“We are no longer slaves to Sin.”
On Easter Sunday HMC worshippers were invited to write sins that block us from radical obedience to Jesus. What stops you from living the life you feel called to live? 33 out of 47 respondents wrote, in one form or another, “fear.” That’s a whopping 70% of us enslaved by fear.
Acts 3:1-18 tells the story of two men who were freed from the slavery of fear.
We meet a man in the shadows who depends on the indignity of charity and who can’t look people in the eyes. Why? His body, physical gifts, relationships, religion, culture, family and the system itself have all forced him to the fringe because he was born lame. Cowering in fear and shame, he hadn’t questioned his position on the outside steps of the temple in years.
“I belong here on the outside looking in. I’ve nothing to offer. They are special. God loves them. They are more important because they have something to offer.” For a man whose never been allowed to step foot inside the sanctuary, these are understandable thoughts. No one needed to teach him he’d “fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)”! And what’s worse, everyone recognized him (Acts 3:10) as being “that guy.”
We’re recognized too, aren’t we? People have us pegged, and we recognize others. We know how we act, what to expect and not expect, who will be anxious, who will jump when you say jump and who will hold back. We have each other figured out, and people have us figured out. We’re locked into behavior patterns and reputations that make it hard – impossible even?- to behave differently.
But suddenly, he’s no longer slave to what boxed him in. He encounters Jesus gospel through the holistic witness of both word and deed, and he’s healed. Evangelism would have left him “saved” but still lame. Social action would have left him healed but outside the temple with no need to praise God. Peter gives him both, the full gospel for the full individual.
And now he’s free, like Paul says, “our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.” Capital “s” Sin has lost all power, and he’s free for the first time to enter the temple where we now find him “walking and leaping and praising God.” No longer a slave indeed!
But this is not just his story. We also encounter Peter who clearly is not the same man who 8 weeks earlier denied Jesus and turned his back on faith. He too is “no longer a slave to sin.”
When Jesus is arrested, Peter is concerned about nothing but “them,” “they,” the collective “you” of public opinion. But in this passage, he’s ridiculously bold, aligning himself with the executed Jesus with reckless abandon. Pointing directly to the them, they, you he was enslaved to. He now says, “You handed Jesus over, you rejected him, you killed the author of life (Acts 3:13-15).” Fear of death, fear of what others will say and think, fear of being different: all gone! He now is able to live for God.
Late in life, Peter testifies that we can break the bonds of fear and live for and with Jesus, saying, “Do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had, instead be holy (1 Peter 1:14).”
As I enter this story, I realize its’ actually not just about those 2 men. It’s also our story. I too am experiencing freedom from the fear that enslaves me. Believing the lie that my value comes from others, I made a vow at one point in my ministry to be competent. I would fit in, give people what they wanted, not embarrass myself or stand out. I wouldn’t ask for help or give my best, both of which can lead to incompetence.
Sounds an awful lot like Paul: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).” Can you hear how radically different competence for the sake of pleasing people is than creativity, presence, discerning the Spirit, or following Jesus by taking risks with him? Can you hear how I might resist or even oppose God’s leading if it means outing myself as a pacifist, having any sort of dissident thought, or not being an expert on a given topic?
Yet Christ has begun to free me from this fear. I am learning like Peter and the lame man to consider myself to be dead to the sin of fear and able to live for the glory of God in ways I previously couldn’t see.
“We are no longer slaves to Sin.” Period.
We are followers of Jesus, no matter where he leads.
This is our faith.
This is our hope!
May it be so for you.