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Sermon Text: Romans 8:1-10
Date: March 8, 2015
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
Romans 8:1–10 (ESV)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
There Is No Condemnation
1. The law had opposed us
2. The law now serves us
There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there? Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done. You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming. Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.
By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us. We also know that ultimately in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect decrees. So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes. But in this situation it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.
In the lead-in to our lesson this morning, Paul has just wrestled with his own proclivity to sin in the famous words of Romans 7, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:16–19). Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful flesh, the sinful nature that dwells in him. He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself. He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be. And this sinful flesh’s work doesn’t absolve him of responsibility; he’s not playing the “The devil made me do it!” card. No, his sinful flesh brings condemnation on himself because it puts him at odds with God’s law.
We saw God’s law so clearly summarized in our First Lesson for his morning. Perhaps when we read through the Ten Commandments we start to feel a little bit better about ourselves. We perhaps start to think, “Well, you know, I haven’t stolen things from other people. I haven’t committed adultery. I certainly haven’t killed anyone!” And then God’s law turns around and brings the full force of its fury to bear. Jesus was clear that it’s not just adultery that condemns; lust does as well. It’s not just murder that condemns; anger and hatred will do that as well. It’s not just theft that condemns; right in the Ten Commandments themselves we find that coveting, longing for something not ours, does that as well.
So God’s law stands as our enemy, condemning us for the things we do, say, and even think. The very attitudes of our heart and the motivations for everything we do are judged and condemned by this law. It makes it so clear how far we have fallen from what God demands. In fact, Paul says in our lesson this morning that the sinful flesh, the sinful nature is so far removed from what God expects that it simply cannot do anything God wants. He says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “There is now no condemnation.” So what happened? The law didn’t lose its tooth; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our connection to Jesus is what ends the law’s ability to condemn us of sin. Paul goes on to explain: God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The original purpose of God’s law was to show us the way to life. “Do these things perfectly and you will live forever.” Of course, we’ve already seen that we haven’t done that. Sin weakened the law so that it could no longer grant that life, but only bring condemnation and death. So God had to step in and do what the law could no longer do: he had to be the one to bring life to sinful mankind. And he did that by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. God himself took on our human nature, one that looked like every other sinful person but with one important difference: he was perfect. In his perfection he fulfilled the requirements of the law that we had failed to do. He never faltered in anything he said, did, or thought. He was completely perfect. And in the end, he condemned sin in the flesh, that is, he took the punishment for the world’s sin on himself when he died.
So now we are changed. Jesus was perfect on our behalf and took the punishment for our sins on himself. We don’t need to live in the fear of a guilty conscience or impending doom from God’s wrath because we have been set free, changed, from ones who live by the law of sin and death to ones who live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us through God’s Word and his sacraments. His presence reminds us that we are God’s forgiven children. We have no need to fear God because sin has been completely undone in Jesus’ life and his death. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the promise of God that he has fulfilled for all of us in Jesus: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:8–13). As the choir just got done singing, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”
God’s love has had a fundamental and complete change for our lives. We had been, as Paul says, those who live according to the flesh and thus set [our] minds on the things of the flesh, but now we are those who live according to the Spirit who set their minds on the things of the Spirit. As sinful people, who knew nothing of God’s love and only about God’s anger over sin, we only lived in sin and thought about sin and contemplated how to sin more. But now, we live according to what the Spirit would have us do and say and think. We are God’s dearly loved children; why would we want to sin against him?
And so the law doesn’t go away when we become Christians, but its role changes. It changes from exclusively being a mirror, which shows how greatly we have faltered, to also being a guide, a road map, a GPS navigator for our lives. When we think about all that Jesus has done for us, that his work rescued us from hell and has assured us of heaven, we want to thank God for that. And his law show us how to do that. As Christians, the Ten Commandments ought not be primarily a list of rules which condemns us for the things we’ve done or not done. For us, this is a list of ways to show our gratitude to God. God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to commit adultery or lust after someone? God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to murder or let anger or grudges burn and fester in my heart? God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to steal or covet what others have? God has set me free from sin! Why would I want anything else in this life to be more important to me than my Savior, Creator God?
You, my dear brothers and sisters, live according to the Spirit. You know that Jesus condemned sin in himself so that you would not be condemned. You know that you God loves you beyond measure. You know that you will be with him forever. May his law be always your opportunity to show your gratitude and heart-felt thanks to God who has rescued us from sin and death and has brought us new life. In a few moments the choir will encourage us in ways to show that gratitude not only to God but also to share it with the world. They will sing: “Sing the truth that sets us free. Stand against the world’s injustice. Christ will have the victory! Jesus came to free the captives by his power the blind will see. Spread the gospel to all nations. Proclaim the year of jubilee!”
We are free; sin has been undone. There is no condemnation! May our lives always be thanksgiving to God! Amen.