Sermon from SE Area of Orlando Church
March 16, 2003
Here's a lesson preached by Barry Mahfood in the SE area of Orlando on 3/16/03.
FREE AT LAST
Let me begin by letting you know how great I feel being able to worship God with all of you over in the SE part of town. Two of my very dear co-workers worship over here, and its great to be with them in this context.
Also, it's fun to be following another Barry, who preached here last week. The only Barrys in the church. Amen.
Before I begin, I understand that you may not agree with everything I say today. That's OK. Study these things out for yourself, come to your own conclusions. What I want to do in my life is to get back to going by the Bible only. Discard the teachings of men. I believe that one of the main reasons we've gotten so far down the wrong path is that we've not held to that commitment. Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.
When I first started to study the Bible, like many of you I had to decide between the traditions of men and the word of God. I recommend that we continue to make that decision.
Let's open up to Romans 8. We'll be looking at verses 1-4. I didn't approach this passage trying to make it go where I wanted it to go, although it's very difficult to avoid doing that, even unconsciously. But instead I really tried to go where it took me. That's the way we should approach the scriptures and the way we should preach the word.
I feel different. I feel something I haven't felt in years. Maybe you're feeling it too. If not, you can. What am I feeling? I'm feeling FREE! It's a good feeling. And so today I want to talk about freedom, which is what this passage, at least in part, is about.
When we think about freedom, we have to ask, what is its opposite? Being controlled. In the spirit of discarding what's not in the Bible, let's consider one of our favorite phrases: We have a saying, "God is in control." Do you know, that really isn't accurate. What is more accurate is to say "God is sovereign." That means that he could control everything, but he has chosen not to. Instead he's given us all free will. A Sovereign God does not control the individual decisions and actions of everyone in his kingdom. "The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets." (1 Cor. 14:32). God gave man the freedom to choose. Even when we make the wrong choices, God allows us the freedom to choose.
The sovereignty of God is expressed in verses like Romans 9:14-24. He will do what he will do. His plans cannot be thwarted, etc.
The idea that God is in control suggests that he is driving the car and we are just along for the ride. In other words, when wrong is being done, this idea that God is in control tells us that we are to be passive, passengers if you will. We are like a passengers in a car that's swerving all over the road, smashing into other cars and endangering lives, and we just sit there and say, "God is in control." No, the person driving the car is in control. But the scriptures tell us to be critical thinkers (1 Thess. 5:21; Rev. 2:2), testing "everything." The truth is we are in control of our choices, our decisions. God is giving us freedom to choose our own track.
Everyone yearns to be free. Martin Luther King expressed the desire of every man, woman and child, when he longed for the day when everyone could say, "Free at last, Free at last, thank god Almighty, we are free at last!"
Preaching from Romans 8:1-4, I've titled this sermon, "Free At Last."
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Paul, talking about the terrible power of sin and the constant battle we face every day in trying to do what is right and trying to avoid sin in our lives, says at the end of chapter 7, "So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." Note the present tense. This is not a struggle that existed only in the past, or pre-Christian life. The struggle is now. The fact is, we struggle with our sinful nature, even though in our minds we desire to please God. So how then are we to feel about this struggle? Sin remains; it is disturbing, vexing, but not condemning! There is accusation, but the charges are thrown out! Not because they are not true, not because they are not valid, but because the price has already been paid. We are free from condemnation. In the Greek, it is not one condemnation.
Who condemns us?
a. Our own hearts:
I think many of us, and I'm talking about people who love God and are sincerely trying to serve him and do what's right, we walk around with a low-grade guilt fever. Why? Because there's always something we could have done better. There's always something we didn't do. Sins of omission. One little boy, when asked by his Sunday school teacher if he knew what sins of omission were, and he said, "Yeah, those are the sins you wanted to do but didn't get around to."
