The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost June 18, 2006
239, 369, 318, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Has 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. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 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. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 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.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
Many times we equate achievement with doing the best job that we can. Not everybody can be an A student, but each one of us would encourage a student to work to the best of his abilities. Not everybody can be a star athlete, but again we encourage everyone to try his best. But sometimes our best is not good enough. A team may put forth its best effort and still lose the game. A student may knock himself out studying, but may not be able to enter the college of his choice. Those situations are very frustrating, but we usually end up adapting.
Today’s text from Romans deals with the reality that our best is not good enough when it comes to keeping the commandments of God. As Christians we strive to please our Lord. We desperately do not want to fall into the same spiritual traps over again. Frustration and maybe even despair creep into our lives because it seems that the moment we are getting a handle on our walk with Christ we go backward and find ourselves caught up in a sin that we were sure we’d never commit again.
The more spiritual a person is the more frustrated he’s going to become. A person who is abiding in God’s Word will know the law of God better and will know better what God expects. As a result, he will also know in greater detail when God’s expectations are not met.
We would have a hard time finding a more spiritual person—a more dedicated Christian—than the apostle Paul. His frustration spills off these pages of Scripture culminating in verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul knew that his best was not good enough to save him. He knew that his best could not prevent him from sinning because he was infected with original sin. This drove him away from himself to where he found peace and rescue—only with Jesus. We hope to walk that same road. May the Spirit of God guide us in our study this morning.
The truth that we have inherited sin from Adam is one of the first things we learn in Catechism class. Inherited sin (original sin) is taught in a number of places in Scripture including today’s Scripture readings. David wrote in Psalm 51: “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Jesus also told Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:5).
In spite of this clear teaching of Scripture there is still a nature vs. nurture disagreement in our world when it comes to the origin of sin. The idea that a child comes into this world sinless and is influenced by the sin around him is actually quite prevalent in the world.
One’s belief concerning original sin has a far-reaching impact on the rest of what is believed. If you believe that a person is born without sin then there is no need for infant baptism, it is possible for you to make a decision for Christ, and the work of Christ is vastly underestimated. If you do believe that you came into this world dead in trespasses and sin, only then may you accurately assess your need for a Savior.
You may also then find the proper place for blame when it comes to sin. It is not God’s fault. You can’t blame the people around you. You can’t even blame the Devil. Verse 18 of the text reads: “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.” You are infected with a disease and will be until your dying day. In fact that sin is the very cause of your death. No matter how the coroner may list it, every person dies of natural causes—natural as relating to a person’s sinful nature.
The Law of God shows us just how sinful we are. “Has 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.” [v.13] Part of us wants to blame the commandments of God as being too demanding, but God set the bar that high in order that we would become frustrated and see our inability to overcome our sinful nature.
As Christians we are frustrated. We know that we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, and yet the question comes to us again and again, “Why can’t I do better? Why do I continue to fail when I try so hard to walk with God?” The apostle Paul vents this frustration in our text. He wanted to love and serve God, but he could not do it according to God’s expectations nor even his own.
Ironically that struggle and frustration is a good sign. If you don’t feel like it is a struggle to walk with God, if you don’t feel week by week and day by day a frustration in your life of sanctification, then there’s a problem. Then your new man is not putting up much of a struggle against your sinful flesh.
The conclusion is that our best will never be good enough. This forces us to look to one outside of ourselves for salvation. We cry out with the apostle Paul: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [v.24]
When Jesus gave His best it was more than good enough, it was perfect and complete. He came into this life without the burden of inherited sin. Being conceived by the Holy Spirit rather than a human father made His birth one of holiness. As the holy Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus delivered each of us from the body of death by giving His body into death for us. He did not lead a perfect life just to be an example. We read in the Epistle reading of how He led a life of righteousness in our place. The example doesn’t save us, but the perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God does. Jesus’ sacrifice was complete to deliver us from both original sin and actual sin. He took care of the root of the problem.
We are now in dandelion season. You can pick them repeatedly. You can run them over with the lawnmower. But unless the root is pulled it is going to come back. The same is true of sin. We can’t just deal with what’s on the outside and what we see coming out in our lives. We need to get to the source of our sin. Jesus did that very thing as our Savior. Even at this very moment God sees you as holy and has made your death a way by which you can finally shed that sinful nature. Sin was the cause of death, but through Christ death is the cure for sin. It’s simply amazing how God turned a curse into a blessing!
We may echo the words of the apostle: “I 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.” [v.25] The conclusion to which Paul came was this: There is a part of me that will never be changed. My sinful nature needs to be finally destroyed and left behind. But that’s not who I am really am. With the mind—with my true self—I serve the law of God willingly and gladly. I then will not coddle nor give into my sinful nature because there is no permanency there. I will accept the fact that there is a battle going on inside me. I will not rely on myself for perfection, but instead I will rely completely and entirely on the work of Jesus.
We can deal with sin better when we know the source. Knowing that there is a battle should not give you reason to stop fighting, but to fight all the more knowing that Christ has won the war. Realize what your true self is. Do battle against your flesh and live for Christ, striving to keep God’s Law. In Christ God is pleased when you obey His commandments. He is pleased because when Christ did His best that was more than good enough—it saved us from our sin. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.