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A Righteousness by Faith #30: Why you are not going to be a donkey.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7

Pinocchio could be any of us. The beloved puppet child of Geppetto, Pinocchio is easily enticed by the fox, Honest John, to find his freedom in being in a puppet show. He will be the star—a puppet without strings. Except being free of strings did not mean he wasn’t entangled by his own inner desires. As he embraces the lies of Honest John, he finds himself trapped in a cage. Being set free to try again, Honest John snares him once more by luring Pinocchio to Pleasure Island where he begins to turn into a donkey. Slavery for life was to be his fate.

If you are pursuing the freedom that the cross gives, perhaps you have been confused by what it means to be free. Let me say up front that freedom means that you no longer have to sin. Sin has no power over you and you do not have to live out your worst self. This is the essence of righteousness by faith.

Trying to make this clear to the Roman church, full of Jews and Gentiles, Paul knew that they would want to put their own spin on freedom. The Jews felt freedom was to be had by following the law and Gentiles saw freedom as being able to do what they wanted. The church at Corinth even made a slogan out of this: “All things are lawful for me.” 1 Corinthians 6:12. But Paul recognized that the only true freedom is found in being dead.

To understand true freedom you must start with the first couple back in the Garden throwing off the reign of God for self-determination. Instead of the freedom they expected, death was the result. We became trapped by our choices. Wars, lies, loss of control, hatred, killings, rape, plunder, and domination kept intruding on people’s freedom. Personal choices became the path to addiction. We were robbed of life.

So when Jesus shows up in history offering freedom, he meant that he would die our death for us. His death made a covenant between God and us, a covenant in which God gave to us the indwelling Spirit. His empowering work was to free us to be the people we were created to be.

Church rules will not deliver that to you. We have been given freedom from such things. But it is a trap to believe that no one rules over you. That there are no boundaries to your freedom. That you are free to do whatever you want. Freedom without submission to a ruler leads to becoming a donkey.

Someone can set their heart on being righteous. But the body ruled by sin can want something else, like the trap of greed expressed through shopaholic desires. Or the trap of lust binding them to pornographic websites. Or the trap of anger which plants the flag of bitterness in their soul. The body ruled by sin can be easily lured to take step by small step back to Pleasure Island. The self-determined desire to live free is no match for the power of the dark side.

This is where death comes in. You had to die in order to live free. You were crucified with Christ, baptized with him into his death (Romans 6:3). Paul says that the purpose of this death is to end sin’s power over the body. Your body is the part of you that interacts with the physical creation. It carries out your internal commands. So while Paul is saying ‘body,’ he means all of you. All of you had to die because once you were dead, the previous contract that sin flaunted over you was null and void. It could not keep you as a slave because you’re dead. As a dead person, you have no responsibilities to a previous obligation.

Sin will lie to you on this point. It will make you think that you are still under obligation. That you really have no choice. That there is no exit. That you will spend the rest of your existence bobbing between the desire to be good and the stench of failure. Or that guilt will mark you to the day you die.

None of this is true. The one who is your master now is the Father. And he has a much better outcome in store for you, starting with fixing your mind.

More next time.

-Steve Smith