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A Faustian Bargain

Richmond, VA was the capital of the Confederacy and was home to one of the largest hubs for slaves trading, second only to New Orleans.  The slave trading culture of the time is a shameful and sorrowful part of our heritage.  Slavery made one person the possession of another and with that led to a great deal of despair, spiritual darkness, a death.

003_A_PhotoSo it seems strange to read the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 6, declaring that “freedom” is a gift of grace only realized in slavery to Christ.  How can it be that we are set free from sin, only to be made a slave to righteousness?  We long to be set free from the chains that bind us.  Then we read Paul telling us that when set free from the chains of sin, we are bound up in a new chain of righteousness.

This is the subject we attempt to explore in this sermon, preached April 12, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

Below you will find the manuscript for this sermon and video for this, preached the Sunday after Easter.  You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.

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You can watch the video here or read the manuscript below.

 

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A Faustian Bargain
Romans 6:11-23

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many of us know the story of Faust.  Faust is a fictional character from German literature who was greatly dissatisfied with his life.  So he makes a agreement with Mephistopheles, one of Satan’s lead lieutenants, to exchange his eternal soul for unlimited temporal knowledge and worldly pleasures.

The legend of Faust has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works.  Each time a character is portrayed making a deal with the devil  to reap some personal gain, it is called a Faustian bargain.  They have sacrificed their integrity to the devil to gain wealth, fame, power,  knowledge, or (as in one episode on the Simpson’s) a really good donut.

Today, I’d like us to consider about how prone we are to the temptation of the Faustian bargain – especially when we do not fully accept the sufficiency of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as our only reliable resource for living.

We live in the age of the bargain, where people believe:

“Everything has a price. Everything is for sale.
“Everyone has a price.  Everyone is for sale.”

Did you hear the story about the fundamentalist Baptist college that accepted huge amounts of financial resources from the Budweiser corporation in exchange for advertising space in the school’s sports arena and athletic fields.

We wonder when it will end!   I fear one day that I’ll drive by a church and read a sign that says, “The Coors Lite Baptist Church”.

In Romans 6, Paul writes about forces that wish to enslaves to sin and ensnare us in death.   Then he writes, “But thanks be to God, that though you used to be slaves of sin…You have (now) been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Now that’s some strange talk.  Paul says we are set free from slavery in order to become slaves again.  We are set free from slavery to sin in order to become slaves to righteousness.  How can it be that, in Christ, we gain the freedom to become slaves?  Doesn’t slavery mean the absence of freedom?

He was a wealthy Louisville surgeon.  I was a young seminary student.  I had been hired to “house-sit” for the man while his family vacationed overseas.

“Freedom,” he said.  “That’s why I am so proud to be an American.”  He spoke to me as he gave me a tour of his home.  “I’ve been on every continent on the globe and have visited 15 different countries and I can tell you that we are incredibly blessed to live in the land of the free.”

Then he told me how to lock up for the evening.  There were two locks and a chain on each of the 5 doors to the house.  Once all doors were locked, I would go to the master bedroom and punch in a code to activate the security system.  Once activated, I would be unable to leave the master bedroom without engaging the motion sensitive alarms which would automatically contact the Louisville Police Department.

“Freedom,” he said.  “That’s why I am proud to be an American.”

Is it really freedom when you are locked inside a room in your home surrounded by more than a dozen locks and alarms?

I know I am treading on dangerous ground here.  We are a culture which values freedom – or at least what appears as freedom.  Mess with people’s freedom and they get rather militant.

“Who are you to tell me what to do?”

More and more we are a culture which defines the highest good and being free from all that constrains us – freedom from tradition, authority, government, from religion etc.  More and more, the freedom of the individual is the highest value of our society.  So, when I speak to you about slavery being the path toward freedom, there is probably some type of disconnect in your thoughts.

Slavery leads us to think about captivity, despair, and death.   Slavery means that one person owns another person.  We know that.  This is Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederacy.   This city once contained one of America’s largest slave trading hub, second only to New Orleans.

Let’s add to that thought.  We are not far removed from a time in our nation when women were considered the property of their husband.

And lest we be fooled into thinking that slavery doesn’t exist today.  There is a multi-billion dollar business today in the underside of society that traffics in young children as sex slaves and immigrants a slave labor.
So we know a few things about slavery – historically, ancestrally, and culturally.   We know that is doesn’t sound like a good thing.  We know that it leads toward death.

That being the case, we are a little shocked to hear Paul say that there is a slavery that leads to freedom and life?  In fact, some Bible translators were so uncomfortable with the concept of slavery that they uses the more politically correct word servant to avoid the implications of slavery.

But the word Paul uses is best translated “slavery,” not “servant.  He is saying that through the cross and empty tomb, we have been enslaved to Christ and enslaved to righteousness.

Let me help you wrap your minds around what Paul is saying.  Think back and remember the day of your own baptism.   The pastor said something like:  “Buried with Him in baptism unto death.  Raise to walk in new life with him.”

Imagine in that moment when you came up out of the water if the pastor had said:   “Friends, allow me to introduce the newest slave of Jesus Christ.  Let’s all rejoice and give thanks for the tremendous freedom this person will experience as a slave with Jesus as her Lord and Master.”

It doesn’t feel right to our cultural sensitivities.  Yet it is right.  This is exactly what Paul is teaching.

“You were baptized into Christ’s death and into His resurrection!”