It's like that moving scene from Schindler's List, when Oskar Schindler agonizes over the fact that his watch could have saved one more Jew from the concentration camps, his car, had he sold it could have saved 10 more. We are like that, I could have, I should have…The Bible has an answer for that…
1 John 3:16-20 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Our own hearts may condemn us, but we set our hearts at rest by loving each other! It's not that doing things for others earns God's grace, but rather loving each other reassures us that we are in Christ, that we "belong to the truth" and thus are beneficiaries of his grace! Then we can have "confidence before God" (v. 21).
Who else condemns us?
b. Other People (whether perceived, imagined or real…it doesn't matter, the effect is the same):
How many of your decisions and choices are determined by what you think someone else will think? I'm talking about in the church. I'd better do such and such, or this person will be upset with me. It happens all the time! How often do you do what's right in order to please a person, or in order to avoid being judged by another person? Think about it. Perhaps even this morning: I'd better get there on time, or I'll get in trouble. Whatever it is, that's the wrong motivation.
Someone once said: Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that he does good not because he is forced to do so, but because he freely conceives it, wants it, and loves it.
Some of us who are the controlling type get really afraid at this point. What will people do if we give them this freedom??? First, it's not ours to give! Freedom is a gift of God. You can claim or not, but it's not ours to give. Second, this kind of thinking is arrogant and elitist. It presupposes that some of us are a better class of disciple than others. Leaders and members, the elite and the common man, the clergy and the laity. This kind of thinking is foreign to the scriptures. Third, I believe we'll do better than ever before, because we're free to do it for God! Some will do the wrong thing, but they would have done it anyway, only in secret.
In my opinion, it's not possible to act out of a pure motive when there's someone ready to judge your performance.
Imagine this scenario: I tell you, Brother, sister, I want you to share your faith tomorrow, purely out of your love for God. I'll be calling you tomorrow night to see if you did it. If you didn't, I'll rebuke you, but don't think about that! Just focus on doing it out of love for God. That's impossible!!
I was talking about this with a brother the other night. He said, "But don't we still need to hold each other accountable?" I ask: How? How do you do that? First of all, anyone who takes on that job is going to make themselves a hypocrite, because no one has a perfect record! And second, as I said to this brother on the phone, where in the Bible are we told to hold anyone accountable? Yes, it says that we are to encourage one another daily. It says that we should teach and admonish each other as we let the word dwell richly in us. But I just can't find an example of anyone questioning anyone else about whether or not they had their QTs that week. Or shared their faith. Or made it to all the services. I'm not saying we don't need to do those things, God tells us to do those things. What I'm saying is that we don't need to hold people accountable, to police each other. What does the Bible say about accountability?
Romans 14:12-13 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
I'll tell you how I justified the concept of accountability. The disciples reported to Jesus what they had done (Luke 9:10). What a stretch. What an extrapolation. This is what I mean when I say we went astray by going beyond the scriptures.
Romans 14:1-4 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
If we are free from condemnation, why then should we be concerned about what people think? If Satan himself cannot condemn us, why are we concerned about what others think or say? Our unbiblical system of "one-over-another" relationships has taken us down that road. Find ourselves more worried about what our so-called "discipler" (a made-up word) thinks about us. Yes, we are to "encourage one another daily" and "teach and admonish one another." But it is not one individual's job to question me about my obedience to Christ. And it's not my obligation to answer to anyone, or to be accountable to anyone but God. Instead of fearing people, I can now love people.
My relationship with my former discipler is so much better than it's been. He complained to me once that none of his "disciples" ever called him out of friendship, only out of duty. Do you know why? Because it was taught as a duty. It says encourage one another daily, but we instituted a man-made regulation that said we were to have "daily contact with your discipler." The law brings death. (More about that in a minute).
2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
One law has set us free from another. One law, that of the Spirit of life, has abrogated, or set aside, another, the law of sin and death. What is the law of sin and death? We just found out about that in Romans 7. The fact that we cannot keep the law, therefore we die. The fact that though our minds desire to do God's will, evil is right there with us. When we try to "be justified by law," we "fall away from grace" (Gal. 5:4). This is enslavement, and it means we are constantly feeling guilty, because we cannot do it! We always fall short! How many of us are still living under condemnation? Because we missed a "Quiet Time" (I say we use biblical terminology, like a time of prayer and Bible study); or didn't share our faith with the person in front of us in the checkout line; or fell short in some other way?
