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!

This morning’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman Church begins with his writing “having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” And for the rest of the passage he uses this language of slavery – building the fact that we are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness. And in the second verse he explains the use of this language – “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.” In other words, this language of slavery gives us an idea of what St. Paul’s trying to convey. He has to use a language that we’re familiar with, if he uses a spiritualized explanation, we might not be able to understand what he’s saying. But we do have to remember that this language of slavery is an approximation – it gives us an image of what St. Paul’s teaching us, but its not the fullness, the image can only be taken so far.

St. Paul says that when we were slaves to sin, we were free with regard to righteousness. In other words, as sinners, righteousness had no hold on us. We didn’t have to be concerned with what was right or what was wrong. We were slaves to our desires. Some philosophers debate the idea of where our morals come from; can man be moral and strive for the good apart from the existence of God. St. Paul certainly seems to imply that God is the source of righteousness, and apart from God not only is the good not what we desire, righteousness doesn’t even exist apart from God. Apart from God we’re all about ourselves – we seek for what we want, and we might behave morally if it suits our will, but if it doesn’t, we’re just as likely to destroy our neighbor to get what we want. Apart from God, righteousness is not part of us.

But when we choose Christ, we’re made slaves to God and to righteousness, and we’re set free, then, from sin. In Christ our whole paradigm is changed – we’re no longer to seek after sin, but we’re to pursue righteousness to holiness. We’re to seek God’s way, in order to be set apart (holy) from the world and sanctified to God. And St. Paul says we’re set free from sin; in Christ, sin no longer has a hold on us, we’re no longer slaves to sin, we can choose something else, we can choose God and His righteousness.

After having told us of our position in Christ, St. Paul also tells us what we have to do. He writes, “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” Before Christ, we gave ourselves to sin like slaves. We chose pleasure, we followed our own will, and we did it like we didn’t have the freedom to do anything else. We were slaves of uncleanness and sin. But now that we’re in Christ, we’re to present ourselves as slaves of righteousness. Even in the way St. Paul phrases this, you can see where the image of slavery comes to an end. A slave has no choice – he has to do what he’s told to do. But in Christ, we still have a choice. We can choose to continue living for ourselves, or we can present ourselves as slaves of righteousness, which is what we’re called to do in Christ. His words remind me of a saying of the Saints – that we’re the most free when we’re slaves, when we have no will of our own. In other words, we’re able to live freely, as human beings, as we’re created to be in Christ, only when we set aside our own will and submit ourselves wholly and in all things to Christ. But this is a choice that we freely make – to enslave ourselves to Christ.

St. Paul then ends this morning in a way very much like Christ often ends a parable or a teaching – with a word of warning, and a promise. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we continue to choose uncleanness and unrighteousness, then the result of our choice will be death. And St. Paul doesn’t just mean death in the body, everyone experiences that. He means death of the soul: a soul blind to God for all of eternity. But the gift of God to those who choose it, to those who freely become His slaves, servants of the Gospel, the gift to those is eternal life with Christ. Life in the Kingdom of God, where there is no sickness or sighing or sorrow but Life everlasting.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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