I think that some of my favorite moments in the Bible are when the apostle Paul gets worked up. As you read you can almost feel the juices flowing inside Paul. I imagine his forehead sweating and his face turning red. I can see him pacing and flailing his arms as if he would be mute without them. Then the climactic moment comes and his hands go to the forehead, veins popping, eyes clenched, and BOOM, a statement and a torrent of questions exploding!
This is the image I get as I read Romans 5 and 6.
What concerns us today is Romans 6:15–23 (The Message):
15–18So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!19I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing — not caring about others, not caring about God — the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?
20–21As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
22–23But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
I like the way that Peterson’s translation renders this passage because I think that it gets down to the heart of the matter. Verse 15 is rendered like this in the ESV, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no mans!” Paul is anticipating his detractors. He is assuming what they are going to say before they say it. Remember, Paul did not physically write this letter, he dictated it to Tertius. I imagine that Tertius played the proverbial devil’s advocate for Paul so that there could be a give and take. This was meant to be a conversation not a treatise.
Consider here what Pauls is doing. He is preempting the person who would say that the radical grace that he is describing thus far is will lead to license. Paul argues quite the opposite. He argues that as a result of the freeing from the curse of the law there will be new found freedom to truly live the way that a person was made to live.
I love how Peterson puts this, “But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” There is delight and joy in living the life of hearing from God.
I hate money. It’s annoying and it preoccupies too much of my time and other people’s time. I remember when I first heard about budgets and I thought, “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then my bride and I created a budget. You know what we discovered? It gave us freedom. Prior to a budget we did not believe that we could go on dates because we did not have money. Once we created a budget we found the freedom to date again.
I think this is how grace works. When we are living lives separated from God we look at the “good two shoe” Christians and think “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then our hearts are captured by the radical grace of God and we find that we have freedom to live life to its full. We find that we can do all things to the glory of God and in so doing experience great freedom. Yet, this freedom is contained within the confines of grace and glory.
This weekend Tiger Woods returned to the links. He played well, no, he played really well. Consider though the pain and agony that he suffered and his family suffered while he “did whatever he wanted” and as some sports hosts put it, “lived every man’s fantasy.” I guarantee you that Woods would trade every one of his sexual escapades for the freedom of a happy monogamous marriage with Elin.
Freedom comes from living out the reality that we were made for good and for God. This is the beauty of grace and living in light of righteousness.