Sometimes when we celebrate Independence Day, we get the wrong idea. We often think that we are free and independent each to ourselves. We think that freedom means we can each do whatever we desire to do. That is an impossible concept of a free society. In a society, we can only be as free as we are similar. That is, as long as we share the same values, we may be free, but when our values are in conflict, we need regulation in order to have peace.

I think most agree on this, but differ on how we resolve this problem. Some say that we must embrace our diversity even at the expense of some freedom. Others say that we must strive for a society that is identical in values. To this end we need to limit others in order to have our own personal freedom. It seems that both approaches have the same result: One group limits the personal freedom of another group in the interest of peace.

Biblical Christians know that it is impossible to pursue freedom by trying to be similar. After all, without Christ, what I would value the most is me and what you value the most is you. Left to our own, we would always have values in conflict, thus any system that attempts to establish freedom will only be temporary.

This is why I am always cautioning Christians about politics. When we bring an understanding of true freedom to political discussion, there is much to be gained. If we bring the course of political discussion to bear on our gospel, there is much to lose. Certainly, those of both ends of our political spectrum call to Christians to join their fight. However, since Christians offer an understanding of true freedom, we must be calling to others to join our fight.

This idea of freedom is nothing new. In the Declaration of Independence, freedom is phrased as being free from the tyranny that would encroach upon our God-given rights. In order for us to fight for freedom, then, it is critical that we understand true freedom.

I bring this question, “What is true freedom” to Romans 6:15-19.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. 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. (Romans 6:15-19, NKJV).

Paul offers us a clue to understand this passage in verse 16 and 19. When he says “Do you not know” and “I speak in human terms” he implies that what he is saying is easily understood by his readers. Since he mentions slavery 6 times in 5 verses, a helpful place to start is in understanding slavery in a first century context.

The two most common ways one became a slave was 1) being taken in war or 2) becoming indebted to someone beyond what could be paid. Once someone was a slave, it was near impossible to be freed because a slave’s wages could be set to insure against it. However, a concerned family member might come to a slaves rescue. If this redeemer had the means, he could take the amount of the slave’s debt plus a little extra to the community’s temple cult. There, he would pay the oracle or priest. That person would then keep the extra and use the rest to buy the slave. At the point the slave was technically a slave to the temple cult, but this was always less demanding than the typical slave master. Though the slave was never free to himself, he was free from the demands of the slave master and free to live within the guidelines of the temple cult.

Consider that context for Romans 6:15-19.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (Romans 6:15, NKJV).

The question is, if Jesus makes us free, are we free to sin? The answer is no. As we will see, we are free from sin, but not free to ourselves.

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16, NKJV).

If we are slaves, then no matter what, we obey a master. That master may be sin which leads to death or it may be obedience which leads to righteousness. There is not an option of being free unto ourselves.

But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (Romans 6:17, NKJV).

Though we were slaves to sin, God worked, and we accepted the truth that leads to righteousness.

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18, NKJV).

Just as slaves are set free from one master in order to live for another, we were set free from sin and became slaves to righteousness.

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. 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. (Romans 6:19, NKJV).

When we were slaves to sin, this only lead to more and more sin, which would ultimately lead to an eternal death. However, as slaves to righteousness, we can be holy. I know that I will be holy even despite my daily failures because I did not set myself free nor am I free to myself. Christ purchased me from my master of sin. He is my master and as such I will be what He desires me to be.

There is no freedom that means “I do whatever I want.” Everyone is in bondage to sin, but true freedom is found in Christ. For that reason, I urge everyone to first be set free of sin and death through Christ. Further, live in freedom, not by chasing our own desires, but by seeking to glorify they Lord. Finally, pursue freedom throughout the world by proclaiming the good news of Christ.

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