1) If you are saved, you are free.
To hammer this point in, Paul uses an analogy of marriage in Romans 7. This is a transition chapter in the book of Romans to mark those who have crossed over from the life of the flesh to the life of the Spirit. In other words, those who have been saved from spiritual death and given a new spiritual life. We were dead in our sins and now Jesus comes, the gospel comes and we are freed from sin and given a new nature.
Using the marriage illustration, in Rom 7:1-6, Paul says if you are married and your husband is still alive, then you are still bound. To be married is to be in bondage. I know that sounds bad. Let me take a brief detour in the message.
Marriage is bondage. That means, for those who are not married, please enjoy your freedom! Because if you are not married, I know the vast majority of people are in one of two camps. Either you are either dating or you want to date. I know from personal experience. I was there in your shoes. I know how you feel. Esp. college students with hormones pulsing through your veins, don’t rush into relationships because you like the security of someone being there for you. Or because you are lonely or insecure and you need a companion, or you need someone to tell you how great you are, like a fan. College is a time to build same-gender friendships and to work on your character and develop your love for God. It’s when you build up godly habits, spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible and praying. Caltech students, you guys are already too busy and if you get involved in a relationship before you are ready to get married, without even getting into the issue of temptation and all the potential landmines that those who date when they are too young may step on, which is not what I want to get into right now — aside from this obvious issue, if you date too early, chances are, you are going to stunt your growth in many areas. I’ve seen it before. Trust me. You will thank me later if you heed this advice. Okay, but I digress.
I was free as a college student. I was free to hang out with friends, go to Jack in the Box late night, or play basketball until the lights went out at the local park. And often, we would be out past midnight and then I would end up crashing at my friend’s place. And I have some wonderful memories from my college days. Like me and my buddy, grabbing our sleeping bags and a guitar and singing praise songs at Pacifica in Northern California and confessing sins and praying for one another and casting visions for how God will use our lives in the future. And we did that all night until we conked out on the beach. Now this brother is pastoring a church and I praise God for him.
Those were my college days. Now, I am married and a father of 3. I can’t crash at my friend’s place whenever I feel like it. I am bound to Jackie and my kids. I have to come home, or I have to at least plan ahead and let them know where I will be.
A pre-married, college student life is a time of immense freedom. Take advantage of it to build up some spiritual muscle. You are going to need it later on to face life’s challenges.
I admit, I took my freedom to an extreme because in college, I was a young, immature kid. To illustrate how immature I was, I actually took the money my parents gave me to buy furniture and I bought a TV and a stereo and a Sega Genesis game system. Students, please don’t do this to your parents. I had to sleep on the floor my sophomore year when I lived in a studio apartment off-campus at UC Berkeley and I used a box for my kitchen table. That was my choice and I reaped the consequences of my foolishness. This is not an example of how to exercise your freedom responsibly. I am just making the point that in college, for the first time in my life, I was free to do whatever I wanted. No one was forcing me to study. My parents weren’t there to nag me. And I reaped what I sowed.
Fast forward to the present. Nowadays, I can’t on a whim purchase an iPad just because I think it’s cool. I have to check our budget and consider, is there enough money to put food on the table, and pay the bills?. I have to consult Jackie. Marriage is binding. I am not free to do whatever I want.
And Paul uses this analogy of marriage to describe our relationship with sin. Sin was like our husband. We were married to sin in an unhealthy, abusive relationship, we were bound to it, under its authority, enslaved, we lacked freedom. We were a prisoner of sin. We are in shackles. But when you are saved, the chains are broken. The power of sin in a believer’s life is no more. You no longer belong to sin. You are no longer under the authority of sin. You are not controlled by the sinful nature. You don’t have to be stuck in the pattern of trying to live a good, moral life but failing miserably time and time again.
Your husband named Sin is dead and you are now married to a new bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We belong to him. Our lives are under new management. We have been freed from sin and released from the title of “sinner,” and now in Christ, we are called son and daughter of God.
You are free. That’s number one. Let’s take it a step further.
2) If you are free, you can choose whom to obey.
Let’s read Rom 6:11-14.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
If I were to paraphrase what Paul is saying here, I would say — for those who are in Christ, who are born again — you are free, now count yourself as free. You are dead to sin, now count yourself dead to sin. Your spiritual status has changed; now grow into that status.
It’s like at age 18, you are considered by the State as an adult. But I sure didn’t feel like an adult at age 18. Legally, you are an adult and so now it’s up to you to demonstrate that you are an adult. So you go off to college and you are on your own and expected to make wise decisions to show that you are responsible. That when your parents give you money for furniture, you actually buy furniture instead of buying a home entertainment system or blowing your rent money in Reno while gambling, which I did, but I’ll save that for another time… And as you make responsible decisions, you realize that somewhere along the way you have become an adult. You are no longer a kid. You are mature. Status change happens, legally, at age 18 — you are an adult. Then over time, maybe by the time you are in your early to mid-twenties or even later, you have grown into that status of being a mature, responsible adult.
The same principle holds true for Christian life. You are freed from sin. Now make decisions and live in a way that validates your status as a child of God. Grow up into Christian maturity.
There are some really important concepts packed into those verses we just read, starting from v12 – do not let sin REIGN… so that you OBEY its evil desires, v13 – do not OFFER the parts of your body to sin… rather OFFER yourselves to God. v14 – For sin shall not be your MASTER… you are not under law, but UNDER GRACE,
Reign, obey, offer, master, under grace. Rom 6:16 ties these concepts together —
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Prior to our salvation, we were slaves to sin. Sin was our master. Sin was our abusive husband. Sin reigned over us. We were under the law and powerless to obey it, so we were condemned to eternity without God. But now, through the gospel, we are saved by grace. Under grace, under new management. We have been given a new spiritual nature. Therefore, this means, as believers, we have a choice. Either we can obey our sinful nature OR we can obey God. And whoever you decide to obey more, that choice determines who your master is.
Does this make sense? And the good news or the not-so-good news depending on your perspective, this means obedience changes you. If our kids had a choice of food, they would eat mac n cheese and french fries for every meal. But we tell them. Eat your vegetables. Here is some fruit. Instead of sausage every morning, doesn’t this cereal with whole grains and high fiber look yummy? Listen to our advice. And if you don’t want to listen, obey us. And over time, this obedience leads to a change in their preferences. So now they like fruit, they like certain vegetables, if there is Ranch dressing. This is called sublimation. Their tastes are elevated.
The same goes for our spiritual lives. If we live in the basement of our desires and we keep returning to our old abusive husband called sin, we get used to the darkness. But if we obey God and we come out into the light, our eyes adjust, our desires are sublimated and we begin to prefer being with Jesus instead of indulging in our flesh. Obedience changes us, even at the level of what we desire instinctively.
As believers, we should never say, I couldn’t help myself when it comes to sin. Or that I was tempted and I fell. Or because I am a sinner, therefore, I can’t resist sin and I keep falling into the same destructive patterns. For those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus, that’s true. You are a prisoner of sin. You sin because you can’t help it. Sin is your only option because sin has mastery over you.
But for the believer, we sin because of our willful choice. God has freed us. We are free to sin or not to sin. It’s our choice. Many times, we excuse ourselves, I can’t obey God. I know what I ought to do, but I just can’t do it. “I can’t” should not be in a believer’s vocabulary. If we were honest, instead of “I can’t,” we should say, “I won’t.” That would be more accurate, theologically. I don’t want to obey. I know I should and I have the power to obey, but I choose not to. That’s our choice. We CAN help it. We can be victorious over sin. Because we are free.