“Set Free in Christ” by Pastor Steve Sommerer
Third Sunday after Pentecost June 21, 2020
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The sermon text is from Romans 6:12-23 (read a portion). For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. So far the text.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of Tom, a kind, hard-working Christian husband and father enslaved in the American South. Tom was loved by his master and put in charge of the whole plantation. He was a spiritual mentor to fellow slaves and the embodiment of a Christian father and leader. Financial hardship caused Tom’s master to sell Tom to a slave trader.
The reader is horrified as Tom is torn away from his family and sold to a man far away in New Orleans. His character and trustworthiness and kindness soon caused Tom to become the right hand man. The master loved Tom and after a tragedy in the family, the master decided to give him his freedom. But just before Tom was to be freed, his master was robbed and killed on the street. With no legal statement freeing Tom, the master’s wife refused to let Tom go. She sent Tom to the slave auction where he’s bought by one of the most hated characters in the history of American literature, the monster Simon Legree.
Legree didn’t care for his slaves, worked them to death and bought new ones. When Tom tried to help some of the weaker slaves, the new boss made it his devilish aim to break Tom’s spirit. Like Satan lashing out against Christ, the monstrous man detests his goodness, savagely beating noble Tom to death at the end of a whip. That book horrified the north and helped people to see the terrible cruelty of slavery.
St. Paul describes another slavery that leads to death in our text: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!”
A lot of young folks think they’re finally free when mom and dad aren’t forcing them to go to church anymore or think freedom is nobody judging their choices or behaviors. Some think freedom is being free from financial worries, or freedom to choose what they want to do when they want to do it. But Paul says we are all slaves to sin, death and the devil until God liberates us.
Is the young boy who will do anything to fit in and be accepted by their peers, or the girl whose whole worth comes down to whether people like the way their body looks – are they really free? Is the teen alone in the lust of online pornography or afraid if they don’t engage in sexual activity they won’t be popular? Is that free? Is the one scared to speak up for God’s Word or let anyone know he’s not down with the latest politically correct line of thinking really free? Is the one daily checking their investments, whose hearts rise and sink with the financial numbers really free? Is a parent really free if they lack the Godly courage to say no to their children or raise them to know right from wrong?
Luther wrote: “Freedom that seeks its own end is no freedom at all but the devil’s tyranny.” That means to live for yourself is really the devil’s slavery. He’s your master.
Your sinful flesh lies to you. It’s a cruel despot promising freedom and happiness every time you satisfy your urges. But sin is a lying, brutalizing master, a Simon Legree, that if given free reign in your life will whip you bloody and leave you for dead. What’s important to you? When you are a slave, the Old Adam makes life about money and power and popularity and entertainment and having all the cool stuff – cars, boats, work, kids, whatever we want - all the while the devil uses our lusts and greed and selfishness and desires to draw us deeper into slavery – deeper into the trap of “Me-ism” – the view of life that cares only about me. That self-love I can even convince myself is me being a fun, caring parent, when in fact it’s often a symptom of self-love to spoil a kid rotten, self love that breaks out in laziness and carelessness about how my kids turn out. And we’re often guilty as charged because it’s easier and doesn’t involve battling for what’s right.
Jesus lived and died to break the power of our slavery to sin and death’s power over God’s people. I get that there are a lot of lenses through which to view the American Civil War, but it has sometimes been called a holy war, a war to remove our original sin of slavery.
As obnoxious as the brutality of slavery was, it’s nothing compared to the unspeakable horror of enslavement to sin. The slaves held in the American South couldn’t approach the bloody, waste and carnage of souls led to eternal death by the devil, the world and the sinful flesh. These tyrants call good evil and evil good. The devil leads the damned into slavery by convincing them they are evolutionary accidents, the product of time, matter and chance. The devil enslaves and damns those who believe science has emptied the world of God, and that there is no judge before whom all will one day give account of their lives. Many lead useless, aimless, purposeless lives, convinced they have no Creator God, no higher purpose to be saved through His Son and live to His glory. No ultimate meaning beyond making sure the moments of pleasure outnumber the moments of pain. But that is its own tyranny… it’s own aching pain that drugs or dollars can’t soothe.
While it may not be historically realistic only to speak of the anti-slavery motives of the Union, no doubt many acted for money or property. It’s beyond debate that Christ waged war against our cruel slave masters – sin, death, and the devil – with pure motives. Christ our Savior was born into human flesh and became “like us in every way, except without sin.” Into our tyrannical, hate-filled world, God became man to embody love and sacrifice and selflessness. Instead of being enslaved by sin, Christ was obedient in every sense to the holy will and Law of the Father. 2 Corinthians 8 reminds us, “Christ Jesus, though He was rich, yet for your sakes, He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” The God of Heaven made our liberation and freedom from sin, death and the devil His work. Christ Jesus “emptied Himself of His power and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
The torment and torture of our sinful flesh could only lead us to death, yet Christ allowed Himself to be whipped and bled and stricken, as Isaiah wrote, “so that by His wounds we might be healed.” Condemned to the dungeon of death, Christ’s resurrection breaks sin’s enslaving hold on God’s people. Joined to Jesus’ resurrection victory through Holy Baptism we now walk in true freedom.
Paul wrote: “For freedom Christ has set you free, so do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed.” What does it mean that you are free in Christ? You are free from fear to trust in the victory Christ has won for you. You are free from condemnation, because God the Father condemned your sins in Christ. Paul wrote, “There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ.” You are free from tyranny, because “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God. You are not your own. You were bought at a price.” Our text says, we were purchased in Christ to be slaves of righteousness – declared righteous – innocent – no sins are left to condemn you through faith in Christ.
When Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, millions of slaves living in the Confederacy were set free. But there was a downside. That act of justice and compassion for the slave hardened the Southern resolve. The Confederacy fought long after the war could no longer be won.
Here’s how it is with you. You are free. Through faith, God has declared you so in Christ. Yet, God calls you to be awake, alert and watchful to the devil’s plans. Just as the Emancipation Proclamation hardened Confederate resolve, God’s victory in Christ given to you through faith gives you a desperate, defeated enemy, the devil. As you live in the last days of this dark world, the devil will do his worst to snatch you back into the slavery of sin. He’ll try to suck you into cyberworld with all its nastiness, or make you slaves to your little peer group of classmates. He’ll try to make you a coward, unwilling to stand up and be God’s man or woman, taking your stand for Christ. Those paths lead to death. Heed the words of Galatians 5: “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
When Christ cried out, “It is finished” from the cross, He signed the treaty that brings you peace in His precious blood. There God declared pardon and forgiveness, emancipating all of God’s children through faith from the crippling clutches of sin. God trumpeted his great verdict of emancipation in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.