Pentecost 4a, Rom. 7:14-25ª 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! *** Listen by downloading here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lrxfooy82e5irve/sermon%20Independence%20Rom%207.mp3
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” With these words, the Founding Fathers of this country came to the point of their Declaration of Independence and announced to the world that a new country had arisen among the assembly of the nations of the world. When they took this bold step, they were quite aware that they were bringing to conclusion their own thoughts about their relationship with Great Britain, but they also knew they were just beginning a long battle to enact that freedom. The war which had effectively broken out the year before in Lexington and Concord would be protracted until 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered. Facing the challenge and uncertainty of their own future, the signatories of the Declaration pledged to each other “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.” When terms of peace with Britain were reached, you’d think that they had achieved their goal. Freedom was won. They could now rest and enjoy the fruit of their labors. But that was not to be the case. The end of the revolution was just the beginning of the rough and tumble of American politics. One leader, Hamilton, drove to organize the country under a stronger Federal government. This would help businesses and promote prosperity. Another, Thomas Jefferson, saw that move as opening the door to a new tyranny; he advocated states’ rights for the sake of freedom. That argument between them about the size and responsibility of government shaped the contours of our political life. In many ways, their debate continues to this day. That debate over federal authority fueled the strife over what to do about slavery. That unresolved issue simmered hotter and hotter for a few generations and then, before the country could even celebrate 100 years of its independence, it boiled over into civil war. 620,000 Americans died, almost as many as in all other U.S. conflicts before and since combined. It turns out that the Declaration of Independence was not a settlement for peace but a challenge to fight for freedom and that fight would go on for much longer than the signers imagined. There were to be battles without and battles within, with few periods of reprieve. We’re still fighting for freedom, in our own way, to this very day. It is this kind of Declaration of Independence – one which leads into a continuous fight for freedom, which we hear in our epistle lesson today from Romans 7. St. Paul writes up his complaint against himself: he does not do what he wants to do. He does what he doesn’t want to do. He is sold under the slavery of sin. His mind, his inner being, delight in the law of God. His flesh lives under sin’s sovereignty, refusing to submit to the will of God. So Paul declares his independence: “It is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me.” This sounds like a funny way to talk but this is the language of Christian repentance and conversion. We own our sins and then we disown them. We confess that we have broken the law of God – we have gotten angry unjustly, indulged our lusts, fed our fears, wallowed in self-pity, nursed our hatreds, accepted our unbelief, excused our negligence and justified our greed. Every one of us Christian knows and can list things we have done wrong, things we are sorry for. Deeper than our actions and our words, as a Christian I know the ways in which I myself fall short in my very heart. When I hear the saying of Jesus, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts,” I know that still speaks about me; every hour of every day it still describes my wretched condition. There is not a moment of my life when I have been free of the sinful corruption with which I was born. It is true congenital disease. Sin cannot be remedied. It can only be put to death. But what the Lord Jesus grants me is a declaration of independence. That’s how St. Paul, too, can conclude his lament about himself with the question and then the answer: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The Lord comes to us, giving us the freedom of a new identity. We are no longer to be defined by the accumulation of our failures or the indictment of our misdeeds. Even with our daily awareness of our transgressions, we look to Jesus for our salvation; we find that He has taken those to His cross. We now live in grace – the mercy of God which forgives us. We now live by the Spirit who establishes in our mind a desire to please God. The Spirit grants us the beginning of obedience, first in the desire to serve God and then in the on-going battle against our own flesh. In the past several weeks, our discussion of Christian discipleship has focused on conflicts. We had lessons from the book of Jeremiah and from the Gospels which taught us about the kind of peace the Lord Jesus does and does not bring when His Holy Gospel invades this sinful world. We learned that Christ’s kingdom suffers opposition from this world and its religions and its way of life. We spoke of hostility and persecution and even martyrdom. There will be divisions in countries and divisions in families. Now St. Paul shows us how the battle comes home to our own hearts. For as long as we live in this flesh, every Christian will know this conflict within: the flesh warring against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. The old man within us, born from Adam, only knows how to live according to the pattern of this fallen world and that old man fights to the death even as he lives out all he knows. The new man within us, born again by the Spirit in Holy Baptism, lives by faith in Christ, clings to Him for salvation and seeks to follow God’s way of love and righteousness. The opposing principles set up their lines within us and day by day we know the struggles and we know the failures of not yet being all that God has called us to become in Christ. But still we can join St. Paul in giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Even though our sins still day trouble our consciences, we can enjoy peace with God knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice for us completely covers our sins. Even though we grow tired of the battle – and how intractable we are in so many of our sins! How slow we are to even begin to stop the things we know that harm us! How sluggishly we move toward doing the good we know we should! – nevertheless, we live thankfully in this certain hope: Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. We are not yet be complete and perfect but our salvation is complete and perfect. We disappoint ourselves but our Lord does not disappoint. He has brought us securely into the love and grace of God. And because He rose, those who are baptized shall also rise with Him. We shall be transformed through Him. This old flesh will be crucified and die once and for all and the new man, restored to the beautiful and holy image of God, shall arise to live with God forever. The battle against the sin within ourselves rages today as we struggle to live out the freedom which Christ has won for us, but the final victory has already been won. When Christ returns, we too shall be turned loose from this corruption. The Spirit will complete His work in us and reveal the full effect of Christ’s salvation in us. So for now, we can empathize with the words of St. Paul. When we look at ourselves we experience disappointment, frustration, weakness and sin, but when we look to Christ we have peace and joy, hope and confidence. Day by day, as we endeavor to live as Christ’s disciples, we find ourselves failing, we confess our sins and we receive His grace again, and again we rise wishing to walk in His ways. Day by day, we see how the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Thanks be to God, our salvation does not depend on us and how we fare in freeing ourselves from our own sins. It depends on Someone else. It depends on Jesus Christ who long ago dealt with the matter of our sins by offering His own body on the cross and rising again. Our standing with God is not a matter of how good, loving, and obedient we are or have been or will be. In this life, we shall always fall short of God’s holiness. Our standing with God must rest on something outside of us, because, as Paul admits, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). Thank God, our Lord Jesus Christ is our good. He clothes us in His goodness. We have become the heirs and recipients of all the Father’s rewards for His divine goodness. And we shall have His victory, too. Sin and death will pass away, but we ourselves, once enslaved to sin, will enter the full freedom of the children of God. Happy Independence Day indeed.