MARTIN CHEMNITZ DOCTRINAL BULLETIN
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Phoenix, Arizona 85304-2419
SIN AND GRACE
Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A few verses from Romans serve to remind us that the Gospel message is especially concentrated in Paul’s letters. The Four Gospel uplift us by teaching us what Christ did and taught, how He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. One worship tradition had the Gospel being read to the uncoverted on one side of church while the Epistle was read on the other side to the believers. I doubt whether history is ever as neat as the history books allow, but the image is good.
Believers can read a chapter in Romans and think about every single verse. The theme in this particular lesson is the proper relationship between sin and grace. People are tempted to think that forgiveness allows them to do whatever they want. St. Paul had to battle against this notion all the time. Some wanted to be saved by the Law (Galatians) but others wanted to be free of all restraints.
The libertine or Epicurean (a term used in last week’s quotations) will say to himself, “I no longer live under the Law. I live under the Gospel. I can do whatever I want.” In fact, that person is actively at war against the Law. He is not above the Law, as he thinks, but under the Law.
Luther warned people this way, “Don’t use the Gospel as a pillow to fall asleep on.” Many laity and pastors have relied on forgiveness in the wrong way. St. Paul said, “Should we sin more that grace may abound? Heaven forbid!” Would someone roll down a rock slide in order to spend time in an air-conditioned hospital? Would someone drink poison in order to enjoy having his stomach pumped out?
The Roman Christians, living in a hedonistic and pagan world, just like ours, were tempted to think that they could live in both worlds and keep their faith.
The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, warns us and encourages us at the same time, that the believer is dead to sin. Some will sit up and say, “I wish!” But this is an exhortation. Properly speaking, the believer has no interest in pursuing sin. He should be repelled by sin.
When the Ten Commandments were found in public classrooms and in courtrooms, people had the concept that God commands what is good, that right and wrong are based upon Creation. This is called natural law, based upon the divine.
We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created [or evolved] equal, that that are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This natural law concept, the foundation of our country, filled people with the correct notion that sin will always involve penalties, bad results for everyone, harmful both to the individual and to society. Many years ago, when a car almost hit me near a grocery store, I was ratted out by a neighbor before I got home. No one said to her, “That is none of your business.” It was the business of the neighborhood.
The 1960s threw this concept out, and it slowly moved its way through society. Everyone was encouraged to act upon feelings, not right and wrong. All rule and authority was necessarily bad, although the grab for power by any means was necessarily good and right and just. One could argue today that we have many elderly hippies running the churches and government agencies today. The EGO alone matters, not the congregation, not society, not the country or spiritual welfare of the denomination. No one blushes to be caught in a lie.
Our society is self-centered, but we keep making up new laws to make everyone behave. The Law does not make everyone want to be good. This is our great challenge as believers – turning “have-tos” into “want-tos.” Adults and children can see everything as a “have-to” and that means, “I have placed myself under the Law.”
The language we use implies how we see things, and it affects how we act and speak. I learned a little detail when I was working in a business that required a lot of paperwork and follow-up. If a client said, “How can you change my billing?” I could say, “I have to do this, this, and this.” People hear that have to language and they think it is a burden. Another response is, “I would be glad to change it. It’s no trouble.” And, in fact, when we say it is no trouble, it isn’t any trouble.
The Law/Gospel relationship is quite obvious when we look at work versus hobbies. Work is something we want to get paid for and we want to do as little as possible. Hobbies! A hobbyist will work into the wee hours of the night, spend money on the hobby, and sacrifice himself in every possible way. Someone will say, “Isn’t it a lot of work to build a miniature railroad inside a water bottle?” The hobbyist will say, “No, I love every minute of it.”
God gives us special moments, places, and people to enjoy. Even the burdens are special. Black Christians see burdens as a sign of blessing from God, because they see difficulties as only coming to those chosen to bear them, to honor God in bearing them.
One of the most touching moments I ever had was when I saw a young mother with a young baby at the Cleveland Clinic. She was going through what all parents must when a child has a strange illness. People like to assign some kind of blame on the parents, as a kind of rabbit’s foot against it happening to them. “Is it in your family? Did you live near a toxic waste dump? How many medications did you take? Which ones?” This baby girl was very weak but she had a beautiful smile. Above her bed was the text from John’s Gospel, about the foolish Pharisees and the man blind from birth, The disciples asked Jesus - “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (Assigning the blame for blindness) The answer - John 9:3 “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Many people looked at the child and said, “Poor little thing,” but a woman with faith said, “That the works of God should be made manifest.” And course they were, just by posting that verse above the bed. The Word is effective. Stony hearts may get even harder, or they may shatter when they see how God makes so much out of so little. Believers rejoice and find in the Word of God comfort, encouragement, and true joy.
One of the best things we can do is examine our attitude toward difficulties and see how the Old Adam rebels against them, sees God as angry or unfeeling, and turns potential joy into sorrowful moping. God is our friend; Christ is our brother; the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, our Advocate and Defender. Doubting God’s goodness is a sin against faith, as Chytraeus taught. Doubting God’s love is the beginning of falling from grace, falling into despair, and trying to find happiness in hedonism.
The Christian life, then, is a paradox, a seeming contradiction. We retain the sinful nature, the Old Adam, as long as we live. The Gospel lesson for today points out that many of our sins are sins of the heart: hating, coveting, lusting, rebelling against authority. And yet, the Gospel alone gives us the power to defeat sin. The Gospel works as a yeast, slowing growing and influencing our lives, making us more patient, more loving, more generous, more thoughtful toward others.
We know that the Gospel is powerful, and therefore divine, because we have drawn to Christ through the Word and kept in Christ through the Word and Sacraments.