Romans 8:1-11 “Freed”

In 1963 many of you remember Martin Luther King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. At the very end, he quotes and old African American spiritual and states that he hopes the time will come when everyone—regardless of their race, creed or nationality—will be able to say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.”

The apostle Paul was nowhere near as eloquent as Dr. King, but Paul is expressing the same thought in Romans chapter 8 when he states, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul could have just as easily said, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last.”

Martin Luther King spoke of freedom from the chains of bigotry and inequality. The apostle Paul spoke of a different freedom when he wrote about being free in Christ. In chapter eight of Romans, Paul discusses what he means when he says that we are free, and how we experience that freedom in our daily lives.

In chapter 6, Paul told his readers that they were free from the old life—a life that was dominated by sin—an uncontrollable spirit of rebellion against God. Our baptism, as Christians, has opened a new life for us—some would say that we have been “born again,” or “born from above.” We have been freed FROM sin, and freed FOR a new life and a new relationship with God.  This is the very heart of the Gospel message of faith in Jesus Christ. 

In chapter 7, Paul told his readers that we were free from the frustration of thinking that we always needed to do a little bit more in order to be pleasing to God. The cross of Jesus Christ has set us free from a life of “works righteousness,”—of always trying a little bit harder.

We have been set free FROM works, and set free FOR a lifetime of experiencing God’s steadfast love, overwhelming grace, and unconditional forgiveness.

Today Paul writes and tells his readers that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No longer do we need to concern ourselves with our eternal destiny and with our relationship with God.

All of that is a done deal, which has been taken care of by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We have been set free FROM a life in the flesh, and set free FOR a life in the Spirit.

In the book entitled, Unbroken. It is the story of Louie Zamparini. Louie was a runner in the 1936 Olympics and thought to possibly be the first man who might break the four minute mile. When World War II broke out he served as a bombardier. His plane crashed in the Pacific. He floated for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese and was a POW for over 2 ½ years. Louie endured horrible conditions and abuse as a POW. When the Japanese surrendered, Louie was set free. He soon realized, though, that even though he was back in the States, he was still imprisoned in Japan. It took several years and encounter with Jesus before he was truly set free.

We Christians talk about being free, but how free do you feel? We say that Jesus lived, died and rose again so that we could have life and have it abundantly. Do you believe that you are living the abundantly life? Life as a Christian is supposed to be different than a life lived without Jesus. Is your life that much different from your friends, neighbors and co-workers?

Paul writes and tells us that we are a lot like Louie Zamperini. Though we are free, we are stuck in our past life—the life of the flesh and the life of sin and death.

In verse 6 Paul writes, “To set the mind on the flesh is death …” We certainly know what Paul means. Many of us look at our financial predicament, or our family situation and we feel the life just sucked away from us. Several of us are struggling with health issues or physical limitations. If we focus on that very long we start to be pulled into a pity party of hopelessness and despair.

Some of the people that you know are facing challenges that would dwarf our frustrations and challenges.  We cannot see into the hearts of those around us, but if we could we may find ourselves in wonder of the pain, sorrow and hurt that exists in many hearts.  But at times when we do not find enough misery in our own lives or in the lives of those around us we begin to look around us and sense the fear of  the world issues of mayhem way out of our control or sphere of influence.  Many have given up watching the news on television. They say that they don’t want to expose themselves to all of the negativism.

Paul has a way out of our dilemma; a way to experience life in the Spirit.  Paul’s suggestion is to quit thinking about things of the flesh things we have no control over or should be concerned about. In a sense, he’s telling us to get our minds out of the gutter. Instead, he invites us to, “Set our mind on the Spirit.”  Focus on Jesus, focus on those things that add value to you your spiritual life. 

When we first read these words of Paul they do not seem realistic.  Our financial problems, relationship struggles, family worries, health and physical issues or concern of the world do not just go away. Try this, though. Take a moment and focus on what is really bothering you right now. What is sucking the life out of you? What is robbing you of your true joy in life?  Now, imagine yourself handing it over to Jesus so that he can take care of it. Take a few moments to look at Jesus and see his love and care for you. 

There are many reasons why for thousands of years humans have considered worship and church life important. The Christian Church as always stressed the need for worship. One of the reasons we worship is to redirect our attention. We stop for a moment and focus on God—life of the Spirit, rather than this world and the life in the flesh. A weekly practice of worship is a major tool to get ourselves more focused on the things of the Spirit.  Personal devotions are another spiritual discipline that enables us to turn our attention to things of the Spirit. It isn’t a cure all, but it does help us remember from where our help is to come.

Is there really a new life in Christ? Are we able to experience an abundant life? Are the lives of Christians really different from those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Paul answers with a resounding, “Yes!” But living this new, abundant life is not a passive endeavor. It does require us to change the focus of our thinking from the flesh to the Spirit.

We don’t need to run off to a monastery in order to live a life in the Spirit, nor do we need to just “get away from it all.” Life in the Spirit is a life lived in the reality that Jesus is with us, we are in his care, and nothing can separate us from his love.