Date: July 5, 2020
Festival: 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Romans 7:14-25a
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO (last Sunday of vicarage!) 😔
Sermon Hymn: LSB #579 The Law of God is Good and Wise
Exegetical Statement: In this section of his epistle to the Roman Christians, St. Paul continues his excursus on the problem and holiness of the Law within the larger context of chapters 6-8. Prior to this text, Paul described God’s intention through the Law to give life (7:10, 12), but due to the weakness of sinful, human flesh, the Law is incapable of bringing this life and instead kills the sinner (7:8, 11). To illustrate this, Paul ventures into his personal experience with this dilemma, describing what Martin Luther would later call the “bondage of the will.” The Law is spiritual, that is, having come from the Spirit of God; but Paul is of the flesh. Because the sinful flesh uses the Law for its deathly end, the Law sells Paul into sin’s captivity. He desires to do what is right according to the Law, but because of his sinful flesh, he keeps doing the evil things he hates. No matter how hard he tries, he keeps doing the sin he hates. Yet at the same time, it is no longer he who does it, but the sin that dwells within him because he is justified by faith in Christ (chapters 5-6). Sin is a significant part of his life since he is simultaneously saint and sinner, but it is no longer the essential part. He delights in the Law because it reveals his sin, yet he also sees another law that is at war against the Law that makes him captive to sin. He therefore recognises his helplessness. He cannot rescue himself because he’s captive to his sinful will. He recognises his wretchedness. He needs to be rescued, and he knows this. Therefore, he says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” His rescue, and our rescue in our experiences just like his, is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Focus Statement: Jesus has liberated you from your captivity to sin and death.
Function Statement: That my hearers will trust in Christ their Liberator.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: We Are Insane
Albert Einstein proposed the following definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.”
I watched a video the other day of a woman who was trying to park her car at the correct spot of a gas station pump. She first parked her car with the gas pump on the right side of her car… but her fuel filler is on the left side! After she realised her error, she got in her car and just when you think she’s going to another pump that’ll be on the left side of her car, instead she parks at another pump that’s on the right side of her car! She does this two or three more times until the friend of the person recording finally helps her out.
This woman did the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, but the same thing kept happening: she was parking the wrong side of her car next to each pump! According to Einstein, she’s insane.
In our epistle reading today, St. Paul describes the same thing about himself, which is also true of all of us. Just before this, he wrote about the original function of the Law versus its actual effect, which we read last week. In verses 10 and 12, he explains God’s intention of the Law was to give life. Instead, in verses 8 and 11, the Law was made weak through our sinful, human flesh, thus the Law is incapable of giving us life and kills us as a result. To illustrate this, he draws from his personal experience that also describes the common Christian experience.
Through the Law, Paul knows what he ought to do and what he ought not to do. In spite of this revelation, however, he is incapable of doing the good he’s supposed to do and wants to do, and he keeps doing the bad and evil he does not want to do! As a sinner, he keeps doing the same sins over and over again while expecting different results.
Paul is insane…
But so are you and me.
We, too, keep doing the same sins over and over again while expecting different results. Meanwhile, the same thing keeps happening; in our sin, we continue to make things worse. Simply turn on the news and you’ll quickly find out how true this is.
You and I also have the desire to do what is good according to God’s holy Law, but instead, we keep doing the bad and evil we don’t want to do. You and I are insane. We’re insane because we know we’re not supposed to violate God’s Law and we’re mostly aware of when we’re doing it, but we do it anyway! When we sin, we don’t care that we’re breaking God’s Law! That’s insane!
Just think through the Ten Commandments. When have you trusted or found refuge in some other thing over God? Obviously, you didn’t care much about God then. When have you misused God’s name or taken His name in vain? You didn’t care about God’s name. When have you profaned the Sabbath day by skipping church or complaining about coming to church (or falling asleep in the pews)? You didn’t care about God’s holy Word.
