Friday, September 26, 2008


Rom. 6:1-11[1]

Reading the Apostle Paul can be a little depressing. It’s easy to miss the good news in Paul’s message and hear only the negative tones. For example, in his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly works on the premise that we are all fallen, enslaved to the power of sin. If we’re not paying attention, we can easily turn Paul’s “good news” into a pretty gloomy take on how bad things are.

I think we really don’t like having anyone tell us that we are fallen. But I would suggest to anyone who has lingering doubts about the fallenness of humanity that they consider the fact that from a very early age we tend to think of “freedom” as being able to do whatever we want. We even have a credit card company that advertises its services with the jingle, “I’m free to do what I want any old time.” We have a skewed version of freedom![2]

Of course, Freedom can be good. Augustine said “Love, and do what you will.”[3] But his premise was that if we truly love God and others, then “what you want” will take on a whole different meaning from the way we usually think of it. In our context “I’m free to do what I want” usually means something very different from what Augustine had in mind. It usually means “I can do whatever pleases me,” or “I can fulfill my own selfish desires without caring what it does to anyone else.” We mistake license for freedom, and in so doing we give up true freedom!

If you have grown children, you have probably witnessed a bit of the comic irony in all of this. Most teenagers living at home will say that what they look forward to most when they “grow up” is “I can’t wait until I’m free to do whatever I want.” The irony is that they will never be more “free” than they are when they say those words. When they “grow up” and get out on there own, they’re free, alright—free to pay all their own expenses, free to work full-time, free to bear the consequences of their choices on their own!

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ is that one of the main reasons for his death and resurrection was to set us free—truly free—from everything that would bind or oppress or hurt or even destroy us. In one sense, Jesus did this in that he is the only person who has ever fully embodied what it means in human terms to be “free.”[4] But what made him free was the fact that he consistently and continually kept his life in line with God’s will, God’s truth, and God’s way! We might think of a statement like “the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19) as a kind of servitude rather than freedom. But in fact, that kind of submission to God is a central aspect of the truth that makes us free (John 8:32).

But Jesus didn’t just go through all that he did to show us the potential for freedom that we have in our relationship to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection effectively determines what life looks like for all of us. I think that’s what Paul is thinking when he says that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17) I don’t think he’s referring just to the change that happens in an individual person. Rather that person becomes a beacon of new life that God has brought into this dark world through Jesus the Christ. That person becomes a sign that “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

In fact, Paul can say that the transformation we have all undergone because of what Jesus did for us is as if we all had died with him on that cross and we were all raised to new life with him on that first Easter. In our lesson for today he says it this way, “For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:7-8, TEV) Again, the point of that is that it changes everything—not just for one person, or a few! As he says elsewhere, “Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:22, MSG).

That is where true freedom lies—finding our true humanity in the example of Jesus, experiencing the life that comes from relating to God in such a way that we seek to follow God’s will and God’s way, that we seek to promote God’s justice and not our own.[5] All of life is then set free from the power of everything that threatens to enslave or oppress or distort or destroy our humanity. All of life is then set free to serve one another in love.[6] We have new life in the risen Christ, and that sets us free to live the life that truly is life.

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/22/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] John Paul II, in “The Gospel of Life,” 19.3, says that we have “a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them.” See J. Michael Miller, C. S. B., The Encyclicals of John Paul II, 808.

[3] Augustine, Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John; accessed at

[4] See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.2:133, 135, 137, where he elaborates on the idea that in Jesus Christ we see what all humankind were intended for in the first place—to fulfill the will of God.

[5] The Study Catechism, 1998, question 16, says that to be human, created in the image of God, means that “God created us to live together in love and freedom.”

[6] John Paul II, “The Gospel of Life,” 19.4, says that our true freedom is fulfilled through “the gift of self and openness to others”; cf. Miller, Encyclicals, 809.

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