Vol. XI — No. 51 December 20, 1970
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In Christ Jesus, who came to break the power of sin, Fellow Redeemed:
One of the most glorious words in all Scripture is salvation. But that word has become so shop-worn among Christian people that it has almost become insipid—tasteless and meaningless. St. Paul once wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Rom. 1:16. Dr. Luther taught us to sing: “Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor.” What does this word—salvation—mean to you? Think on it while I tell you what it should mean to you.
When St. Paul used the word in his letter to the Romans, his readers read it with a vividness made clear by sharply focused Old Testament situations. For them it meant a radical deliverance out of a desperate situation. When Israel was escaping from more than four hundred years of living in Egypt, the last century of which being enslavement, they suddenly found their way blocked by the Red Sea, while the elite troops of Pharoah were closing in upon them from behind. There was no way of escape. Their situation was desperate. They could but cry unto the Lord and pray for help from on high. That rescue came when the Lord opened up for them a pathway through the midst of the sea. When Israel gave thanks for that rescue, they sang: “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation.” Ex. 15:2.
The angel instructed Joseph to name the Child that was to be born JESUS, for He was to save His people from their sins. When that child was born, the angel announced, “Unto you is born…a Savior.” Christ Jesus came to bring salvation—to effect a radical deliverance out of a desperate situation. What was and is that situation? It was and remains enslavement to the dread power of SIN. In this section of his letter to the Romans Paul speaks, for the first. time, of all people on earth, both Jew and Gentile, as being “under sin.” He uses the word SIN in the singular. He speaks of it as a power, an evil force, exercising dominion over men.
But if people are unaware of this power that controls, ruins, and brings misery into their lives, and finally destroys their lives with death eternal, then they will have little understanding of or appreciation for the true meaning of Christmas. Then it will be come easy to reduce the Christmas spirit to the wistful hope for better race relations, as was done at the Governor’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony last Sunday. Then it will become easy to let the Christmas Season degenerate into a time for exchanging gifts, partying, and family reunions, Christmas means that salvation came. But if you are going to understand and appreciate that, you must understand the desperate situation in which mankind finds itself, namely, that of being victims of the dread power of sin. St. Paul gives us a vivid view of that dread power in this section of his letter. Let us seek to understand that Christmas means—
In the section of our text it appears that St. Paul is recording objections to the Gospel that Jews brought up when he disputed with them in their synagogues. In the previous chapters Paul had conclusively shown that both Jew and Gentile stood under condemnation before God. A Jew might ask, “What advantage then hath the Jew?” What is the advantage of being one of God’s chosen people? Or what profit is there of circumcision?” What is the benefit of bearing in one’s body the unrepeatable and ineradicable mark that God had pledged Himself to be the God and Savior of the Jew? Paul answers: “Much every way: chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” The “oracles of God” are the Word of God given to the Jews through Moses and the prophets. God did not reveal His Word to the Egyptians, Syrians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, although some of these nations developed the dominant cultures of the time and ruled the world. No, He gave His Word to the Jews! What an opportunity and what an advantage they had over the other nations! But what effect did the power of sin have on them in respect to this great spiritual advantage? It caused them to lose the opportunity through their own unbelief.
The power of sin still causes men to lose spiritual opportunities. Sometimes people refer to America as a “Christian” nation in distinction from a Hindu nation like India or a communist nation like Russia, but the power of sin has made America a pagan nation in Christian garb. There was a time when the Word of God was unavailable to the common man because books had to be copied by hand and so were very expensive and because most could not read or write. Now Bibles are available at little or no cost and education is universal, but the power of sin has made our universally educated people for the most part religious illiterates. When so many people with whom you get into contact begin to talk about religion and their churches, they complain of their Sunday School literature. We produce and use our own Bible-based, Christ-centered literature. But the power of sin makes what we have ineffective for some because it is so easy to take what you have been given for granted, to fail to use it by not attending at all or by attending in a haphazard manner—as our attendance record regretfully indicates. The power of sin can so easily cause us to let the precious spiritual opportunities that we have slip through our fingers.
