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But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 6:23b ESV) We are reading the New Testament Book of Romans this summer at International Lutheran Church and exploring the depths of God’s gracious work in our lives. 

The letter to the Romans is considered the most concise articulation of the Gospel, or Good News in the New Testament. Our closing verse in our text for today actually is one of the most explicit representations of this Gospel: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) One feature in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is that he often wraps the theological point in contrasting statements. In fact, the whole of chapter 6 is a contrast between the new freedom that we have in God through the Gospel in comparison to the enslavement we experience in sin.

But the contrast is probably not what we expected. Paul says that we are either slaves to sin which leads to death, or we are slaves to God which leads to life – eternal life! This imagery of slavery and bonded servitude is found right at the beginning of this letter: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1) as he sets out to clearly unwrap the new reality of our lives in Christ and the freedom we truly have in Jesus. This freedom, though is not a freedom to disobedience which only leads to further enslavement, but a freedom to now serve God in obedience and righteousness. The confession, “Jesus is Lord” proclaims that I now belong to Jesus. This is not as a conscious decision of the self, but rather the freeing power of God who suffered the consequences of my very enslavement. This free gift came at a great price. My freedom, your freedom, was the result of the obedience of the Son unto death itself. We cannot earn this gracious gift, nor do we deserve it. On the contrary, this gift of eternal life is just that: God’s free action to set us free. Yet, this newfound freedom does not call us to serve ourselves but rather Him who sets us free.

Paul is not defending the Roman practice of slavery or trying to make slavery appear normal or even acceptable. Rather, Paul is drawing on our collective sociological experiences or our natural limitations to emphasize the very freedom to which we have been called. We are freed to set free a world in sin and bondage. Slavery is not a thing of the past. It is not only a minor unfortunate episode in our common human history brought on by the ignorance of one dominating culture over another. The reality of our past undeniably impacts us today. This is why we desperately need to be set free! But how will we choose to use our freedom? As we travel together “On the Roman Road,” we are freed to set free a world in bondage.

Pastor Carl