mud of sin’s freedom — and yet — you feel it pulling you. You’re having a hard time resisting. You know that the water will leave you feeling nasty — but you want to go back and swim in it anyway.
And — if this is you — if this is you and you believe in Jesus — remember that the joy and peace and purpose and hope and love that you’re longing for is found in Christ and in him alone. And when you walk in the freedom that Jesus has given to you — when you live under the reign of his grace — there is no shame — the water is clean — it’s refreshing for your body, soul, and spirit when you swim in the freedom that Jesus gives.
But there’s also a shame that comes when others’ sin against us.
You’re the trusting person who was lied to.
You’re the person who was made fun of.
You were forced — maybe by your parents or boyfriend — to have an abortion.
You’re the person who was touched inappropriately.
Someone else sinned, but you’re stuck with the shame.
This is shame you didn’t earn. Yet it's a shame you carry around. And — sometimes — the abilities of others to be horrible to us — horrifies us. Often people with this shame may think they’re horrible for letting what happened to them happen. This is the shame we can carry because of the sin of someone else.
And — if this is you — this shame is not yours to carry. What happened to you was horrible. But you are not responsible for the sins of others. But you are responsible for carrying a burden that Jesus never meant for you to carry. And shame — because of the sin of others — is a burden Jesus has promised to carry for you. So give your shame to him. How?
Remember that he took the shame of the cross — and of our sins against him — and of others sins against us — in order to set us free from our shame. Your Savior empathizes with you — he knows what it’s like to experience the shame because of someone else’s sin — he experienced it personally when we sinned against him and — yet — in his love for you — he’s offered to carry the shame we bring to him that others have caused in our lives. What a tender, loving, and kind Savior you have — and though it won’t be easy — because this kind of shame can be destructive and powerful — you must trust Jesus with your shame.
Finally, there’s a shame we experience and there’s no one to blame. Shame we carry — not because of our sin and not because of someone else’s sin — shame where there’s no one to blame — except maybe God. This is shame caused by something in our life that seems to have no purpose.
It could be some way that you’re different from everyone else — physically, emotionally, mentally.
Maybe you have a birthmark that embarasses you — that’s no one’s fault.
Or a speech impediment — again — no one’s fault — yet you carry around shame because of it.
Maybe you think you’re too tall or too short — too skinny or not skinny enough — to nerdy or whatever — and you carry around shame.
Maybe you struggle with depression and there’s no apparent reason for it. Or you’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar or borderline personality disorder and you’re ashamed.
Similarly there’s the shame of being a Christian in our society. How often do we Christians fear being shamed for our faith in public? I’m asking myself as much as I’m asking you — because I can relate to this struggle — where the shame of being known for following Jesus seems to be greater than the shame of not being known for following Jesus. Which just shows how powerful the lie of sin’s freedom is — but we can’t forget that there is someone who has more power than sin’s lie. And the only way sin’s lie is defeated is believing in the One who frees us from sin’s freedom — the One who has been and is incredibly gracious to us in offering us real freedom.
FREEDOM AND ETERNAL LIFE
And this is who Paul points us to in verse 22. “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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23 ESV)
“You’ve been set free from sin.” Fact. Through faith in Christ you are no longer a slave to sin — you’re now a slave of God. Remember — everyone’s a slave to someone. And your options are limited. Father, Son, and Spirit — on the one hand — Satan, sin, death, and Hell — on the other. You see — freedom from something — always means freedom for something else. And in this case, freedom from sin means freedom to live for God.
And we’ve seen the fruit of being a slave to sin — nothing good comes out of being a slave to sin — and now we see the fruit that comes from being a slave of God. It’s fruit that leads to sanctification — our gradual growing in holiness and righteousness — it’s fruit that leads to treating others — not just how we’d like them to treat us — but it’s fruit that leads us to loving others in the way that we’ve been loved by God. And the fruit — the outcome — the destination of being a slave of God — where the freedom that Jesus gives his people is leading them to — is eternal life. That’s our — those whom Jesus has set free — that’s our final station that our train is pulling into on this journey called life — eternal life.
But notice in verse 23 — an often quoted verse — that the wages of sin — the payment of sin — where the fruit of sin leads — is death. What a sinister destination — one that many blindly find themselves headed towards because they’ve fallen for the lie of sin’s freedom. But let me point something else out to you about this familiar verse — that you may have overlooked. When we read — or quote this verse — we often think of death as the penalty that our sin has earned us from God — that death is God’s punishment to us for our sin. Now that’s absolutely true.
But what I want you to also notice about this verse — is look at who pays the wage that our sin has earned us? Remember, sin is a slavemaster. And it was common — in Paul’s day — for slaves to earn a wage — some kind of basic allowance from their slavemaster. (Brendan Byrne, Romans, Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 204.) And Paul — in using this slave imagery — I think — is wanting us to see that not only is death a wage we’ve earned — but sin — that old cruel slave master — loves it when its payday.
But grace — God’s freeing you from sin and death grace — leads to eternal life. And it’s a gift — a wage unearned by us — a gift earned for us by Jesus Christ.
Now as we come to the end of this chapter — I want to take us all the way back to the beginning. Do you remember the question Paul started this chapter off with? He asked, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1b, ESV) And — a little over 500 words later — he’s explained his answer of, “By no means!” Why not? Because sin’s freedom promises us all kinds of lies that lead to death. But God’s grace is the freedom that leads to eternal life.
And this truth — this promise — this reason for our hope — is why we Christians are to be people who are working hard to show the results of our salvation. To be people who love one another. And serve one another. And give generously to the ministry God is doing. And share with those in need. And are to be people known for countless other things we find in the Bible.
Will we stumble? For sure. But you won’t learn to walk if you’re afraid of falling down. And the fact that we can even get back up from our falls — as we follow Jesus — is a gift. And we’re able to walk and stumble and admit our weaknesses and share with others the things that have caused us shame — because we’re free! We’re out from under the reign of sin and are now under the reign and rule of God’s grace. So “seize the day” and live for eternity — live for the here and now in the freedom that is yours forever. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you once again for the freedom you’ve given to us — your people. You’ve rescued us out from under that cruel slave master. And have set us free to live for you.
Spirit, for anyone who’s blind to the false freedom they’re living in — the freedom that sin gives that’s no freedom at all — I ask you to open their eyes — open their minds — awaken their spirits to the lie they’re believing. The train they’re headed on is leading straight to death. And their wicked master is eagerly looking forward to their payday. Give them what they don’t deserve — in your love — give them what they could never earn — give them your grace and save them.
Jesus, you are so good to us. Help us to appreciate who you are, what you have done, and who you say that we are more and more. Help us to live in the present while focused on our eternity. Help us to love others as we have been loved by you. All so that they might find the eternal joy and hope and life that only you can provide. We pray all of these things in you name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: have been carrying shame and want relief)
In the freedom God has given you — go and seize the day — with eternity in mind. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.