Blessings to you today, and thank you for joining me. This is my forty-third straight day reading through the New Testament, and you are reading my forty-third straight blog post over those readings. It has blessed me tremendously.
Today’s reading is Romans 4 through Romans 6. These three chapters are powerful, but I must confess that while reading them, I could only think of a preacher that preaches way too long.
And I mean no disrespect there. It’s really what my mind is willing to handle. Paul has a powerful theological argument, but it’s hard to digest these three chapters. Maybe you’ve found the same thing to be true.
Nevertheless, after switching translations (I linked to The Message above) and reading it fresh, the three chapters made a bit more sense to me. There are powerful words here that speak to us. This letter, in these three chapters, makes it clear that we — me and you and anyone you know — are mere followers in life.
We are powerless. We constantly rely on opinions, consultations, friendships, and counsel. We are born into a world, into a reality, designed for us to live together, in community, and we suffer greatly apart from it.
Culture, though, has seriously polluted community for us. We find illusions to it, now, in social media, where our online connections make us feel whole, even though it is illusory. Genuine community has become the victim to a personalized world. We’ve been taught to follow no one, isolating ourselves in our own hand-built world.
In this letter to the Romans, though, we find who we really are. We find our deepest created tendencies as followers. I find this comforting today. I hope you will, too.
We want to believe.
Belief is powerful. It is the blood of our anticipation. It is how we cope with our own smallness. We want to believe someone can do something that seems impossible to accomplish.
This letter to a disheveled Roman church tunes our ears to this very human instinct, and places our desire to believe squarely in the arena of faith. We want to believe that God will make us right, even against our own failures. We are made to believe that. It is our ultimate belief. Our own guilt is not the byproduct of cultural stipulations. It is the God-given signal that there is, genuinely, a right way to live. And we want to believe that.
Yet our own failures make this an impossibility. Temper, lust, anger, deceit. All of those, every day, prove to us our own inability to just be right — to just live right.
God, though, made Abraham someone he couldn’t become on his own, because he believed God could. God made him a father. He energized Abraham’s physical body to produce a child with his wife, Sarah, whose womb was dry with age. All Abraham had to do was believe it was possible, and then he became the father of us all. His life is a testament to the very power, and very necessity, of belief.
And Abraham believed even before there was some overbearing law that dictated right and wrong. Abraham knew what was right, without any written or taught standard. And his belief was rewarded. Ours is, too, through the awesome miracle of reconciliation.
Not only does God accept our belief, but validates it, every time we sin, by completely restoring our relationship with him. He restores this relationship to the pristine, pre-sin condition. Every time. Even when …
We still want to sin.
But even in the shadow of our own dreams, we are reminded, again, of our complete brokenness. We want to sin. Even writing that phrase, here, makes me shutter. Even my best attempt at holiness is met with my own failure.
Because we share the same desire to sin that was given to Adam. We share the same desire to become our own god. That is why God’s grace is necessary.
Grace is the only thing that can defeat our own tendency to leave God.
This is the verse, this morning, that energized me:
But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. (Romans 5:20, 21; The Message)
Even our own sin is matchless against the force of God’s grace.
We want to follow.
This letter, in chapter 6, tells the story of humanity, though, even after it shows us our own created tendencies to believe and sin. Ultimately, we are sheep. We want, earnestly, to follow something. Even great leaders in our own human systems rely on opinions and consultations of a larger group. No person makes great decisions on their own.
A baptism into the life of Jesus gives us a way to follow, though. This way changes our desires. It changes our actions. But do we completely understand that?
Our preferences change. Or at least they should, A baptism into the name of Jesus is a baptism into a completely different life. We no longer want to do the same destructive things.
Instead, we sacrifice those desires to live a completely whole life, free of guilt. That is radical.
To a city filled with slaves, Paul wrote about intentional slavery in this letter. Most slaves were held against their will, but the historical record indicates that, in Rome, some families intentionally became slaves for the guarantee of security and food.
Our life is an intentional life of slavery. We will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will destroy us, or we will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will always resurrect us.
And this is who we are.
All through today’s reading, I kept playing this song in the back of my mind. It’s got a great guitar hook, but the lyrics are spot on. By a band called Hyperstatic Union, the song is called Slave. You can find it here.