Download or listen to The Third Sunday after Pentecost, “Dead and Married” (Romans 7:1-13)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How many of you are in an arranged marriage? Well, we should all have our hands up. Because we are all in a marriage arranged by our parents, Adam and Eve. From the moment we are conceived and born into this world, we are married to sin, bound to sin. And if we are bound to sin, then we are under the Law. The Law says, “Until death parts you, you are married to sin.” The wages of sin is death, and the Law will make sure that those wages are paid out to sinners. The Law will never be satisfied. It says, “Do this,” and it is never done. It says, “Do this, do this, do this, do this,” even summarizes it all neatly into Ten Commandments, and says do this with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; do this perfectly before God and before other people, and you will live. But sinners never do it, so the Law will never be satisfied with sinners, sinners like you and me, until we are dead.
People in the world know that something’s not quite right. They know something is wrong in the world, in their families, in people (even if it’s usually other people). And usually, in order to fix what’s wrong, they try to kill sin. They might not call it “sin,” but whatever it is that they think is wrong, they will try to get rid of that. If only we could fix global warming, or get rid of guns, or nuclear weapons; if only we could restore the Ten Commandments to courthouses, get prayer back in school, restore morality, or make this a Christian country—it doesn’t really matter what it is or on what side of the political aisle it falls—whatever it is, if we could just fix this or that, then things would be better. Everyone would live in harmony with each other, and the creation would be restored. But this is all done under the Law. The Law promises life. It says, Get it right, live like this, do this, and you will live. But the Law that promises life can never deliver to sinners. And that’s the problem: none of the proposals, none of the suggestions, none of the policies ever give life. Which of the proposals has worked? Are we better and more unified? There was a time when people thought things were getting better and better, but then World War I came along; and then World War II came along. I don’t know anyone who thinks that, any more. None of those things can ever work because they all focus on killing the sin, but leaving the sinner more or less as he is.
God has a different way. He’s not so much interested in killing sin as He is in killing sinners. But not killing sinners the way you might think, where God goes around zapping the worst offenders. There are some people who think that if you could get rid of all the people, then the universe would be better off. (I suggest they go to the front of the line and let us know how that works out.) But even if you could get rid of all the people, the curse runs throughout creation itself. The whole creation groans as it waits for the revealing of the sons of God. The creation has been subjected to futility because of sin. God’s way of fixing the whole creation is to kill sinners, but not in the way you might think. He does it this way: in the fullness of time He sends His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law. But wait a minute, I thought you had to be a sinner to be under the Law. The Law is for sinners, not for the righteous. But still Jesus lives under the Law; still He dies under the Law. He has no sin in Himself, but He takes all sin; He becomes sin for us; He becomes the curse for us. So when the Law comes looking for sin, all it finds is Jesus, and the Law does what the Law must do: pay out the wages of sin on the sinner. So Jesus dies on the cross, under the righteous condemnation of the Father. But since He has no sin in Himself, since He is the eternal God, He rises from the dead, and He cannot die any more because sin is buried in His grave.
This is how God kills sinners; this is how you die to the Law: through the Body of Christ, precisely that Body nailed to the cross. You die to sin, you are buried with Christ; you are dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus Christ. Your life is hidden with Christ in God. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. Now sin is dead, so you are free to belong to another. And Christ the Bridegroom marries His holy bride, the Church, by water, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
But sometimes it can still feel like bigamy, or adultery. Especially when the Law comes sniffing around like a bloodhound, looking for sin. The devil takes that accusation, or your own sinful flesh does, and says, “Are you sure sin is dead? Are you sure you’ve died? I’d like to see the death certificate.” What’s this? This looks a lot like sin. And we look in our hearts, and our minds; we examine our thoughts, and words, and actions, and we see nothing but sin! We hear the commandment, and the sin we thought was dead is suddenly resurrected. But Jesus says to you, “Who are you going to believe, Me or your lying eyes?” Don’t believe your eyes! Believe your ears, when Jesus says that you have died and your life is hidden with Him in God. You have been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you. I forgive you all your sins. I am risen from the dead, and you are Mine. I have bound Myself to you. Believe your ears, when He says, This is My Body, and this is My Blood, and it is for you. You actually do belong to Christ, and not to sin. You are not under the Law so that it can condemn you any more; you are under the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
That does not mean that what you experience, what you feel, what you see in yourself is not real, that sin is not real. The fact is, there is not only one of you any more. The death of Christ has intervened, and now you are divided. There is a you that is bound to sin, under the Law, and dying. That is your old, sinful flesh, and its end is coming. But there is also a you that is bound to Christ, in Him, and living forever. That is your new self, and it is being renewed day by day, though you cannot see it. There are two of you: one in yourself, and one in Christ. The promise of Christ is true, but the battle continues. We will consider that more closely next week.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/29/14