Sermon for August 23, 2020, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 12:1-2 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)


Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

August 23, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is from Romans 12:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, through of the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind so that you may test and discern what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God.

          During the season after Pentecost, our Epistle lessons have been a continuous reading of the Book of Romans. This morning we want to take a look at these two verses from chapter 12. They reveal to us how we are able to live the Christian life in real and practical ways.

          In order to do this, we have to understand who we were and who we now are. The apostle Paul gives us this understanding in chapters 6-8. We Christians were dead in sin and dead to God. Now, Christians have died to sin and been made alive to God. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?We were buried therefore with him 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. . . .We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.For one who has died has been set free from sin.. . . For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:2–11 ESV).

          When Christ died to sin once for you, you also died to sin. When Jesus was raised to life, you were also raised to newness of life (and you will be raised to life on the Last Day). But using the language of life and death is not the only way Paul describes the Christians “then and now.” He shifts to the language of slavery. “You who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17–18 ESV). We were at one time slaves to sin and free with a fake “freedom” in regard to righteousness, but now we have truly been set free from the tyrant of sin and have been enslaved to righteousness, to God. Having been released from the Law which once held us captive, we are slaves to God in the newness of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit, then, who has freed us from the rule of sin and death. We’re no longer “in the flesh” but are now in Christ Jesus and in the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit makes alive your mortal bodies by dwelling in you: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19 ESV).

          All this sounds amazing when you really think about it. By the underserved loving-kindness of God, we have been brought from the death of sin to everlasting life. We have been rescued from the slavery of sin and death and been filled with the Holy Spirit who gives us a totally new life in Christ by faith that will end in resurrection life on the Last Day. So there should be no problem in following the Lord’s urging through His apostle “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, your reasonable service.” And yet there is.

          Why don’t you always do what is right? Why don’t you always have God in the number one place in your life? If you did, you wouldn’t break His commandments. And yet you do. You’ve been set free from the slavery to sin and you return that that master time and again. Why is it that we are always going backward to the “me, me, me” that corrupts our hearts? That old sinful nature, the old Adam, the old man, is the corruption of our hearts that curves inward on ourselves. The old Adam in us worships the self and what we have as God. And the result is that the Christian life is a battle between the old self and the new self. As Christians, we have two opposing forces within us. One serves sin and the other serves God. All of this makes clear that we are not able to live for God by our own powers and abilities. It is therefore only “through the mercies of God” that we are able to live as holy and well-pleasing sacrifices to the Lord.

          That little, but oh so powerful phrase, “through the mercies of God”! It encapsulates all the aspects of God’s mercy-driven Gospel that is centered in the person and work of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus alone who kept all the Commandment perfectly on your behalf. It is Jesus alone who was the Righteous One, who gave up His life into death and hell on a cross in order to save you from your sins, from death and hell, and to bring you the new life of a redeemed child of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness, life, and salvation Christ won for you with His sacrificial death on the cross was applied directly to you in Baptism. At the font you received the mercies of God in Christ as the Old Adam, the sinful nature, was first drowned. By daily sorrow over sin and repentance, as you recall and return every day to your Baptism, the Old Adam continues to be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires so that a new person daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (Small Catechism). We are not rid of the old sinful nature, but the mercies of God in Christ through the Spirit enable us to overcome it so that we can live our lives practically in a way that conforms to who we have been recreated to be in Holy Baptism. In Romans 12, the Savior through His servant Paul is urging us as Christians, who daily fight against the old sinful flesh, to activate our new status in every part of our being—in our mind, intentions, speech, and actions.

          Think of it this way. You download a new game or software for your computer. Quite often there is an “activation code” included. After you install your software, you have to activate it with that code so that it will run and you can use it. Baptism is your activation code. The Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of all your sins is your activation code. The Holy Spirit is given to you in these Means of Grace and that is the power to live for God, to be holy and well-pleasing sacrifices to the Lord day in and day out. Martin Luther: “He says here: ‘I appeal to you by the mercy of God,’ as if to say: ‘By the mercy which you have received, see to it that you do not receive it in vain, bur rather ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice.’’” There is no sacrifice of our own effort that is “holy and well-pleasing to God.” It is the sacrifice of Jesus that makes our works holy and pleasing to Him. Only by grace through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel are we transformed to love our neighbors as an act of worship produced by the work of Jesus.

          God’s grace never saves us without also changing us. Our transformation is the result of Christ’s saving work and the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. We find assurance in this transformation in the work of Christ on the cross. We find our hope in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We find peace in knowing the work of Christ done for us. As a result of Jesus’ love overflowing and transforming our hearts by the Spirit, we are gifted the heart of a servant. “I urge you, brothers, through of the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, your reasonable service.” The entire life of the believer in Christ is characterized by this holy, God-pleasing service. And this good, well-pleasing, and perfect love of God in Christ is exercised by us Christians as love toward others.

          Pastor R.J. Grunewald wrote in his book, Reading Romans with Luther, “Christians don’t love more freely because they’ve been told they need to. Christians become more loving because they understand how much they’ve been loved. . . . Through God’s words of Law and Gospel, the Spirit does a work of transformation on us. He speaks words of conviction that break us, and He speaks words of hope that renew and change us. . . . Instead of ‘those people,’ we see neighbors who need to be loved. Instead of an opportunity for revenge, we cherish the call to ‘love your enemies.’ Instead of holding a grudge, we forgive seventy times seven times. Instead of gossiping with our friends, we look for opportunities to speak words that always build up. . . . Our neighbors need our good works. Jesus doesn’t need our love and service, but our neighbors do. Jesus doesn’t need our food in order to survive, but our neighbors might. Jesus doesn’t need us to protect Him and care for Him, but our own children do need care and protection. God gives us gifts and opportunities to serve the people around us—not because of His needs, but because of theirs.”[1]

          That’s powerful! That’s the new life you have been given by the Spirit as He transforms you into the likeness of Christ. And this loving service to others flows from the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, a lavish flood of grace flowing from the cross that grants forgiveness and life, help and peace. “The grace that saves you also changes you.”[2]

          “No amount of effort or good intentions will change you from a selfish person to a self-sacrificial person. No amount of discipline will turn a me-centered heart into an others-centered heart. No sinful people by their own resolve will be able to love people the way that God calls them to love. But the death and resurrection of Jesus will.”[3] It transforms your heart and mind by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit so that “you may test and discern what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God” as you love others, which is your reasonable service.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] R.J. Grunewald, Reading Romans with Luther (St. Louis: Concordia, 2016), 105, 109-110.

[2] Ibid., 113.

[3] Ibid.

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