Thanks be to God! by Pastor Edward Brockwell

Thanks be to God! by Pastor Edward Brockwell

Thanks be to God!

Sermon by Pastor Edward Brockwell

Based on Roman 7:7-25

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity 

The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland

+ + +

 

The Law Commands and Makes Us Know (TLH 289)

7What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." 8But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:7-25 NKJV

Dear Friends in Christ,

Our text for today begins with Paul's struggle with sin and the law. May God help us to see ourselves as those who share in this struggle, a struggle that is real and an ever present reality in our lives. In verse 15 Paul speaks for us all: "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." Paul, the saint-sinner, was trying to understand the conflict he felt within himself. One the one hand, he knew himself to be a saint and a slave to God (Rom. 6:22); on the other hand he knew and saw so clearly how he was also a sinner and a slave to sin (Rom. 7:14). He confesses, "For what I am doing, I do not understand." In other words, Paul is saying, "With respect to the fact that I am Christian, a saint, I really don't claim what I do as being my own." Paul elaborates, "For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." Paul's will according to his new man is to follow God’s law. He delights in the law and earnestly wants to keep it. He saw the law as something that reveals God's will; how one can live a life that truly pleases God. In the law Paul could see those actions that pleased God. In his heart Paul delighted in the law and would gladly do it. With his will he could look at the law and say, "that's for me!"

But when Paul took an inventory of his actions, he discovered that they never came close to his intentions. What he read in the law and yet saw in his thoughts, words and deeds were two different things. To get a sense of this, imagine if you were working on an automobile assembly line. As each car creeps down the line it really takes shape. The doors, fenders, windows, engine and transmission are all installed and fitted in place. Now it is time for the workmen to apply the last coat of lacquer. The car enters a final chamber for rust-proofing. You wait for the car to come off the assembly line, but when it does, to your shock, horror and dismay all you see is nothing but a "rust bucket," a real "junker." How could it happen? What went wrong? When Paul looked at his life, his actions and deeds, his thoughts and words, he was horrified to see a lot of "rust buckets" and "junkers" coming off the assembly line.

In verse 16, Paul wrote: "If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good." There is nothing hypothetical about Paul's desire to follow God's law or anything about his performance, which always fell short of it. Since Paul, according to his new man, desired to follow that law and keep it with all of his heart, it showed in reality that he had put his stamp of approval on the law as something good. The law told him what God wants. God wants love. Love for God above all things and all people. Love for our neighbour. But Paul's failure to live up to the specific requirements of the law did not in any way nullify or tarnish the image of the law. The fault concerning Paul's conduct could not be attributed to God's law.

In verse 17, Paul clarifies the struggle of the two natures he found in himself and is in every Christian. He wrote: "But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." Although his real self, that is his new man, was not responsible for this constant sinning, Paul painfully experienced an unwelcome guest, a squatter, or intruder, living within him that was responsible. He personifies sin as that squatter, an unlawful tenant that takes over a home and doesn't want to leave. He recognizes sin dwelling within him, but is powerless to dislodge or control the unwanted intruder. As a consequence sin overpowered Paul's will and caused him to commit numerous sins. But Paul did not duck responsibility for those sins; he committed them when the sin within him won out over his new man, that new life he received when he was brought to faith in Christ.

Now, some people misuse this text. They say that it is the power of sin in them and that they are not responsible. For some, this becomes a cover or an excuse to not only commit sin but to remain in sin. This is certainly not what Paul was teaching in this epistle. "Paul does not say he is unconscious of these deeds. He isn’t acting blindly or involuntarily, being hurried into wrong actions or not realizing what he is doing. On the other hand, he does not sin deliberately, for that would involve the loss of regeneration, [a falling away from faith]. What Paul is getting at is that the sinful things he finds himself doing in spite of [being a Christian, these things] look strange and foreign to him; indeed, he sees them in himself and knows that he is guilty of them, yet they seem to him as if one, other than himself is doing them. This is what makes him feel like a slave who is acting under foreign compulsion, a foreign power having hold of him."[1]

Because each Christian has the Spirit of God living within him (1 Cor. 16:19), the conduct of each believer provides evidence of divine control. As Christians we earnestly want to do God's will perfectly, but cannot as long as sin dwells within us – and that means as long as we live in this world. This struggle is absolutely true of every Christian. There would be something seriously wrong with us if we did not feel this struggle or conflict within ourselves. It is a daily problem.

Now, some might find this hard to believe, but one of the most difficult things I have found as a pastor is teaching people that a Christian has two natures. Some are willing to give a half-hearted consent, but others just refuse to see that they are real sinners with real sins. They fail to see and understand that a Christian has two natures that are at war because of the presence of sin from within. They just do not see sin for what it is and as their problem. In their minds, sin is someone else's problem.

In verse 18, we read: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find." Paul was referring to our sinful nature, that old Adam within us who gets older with every sin! The word "my sinful nature" is translated as "my flesh," which is a more literal rendering of the Greek. What did Paul mean by "flesh"? He was referring to the corruption of sin which infects every human being since the fall of Adam. Without spiritual rebirth a man remains entirely flesh; because of his sinful nature he is unable to please God. The Christian discovers, as did Paul, that this sinful nature can even corrupt his understanding in spiritual matters; it overrides his will and provides the ideal cover for the intruder called sin to lurk within him. Do you see the vast and deep gulf that exists between our intent and our performance! ... How frustrating this is for you and me as Christians.

