Next week, we celebrate our country’s birthday. Among the many themes of celebration for Independence Day, one stands out among all others—freedom. The United States was founded to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Freedom is something many Americans have considered to be very important. Freedom is also one of the key words throughout Scripture. This morning, the apostle Paul teaches us that…
CHRIST JESUS HAS SET YOU FREE TO WALK BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Many people, even Christians, believe that freedom means I can do whatever I want. This is simply not true at all. The freedom to do whatever I want is selfishness—an excuse for lawlessness and St. John teaches us that “sin is lawlessness.” For this very reason Paul warns us this morning “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” He means the sinful flesh. He knows the temptation. Your sinful flesh says, “Christ has set me free, so I can do whatever I want and Jesus will forgive me because He loves me.” There are a lot of Christians falling into this temptation in our day—many no longer worry about the forgiveness part.
However, Paul says in the book of Romans, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means, how can we who died to sin, still live in it.” Paul knows what sin cost. We died to sin. How did we do that? In Jesus Christ, who laid down His own life for our sins. Sin is so dire, it cost His life. Paul says, “We were buried with Him by Baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Not the old life of sin, but a new life.
Here’s the interesting twist, what human beings think of as freedom to do whatever we want is actually slavery in the worst way. Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Sin may look like it offers absolute freedom to do whatever you want, but when you fall into its snare, sin becomes the master.
Sin controls the sinner. The desires of the heart may very well become the thoughts in the brain, the words from the mouth, and the actions of the hands. Think of how controlling sins like anger, jealousy, and gossip control so, so easily. Whenever sin is used as an opportunity for the flesh, the crushing blow of God’s Law drills us. The Law says, “You did what you want, and now you will face the consequences—you will die.” What was then thought to be freedom and opportunity to do whatever we want suddenly turned out to be the very thing that killed us.
In reaction to the enslavement of sin, some say that true freedom comes in keeping the Law. If we just do what the Law says, then sin can’t enslave us and God will love us. Yet, when you think that your freedom is tied to following a list of dos and don’ts—well then that’s yet another form of slavery. Slavery to a Law you can’t ever fully keep because you are sinful. You see, with legalism the Law also becomes a slave master constantly telling you what you must do, but never, ever, not once, offering you any relief or rest.
Devoting yourself to whatever you want to do isn’t freedom—it’s lawlessness, it’s slavery to sin. Devoting yourself to God’s Law to please God isn’t freedom, it is legalism, which means it is slavery to the Law. “Now hold up Pastor, it sounds like you’re saying that if we use our freedom to sin then it’s slavery?” Yes. “But on the other hand, if we look to God’s Law to keep us from slavery to sin, then we’re enslaved to the Law?” That’s right. “So, what do we do?” I’m glad you asked.
Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Are you wearied by sin? Then find your rest in Christ. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. Are you wearied by constantly struggling to cross every “T” and dot every “I” of God’s Law? Then find your rest in Christ. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name.
Christ has set you free so that you may live in His freedom. Your Savior suffered and died upon the cross in your place bearing your sin in His body. You won’t face the condemnation your sin deserved because He was judged and condemned for you. Your sin is forgiven so that Satan has nothing to accuse, the Law has nothing to judge, and death has nothing to kill. You are free in Christ. When you do sin—after all, we are sinful—you are promised that, confessing your sins to God, He forgives you of those sins. He puts your sin away. It’s done away with forever for the sake of Christ who died for you.
“So, Pastor, every time I sin and am sorry for it, God forgives me?” Yes. “So, that means I can do whatever I want?” Perhaps you didn’t hear me. Your Savior suffered and died upon the cross in your place bearing your sins in His body. He was judged and condemned so that you won’t be. Why would you think of purposely returning to the very things for which Jesus died?
Christ has not set us free to satisfy the desires of the flesh, which is slavery to sin. Christ has set us free to walk by the Spirit, which is God-pleasing. Paul teaches us that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” In other words, slavery to sin and the life led by the Holy Spirit are polar opposites. They couldn’t be anymore against each other than they already are.
This is why freedom in Christ is not freedom to do whatever we want. Freedom to do whatever we want is a cover-up for satisfying the desires of the sinful flesh. Paul says these works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. These kinds of things God speaks against all over Scripture – both the Old and New Testaments. I’ll be really shocked to hear if someone hasn’t ever done at least one of these works of the flesh, which means we’ve all fallen short. Paul says, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, “the wages of sin is death.”
Sin leads to much pain and suffering. It causes personal hurts, hurts others, strains relationships, makes us terrified of God, and brings judgment and death. When we practice these sins—which basically means whenever we sin—with each and every sin we commit the hammer of God’s Law strikes us with a tremendous force of judgment and condemnation. Every time we sin—God’s Law—whether in our conscience or in His Word tells us, “You did what you shouldn’t have done. That deserves death.” But Christ our Savior has set us free from slavery to sin by fulfilling the Law in our place. Because He paid for our sins, death has no claim on us and is defeated. In Jesus Christ, you have forgiveness and life. You are free.
Your freedom in Christ is to walk by the Spirit because you were made alive by the Spirt. The Spirit called you by the Gospel to believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit has made you His temples; the Spirit lives in you. So naturally, we will be led by the Holy Spirit into godly living.
Now, to our sinful natures this doesn’t sound like freedom at all. “You mean to really be free I will seek to do what the Holy Spirit wants me to do?” That sounds like slavery. So, Paul puts it this way: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t cause us pain. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t ruin relationships or make us terrified of God. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t bring judgment or death. If you’re patient toward your neighbor, there’s no thunder of God’s Law hammering you to hell. If you exercise self-control, there’s no condemnation. There’s no law against these at all. There’s no Law—there’s no sin—because these are all God-pleasing. This is how God intends us to live. So what you are is free to live by the Spirit in Christ.
This is the kind of freedom into which Christ has set you and me free. Not using freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, not looking to satisfy the demands of the Law as if that can save us, but being free in Christ—fixing our eyes on Him and seeking to serve Him. In this we find a freedom beyond our wildest dreams. Not bound in sin. Not chained to the Law, but free to serve. Free to serve God. Free to serve one another. Free to live in Christ as God’s children. This is the light yoke that Jesus has promised to you. Amen.