When have you dishonoured and disrespected your parents and other authority? You didn’t care about God’s authority. When have you harmed your neighbour, whether physically or emotionally? You didn’t care about your neighbour. When have you committed adultery, whether literally or lustfully in your mind? You didn’t care about sexual purity or honouring your neighbour. When have you stolen? You didn’t care about your neighbour then either. Or when have you gossiped about your neighbour or coveted their things? Still, you didn’t care about your neighbour and neither were you grateful for the gifts God has provided for you.
We know we’re not supposed to do these things. We know the Ten Commandments. They’re drilled into us during our catechism classes. Yet we happily violate them anyway because we’re insane.
Sin as Slavery and Addiction
You and I are not only insane, but we are also slaves. I know, that’s quite the dangerous word to use these days. The language Paul uses might offend some people, but it’s rather appropriate. Because the Law is incapable of overcoming sin due to the weakness of our fallen, sinful flesh, Paul explains that he—and all of us—are sold under the captivity of sin. As our taskmaster, therefore, sin has complete control over your life. This is not only seen in our actions, but because sin literally kills us, Death, too, is our taskmaster [Romans 6:23a].
Death cannot be disobeyed; everyone must obey. Death kills everybody, regardless of age, and he uses sin as his murder weapon.
Our habit of sin can also be described as addiction. Once an addict, always an addict. Once a sinner, always a sinner. Addicts identify with Paul’s struggle quite easily, especially the addict who is on the road to recovery, which is a road that never ends except in Christ.
Like the enemy of God who experiences God’s mercy in Christ for the first time, the addict experiences sobriety for the first time. But also like the Christian who sins again after she confesses her faith for the first time, so the addict falls into relapse. Then he comes to sobriety again, much as the Christian comes to Christ’s mercy again through repentance and the Sacraments.
The addict knows the substance is bad for him, but because he’s insane and he’s addicted and enslaved to it, expecting different results each time he uses it, he is always an addict. In the same way, we know sin is bad for us, but because we’re insane and addicted and enslaved to sin, expecting different results each time we commit sin, we are always sinners.
Whether slave or addict, the relationship is the same: The taskmaster has complete control over the slave; the substance has complete control over the addict. Both the slave and the addict cannot do anything to change their situation, and Paul knows this. He recognises his helplessness. There is nothing he can do to escape sin and death. Where is his help? Where is your help? Who can liberate you and me from our wretchedness—from this body of death?
As St. Paul beautifully answers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Christ Our Liberator
244 years ago, our country was built on the idealism of freedom. We just celebrated this freedom through our patriotic consumption of BBQ, hotdogs, and hamburgers, waving our U.S. flags in pride as we watched the cacophony of fireworks light up the night sky.
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, the day America was birthed and declared herself independent of the tyrannical Great Britain. And it made the following bold declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
I’m as patriotic as any true American. I proudly served and bled for our country. Yet our country’s arguably greatest failure was failing to abolish slavery right at the inception of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution, which was written and signed later in 1787 and put into effect in 1789. It wouldn’t be until 89 years later after the Declaration’s signing that slavery would finally be abolished in the 13th Amendment under the Lincoln administration on January 31, 1865. (Which is the same day as my birthday, by the way. I thought that was pretty cool.)
Still, though, my ancestors continued to face great struggles as they would not receive equal human rights almost 100 years later in 1964. That was only 56 years ago! My grandparents were young adults when this happened!
In spite of this dark history in our country, God still did His work of salvation and deliverance. Not only through the 13th Amendment and the eventual Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which allow me to stand before you today, but also of salvation and deliverance through Christ Jesus our Lord. In spite of this atrocious history, the Black slaves came to know Christ as their Saviour.
They highly identified with the Hebrews of the Old Testament who were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Like the Hebrew slaves, my Black ancestors underwent horrible, inhumane treatment. It is no surprise, then, as to why they called Harriet Tubman “Moses.” Much as Moses, called by God, risked his life to liberate his Hebrew people from slavery through the power of God, Harriet Tubman risked her life to liberate her African people from slavery.
