FREE AT LAST!
Text: Romans 8:1-4
Service Video (sermon starts at 34:40)
“Free at Last!” When you hear that phrase, what comes to mind? If you are at all in tune with American history, the phrase “Free at last!” brings to mind the conclusion of the famous “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. If you are in tune with the African-American music tradition, you know that “Free at Last” is an old spiritual. If you enter “free at last” in a web search engine, you will see that phrase used to promote an addiction treatment support group, to describe a particular political action committee, and to advertise a bail bonds company.
“Free at Last” could just as easily be the theme of the opening verses in today’s Second Lesson. In that reading from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul gives a spiritual “Free at Last” speech. But it’s kind of an ironic “Free at Last” speech, because these words follow a chapter where Paul sounds like he is anything but spiritually free. Romans chapter seven could be called the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” chapter of the Bible, because Paul laments the ongoing spiritual struggle inside him between his old sinful nature and his new Christian nature. Just a couple of verses before the start of today’s Second Lesson, at the end of that “Jekyll and Hyde” chapter, Paul wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” So how can Paul go from that to a spiritual “Free at Last” speech in just two verses?
That question isn’t just a theology question. It is a very real and practical question. Is there anyone here who has never struggled with guilt? Aren’t Lutherans supposed to be the ones all about grace and forgiveness and salvation! Then why should the power of sin and the pangs of guilt still plague my heart? Perhaps that is why Paul’s “Free at Last” speech deserves our attention—if for no other reason than that we ought to understand how Paul could make such a bold claim about his spiritual freedom when earlier, in the same breath, he acknowledged his ongoing struggles with sin.
Today’s Second Lesson begins: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let me get this straight. Two verses earlier, Paul called himself “a wretched man.” Now he boldly and emphatically says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The word “condemnation” focuses on the punishment that comes from a verdict or judgment. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, Paul says there is no future punishment coming because of the guilty verdict we deserve for our sin. That’s great, but doesn’t that contract Paul’s own words two chapters earlier when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)? How can Paul say that, and then say two chapters later that there is no condemnation? How can we talk about grace and love and forgiveness when my life’s story and your life’s story are not very worthy of grace and love and forgiveness from God? Read More…