Last Sunday was the Fourth of July. It was difficult to miss with all of the flags, banners, parades, political speeches, cookouts and fireworks displays that occur every year at that time.
We celebrate to remind ourselves of some ideas we hold dear. Here is one idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Nearly everyone recognizes that quote. It is one of the most famous and recognizable statements from the Declaration of Independence, first signed on July 4, 1776.
In 1776 our young, politically subservient country declared its independence and broke free from England. And now, we annually celebrate that freedom and independence each Fourth of July. Similarly, the people of Israel were also a subservient nation for hundreds of years in Egypt. But finally, God gave them their freedom and they have commemorated it ever since through their annual Passover celebration.
In chapters 7 and 8 of his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul presented an important lesson about freedom to Jewish Christians living in the capitol of the empire.
The length and wordiness of Romans chapter 7 can make it a bit difficult to understand. But Paul makes primarily one point: You Christians who were probably formerly Jews, are still keeping the law. You boast about the law and believe that it makes you more righteous than the Gentiles. He emphatically states: “My friends, you have died to the law!” Paul says they have been joined to Jesus who has been raised from the dead, now enabling them to bear fruit for God.
Our problem as humans is how to do and be good while living under the dominion of sin. How do we navigate this predicament? By means of the Spirit, the eschatological gift of God for believers walking between the times. In Romans 7: 14-25, Paul talks about the awful struggle we face. Maybe verse 19 says it best: “For the good I want to do, I don’t do, but I practice the very evil I don’t want to do.” And that is the apostle himself saying how difficult it is for him to live correctly. Those in Christ should have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The spirit isn’t just a mindset; it is life-producing power. It is the power that raised Jesus from the grave and is already giving eternal life to Christians while we await the final resurrection.
No one was ever able to be righteous by keeping the law. James the half-brother of Jesus in his letter (2:10) says: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Sometimes we act like those Christians in First Century Rome. We’ve been set free from the requirements of law-keeping by the blood of Christ. We forget that it isn’t what we do that saves us. Jesus has done all that needs to be done to make us right before God. Nothing we do will add to our salvation. But we often carry the burden of believing that we have to do something to ensure that we are saved. Going to church, reading our Bible, praying to God, memorizing scripture, or helping the poor. None of that is going to save anyone, though it is true that such things are the fruit of saved people. We are saved by the grace of God which we enter into through obedient faith in Christ.
In Romans 8:2, Paul states what amounts to the Christian version of the Declaration of Independence. He says, “the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ has set you free from the power of sin and death!” As a Christian you now dwell in the realm of eternal life, free from the pressures to conform to worldly values. You are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to produce fruit for God. And what is that fruit? Using your unique gifts and talents to usher the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth just as Jesus prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer.
Sadly, most folks don’t really understand what true freedom means. They think freedom allows them to be unrestrained in however they want to satisfy their appetites and passions. That is why our country has a serious drug problem, so many faithless marriages, rampant consumerism, too little concern for the poor, and a self-indulgent outlook regarding proper care for our planet (which actually belongs to God, not us). You could probably add your own list of societal detriments to those I mentioned. Often, those things people believe provide evidence of their freedom in reality have enslaved them.
But not so for you! Remember what Paul said in a different letter to the Galatian Church: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Summer theology book study and discussion
The Rev. Steve Brehe and Mark Wilson will once again offer a summer theology book study on four consecutive Wednesdays, July 21 – Aug. 11, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at the UCC Plymouth Church, 400 S Oakes St, Helena. The book selection is: “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” by Peter Enns (© 2014).
Enns is an extremely engaging theological author who writes primarily for “people in the pews. The reading and discussion should be fascinating, challenging and hopeful.
Hurry and get your book ordered and plan to join us for coffee and exciting theological discussion starting July 21. If you have any questions, call Mark at 406-439-0024, or send an e-mail to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wilson holds a master’s degree in theology, is a Bible teacher at the South Hills Church of Christ, and coordinates the religion writer columns appearing on the Religion Page in the Saturday edition of the IR.