She was one of the most prominent figures who helped Black fugitives escape the bonds of slavery through the Underground Railroad. After she had escaped slavery in 1849, she courageously rescued over 300 Black slaves between 1850 and 1860. This is why the Black slaves called her “Moses,” since the biblical Moses also led a large number of people from slavery and into freedom.
Of course, both of these “Moses’s” point us to Christ. The Black slaves were helpless. Being far too oppressed by their White taskmasters, they were in no position to rescue themselves. So, God sent Harriet Tubman, the “Moses” of her people, and many other brave Black and White men and women to liberate them until the President himself, Abraham Lincoln, brought the 13th Amendment into passing.
Being far too oppressed by their Egyptian taskmasters, the Hebrew slaves were in no position to rescue themselves. So, God sent Moses to liberate them so that they might be able to worship their God.
Being far too oppressed by our taskmasters, Sin and Death, we are in no position to rescue ourselves. So, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate you and me from Sin and Death, that we might know God the Father and become His sons and daughters.
Jesus liberated you and me in an unusual way. As you were enslaved to sin, your soul was for sale. Much as the White and Egyptian taskmasters held their slaves up for sale from town to town and city to city, so Sin held you up for sale, and only Death could pay the price. Death owned you. But Jesus exceeded Death’s bargain and purchased you with the price of His death and life, having purchased and won you from Death, Sin, and the Devil. He has utterly divorced you from Death, and He gave Himself over to Death in your place.
Addiction is messy and slavery is violent. So is divorce. Divorce rips apart two things that are impossible to separate. Thus, when Christ liberated you from Sin and Death, He did the impossible thing of divorcing you from your former taskmasters, and this was a messy and violent divorce.
Divorce always leaves the children as victims. When Jesus divorced you from Sin and Death, instead of you becoming the victim, Christ Himself, the Son of God, became the victim of Sin and Death through the messy and violent event of His crucifixion. He took all your sins upon Himself and your death upon Himself, suffering God’s wrath. Thus now, being divorced from Sin and Death, you are God’s sons and daughters, no longer slaves. And as Christ rose victorious from the grave, so now you are no longer Death’s victim, but conquerors of Death, as Paul says in the next chapter.
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner
It is true that St. Paul describes here our paradoxical state of being simultaneously saint and sinner—that we are at the same time 100% saint and 100% sinner. It is the constant warring of the Spirit of God in us against our sinful flesh [Galatians 5:17], as Paul describes here. But as Paul also says in verse 20, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Sin is so much a part of his, yours, and my life, but it is no longer the essential part of your life.
Indeed, you and I continue to sin, but because of Jesus—because He has bought you and me with His precious, holy, and innocent blood—you are no longer culpable for sin. The blame no longer falls on you; it has fallen on Christ. He took your blame upon the cross and replaced your blame with His perfect righteousness.
Therefore, even though you sin and come to God in repentance like the addict who relapses and comes to sobriety, God declares you 100% saint—perfect, holy, innocent, and clean. He saw your helplessness in the insanity of your sin and saw to it that He would rescue you—that He would liberate you—from your taskmasters of Sin and Death. He has also liberated you from the Law. Not free from doing the Law for your neighbour who needs your good works, but free from the insanity of doing it to earn life since life has freely been given to you through Christ by the grace of God.
Therefore, having been bought by God, you are now slaves of God [Romans 6:15-23], totally liberated in His mercy and grace to inherit all the riches of eternal life. Until then, you are free to come to the Lord’s Table to receive His body and blood that liberates you from Sin and Death.
Let us pray: May the grace of God, which has bought you from your former slavery to Sin and Death, guard your hearts and minds in the death and resurrection of our Saviour and Liberator, Jesus Christ. Amen.