Verse 19 through verse 21: "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." Paul expresses his earnest will and desire to do that which is morally excellent, but his performance, doing God's will, falls far short of excellence. Paul indicates and freely admits that his failure to carry out his intent, is proof that the persistent squatter, sin, resides within him. It renders his best efforts ineffective when it comes to doing God’s will. Paul also found a principle, a norm, which he experienced day after day: "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (NIV).

"The evil to which Paul refers is like a highly trained attack dog programmed to snap to attention at a special command. It may be lying down, appearing quite harmless. At the given command it jumps to its feet, bares its [teeth] and utters a low growl. No intruder shall pass. Evil lies right at the side of Paul's new man. Just let Paul's will form intent to do one thing that pleases God and – presto – evil is full alert and tries to thwart the intent."[2]

Verse 22 – "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man." Paul’s “inward man” is his new man, which now opposes the desires of his sinful nature. Paul’s sanctified “I” takes pleasure in God’s law. Here is a complete presentation of which conduct pleases God and which displeases Him. Each Christian, according to his new man, delights in finding new ways to express his love to God. But in verse 23 we read of a different law. Paul wrote: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. “God’s law” of verse 22 has its reverse image in what is called “another law” and “the law of sin” in verse 23. "Just as God’s law is the perfect guide for pleasing God, so the law of sin is the perfect guide for pleasing Mr. Sin. God’s law shows the new man how to display love for God and one’s neighbour; the law of sin shows the sinful nature how to display love for the devil, the world and the flesh."[3]

The two laws are not only opposites but are also active antagonists. Paul sees the law of sin operating in the members of his body. His hands, feet, eyes, ears, lips, yes, together with every part of his flesh, they use the law of sin as their guide and serve sin. God’s law seems to come out the loser.

In this verse "God’s law" is called "the law of my mind." Paul’s mind, his knowledge of God's Word, is part of his "inner being" (v. 22), his new man. God's law holds sway in Paul’s sanctified mind.

In the conflict between God's law in his mind and sin's law in his flesh, Paul sees sin's law as the decided victor. In fact, Paul speaks of himself as a prisoner of the law of sin. Should a Christian merely surrender his inner being to this law of sin? By no means! A Christian dare not be satisfied with a lack of sanctification. He will have victories - and many losses – without being fully victorious. Is it any wonder that Paul and every Christian lament: "O wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Paul's question reminds me of some ancient history. "Roman emperors saw torture as a legitimate way to put muscle and teeth into their laws. They were known to bind the body of a murder victim to the back of his killer. Under penalty of death, no one was allowed to release the condemned criminal. When I think of Paul’s question of who will deliver him from his body of sin and death, it was as if he felt that something dead was strapped to him and accompanied him wherever he went. Every time he wanted to delight in and follow the Law, he had to contend with his body of sin and death.

As children of God, we long to live a life that pleases God, to love Him with every fibre of our hearts, to express our love for him in purity and holiness. Yet at times we feel helplessly bound to the "dead body" of our flesh. Even though we are new creatures in Christ, we know that the tendency to sin is always with us. This causes us to cry out with the apostle, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (v.24).

Dear friends in Christ, is there any greater misery for a Christian than to be a prisoner to the law of sin? But although Paul is dejected, he is not despairing, for he already knows the answer to his appeal for help (vs. 25). Our text closes with powerful words of comfort and promises of the gospel, which help and sustain us as we sojourn in this fallen world in fallen bodies of sin and death. When Paul asked, "Who will set me free from this body of death?" The answer?: "I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (25a.)

"Paul takes no credit whatsoever for the deliverance assured in his future. All credit goes to God, who guaranteed our victory through his Son. Jesus, by His life and death has defeated sin, our constant adversary in this life. Jesus came to deliver from the law of sin and death. He is also our redeemer from law, which left us bound in bodies of sin and death. It left us condemned to die for all eternity."[4] But God sent His only begotten Son to save us. He entered our world, our humanity. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19a). "... The LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him" (Is. 53:6b). Moved by such divine love God took the Son who never sinned, the one who always loved him in everything he ever did... God took Jesus and fastened all of our sins upon His body on the cross. God made Him "who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus tasted death for us all as He suffered and was dying.

But in doing all of this, Jesus overcame sin, death and hell. He redeemed fully and for all eternity. We still live in these bodies of sin and death in a fallen world. "... Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). As we remember our baptism, where we became sharers in Christ's death and resurrection, we remember that we have died to the law and to sin. Sin and the devil will tempt us, the Law will accuse. But the Christian knows, as you and I know that "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). God provides us with the means and the strength to remain steadfast in our faith and even to gain limited victories over sin now. God's Word has promised us complete victory over sin in the life to come. "Thanks be to God!"



[1] Ibid.

[2] Sermon Studies on the Epistles Series A

Sermon Studies on the Epistles Series A, Author: Ernst H. Wendland – Editor, Northwestern Publishing House. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, pg. 260

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.