A Different Kind of Freedom
Scriptures: Romans 6:15-23; 7:14-25
On occasion I visit inmates at the SCORE jail, just down the
hill from our church. I go when the chaplain is on vacation, and it is always in response to an inmate who asks to talk with a chaplain or pastor. Sometimes they are looking for books or Bible study materials. Then I refer them to Roger Winiecki who is helping create a library for SCORE. Other times they have questions about the Bible or religious beliefs. Sometimes they just want someone to pray with them. But the most frequent concern inmates mention to me-the most frequent reason they give for wanting to talk with a pastor-is anxiety about their approaching release. Their greatest worry is what will happen when they go free. They say to me, "Pastor, I don't want to fall back into the same stuff that got me here in the first place." Many of them have been imprisoned before. They say to me, "How do I keep from falling into the same trap?"
It occurs to me that every one of us here would do well to
ask that same question. How do we keep from falling into the same trap? How do we avoid the same destructive behaviors that have plagued us before? How do we alter our choices and attitudes so we do not keep repeating the mistakes of the past?
It is not easy. Listen again to Romans, chapter 7,
beginning at verse 14: "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
According to the Bible, sin is not this or that bad thing
you do; it is a power that has you in its grip. You cannot understand Romans 6 and 7 without this basic concept. Sin is not just a misdeed or a broken commandment; it is a power that has you in its grip. That's why sin cannot be solves by education or legislation or even psychotherapy. It is less like an action and more life an addiction. It is something to which we are enslaved until we are set free.
At the beginning of our first scripture reading, Paul asks a
question which may have been asked of him by people from the church in Rome: "Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" In other words, if we are saved by God's grace, aren't we free to do whatever we want?
He answers the question in verse 16: "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?"
Wanting to be free to do whatever we want will in the end make us less
free. Unrestrained freedom is an invitation to bondage.
This week I did a little legal investigation. I looked up
on line the Revised Code of Washington, the complete set of laws and regulations currently in force in the State of Washington. First, I looked up the Revised Code of Washington for the year 1974. It was in a PDF document, so I was looking at photographs of the pages. When I added up all the pages of all the volumes, it came to a total of 7,420 pages. Then I looked up the Revised Code of Washington for 2014. Today, forty years later, the Revised Code of Washington has 13,576 pages, almost double.
Why did that happened? I know that some would place the
blame on the government for trying to regulate everything. But how did that get started? It started when people exercised their freedom without regard to the well-being of others or the good of the greater community. Laws proliferate when people find ever more creative ways to take advantage of one another. No doubt some of our state's laws and regulations may feel to some people like unnecessary intrusions into our private lives. Some may even be counterproductive. But most laws and regulations have their origin in people somewhere along the line abusing their freedom, using their freedom without regard to its impact on others or on the well-being of the community.
My point here is not to defend government laws and
regulations. My point is to show how unrestrained freedom can make us less free. The inmates at SCORE realized this when they worried about their release. Unrestrained freedom can make us less free, unless our freedom is used in the service of Someone greater than ourselves.
Some of you will remember the name Chuck Colson. Chuck
Colson was the special assistant to President Nixon during the Watergate Affair. He was one of the links between the White House and the burglars who broke into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate in 1972. As the Watergate affair began to unravel, Colson faced the possibility of imprisonment. He then went to an old friend named Tom Phillips. Tom Phillips was a devout Christian, and Tom talked to him about what it meant to let go of our pride and our desire for control and to allow God to work in our lives. Colson describes the conversation in his book Born Again. After listening to Phillips, Colson writes,
Just as a man about to die is supposed to see flash before him, sequence by sequence, the high points of his life, so as Tom's voice read on that August evening, key events in my life paraded before me as if projected on a screen. Things I hadn't thought about in years-my graduation speech at prep school-being "good enough" for the Marines-my first marriage into the "right" family-sitting on the Jaycees' dais while civic leader after civic leader praised me as the outstanding young man of Boston-then to the White House-the clawing and straining for status and position-"Mr. Colson, the President is calling-Mr. Colson, the President wants to see you right away." .
Now, sitting there on the dimly lit porch, my self-centered past was washing over me in waves. It was painful. Agony. Desperately I tried to defend myself. What about my sacrifices for government service, the giving up of a big income, putting my stocks in a blind trust? The truth, I saw in an instant, was that I'd wanted the position in the White House more than I'd wanted money. There was no sacrifice. And the more I had talked about my own sacrifices, the more I was really trying to build myself up in the eyes of others. I would eagerly have given up everything I'd ever earned to prove myself at the mountaintop of government. . Of course, I had not known God. How could I? I had been concerned with myself. I had done this and that, I had achieved, I had succeeded and I had given God none of the credit, never once thanking Him for any of His gifts to me. . In those brief moments while Tom read, I saw myself as I never had before. And the picture was ugly.
Listen again to Romans 6, verses 20-21: "When you were
slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death."
After Colson left Tom Phillip's house, he pulled over on to
the side of the road about 100 yards from Tom's driveway. He writes,
With my face cupped in my hands, head leaning forward against the wheel, I forgot about machismo, about pretenses, about fears of being weak. And as I did, I began to experience a wonderful feeling of being released. [Note the image of freedom!] . And then I prayed my first real prayer. "God, I don't know how to find You, but I want to try! I'm not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to You." I didn't know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me."
Notice the connection between release and surrender. When he gave himself to God, Colson, for the first time in his life, began to feel free. He continues,
I stayed there in the car, wet-eyed, praying, thinking, for perhaps half an hour, perhaps longer, alone in the quiet of the dark night. Yet for the first time in my life I was not alone at all.
Romans 6:22 says, "But now that you have been freed from sin
and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life." Freedom to do whatever we want is a dead end. It is only when we use our freedom to serve God-which is true for us as individuals and as a nation-that we are free indeed.