“Through Baptism the chains of death are removed and the chains of resurrection and life now bind you.”

“You are chained to Jesus Christ as His slave for life!”

Let’s get this clear in our hearts and minds!

Christ is now your master.
God owns you.
Your boss is not the master of your life.
No official in government is the master over your life.
Men are no longer the masters of women.
Neither are women to dominate men.
No member of the clergy is your ruler.
You are not even your own master.
You don’t determine your own destiny.
You belong to Christ.

Paul says that it through this slavery to Christ that we become truly free.  Liberty comes through slavery to Christ.  How is this possible?

As slaves to Christ we belong to a master who will not sell us out.

As slaves to Christ we belong to a master who will not abandon us.

As slaves to Christ we are set free from death or destruction.

As slaves to Christ we are chained to a master who desires for us wholeness and fullness of life.

The boss may betray you.
Your spouse may betray you.
The government may betray you.
Your best friend may betray you.
Some member of the clergy may betray you.
You may even betray yourself.

As some point you will be betrayed by every master in this world who vies for control over you.  When you make any contract with the devil, you will always end up on the losing end of that deal.

Through the waters of baptism (the symbol of our salvation) we enter into Christ’s death.   Through the waters of baptism we throw off the chains of bondage to this world and take up the chains of the resurrection – chains with lead toward life.

As we understand that we are chained to Jesus and the power of his resurrection, it leads us away from all sorts of Faustian bargains.   We know that we belong to Father through Christ’s redemption.  We know that this make all the difference in the world – not just for the great by-and-by, but for the great here-and-now.

Have you ever encountered anyone who tried to demean you and say you were worthless?

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who left you feeling like damaged goods?

Have you ever had a parent or spouse humiliate you, insult you, or put you down?

Have you ever had a preacher teach that you were a useless no account with nothing of value to offer?

Have you ever heard that voice in your head that comes to you in the middles of the night, when you can’t sleep and you are feeling insecure, telling you that you are insignificant, unimportant, and irrelevant?

You don’t have to listen to those lies anymore.  You don’t have to see yourself that way anymore.  You can moved away from an attitude of defeat and resignation toward one of confidence and expectation.

Listen, when we feel weak, insignificant , incomplete, not enough, and worthless, we become prime targets for Mephistopheles and his invitations that “make a deal.”

Ultimately this is the root of all temptation.  We think we are not good enough, smart enough, sharp enough, or nice enough.  We feel we are broken down and worthless, without value and without purpose.

BUT the truth is that IN Christ we possess all we need to be what we need to be and do what we need to do.  We are set free to live life with passion purpose, and power because we are bound up in Him.
Here’s the one (and only) secret to living a successful Christian life:  KNOW to whom you belong!

You belong to a God who was willing to enter into human history as Jesus the Christ, in order to take all the mess of humanity into himself (all the sin, brokenness, and feelings of alienation) .

You belong to a God in Christ Jesus REDEEM us from all that mess through self giving love and grace.

Christ gave all of himself for you.  Christ gave all of himself to you.   There is NOTHING MORE YOU NEED THAN CHRIST.

The foundation for Paul’s ethics is really very simple.  “Know who you are and live like who you are!”

What if Easter really does make all the difference in the world?

What if the resurrection of Jesus really does change our identity?

What if Christianity really isn’t merely some sort of self-improvement plan or program?

What if everything we need is already ours through our  connection to Jesus Christ?

What if Jesus really is enough?

If we really believed it is so, no Faustian bargain would ever be as appealing.   We will never think we don’t have enough because we will know that Jesus is more than enough.  That’s why Paul writes:

“You are dead to sin and alive to God through Christ!”

“You are no longer a slave to sin – you are a slave to righteousness.”

That’s why Paul writes:

“You have been freed from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit (that) you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

My dear friends, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I challenge you:  “Know who you are and live like who you are!”

Amen.

 

Faust
by: Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, published: 2014-11-29
ASIN: 1503262146
EAN: 9781503262140
sales rank: 31950
price: $6.89 (new), $7.00 (used)

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend. He is a scholar who is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, so he makes a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The Faust legend has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have reinterpreted it through the ages. Faust and the adjective Faustian imply a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success for a delimited term. The Faust of early books—as well as the ballads, dramas, movies, and puppet-plays which grew out of them—is irrevocably damned because he prefers human to divine knowledge; “he laid the Holy Scriptures behind the door and under the bench, refused to be called doctor of Theology, but preferred to be styled doctor of Medicine”. Plays and comic puppet theatre loosely based on this legend were popular throughout Germany in the 16th century, often reducing Faust and Mephistopheles to figures of vulgar fun. The story was popularised in England by Christopher Marlowe, who gave it a classic treatment in his play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. In Goethe’s reworking of the story two hundred years later, Faust becomes a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for “more than earthly meat and drink” in his life.

 

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One Response to “A Faustian Bargain”

  1. Sheldon says:

    Awesome perspective. Some great extension come from this – whta we thought was freedom to do pleasure thing or thta led only to bondage of the thing.

    Slave to righteousness – To Blessing Others To Encouraging Others to Helping Others to Setting Others Free – Elevation from ambassador of hell and all its vices to Ambassadors of GLORY. SWEETNEES never ever to be found in the FLESH and So Fullfilling and Satisfying – Leading to a Generational Inheritance – The Wise not only win souls they Leave an Inheiritance for their Childrens Children. AMEN.

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