July 1, 2018
I always like to think about the freedom we have in Christ, on Independence Day weekend. There are a lot of parallels! And it has been my practice now for a number of years to read the Declaration of Independence around this time. I invite you to do so, too!
Paul gives us similar thoughts today. “In Christ we are free,” he said. But that doesn’t mean that life is free from its struggles – struggles with life in general, struggles with sin. We still have them. It’s been said that, spiritually, we’re living in “Post D-Day” Europe. What that means is that, once the allied forces landed in France on D- Day, and gained a foothold, the outcome of the war in Europe was set. There were still plenty of battles to be fought. But the allied victory was determined.
We began to see that. And so did the Germans! When he saw the American bombers over Berlin, escorted by the P51 fighters, Hermann Goering, the head of the German air force, said that he knew the war was lost. It had taken us a while to develop that technology. At first, those small planes couldn’t carry enough fuel to protect the big bombers all the way to their targets and back! (I couldn’t resist a little bit of aviation history there!)
The parallel to that is that, through the cross and the empty tomb, Jesus Christ has assured the victory over sin and death. “It is accomplished” as he said on the cross. Yes, there would be more battles to be fought, there would be more strife to endure. But the final victory has been set. And, just like there was a VE-Day – a “Victory in Europe Day,” there will be a final victory day in all of history. That’s where we are the scheme of things.
In the meantime… we do have freedom in Jesus Christ. And that freedom is based on the victory we are assured of in Christ. That’s what Paul is telling us today. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.”
Think about the book of Revelation. There are lots of things in that book that we just don’t understand. But one thing we do understand about it – and this is the main point of the book of Revelation – is that God wins! In the end, God wins! That’s what that book tells us.
In the meantime, remember that God sees time differently than we do. He sees the whole scope of time, all at once. We see just this moment. (And now this one…) God sees time like a person looking down on a parade from a tall building. He sees the whole thing from beginning to end. We see time like we’re watching the same parade from the sidewalk. We see one float, one marching band, one clown at a time! But God knows the end. And, in Revelation, he gives us a vision of that!
So, he knows, and Paul knows, that we are free in Jesus Christ. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) The victory is won. We may have trials and battles to face, but the outcome is set! We have been “set free from the law of sin and death!”
Now I want you to think about that “Law.” As you’ve heard me say, Paul was a Pharisee. And as a Pharisee, he was a “Law guy!” That’s what Pharisees were. That’s what they did! They interpreted, they taught, and they kept “The Law.” And at first one might think – and it has been argued – that Paul was dispensing with the Law now that Jesus had come.
One of the big debates in the great Council of Nicea (325AD) was about whether or not the Christian Church would “keep the Old Testament” – “The Law.” And it was decided that we would. And it wasn’t just because the history and the heritage. It was because, “The Law” was not over and done! Paul would not say that. The Law was still the Law! But the approach to the law has changed! The reason we follow the law was changed. The Law was not given solely as a control for the people. The law was given in order to promote the best life possible for the people. Yes, the Law had its consequences! Otherwise law is not law, is it?
I’ve heard many a teenager who has said, “I can’t wait till I’m 18 and I can do whatever I want!” We know that’s not true! Nobody can do “whatever they want!” Yes, then you’re responsible for yourself – and your actions. Nobody is “telling you what to do.” But you are still not free to “break the law.”
Paul is saying here that we are free from the law as far as it pertains to “sin and death.” That’s not why we follow the law any more. We don’t follow it solely because of it’s consequences. We follow the Law because of the good life it gives us. We follow the law “in the spirit,” because of the victory we have in Christ and the joy and the life we are given through him. We now live under “Grace.”
Think of those people in the American Colonies. When they declared their independence, they didn’t want freedom from all law. They were not wanting to be a “lawless society!” Far from it! Even that term “lawless” is very negative, isn’t it? No, they didn’t want that! In fact, at first, they didn’t even want freedom from England! England was their security in a new world. That wasn’t something to give up too quickly. They even wrote that in the Declaration of Independence.
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. “ Change is hard! We’ll hang on to things if we can. We shouldn’t change things for “light and transient causes.” We should think them out carefully!
They didn’t want to change governments. They just wanted to be treated right. But when that was no longer possible, they did opt for freedom. But, they didn’t want freedom from all law. They wanted the freedom to conduct themselves under their own laws, laws that were in place to promote their “unalienable rights” – the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The laws are in place to do that, just as the Laws of God are there to make our lives as fulfilled and happy as possible. Because that’s what God wants for us. That’s why he gave the law. It wasn’t to control people. It wasn’t to turn them into mind-numbed robots!
And so we celebrate today our freedom. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.” “The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ” is a Law, but it’s the Law that sets us free. Yes, there will still be struggles as we strive to be the people God calls us to be. But the law of the spirit is there so we can have the life of peace and freedom that God wants for us. That’s what those colonists wanted in their new world. And to them, it was so important, that they mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor!
Eternal God, we do know that you want the best for us, and we thank you that you have sent your Son to show us that. Help us to follow him, that as we follow your Law, we might feel the freedom we have in him, and know the joy it is to be part of his kingdom. For we pray in his name, Amen.