My favorite letter written by Paul is the one to the Galatians. Its theme is freedom, and it describes a religion that sets us free from within as opposed to one that coerces from without. Many people who leave the church do so to be free of an oppressive set of rules and regulations put in place by those who want to call the shots. Paul was furious not only with those who put limits on God's gift of freedom, but also with the Christians who caved in to the intimidation. The Message describes freedom as "a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered." In Romans 6, Paul warns against acting on a false sense of freedom that actually results in the destruction of freedom. Offering ourselves to sin might be our last free act, while offering ourselves to the ways of God leads to freedom that never quits. With God's freedom, our lives are healed and expanded into holiness. A life spent ignoring God offers far less than one that has discovered the delight of listening to God.
The church word illustrated by Romans 6 is sanctification. It's a transformation of ethics or behavior that results from an encounter with grace. Romans 1:17 says that those made righteous will live. It's a call out of death into life. Romans 6 mentions our death to our previous existence 13 times. This concept is made tactile in the act of baptism. Baptists are skeptical regarding the power of metaphor so we make it very clear with a total immersion. I've seen pastors submerge people again if there was even a hair of their head that was left above the water! The point is that the transformation is total. Sanctification is an eternal process; one in which we "live to God" (6:10). Being buried with Christ can be translated "planted with," a gardening image that implies a process of growth. Death to the old is not the point-- it's simply the requirement for new life to begin. Resurrected life in Christ is the point.
So what does this mean for our ordinary daily lives?
Acknowledge only reigning powers. During Saddam Hussain's trial he continued to bark orders, but no one cared about his demands anymore. We must avoid being tricked into submitting to false authority, whether in the form of temptations from without or weaknesses of our will within. Living in the chains of the past is to deny the power of the gospel.
Yield the ordinary to God. I love the little book, "The Practice of the Presence of God." I pull it out and read it whenever I feel overwhelmed. It reminds me to do everything on my list to the glory of God and to keep the tasks in proportion to the bigger picture of true reality.
Focus on grace. The laws of the land as well as the laws of God are present and valid. Their restrictions and demands serve a useful purpose. However, grace is a container big enough to retain everything good about the law and still have room for much more. Freedom doesn't come through legalism. Our new life is more than just being better at keeping the old laws. Paul describes a paradox of finding perfect freedom only by choosing to serve God.
I'll let Reliant K sum it up with one of their lyrics.... The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.