Paul had told his Jewish opponents that they had the great advantage of the “oracles of God.” But another may have objected that that advantage really was nothing because Paul had accused them of unfaithfulness, Paul counters: “Shall their unbelief—the unfaithfulness of some—make the faith or faithfulness, of God without effect? Can man’s unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Or does God react to man’s unfaithfulness by Himself becoming unfaithful to His promises? Paul answers emphatically, “God forbid!”
God had made a covenant with Abraham. He gave Abraham the promise of a Savior. Later he gave the Law through Moses on Mt. Sinai. What happened? After pledging obedience, the Children of Israel violated the Law by worshipping the golden calf even before Moses got down from the mountain. They rejected the promise in favor of their own self-produced work-righteousness. The rejection of the Gospel by the Jews when Paul preached it was a continuation of their unfaithfulness. But down through the centuries—generation after generation—God remained faithful. He fulfilled every promise and threat of the law. He kept His covenant. He fulfilled His promises. He sent His Son to save. The power of sin makes man unfaithful, while God remains faithful.
In Holy Baptism God makes a covenant with the baptized child or adult. He promises: I will be your Father. I will be your Savior. I will be your Sanctifier. But how often doesn’t the power of sin take over in the life of one baptized and cause him or her to become unfaithful, a lost son or daughter. What a terrifyingly powerful force sin is! By ourselves we are completely helpless. But most people don’t realize this. God knew our condition. That is why He sent His Son to save us.
What people who deny the existence of God, the atheists, and what people who think that God will not hold them responsible for their life of sin, and what people who think that they don’t need a Savior because they believe their way of life is acceptable to God fail to realize is that they will all end up glorifying God through their sin. Our Savior-God will be glorified on the last day of judgment not only by those who sing His praises as Savior, but also by those who are condemned to eternal torment, for they will be revealed to be wrong in their disobedience of God’s Law and in their rejection of His salvation. In view of this truth Paul expresses an objection that he commonly heard: “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” If God receives benefit through the sin of man in this way that He is revealed as the Righteous One in his condemnation of man, is He, perchance, unrighteous because He punishes the wicked? No, no, for if that were the case, God could not serve as Judge of all flesh. On the last day the righteousness of God—His being morally right, good, gracious, merciful—will be revealed by His punishing those who were under the power of sin and rejected everything that God established as right and offered man as a blessing.
If that is truly the case—that God profits by man’s sin—then some sinners may and do say: “Let us do evil, that good may come!” This has been a continual slander against the Gospel. People say that if God is actually glorified through man’s sin, as He is, and if God freely forgives sin for Christ’s sake, then why not sin and sin some more. Paul dismisses this blasphemy with but a few words: “Whose damnation is just!” The power of sin moves men to think such unholy thoughts—anything to justify their sinning and rejection of God’s prepared salvation. The only counter force available to break that power of sin came in the Person of Jesus Christ.
If anyone doubts or is inclined to underestimate the dread power of sin, he would do well to ponder upon Paul’s collection of Old Testament passages which proclaim the universality of sin. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” No self-made saint has ever been born upon this earth. No person born has ever had the spiritual or moral strength to take a single step in the direction of God. No person born upon earth has ever had the moral strength, of and by himself, to do anything good in the sight of God—much less do enough to merit God’s favor. The power of sin has destroyed man’s relationship to his God.
It has also destroyed man’s relationship with his fellowman. “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.” That isn’t a very pretty description of us, is it. This is man as he is in the raw. God has blessed man with the ability to speak, but man uses that ability to hurt, harm, wound, destroy his fellowman. Think of how the gift of speech is used to lure people to misuse drugs, to incite to riot, to destroy property, and to shed blood. “Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known.” I, personally, never cease to be amazed at how people work so hard to make their own lives and the lives of others more and more miserable. Each person is his own worst enemy. Each person is unable to live at peace with himself or his fellowman. So great is the power of sin.
Paul sums it up: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” How vividly that describes our modern, degenerate culture. Everyone wants to do just what he pleases, caters to his own lusts and passions, immerses himself in selfishness because “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Look at yourself and weep. Look about you and weep more. The situation with our selves and society is worse than we can even imagine with our minds because our minds have become so accustomed to sin.
What is Christmas all about? This—that He, our Lord Jesus Christ—came to break the power of sin. He came to bring salvation—rescue, deliverance—from sin.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.