Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Gift - June 22, 2014 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Romans 6:12-23
Today we begin our Pentecost season. For the next twenty-three Sundays the primary liturgical color, the color of our paraments, will be green, the color of life and growth. During the Pentecost season of the church year, what we otherwise call the non-festival portion of the church year, not only will we continue each and every Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but, Lord willing, we will grow in our faith and in our faith life.
With great joy we begin our Pentecost season talking about grace and getting grace right. Too often, when you listen to your friends of other religions and even other denominations they tend to confuse grace or better said, they tend to confuse Gospel and Law. We understand the importance of making sure these are not confused so that we are better able to understand God’s rich grace toward us. Getting to our text Paul says, “14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14). How is it that we who are conceived and born in sin, who daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness are no longer under the dominion of sin and the law? We are no longer under sin and the law because of God’s grace which is a gift given to us by God. And so we get our first glimpse of what grace is, that is grace is gift. Grace is not me, but God, as we say who is running the verbs. Grace is God’s gift to me. And we might add right off, to say something is gift means there is nothing attached, as in, “We are saved by grace, but/and all you have to do is something.” Gift is gift. We all know when someone gives us a gift and when know when someone is merely trying to exchange a present they give for one we will give them in return, which is not gift and not grace.
Grace, that is Godly grace, the grace of God toward us, is the fact that our sins have been forgiven, that is the price for our sins, eternal spiritual death, has been paid by Jesus. We did nothing and we do nothing to earn nor deserve this grace, it is pure gift given to us by God, earned by Jesus. We do nothing to make it ours. We do nothing to get it. It has been purchased and won for us and is given to us. Actually, our only response would be to refuse and reject His gift, which too many people do each and every Sunday morning by absenting themselves from being where this gift is given out.
To better understand this grace and gift from God, let us go back to the first two verses of our text and hear what Paul says about our nature. Paul says, “12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (v. 12-13). As we have heard time and again, we are conceived and born in sin. This sin is what we call original sin. The original sin of Adam and Eve has been genetically passed on from generation to generation so that we are all conceived and born in sin. There is no way we can get away from sin or be born in any other way, the only exception being Jesus who was conceived of God.
Not only are we conceived and born in sin, we also daily sin much. This daily sinning is what we call actual sin, that is these are the sins we actually sin on our own and we also recognize two types of actual sin. There are sins of commission, that is there are the sins that we commit by doing something we should not be doing and there are sins of omission, that is we sin by omitting or not doing the things we should be doing. And we can add to this fact that we also sin in thought, word and deed, that is we sin in our thoughts, we sin in our speaking and we sin in our actions. Indeed, we are sinful people. Indeed, sin is our greatest problem and as I have said time and again, our greatest problem is spiritual.
Paul goes so far as to say that we are slaves, picking up at verse fifteen, “15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 15-19). Although we may not like it and we may deny it, the fact is that we must be slaves to someone or something, at least according to our spiritual nature.
Paul tells us that one choice is that we are either slaves to sin, which is the easy and natural choice, after all, we are conceived and born in sin. God tells us that our natural inclination is sin, as He says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). And actually, according to our sin tainted will, the fact that we have lost free will, our will really and truly is only to sin.
And yet, Paul gives us a second option, that is we can be slaves to God. Yet in saying this, Paul says this in such a way that we understand that the only way we can “choose” if you will and if you want to use that word, is that this is something that is done for us, in other words, indeed, truly we cannot in and of ourselves, according to our sin tainted will, choose to be slaves to God. We are slaves to God only as Jesus has paid the price for our sin and only as the Holy Spirit has given us faith so that truly it is not we who are choosing to be slaves to God, but God who is working in and though us to make us His slaves, or said a little more nicely, His children
Finally, Paul outlines what he calls the fruits of our faith, that is the result of the faith that God has given to us. Picking up at verse twenty, “20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 20-23).
Paul writes to help us better understand grace and the gifts God gives. When we were slaves to sin, we were free from righteousness, in other words we were unrighteous, yet, God does not leave us in this state of unrighteousness. Because of His great love for us, God gives to us. He gives us His Son and His Son’s life. Remember, the fullness of the Gospel is this fact that Jesus lived for us in our place. We are conceived and born in sin. Jesus was conceived and born without sin, because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus was able to live perfectly and He did live perfectly, for us in our place as our substitute because we cannot.
God gives us His Son and God gives us faith. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, Holy Baptism and the very Word of God, we have all the gifts and blessings God gives. When our last hour arrives, either at our own passing or at the Lord’s return and when we stand before our Lord for judgement, by faith in Jesus, given to us, God will look at us and instead of seeing our sinful nature He will see us as perfect and holy, because what He will actually be seeing is Jesus, who is our substitute. God will look at us and He will see Jesus’ perfect life for us in our place and He will judge us as righteous.
God gives His Son, God gives us faith and God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is that big fancy word we use to describe our faith life, especially our faith life of growing in our faith and with His help being better persons. Indeed, as we attribute our being made just and right and holy in God’s eyes by Jesus’ work alone, so in our life of becoming more and more holy, we attribute our sanctification to God alone as well. We tend to mess up and back slide. We tend to continue, this side of heaven, to sin and yet we know that with Jesus there is forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through us to make good “choices”, to use that word, according to our sanctification.
So, what does this mean? And how do we understand grace and gift differently from others. As you have heard me say time and again, it comes down to who is doing what? Who is running the verbs, or who is running the show. When we put ourselves in the driver’s seat, so to speak, like we like to do, we are getting it wrong. Remember, every intention of our heart is sin. When Jesus is running the show, when Jesus is running the verbs, when Jesus is in the driver’s seat, we are getting it right.
And so grace is the fact that God gives. God gives to us all things. As a matter of fact, the very reason God created the world and us is to love us. Yes, God created us to love us. He did not create us because He needed anything from us. What kind of God would need something from us. As parents we do not have children so they might serve us, we have children because we love them and want to love them. God created us to love us. He created us and specifically He has given each of us life at our conception. At our conception we were given a soul and a body. He has given us life at conception and new life, even eternal life at our baptism. At our baptism, through the hands of the pastor, God put water and His name on us. He washed us with forgiveness. He put His name on us. He wrote our names in the book of heaven. God gives life, faith, forgiveness and He even gives us gifts, talents and abilities, even work to do in order that we might be able to respond to all He has given to us by loving and serving Him as we serve others.
God gives and we are given to. Our only option would be to refuse the gifts God has to give and indeed, our nature is to refuse the gifts of God. Week in and week out, Sunday after Sunday we see people refuse and reject the gifts God has to give. We refuse and reject God’s gifts when we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sin and our greatest spiritual need of forgiveness. We refuse the gifts of God when we attempt to impose some restriction or some qualification on our part or on our thinking we have to have a part in gaining the gifts of God and in so doing, we also confuse law and Gospel, even justification and sanctification. God gives with no help or acting on our part. We are given to with no help or acting on our part. We are simply passively being given to.
The price for sin, original sin and actual sin, is death, eternal spiritual death. Because we are conceived and born in sin, because we begin life in sin, there is nothing we can do to reconcile our debt with our Creator. Jesus, God in flesh, who created us to love us and who shows His great love for us, was conceived and born sinless and holy and lived a sinless life so that He was able and He did trade His perfect life for our imperfect life. And God sends His Holy Spirit to give us the gifts Jesus earned for us, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, and He even stirs in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, not that we are doing anything active in all that is being done, rather we are simply passively being done to and given to. Thus, even though we struggle, we point not to ourselves, but we point continually, always and only to Jesus. To Him be the glory, for His name sake. Amen.