The Cross and Our Bondage

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Romans 6:6

How could the death of one person, Himself a condemned prisoner, make other people free throughout the world, in all future ages?

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Romans 6:6 RSV

Suppose I could somehow get the attention of every person in the world and announce to them that the crucifixion of Jesus can free them all from bondage. What kind of response would I get? Most of my hearers, I imagine, even if I spoke in a language they could understand, wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

WHY DO I NEED IT?

In the first place, they wouldn’t see that the statement has any application to their own lives. I have met very few people who would regard themselves as being in bondage. Aside from slaves, prisoners, and victims of brutal tyranny, how many of us see ourselves as bound, as needing to be set free?

Jesus Himself once raised this issue with His own countrymen. “If you continue in my word,” He said, “you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” You would think, wouldn’t you, that such words would be inspiring to people, hope-producing? But His hearers, who had already shown some faith in Him, were puzzled, almost indignant. They answered:

“We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?”

John 8:33

They were saying, in effect, “This is fine for some people, Jesus, but what does it have to do with us? We are free people already. We are Abraham’s descendants and we have never been enslaved to anyone.”

That’s a remarkable statement when you remember the successive waves of invaders that had subjugated Palestine in the past, and the presence of the Roman power right at that moment. “Still,” they insisted, “in spite of all tyrants and oppressors, we have always known true liberty.” And wouldn’t most people that you know say that today? Talk to the masses about release from bondage and most will say, “Who needs it?”

WHAT DIFFERENCE CAN IT MAKE?

But that’s not the only source of confusion here. Even if people recognized that they were in bondage, many could not imagine how the crucifixion of Jesus would make their situation any different. How could the death of one person, Himself a condemned prisoner, make other people free throughout the world, in all future ages?

We can imagine someone objecting: “I don’t even know who this Jesus is. He wouldn’t mean anything to me if He were alive, let alone dead. How can my situation, almost two thousand years later, be changed at all by the fact that He was crucified?

But still, this is what the Scriptures affirm. This is what the apostles believed. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:

We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Romans 6:6

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BONDAGE

That last phrase is a major clue. Paul isn’t talking about bodily captivity or political oppression. He’s talking about bondage to sin. In that he builds on what Jesus had said earlier. When his hearers claimed that they had never been in bondage to anyone, he disagreed with them. Listen to his answer: “Truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

He was saying, in other words, “You are in bondage and so is everyone else. The name of your taskmaster, your slave-driver, is sin. Everyone who consents to evil, who participates in disobedience to God, has lost his or her freedom.”

We’ve all become familiar in recent times with the reality, the grim reality, of addiction. Some people who use alcohol become increasingly controlled by their habit until they find themselves drinking almost compulsively. Those who experiment with drugs, in a similar way, become quickly dependent upon them. That isn’t exactly what Jesus meant by bondage to sin, but it provides a vivid picture of it. Just as we become chemically addicted, so we can become controlled and driven by sin. Sin, as the Bible describes it, is a demonic, irrational power in human experience. The more we give in to it, the more it gains the mastery over us. The more we commit sin, the more we lose our ability to resist it. As that process goes on, we become more and more hopelessly enslaved. What began as a personal choice, even a whim or an impulse, becomes in our lives a dominating force.

You know what that’s like. The first lie is easy to tell. It seems harmless. It’s a way, perhaps, to make ourselves look good or to avoid embarrassment. As time goes on, however, we may feel the need to cover up the first falsehood with another. The pattern continues until we are so compromised by deceit that we can scarcely tell the difference any longer between the lie and the truth.

In the same way, we may steal a trifling sum, never intending to do so again. But the next time the temptation to steal presents itself, we find it much easier to give in. Perhaps the amount involved next time is more substantial. The more we do it, the more natural it seems to us, until taking things that don’t belong to us becomes a way of life. Then breaking free from such a habit is desperately hard.

All sin, according to the Scriptures, works that way. And the Bible makes it clear that God’s judgment makes it so. When we reject His rule over our lives, we do not become thereby independent. We simply capitulate to a different master. If we will not be the Lord’s servants, we will end up serving someone or something else. And sin is a notoriously hard master. It demands everything from us and eventually rewards us with death.

