Father, by your Spirit, direct our hearts to Christ, where true joys are found. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, who came to serve you and give his life for you dear believers:
Are you frustrated? No, not frustrated with your job or your marriage or the government or your parents or the children’s teachers or the neighbor. Are you frustrated with yourself? I know I am. I am frustrated with myself the way Paul was frustrated with himself and the way every Christian in frustrated with themselves. The frustration comes from dealing with the sinful nature. We battle and fight and struggle all the time. We wrestle with temptation and all too often fall victim to it. We say and do things that we latter regret. We think thoughts that later horrify us. We want to live by God’s Word but fail. In Romans 7 Paul expresses his frustration with the whole thing as he writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” This is our lot in life as Christians living in a sinful world and having a sinful nature. In all this frustration and struggle we have a desperate need for comfort. So today we have come to the Lord’s house seeking rest from our troubles, relief from our guilt, and forgiveness for our sins. We have come to the right place! For our merciful God announces to us today: There is no condemnation in Christ!
Find relief for your frustration with yourself in these powerfully comforting words inspired by the Holy Spirit and penned by Paul: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Here we see the comforting result of Christ’s service to us. We are set free from the law of sin and death. No condemnation means we will not be condemned for our sins. What an incredible relief that is for us! Understand that it is Christ alone who sets you free – any other teaching cannot comfort. Any combination and Christ and something else cannot comfort but only bring more troubling questions – have I done enough? Did I do it the right way? Will God be pleased? And so on. We get no credit for our work. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight. We get no credit for our name, in other words, our connections to others.
Outside of Christ we stand condemned. Contrary to what seems to be growing in popularity even amongst Christians – the teaching that hell is not really a biblical teaching, but something made up by the church. Friends, hell does exist! Even more dangerous is the fact that when we teach there is no hell, we minimize the importance of Christ. What’s the point of having a Savior if he rescues us from a place that does not exist? The truth of the matter hell does exist. Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It’s real and we want to avoid it! So we listen to the words of comfort that Paul shares with us. He assures very emphatically, “There is no now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …” A connection to Christ is of upmost and eternal importance. In Christ we are free from the law of sin and death. In Christ sin and death has lost control. As we face the struggle and frustration of living in a world of sin and sinners, we need help. We need the strength and the wisdom to be always asking – who is in the driver’s seat? When the sinful nature is in control we are on a crash course to condemnation, but when the new person of faith is in control we are living a life of loving service.
Paul clearly reminds us that the law can’t save us. What the law can’t accomplish – God accomplishes in Christ. Yes, God saves us in Christ – so we are not condemned! Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death. Christ was condemned in our place. Christ met all the requirements of the law in our place.
Paul continues: 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. So what is your mindset? Truthfully, sometimes we fall in line with what the sinful nature wants and we act selfishly, and other times we fall in line with what the new person of faith created by the Holy Spirit through Word and sacrament wants and we serve others as Christ served us. We see evidence of this in the lives of the disciples. As Jesus is once again patiently preparing them for his passion – he has a request from two of them for special considerations in heaven. The sinful nature prompted them to ask for such special treatment. The rest of the disciples hear this and take issue with it. Here again the sinful nature exerts itself. How does Jesus deal with this tense and upsetting situation? He goes right back to his lesson. He teaches about putting self aside and serving others. He instructs them to listen to the new person of faith and to act differently from what they see in the world around them. He uses the law to put down the selfish sinful nature and he uses the comforting gospel to build up the new person of faith created and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Instruction with direct law (must be …) and sweet gospel (give his life ..). You can’t change hearts or encourage willing service by the law – the sinful nature won’t submit – it will rebel. It is only through Christ’s service to us that we become willing servants.
We have been set free from slavery to our sinful nature. The liberation happened through the Spirit’s work in Holy Baptism. There the sinful nature was drowned and a new creation brought to life. As believers in Christ we are set free to live by the Spirit!
The same Spirit who called us to faith by the gospel continues to be your source of spiritual life and strength through the same gospel. So Paul writes, 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
You are alive in Christ! That means you have eternal life! Heaven is your home! This means you have spiritual life – the new person of faith lives in you and is indeed the real you. You may have noticed a different spelling of spirit in the bulletin vs. the worship folder. One is capitalized, the other is not. Both are correct! The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us spiritual life and maintains that spiritual life. The spirit – small “s” – is the new person of faith that willingly follows God’s ways. My friends, this means you also have a sacramental life – the gospel in Word and Sacraments is the pipeline that brings you spiritual life. So when the struggle is getting the best of you go back to the well for the living water Jesus gives you. When the struggle is getting the best of you confess your sins and recall Christ’s complete forgiveness. When the struggle is getting the best of you come to the Lord’s table and feast on the body and blood of Christ given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Keep your faith alive as the Spirit influences you through the means of grace!
Then, dear fellow believers, express your gratitude for all our triune God does for you! Express that gratitude in action. Serve your neighbor! See in each and ever person, Jesus Christ, and serve them as you would serve Jesus. In so doing you will be serving Jesus and saying thank you to him at the same time!
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! You are in Christ! You are not condemned! You are free from sin and death – don’t return to such slavery! You are free to live by the Spirit – stay close to him through Word and Sacrament! You are free to serve – say thanks to God by serving your neighbor! Amen.