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 29, 2014
The Severity of the Law, the Sweetness of the Gospel - June 29, 2014 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Romans 7:1-13
We are encouraged in our homiletics classes, and let me say, homiletics means preaching, anyway, we are encouraged in our homiletics classes to preach the law in all its severity, meaning to preach that we are all conceived and born in sin, we are daily sin much in thought, word and deed, we sin sins of omission and commission, every intention of our hearts is evil all the time, we are lost and condemned persons, on our own there is no hope or help for us indeed we are condemned to die eternal spiritual death. That is preaching the law in its severity. And we are also taught to preach the Gospel in all its sweetness, meaning we never need to fear the law because Jesus has taken care of all the requirements of the law, obeying all God’s commands and living a perfect life for us in our place. We are never to preach the law one week and the Gospel the next week. That would, indeed, be devastating. Suppose you come to church this week and hear me preach about how we are lost and condemned sinners fit only for the fires of hell and not preach to you the good news and the hope and certainty of the Gospel. And then suppose you did not come back next week when I will preach only the Gospel, that is the hope and certainty of heaven. I do not like even to think about the sorrow and heart ache that might cause. And so, following the example of the great Lutheran theologian, Paul, this morning we will hear, again, as we do every Sunday, the Law and the Gospel.
Paul beings by explaining the tenure of the law. The law, that is the law of God, just like the law of any country, is binding only as long as a person is alive. We hear Paul speak beginning at verses one, “1Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (v. 1-3). So, in the same way as when we pass away from this world and we are no longer under the law of the land, so we are no longer under the law of God. The law will have fulfilled its purpose with us while in this world and will no longer be of any concern for us.
Paul then moves to the logical conclusion for us as Christians, even while we are alive in this world, that is that even while we are alive in this world as Christians, we are dead to the law. We continue reading at verse four, “4Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (v. 4-6). As Christians, because Jesus lived for us, because Jesus took our sins upon Himself, because Jesus died for us, because Jesus rose for us, so we are one with Him and since He has fulfilled the law, so we have fulfilled the law. The logic then is that we, as Christians, have died to the law even while we are alive in this world.
The result then is that we have the freedom of the Gospel. Christ has fulfilled the law. Christ has fulfilled all the prophecies. Christ has taken care of everything for us, in our place so there is nothing left for us to do except live under the freedom of the Gospel.
So, what is the purpose of the law? Paul spells out the purpose of the law picking up at verse seven, “7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”(v. 7-12). One of the purposes of the law is that the law shows us our sins. The law tells us what we should do and thus reminds us of what we have not done. The law says we should do good to others and we see how we have failed, time and again, to do good to others, except possibly for selfish reasons. The law tells us what we should not do and thus reminds us of what we have done. The law says we should not covet and yet time and again we do covet. We tend to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we tend to be like children, when we hear the words, “Don’t do this” or “Don’t do that,” “this” or “that” is exactly what we want to do.
Paul reminds us that sin deceives us into breaking the law. How often it is that each and every day temptations arise and with temptation comes sin because we are unable to resist. It is no wonder we hear said from time to time, “ignorance is bliss,” because we believe if we do not know we are sinning, then perhaps we believe we are not sinning. Or maybe you have heard the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and this is true. Just because we do not know that one thing or another is sin does not mean it is not sin. And so, it is not the law that causes us to sin, but it is that we sin and the law points out the fact that we have sinned. Let me say that again so we understand, it is not that the law causes us to sin, it does not. Rather it is that we sin and then the law points out the fact that what we have done or not done is sin.
And so, Paul reminds us that the law is good. In verse thirteen he says, “13Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure”(v. 13). And so it is important that we have the law, because if we did not have the law then we would not know we sinned and if we did not know we sinned then we would not know we needed forgiveness and if we did not get forgiveness then we would still be in our sins and we would be barred eternally from heaven. So, although we may not like the law, the law is good and serves a good purpose. To sum it up, the fact of the matter is we do not like to know our sins because we like to think we are good people. We do like to think we are good people. How often do you hear someone tell you, “Well, I am a lot worse than my neighbor, you should see how good they are.” No, rather we usually hear, “Well, I am not as bad as ‘so-n-so’.” The bottom line is, we are sinners, each one of us and in and of ourselves we are and would be eternally condemned. There is really no way around it, no matter how good we might think we are.
Which brings us to the Gospel and the purpose of the Gospel. The law shows our sins. The Gospel shows our Savior. The Gospel tells us about Jesus. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus was born for us, that He was baptized for us, that He lived for us, that He resisted all temptation for us, that He took our sins upon Himself, that He suffered and that He died for us. And that He rose for us. All Jesus did, He did for us, in our place, as our substitute, because we are unable to do so. The Gospel shows us Jesus, true God and true man. The Gospel shows us Jesus, triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, undivided. The Gospel shows us that there is one and only one way to eternal life. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus claims the exclusive way to eternal life.
The Gospel shows us forgiveness. When God’s Word speaks, that is when we read it or hear it, it does what it says. When we hear or read that we have faith or that faith is given to us, then, we have faith. When God’s Word tells us that we are forgiven, then we are forgiven. Every Sunday morning when you hear me say, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then you know what, your sins are forgiven. When the Word of God says you have eternal life, then you can know for certain that you have eternal life.
Finally, the Gospel moves us to repent. It is not the law that moves us to anything. You know how it is, when you were young and someone would yell at you for doing something wrong, that was not what motivated you to do what was right. It was their love and care for you which motivated you to do what was right. The law does not move us to repent. It is the Gospel that moves us to repent. When we hear the message of what Jesus did for us, while we were sinners, how He gave His life for us, that is what motivates us to repent, because we understand that failure to repent is gift refusal which would mean no forgiveness, but repentance means forgiveness means eternal life.
So, again, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” And we answer that this means that we need to hear the law in all its severity. We need to be reminded of our sins, great and small. We need to be reminded that even to think something sinful in our hearts and minds is sin and that all sins are equal and equally damnable in God’s eyes. We need to be reminded, no matter how good we might think we are and even how good we might present ourselves to be in this world, that without Christ we are lost and condemned creatures.
we need to hear the Gospel in all its sweetness. We need even more to hear of the fact of God’s love for us, a love shown in His taking on flesh and blood in order to pay the price for our sins. And He did what He did, not by coercion, not because He had to, but because of His great love for us, a Father’s love for His children, a Creator’s love for His creation. He paid the price for our sins so that we have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. And even when we continue to mess up, He continues to forgive us. What a great God we have.
Again, then we are reminded that Christ gives, works in us, strengthens us and keeps us in faith. No matter what we do, no matter how we act, no matter how much we sin or think we do not sin, God continues to do everything for us, because we cannot. God gives, God gives, God gives, and we are given to and we say, thanks be to God.
The law is good and just and holy because it brings me knowledge of my sin. It is important that I know my sin so that I might repent so that I might have forgiveness and eternal life. The Gospel is good because it tells me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave His all and daily gives His all for me. The Gospel reminds me that I am given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation and because of all that the Lord does for me, gives to me, works in and through me, the more I am motivated by the Holy Spirit to repent and to, with His help, live a life that is pleasing to Him in His sight. And certainly the Gospel moves me to say, “To God be the glory,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.