• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! In our Epistle reading this morning, we heard the final five verses of the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It’s important for us, when we’re reading the Scriptures, to remember some of the some of the context in which they were written. Of course, in interpreting Scripture the most important ingredient is our prayer for enlightenment, and our willingness to be guided and corrected by the Fathers of the Church. But there are often significant points that come from context. For instance, remembering that St. Paul’s Epistles were written to the Churches. Our reading this morning began with, “having been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:18) He’s not writing to the citizens of Rome at large; he’s writing specifically to the Christian that live and worship in the city of Rome. He’s writing to the Romans Christians, reminding them what is means to be a Christian. In this chapter, he writes, “do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…for he who has died has been freed from sin…therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies…having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:3,7,12,18) St. Paul is writing to remind the people that they are no longer held in bondage to sin. They have been set free by their baptism in Christ. But the Christians in Rome weren’t behaving as if they had been set free from sin. They were still giving in to the “lusts of the mortal body.” (Romans 6:12) And this is really where we have to hear St. Paul’s word this morning. One of the greatest temptations for Christians in all ages is to try and have everything. In other words, to accept baptism into the death of Christ, yet still do the things of this world. Still give in to sin. But St. Paul’s word, just like Christ’s word last week—“Seek first the kingdom of God…no man can serve two masters”—this teaching is that we simply cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive. We choose Christ, or we choose to do what we want to do. And as Christians in the modern world, we desperately need to hear this. Not only are many groups around us preaching exactly the opposite of this—that you can have Christ and also have every luxury and fulfillment that the world has to offer, but the work of Satan from the beginning has been to convince us that the things of the world we want for ourselves are okay. It’s much easier for the demons to tempt us as Christians to hold something back for ourselves. To give ourselves 80% to Christ, but hold back 20% so we can do what we want to do some of the time. But this simply isn’t the reality of the Gospel message of Christ. To follow Him, we must forsake all else. St. Paul writes, “having been set free from sin [referring back to early verses on baptism setting us free from sin], you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18) A slave doesn’t have a choice, he does his master’s bidding. When we choose to become followers of the incarnate Godman Jesus Christ, we become slaves of righteousness. Now, St. Paul quickly adds that he “speaks in human terms.” (Romans 6:19a) In other words, we can’t exactly equate human slavery with being slaves of righteousness. The human slave is held against his will; the slave of righteousness, the slave of Christ, has chosen to place themselves under the authority of their Master. We have chosen to give our will to the will of Another. But the great irony is this—in human terms, we often consider ourselves truly free when we have the ability to choose to do whatever we want to. But St. Paul tells us that, in fact, we were slaves of sin and uncleanness and lawlessness. When we are free to sin, we become slaves to our passions and lusts and desires. We become the plaything of the demons, the Fathers say. So when we think we would feel the most free, humanly speaking, in fact we’re the most enslaved—against our will—to the very things we feel so free to do. In choosing voluntary slavery to Christ, we choose true freedom. We choose the freedom to be ourselves. We choose to follow One who leads only to what is best eternally for His servants. But choosing this course has requirements, St. Paul is writing this morning to remind us of this. As followers of Christ, we’re to “present [our] members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” (Romans 6:19b) We’re to strive to present our bodies clean and free from all sin and defect. “Having been set free from sin,” St. Paul continues, “and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22) To be a follower of Christ has requirements. That we do His will, that we grow in holiness, that we mortify our fleshly desires and pursue virtue. We can only be truly free as followers of Christ. And we can only be followers of Christ if our only earthly desire is for Him. But the Fathers write that this is a trade significantly better for us. We trade our will, our slavery, our passions, our sin and our death. And in return God grants us freedom, “and the end, everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22) Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!