The law awakens sin in us.
(Rom. 7:9-10) Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.
Man made regulations that were intended to help us obey God, actually make us lose the heart to please God. They only cause us to fail to obey the heart of God's commands, because we are doing it under compulsion! The law kills love! It's the law of sin and death. So, what? We just do whatever we want? No! We are allowed to be motivated by love!
That's the law of sin and death. Feeling like you would get in trouble with God or people if you fell short. We will always fall short, and so will the people we've been trying to please. Where did we get this idea that one is more righteous than another? When we studied about sin, didn't we learn that we're all in the same sinking boat? And that we all need God's mercy and grace in equal amounts? Can any of us swim to Hawaii? What difference is there between the one who makes it 100 yards and the one who makes it 10 miles? None.
Romans 3:27-28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
But he says we've been set free by the law of the Spirit of life! What's that? It's the rule of the Spirit in our lives. We have been set free by the power of the Spirit. It is a ressurective power ("he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through the Spirit, who lives in you" Rom. 8:11). Not just once, but for a lifetime, moment by moment.
By our own effort we cannot please God. But by the power of the Spirit, we are made alive to God and to his word. It's his Spirit who quickens us, gives us the power to overcome. Even though we will still sin and struggle with sin, we are different. I am far from perfect, but I am also far from where I used to be before I became a Christian! Aren't you? Not sinless, but we sin less. We have been (past tense) saved from the guilt of sin; we are being (present tense) saved from the rule of sin; we will be (future tense) saved from the presence of sin. Do you focus on the fact that you still sin? Or on the great news that you are different than you used to be?
Rom. 8:22-24 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
We've only tasted the firstfruits. We're not going to be perfect as long as we are in the flesh. We groan for it, but we need to wait patiently and rejoice in the Spirit rather than feel guilty for what we've already been forgiven of! In the meantime we are being made holy.
3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,
Was the problem in the law? No. The law was "spiritual," but we are "unspiritual." The commandment "that was intended to bring life actually brought death." This is what happens when we live under the rules of men, or under the judgment of men, or in order to please men. The rules and regulations that were intended to bring life actually brought death! Think about it: When you are told that you must call your discipler every day, or read your Bible every day, or share your faith every day, did those regulations bring life? Joy? Love? Not for me. It made me afraid. When I am free to do these same things, not in fear of displeasing men, but out of my love and appreciation for God's love, I want to please him. I'll actually enjoy reading my Bible! I'll be excited about loving my neighbors and telling them about my relationship with God!
4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
So, some of us will say (and have said, from what I've heard), "Well, does this mean we won't have any convictions about sin?" First, why are you so afraid of what others will or won't do? Do you think that if you don't police everyone, they'll all go straight to hell? Do you think that your brothers and sisters are blind, ignorant, godless heathens, who, left to their own consciences will immediately plunge themselves into a cauldron of wickedness?
Second, we need to understand that freedom in Christ is not unbounded, but rather it is bounded by love. The greatest commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. "This is love for God, to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:3-4).
Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
God's grace, and his Spirit who lives in us, will enable us to fully meet the righteous requirements of the law. They are not only completely sufficient, but they are the only way to accomplish this in our lives!
Some have been feeling a little lost, a little at sea. What are we to believe now? What are we to do? Freedom is frightening. I can remember so vividly how scared I was as my parents waved goodbye and drove away at the University of Florida my freshman year. Who will tell me what to do? When to get up, when to eat? When to make my bed? What will I do?
Hebrews 8:11 "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
First, you have a direct connection to the Lord! It is not through any man. You can know the Lord, no matter who you are.
Second, we have each other. Not as spiritual police. Not as judges. Not as disciplers. But as brothers and sisters. We have all been given spiritual gifts so that we can minister to each other (1 Peter 4:10).
Let's love God and be brothers and sisters to each other. Free at last!
for more information contact New Covenant Publications at our e-mail address: or write to: New Covenant Publications, P.O. Box 167, Radio City Station, NY NY