Now in the light of all that, listen again to these words from the apostle Paul in Romans 6:6:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Paul is claiming that the crucifixion of Jesus makes a difference, that it sets us free. How?

WE WERE THERE

Notice first that we were somehow involved there. Paul says, “Our old self was crucified with him.” Remember the question asked in the old spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” In one sense, of course, none of us was there. We weren’t living in first century Palestine. We were not eye-witnesses of what happened on Golgotha. But in a profound sense we were there. The Bible not only teaches that Christ died for our sins, taking our place, bearing the judgment we deserved; it also teaches that He died as our representative. Since He took upon Himself the sin of the whole human race and died the death which was our judgment, God views us now as having died along with Him. It’s as though all humanity was bearing the stroke of God’s judgment against sin in the person of Jesus. He was taking us with Him down into death. The old I, the old you — we were done to death that day. In God’s sight, by God’s decision, all of the Lord’s people were crucified there with Him.

But, you object, how can that be? We weren’t even alive then, nor had we ever committed any sins at that time. That’s true. But at one moment in time, the gospel tells us, God did something in the cross of His Son that had tremendous effects for every generation that has ever lived on the earth or ever shall live here. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ and hear the message of the gospel, then we learn both that we were numbered among those for whom He died, and that we are the ones who died with Him.

The apostle goes on. Our old self was crucified with Him “so that the sinful body might be destroyed.” That was God’s purpose in all this, that sin as a power in us should die. It’s our own fault that sin has come to rule over us. We opened the door to it. We let the tyrant in, as it were. Now it reigns on the throne of our hearts, exercises dominion over all our lives. But when we go down into death with Christ, everything is changed.

Picture a slave living in the home of a cruel master. The owner drives his servant unmercifully. He gives him little food and less rest. He roars at him, kicks him, flogs him to keep him at his task. The slave is living in the most abject bondage. Finally his body can take it no longer. In the midst of his labors, he collapses and dies. His master is furious. He screams at the slave, commands him to be beaten, but all to no avail. The slave is dead. No longer will he serve that master.

Now imagine that the slave’s body is somehow carried to the home of another master, a kindly, considerate one. By a miracle, the slave’s life is restored. He regains his strength. Deeply grateful to the one who has befriended him, freed from his old bondage, he now serves gladly and gratefully his new master.

THE NEW FREEDOM

Friends, because we have died with Christ to sin’s power, its rule over us has been decisively broken. God has purposed to set us free from this wretched bondage and He has done it by the cross of His Son.

Now we are free to be the servants of the living God. We’ve been raised from death for a new life with a new master. Now we serve not out of fear and compulsion but out of faith, with joy. Living in freedom, walking in newness of life, is a possibility now for all who believe in Christ. Oh, let that sink in. If you trust in Christ, that kind of freedom is now an open door for you.

Notice, I said, a “possibility.” There’s nothing automatic about this, nothing cut and dried. In God’s sight, we have already died with Christ and been raised. He sees us as we yet shall become by the power of the Holy Spirit. But in another sense, our dying and rising with Jesus is presented in the Scriptures as a present obligation. The apostle tells us that we are to stop allowing sin to reign over us. We are now to revolt against it in the name of our rightful Lord. That involves choice on our part — and struggle.

But because we are joined to Christ and because His Spirit lives within us, we can choose the Lord as our master. We can walk in a new way. We can yield ourselves up to the service of the Lord. You can do that today. You can make that your choice, the fixed purpose of your whole life.

The gospel tells us what is true of us in Jesus Christ, and then calls us to live and act accordingly. You have died with Christ. Now, as Chrysostom once said, “Stay dead.” Say no to sin in all its expressions. You are a new creature in Christ: now live that way. Yield yourselves to Him as those alive from the dead. Yield up your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Then the promise will be a wonderful reality — even in your present experience: “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” It doesn’t have to be a master over your life any more. Oh, remember it: Christ crucified sets you free.

PRAYER: Father, we confess that we have opened ourselves to a bondage from which we cannot break free. We praise You this day for the liberating gospel of Your Son, for the way He has taken all His people down with Him into death that they may rise with Him to walk in newness of life. May every person who shares this broadcast enter into the glorious liberty of God’s children. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.