Romans 6.11-23 – Freedom in the Body
I always find Paul as someone who speaks in riddles. Often times when I read his works, he confounds my thinking. As I read through Romans this time I was surprised to discover some new insights that I had never seen before. To me Paul was this high and mighty Christian leader who preached and taught about God in ways that I could never attain. However, I discovered for the first time that Paul “put his pants on one leg at a time” just like you and me! Of course, Paul wore a tunic and not pants! But the sentiment is same – we all get dressed the same way! We are all human!
I remember the first time I studied Paul’s works 20 years ago. I spent a whole summer of Sunday nights at church with the Seniors Bible study group looking at maps and reading commentaries together and watching videos on Paul’s travels. These folks knew their Bible.
I suppose the experience left me a bit intimidated by the mature Christians I learned with and Paul’s travels, teachings, preaching, letter writing, and general tenacity as a tent-maker and evangelist. But thru this recent study of the text, the Bible came alive in a new way – which is really an old way!
The Bible is a book of storytelling about the lives of common everyday people. It is an account of God’s promises to his people. And, one of these people is a man named Saul who was renamed Paul.
The Apostle Paul was on One of Us. People like Paul find their way into the great narrative of salvation history, just like you and me. Paul was like us – he was born to common parents and in a common city. He became a citizen of a community called Rome simply by being born in one of its provinces. His citizenship came with many rights … just like you and I are born American citizens with many rights that others do not have. Paul was a lot like us in many basic ways.
He studied in a special school – like you and I might study at a technical college, university, or seminary. He followed his families’ religious beliefs; he even became a leader in his families’ faith traditions. That’s not so much unlike each of us today – most all of you have a role in the church.
But Paul has a unique experience that we may find different from our own conversion. Paul encounters the living Christ Jesus in a vision that takes his sight away. Not many of us can say we have encountered Christ Jesus in such a way that our physical sight is damaged from the blinding holiness of God like Paul. This blinding encounter changed Paul’s life and the direction of his work. After Paul’s conversion experience, he becomes a missionary, evangelist, and church planter.
Not many of us can say we have changed our career paths based on an encounter with God. But that doesn’t make Paul special, it just means he needed more holiness to get his attention than the common folk of his day. Paul was a murderer. And, he was murdering the very people that Jesus Christ came to save. But it is out of this conversion experience that Paul can and does preach and teach with such all out abandonment!
Now that we have recapped a little about Paul’s life, we can approach the text here in Romans with a better eye of understanding the meaning of the text.
Paul’s letter was written to a people he had never met before even though he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22.25). Somehow Paul felted connected with these people whether it was because he was born a Roman citizen, I’m not sure. However, it stands to reason that Paul would have felt comfortable talking as an equal with others from this common citizenship.
The Roman church was comprised of Jews and Gentiles, a blended community who needed instruction, as both people groups were part of God’s community. Paul was familiar with both cultures. They needed to learn how to live alongside each other, and work together. Paul had been learning how to do this very thing for a number of years after his conversion.
Although Paul had been raised a religious leader, and had all the training of the Jewish faith, his primary call was to the Gentile community. This placed Paul in a unique advantage of being able to collaborate with both cultures. Paul as well as the other Apostles had the task of helping believers to transition from living in the world to living in the Kingdom of God.
This cultural divide is not unlike the church today. If Paul were to write a letter to West Port UMC, we would be the Jewish Christians with whom he was speaking. We who have grown up in the church are like the Jewish Christians of Rome. We, although Gentiles, have been grafted into the traditions of our faith become more like the Jewish Christians with lots of traditions that ground our faith – like styles of worship, the hymnal, the Book of Worship, and the Book of Discipline to name a few. All the while there are Gentiles all around us. Those who say they recognize that Jesus is God, but need to be invited into the community of faith to grow deeper in the traditions of our faith. These folks have cultural norms (anthropology) that may seem very different from us. It is our work in the Kingdom not to make others become like us, but to help them become like Jesus Christ.
There are several characters of interest in this storyline – like Judeo Ruler King Herod the Great and the Roman Emperor Nero – but none of the human rulers in the story are greater than Paul himself – a murderer converted into a lover of God who sets about giving the rest of his life to witnessing to God’s transforming power. (To read more about Paul see Acts chapters 9 and 22).
It is out of Paul’s life story that he is able to preach and teach – to witness and evangelize. He no longer preaches from the Law of the Jews, but from a transformed heart that has had an encounter with Jesus himself. It is out of his personal experience of being physically healed from blindness that Paul is able to speak so boldly about the transformation that – you and I – have in Christ Jesus – thru his death, his resurrection, and his spirit – the Holy Spirit. Out of this power encounter with God Paul’s life is redirected. Now from his life he can speak on the deep things of the inner life of spiritual maturity.
In our own lives we are left to discover how we have encountered Jesus in such a way that our lives have been transformed forever. And, out of that transformation we share our wisdom, knowledge, and testimony to those who are wounded and discouraged. Paul inspires us to remember that we too can rise from the ashes of a misdirected life!