“Present Yourselves As Slaves to Righteousness"

Pentecost 3
June 26, 2017
Romans 6:12-23

Last week, I met with some folks from another congregation who were concerned about the dwindling numbers of people at their worship services.  While they wanted to focus the blame upon the conduct of the pastor, they were conspicuously silent concerning their own role in the matter.  They asked if I had any insights as to what might be causing their decline in membership, and my answer was to pose to them the question of how they became members of the church in the first place?

“Through Baptism,” they answered.  And, I commended them for an absolutely correct response!  As we heard in last week’s text, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  Meaning, we didn’t seek that reconciliation—God did, through His Son Jesus.  Which also means that we didn’t decide to become members of the Holy Christian Church; rather, God in His grace took us who were dead in our sins and brought us to life in Baptism, forgave our sins, and granted us saving faith by the Holy Spirit.

All of which leads back to the question as to what truly causes a decline in church attendance.  The bottom line is that it can’t be blamed upon what somebody else has done.  Rather, it is because people personally have forgotten, not only how they became Christians, but how it is that they are able to remain steadfast in the true faith unto life everlasting.  Only the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us in the one true faith.  It is a process that isn’t finished until our Lord calls us Home.

And St. Paul addresses that matter in today’s Epistle.  It’s as if he’s saying, “You realize that your Christian life isn’t done yet, right?”  Because, obviously, from the things that writes, it would appear that, for some, it was a necessary question to have to ask.  

And that becomes all the more apparent as the apostle is compelled to address the foolish notion that being forgiven by the grace of God is a “one-and-done” proposition; as when people raise the argument, “Well, if I’m saved by grace alone, and not because of anything I do, good or bad—then I might just as well live any way I care to.  After all, I’m forgiven!”

To which Paul responds, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” 

We need the reality to sink in that, at one time in our lives, we all were lost people.  As the apostle puts it, we were, “slaves of sin”.  It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit intervened and, by His gracious work, made us alive in Christ that we then became “slaves of righteousness”.

St. Paul wants us to know that being a Christian means living a changed life.  In his letter to the Galatians, he contrasts the old life we had when we were in bondage to sin to the new life that we have in Christ, by saying, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,

drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” (Gal. 5:19-21).  So much for the notion that we are free to do as we please. 

But then he goes on to say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” (Gal. 5:22-23).  That is what it means to be a slave to righteousness—that the fruit of righteousness will be evident in our lives.

It will be evident in our love toward those who seem to be unlovable.  It will be evident in the joy of knowing that God’s grace has made us brothers and sisters regardless of our failures.  It will be seen in that peace that can only come from the assurance that God has reconciled us to Himself through the death of Christ.  And all the rest of the Spirit’s promised fruit: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control toward those who might have caused us offense; for we know the insurmountable debt that each one of us has been forgiven so that we are able to forgive the debts of others.

This is what it means to be a slave of righteousness.  To love others as we would have them love us.  To forgive those who have trespassed against us, never forgetting that it is each one of us who first must approach the cross confessing our own sins and guilt, and seeking pardon for our own failures to be perfect.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”   You might want to make all of your issues in life, or even in regard to the church, about what others have done—blaming them while justifying your own behavior.  But we dare not obey those passions, St. Paul says; for to do so is to allow sin to reign, unchecked, in your hearts.  

Therefore, the apostle continues, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”  And, not surprisingly, this is where we present ourselves to God; here in His House, before the baptismal font, the cross, and the altar.

When we look at these holy instruments of God’s love and forgiveness, which convey to us poor, miserable sinners, God’s mercy and compassion, we realize that we don’t have a leg to stand on in defense of our ourselves.  No, those proud legs must buckle beneath us as we kneel in the confession of my sin, my own sin, my most grievous sin.  

For, should we ever cease to see ourselves in such a desperate state, that is when the church will no longer be seen as a hospital for the terminally ill to which we sin-sick people must hasten, but simply as a proving ground for our own self-absorbed agendas.  And then, yes, attendance will decline.  But it won’t be the Church’s fault, or even the fault of the unworthy minister.  And it certainly won’t be the fault of our Savior.  Because His message hasn’t changed.  It is as it always will be: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Dearly beloved, “You do realize that your Christian life isn’t over yet?”   

Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  And while you might certainly claim to acknowledge your faith in Jesus, the Scriptures also say, but, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness,” (1 John 2:9).

It is not our position to stand in judgement against those whom we think have wronged us.  You belong to Christ and therefore, you fully can expect to be on the receiving end of unjust treatment.  As our Lord said in the Gospel reading, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  And yes, those brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers could include more than just earthly relatives; they might even be members of the family of God, who, unwittingly, are doing harm to the rest of the body of Christ by cutting themselves off from this blessed tie that binds our hearts together in Christian love.

But you are no longer a slave to sin.  Neither can you allow yourself to be enslaved by someone else’s sin.  Rather, you are a slave to righteousness—the kind of righteousness that God bestowed upon you when His Son shed His blood to cleanse you of all your iniquities; the righteousness that He still bestows in His gifts of grace that we still desperately need to sustain us unto life everlasting.

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Here are the gifts.  Here, in the Gospel and Sacraments Christ Jesus our Lord comes to us to redeem, restore, forgive us.  Here is where the blessing of eternal life is bestowed.  Here we gladly become enslaved to the righteousness of Christ so that we may abide in His house forever!

So, may the Lord preserve our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.  Amen!


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