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If anyone has ever confronted you with your sin and asked you why you did it, and you honestly could not give them a reason, Romans 7 is for you.
If you think that someday you will figure out how to follow Christ the right way and not be so sinful, Romans 7 is for you.
If you think sin is no problem for you and the Christian life is easy, then Romans 7 is for you.
If you think the Christian life is too hard and you have given up on ever getting into Heaven, then Romans 7 is for you. In short, St. Paul wrote Romans 7 for every one of you and for me.
Actually, the Apostle wrote Romans 1-6 for us as well, and Romans 7 builds on the major points he made earlier. Since Paul assumes you know them, so it would be good to read through Romans at home this week. In short, Paul works like a lawyer, presenting evidence and arguments to make his case. But unlike any ordinary lawyer, he switches off from prosecuting you for your sins to being your defense attorney. In Romans 1, he begins his case presenting evidence against those who honoring false gods or no god at all – their false belief leads them to fill their lives with all manner of evil. And right as Paul has you cheering him on for shooting down those proud sinners with both barrels of God’s Law – right then in Romans 2, the Apostle turns the shotgun of the Law at you! Yes, you who look down on the evil people who are destroying our country – you practice the very same evil that you condemn (2:1) – the same greed, nastiness, strife, deceit, gossip, pride, the same disobedience and heartlessness. You have no excuse for any of this! Especially since you know that the Day of Wrath is coming, the Day God’s righteous judgment against sin is revealed.
When Paul gets you owning up to your sin and shame, he switches his tone from prosecuting to defending, as he writes, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3).
We get into God’s good graces not by our works, but as His gift in Christ. We get forgiveness for the sins that shame us as His gift in Christ. We get rescued from the Hell we deserve by grace, as His gift in Christ. We do not even think of boasting that we are better than unbelievers – or anyone for that matter – because our eternal life is all God’s gift in Christ.
Paul knows how Sin wants you to think that now it does not matter how bad you live, since you will be going to Heaven no matter what. But God forbid that we take God’s kindness for granted. Paul reminds you of your Baptism in chapter 6 to begin the illustration that continues into our chapter 7 today – an illustration that uses death, of all things. You died in Christ and were buried with Him in Baptism. God declared you dead to His Law. Sin no longer reigns over you. Christ does. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). You are as dead as dead Jesus hanging on His Cross when it comes to the Law.
Now Paul builds on that point with an illustration from marriage – a wife is bound to her husband, and husband to wife, “’Til death do us part.” There is no mention of divorce here because he is talking about how God says life should go. God tells married women they are not to go off and live with another man while the husband is alive. But if her husband dies, the Lord says she is free from the Law of marriage, free to enter another marriage if she wants.
Paul says you are like that free widow. Your baptismal death has set you free from the Law. Free from your bondage of sin. Free to belong to the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Free to live a new life. Free to bear fruit to God as branches joined to Christ the Vine.
Now there are two opposing forces in our lives – our flesh and the Holy Spirit. Our flesh is filled with sin – but here the Apostle is not so much talking about all those dirty thoughts, words and deeds – like murder, theft, lying, and rebellion. Paul is talking about our condition of sin. Like a cancer, sin has invaded your body, taking over your cells, wreaking havoc so that your body is not able to do what you were made to do. And just as the body cannot cure itself of cancer, neither can it cure itself of sin.
Some have thought education is the answer. Evil people behave the awful ways that they do because they do not know any better. Just teach them enough religion, and they will become better people. Surprisingly, Paul says that learning God’s Laws can actually make a person worse. When his teachers taught young Paul that commandment forbidding us to sinfully desire stuff that God says does not belong to you, then Paul not only knew “You shall not covet”, he also knew sin too. It was about like a commandment saying, “You shall not yawn” – and the minute a person hears that, they cannot stop themselves from yawning. Which might not be the best example for a preacher to use, but anyway, Paul could not stop himself from coveting – and this was a good young Jewish kid who did not know what coveting was 5 minutes ago.
In other words, that foreign invading cancer of Sin takes the opportunity of all those “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” and it deceives us to death. We think we can keep the commandments. Yet the harder we try, the worse it gets. Either we deceive ourselves more into ignoring our sin and becoming proud about how happy we imagine God is with us, or else we see our sin and despair of God’s love. So the end result is actually the opposite of what we might expect – spend time in the Bible and Sin becomes all the worse. Not that the Bible makes us do all those evil things – God’s Law is holy and righteous and good. But the sin that lives in us responds to it in very bad ways. The more we learn the Scriptures the more sinful we become. “Sinful beyond measure” is the way Paul says it. So sinful, you despair of saving yourself, which is precisely the point.
Our text stops here, but Paul goes on to his next point which is what you will hear next Sunday, writing, “We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Notice that he does not say, “I *was* unspiritual before I was a Christian and got straightened out,” but he says, “I am unspiritual.” Do not be thinking St. Paul is any holier than you are, as if you just needed to figure out the secret to becoming a superChristian like him. Do not think Paul has found the answer to the righteous life inside of him by getting all spiritual. You will hear Paul say next week in the end of Romans 7 that nothing good lives naturally inside of him.
And you will hear Paul describe the war that goes on inside himself. He sets his mind on doing the good, but he cannot get it done. What he does is the evil he hates – and this is an Apostle of the Lord talking.
If you think it is easy being a Christian, guess again. Never mind what the false preachers say about all your problems being fixed if you just give your heart over to Jesus and clean up your act. Consider how Martin Luther once wrote that he was most troubled in his life when he had no troubles at all. At those times he thought he had gotten so far off the righteous way that the Devil saw no reason to mess with him. In today’s Gospel, Jesus lovingly warns us that where He brings His saving work, there will be a cross for His follower to carry. And sadly many of you know situations our Lord describes - Christians with families divided for and against Jesus. They daily have reason to ask themselves, “Am I doing this out of love for Christ, or am I loving this family member more than I love Jesus? Am I more concerned about what they might say than what the Lord does say?” The temptation to seek peace at any and all costs is a strong one, especially among people you have to live with. Jesus responds to this by saying, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth,… but a sword.” That sword of His Word cuts right through the heart of each and every one of us. It literally means losing your life. Dropping dead to your self in order to find your life in Christ.
Jesus is the One who saves us from our sin-filled bodies and souls, for He is the One who gave His perfect and innocent body and spirit into death on a Cross. He cleanses and renews us by baptizing us into His death and grave.
Therefore, Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." That Judge Whom Paul spoke of in Romans 2, coming on the Day of wrath to reveal His judgment against sin, has already declared you to be innocent. He has no condemnation for you, for all that sin of yours that should lead you to eternal shame. "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” as God has done by sending His Son to be the sacrificial offering for our sin.
Today we struggle. With our flesh corrupted by sin we serve the Law of sin. Yet with minds renewed by the Spirit, we serve the Law of God. That is how it is – the life of Christ in a body of death. And that helps us to learn to believe that our salvation from Hell into Heaven is not our doing, but must be by God’s grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake. Amen.