Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! (Romans 6:1b-2a)
When I read over the texts from the New Testament for this morning, a couple of phrases really stuck out at me. This is either because God was leading me in that direction, or this is just my way of cherry picking things out of the scriptures that I thought I could make into a sermon.
The first segment was from our passage from the book of Romans today [Romans 6:1b-11]. Now the Romans, as you know from learning history and watching HBO dramatic series, were an interesting bunch. They are, of course, famous for numerals, bathtubs, and holidays. They had an aptitude for road-building, gladiating and unusually cruel ways to kill people, like crucifixion.
The Apostle Paul had founded a church in Rome, and he wrote this letter which we include in the New Testament, right after the book of Acts. And in the reading today, Paul talks about being slaves to sin.
And that got me to thinking about all the ways in which we are slaves to sin…or more pointedly… make ourselves slaves. We are trapped in these things, often times by our own decisions. Which seems pretty silly on its face, I mean, who would willingly enslave themselves? Well, us, that’s who.
Let’s start with the most basic ways we can become slaves. The first category that comes to mind is substances. And that’s a pretty all-encompassing category. That can be legal things, illegal things, you name it. To be sure, the spectrum goes from very severe stuff to the less harmful: illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, food. I am not an expert in substance addiction. I make no claims as to being able to speak with authority on the subject. But I bet there isn’t one of you who hasn’t experienced it firsthand- personally or in your immediate family or group of friends.
Again, although some of the addictions are much more devastating than others in terms of the harm that comes from them, (to self and to others), they all have one element in common: You become a slave. Acting without your own will. Spending money, spending time, spending thoughts on your slave master. I’m not here to judge, just to speak some observational truth. Abusing substances is a very obvious and acute form of slavery.
Some of those things that can enslave us are the direct result of our wonderful modern world. The most dramatic example in just the last decade or so I can think of is the tremendous power that our smart phones and similar devices wield over us. On this one I am here to plead guilty. Guilty and a slave. These things most of us carry are certainly convenient, and make a lot more of life efficient. We hardly look at each other in the eye anymore. Whenever that ding sound goes off that indicates a new text, a new email, or thrill beyond thrill, someone has liked our latest inane Facebook post. We reach for that magic device for the immediate fix. We could be in the middle of a conversation, at the dinner table, standing in line at the grocery store. Yep. Guilty.
The next one has been around since forever as well. We can become slaves to material things, and money. That’s an oldie but goodie. Probably heard more than a few sermons in your day about it. But it’s one that is pervasive, a temptation that never goes away. Trying to achieve status by the size and scope of our stuff. Our house, our car, our 18 foot TV screens, etc.
Now, there is nothing wrong with trying to achieve, trying to provide for our families, and being good stewards of our possessions. But it is a dangerous thing when getting the newest, biggest, bestest thing becomes all consuming. Enough is never enough. Just like a substance - it eats away at our time, energy, and relationships as we pursue more and more stuff. Extra dangerous when we do so while not even having the money at hand and ruining ourselves with debt. That’s yet another manifestation of being enslaved.
Another slave master in our modern age goes by the name of “Busy”.
It used to be that when we would greet each other and say “How are you?” The safe kneejerk response without thinking was “Fine”. “Fine” as an automatic answer has now given way to “Busy” or “So Busy” or “So, really, super Busy I can’t believe it!”
In our modern age in which technology has freed us from a lot of time consuming tasks, we still seem to have no time for anything. We are indeed slaves to our busy lives. So much so, that even if we aren’t busy we are afraid to admit it. So, if you aren’t as busy as the next person you’ll feel inferior, so you say you are busy even when you aren’t. “Yeah! Me too! Super Busy!” But most of us are pretty busy and we are slaves to it.
For any of you that have known me any length of time you know I’ve harangued on this before, and I somehow will usually find a way to sneak it into any bible study, speech, casual conversation, or sermon. Here it is: Your busy life was not something imposed on you by someone else. God didn’t command it on a stone tablet. You chose it. It’s that simple.
Now, you probably chose all of those busy things for very good reason. If you ask me, I would probably say great reasons. I would probably say keep it up if you want. But just go forward knowing that it is your choice. You have enslaved yourself. I understand that taking responsibility for the Busy-ness isn’t as fun as acting as if some evil force in the universe is making your life hectic. But if you understand it is truly up to you how busy you are, that may provide an escape path from that particular form of slavery.
And now let’s talk about the way we can be slaves to a certain way of thinking. I think we can entrap ourselves when we have closed minds, aren’t open to thinking about things in a different way, making snap judgments, and leaping to conclusions.
Particularly, let’s give some thought to how we think in certain set patterns. Do phrases like this sound familiar? “But we’ve always done it that way.” Or alternatively, “But we’ve never done it that way.” “That’s not how Pastor what’s his name used to do this.” “We can’t afford that.” “These fools in leadership don’t know what they are doing.” Now, statements like these may even have the benefit of being true. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay trapped in their limited thinking. To bust out of the enslavement of old thinking patterns, we need to have open hearts and minds going forward or we will remain enslaved to our old, destructive ways.