Romans 7:14-25a (4th Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 9—Series A)
“Saint and Sinner”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 6, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Romans 7:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
For Memorial Day this year we took a family trip to Minute Man National Park at Lexington and Concord. It was quite an experience witnessing the places where the first Americans died in what became the War for Independence. Over a year before the events “in Congress July 4, 1776,” American’s were standing at Concord’s North Bridge when the “shot heard ‘round the world” rang out. Since that trip I’ve been doing some reading about those events and the early days of the American Revolution. Currently, I’m into Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill, having just finished Paul Revere’s Ride by David Fischer. It was interesting from Fischer’s book to get a truly New England perspective on the attitudes leading up to the Revolution. “Their idea of liberty was both a corporate and an individual possession. It had a double meaning in New England. . . . It referred not only to the autonomy of each person’s rights, but also to the integrity of the group, and especially to the responsibility of a people to regulate their own affairs.” Fischer commented, “We remember the individual rights and forget the collective responsibilities.”
What about our responsibilities to God? We do have them in God’s Law. Paul begins our text today by describing the Law as spiritual. The “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots” of God’s commandments are a Spirit-filled, holy entity that God intended for life. We read in Deuteronomy 30:16, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” God’s Law, our responsibilities to Him, is not, in and of itself, a negative or something evil. Romans 7:12, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” But due to our fallen flesh, sin is able to use the Law’s commands for its own fatal ends.
The “children of God, . . . are still encumbered with much weakness.” (FC, Ep IV 13) Sin gets in the way of the believer’s desire to do and the actual doing of God’s commandments. Yes, we are the baptized children of God in Christ Jesus. We have been declared “not guilty” of sins. We are completely forgiven. But, at the same time, we are still sinners. We do not always fear God’s wrath and so avoid every sin. We don’t always expect only good from God in every situation. We worry, doubt, and complain. We have been lazy in our prayers. We have been stubborn and disrespectful toward others. We fail to always treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. We fail to care for what we have. We don’t always defend others against gossip and false accusations. We seek to satisfy the desires and appetites of our flesh, even at the expense of the well-being of others. Over and over again, even as the baptized children of God, we do the evil things God forbids and we fail to do the good things God asks. You and I are engaged in a battle against the sin at work in us.
That means that you and I are, as Paul describes himself in our text, simul iustus et peccator, at the same time saint and sinner. Commenting in his Lectures and Romans and Galatians, Martin Luther wrote, “The saints at the same time as they are righteous are also sinners; righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but sinners because they do not fulfill the Law, are not without [the inclination to always sin], and are like sick men under the care of a physician . . . . Thus a Christian is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.”
That’s the reason why, even though we know better, you and I still do the same sinful things over and over again. Just like Paul! His fervent desire as a baptized child of God was to fulfill the good Law of God. But, he repeatedly failed to do so. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
The baptized Paul, child of God, was at the same time Paul the sinner. In Christ he opposed the evil and agreed with God’s commandments. But, at the same time, He did that which was contrary to both the Law of God and the new person created in him by baptism. He called this the “dwelling-in-me-sin.” It’s the confession that “I am by nature sinful and unclean.” It’s the sinful nature that we cannot get rid of; it continues to cling to us even after baptism. Like Paul, even though you and I are new creations in Christ, forgiven of all our sins and guaranteed eternal life, we confess that we are still, by nature, sinners. Thus we say with Paul, “What a wretched person I am!”
To be this wretched person means to be in mental and emotional turmoil because our actions don’t conform to the will of the new person of faith created in us by the Holy Spirit. We are incessantly being pulled in two directions. You and I are engaged in a battle—the old sinful nature versus the new creation; the Old Adam against the new person. It is from this condition that comes the cry for deliverance, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Luther, in his famous “battle hymn” identifies Him well.
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever. (LSB 656:2)
The victory of Jesus Christ through His cross and resurrection is both for now and for the yet-to-come. When Jesus died on the cross, He truly won the forgiveness for all of our sins. The ones we have committed, the ones yet to be committed, even those sins that we fall into time and time again—all forgiven because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from ALL sins. In exchange for our sins, Jesus gives to us His prefect righteousness, all of His right-ness, so that God declares you and me “justified,” just as if I’d never sinned. In Christ, we are not guilty. We stand forgiven and redeemed from sin, Satan, and death.
In Holy Baptism, God the Holy Spirit bestows on us the gift of faith so that we trust and believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We believe that Jesus is the One who died for our sins and rose again winning the victory over death and the grave for us, assuring us of eternal life and resurrection at the Last Day. Baptism delivers the gifts of Jesus to us—forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.
These gifts of faith and forgiveness create in us a new person by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” In Baptism you and I have been made to share in Christ’s death and resurrection. As Jesus has die and buried our sin, so we too can and must daily overcome and bury it. As Jesus is risen from the dead and lives, so we too can and must daily live a new life in Him. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in Word, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper, the sinful nature in us is daily drowned and dies and the new person, the new spiritual life of repentance and faith in Christ, emerges and arises as we daily live and grow before God in true faith and good works.
But we have not yet been made perfect. Sin still clings to us. Yet, through the Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament, God the Holy Spirit is working a renewal of our whole life in spirit, will, attitude, and desires so that you and I now strive to overcome sin and do good works. So we, like Paul have the Law of God in mind that we wish to accomplish by faith in Jesus, but we also have the law of sin still clinging to our flesh. So the battle between the Spirit and sin continues within us saints and sinners. But not forever!
We already know by faith the One who will rescue us from this body of death—Jesus Christ. We are looking forward to His coming again when He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) We are looking forward with hope and joy to the Day of Resurrection when He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. For it will be the day when sin and its effects will no longer stick to you and me. Then we will be perfect in body and soul, made holy, without sin forevermore.
Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.