“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!16Do 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?17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This week we begin the first of twelve weeks with Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome. Though this is the first of Paul’s letters as it appears in our Bibles, it is actually the last one written. Paul planted 7 churches around the Mediterranean and was now interested in joining together in missionary efforts with the young Church at Rome. The Roman Church was highly independent and was skeptical of Paul’s claims to apostolic authority. So Paul wrote this long letter which essentially defined exactly who he was and what he believed in order for the Roman Church to accept him in Christian mission. It is unclear whether or not Paul was seeking to be the leader of the Roman Church also or if he was simply wanting to partner with them.
For our purposes, the exact “who, what, when and where” are less important than the atmosphere of the letter as a whole and this specific passage. We are leaving the gospel stories which essentially tell the story of Jesus’ life; his life, death, and resurrection. We are leaving for this season the stories which beg the questions of Jesus’ identity, purpose, and mission. We are taking a break from the stories which look forward to the resurrection and now delve into the letters which reflect the deep theology birthed from it. Whereas before we were looking forward to the Easter resurrection, now we look back at it. Paul’s letter to the Romans epitomizes this exactly.
By the time we reach chapter 6 Paul is talking about Christian freedom. We all know what freedom is as we live in a country that, for the most part, protects our freedoms from “want” and “fear” (Theodore Roosevelt). But we all know that overused phrase “freedom isn’t free.” We understand this every time we pay taxes, serve as jurors, vote, and when persons serve in the military, police, and as firemen. In order to enjoy our freedom here in the US of A these duties must be done by its citizens. The full story of our freedom cannot be understood until these duties are done.
Paul speaks similarly of freedom in Christ. He spends the first half of the chapter laying out the grace of God through Jesus Christ – namely that it is free for anyone, who, like Christ, will die and rise. In dying with Christ we rise with Christ. He spells this out in unrelenting and unapologetic language conveying passionately his belief in the power of Jesus’ resurrection. But this isn’t the whole story, it is only half of it Paul says. As we look back on the resurrection event we understand that just like the freedom we enjoy as US citizens, freedom in Christ requires something of us. It is not static and dead. Freedom in Christ does not exist in seminary books and learned theology. To truly be free in Christ, Paul says our lives must reflect it. We must seek to be more like God in our everyday lives being “members of righteousness.” We must be “slaves to righteousness and sanctification.” When people see us declare that we are Christians they should see that we are different. Freedom isn’t free after all and Freedom in Christ always costs us something.
Paul is calling us to examine our lives in light of Jesus’ reality altering resurrection and to believe. But this belief isn’t static and theoretical. If you are really crazy enough to believe in resurrection, Paul says your life should reflect it. This is what John Wesley and others call holiness, a desire to be more like the God we worship. And this is the rest of the story: that we might acknowledge and believe in the life-changing grace of God through Jesus Christ and seek change the world around us because of it.
So come to Church tomorrow and see how you might respond to “The Rest of The Story.”