August 6, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Church would today again direct our attention to the Christian’s relationship with the Law. It is a complicated relationship and is not easily given to internet soundbites or slogans for T-shirts.
The eternal Law of God is above all else good and holy. It is the Lord’s will and order for all of the universe. It establishes our place in the world and our place in His Kingdom.
The problem is that we have rejected that order and sought to establish our own place, to take what we wanted, even what was forbidden, against His will. We did not trust in His goodness or the goodness of His order. We make His order an accusation against us.
It is as though the rain decided on its own that what it was meant for was running in rivers and thus it refused to soak into the ground and water the plants. If that were to happen, then the dying plants would bear witness against the rain the way our neighbors, our wives and our families, do against us, and God’s good and gracious order, what God created the rain for, would accuse the rain by showing its failure.
To sin, to violate God’s law, is to operate against our nature, against how we were created.
“For although we knew God, we did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. We became futile in our thinking, and our foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, we became the worst of fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images and theories of our own design. Therefore God gave us up in the lusts of our hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of our bodies among ourselves, because we exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. (based on Romans 1:21–27, ESV)
There was no way then for that which is good, the Law, to not accuse and condemn us. That accusation and condemnation was not a change the Law. The Law is eternal. It remains. It is good even though it performs on us, in part, an alien work. It does this not because it has changed and God has become something He wasn’t, but because we have changed.
This is the first part of our relationship the Law. Prior to faith, the Law only accuses and condemns. St. Paul writes:
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20, ESV)
But we are not only sinners. We have been baptized into the death of Jesus Christ and raised with Him in His resurrection. Paul continues:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:21–26, ESV)
The Lord has provided a Lamb to die in our place, as our substitute. He has fulfilled the Law for us and answered all its accusations against us. The angel of death takes Him in our place. His sacrifice causes death and judgment to pass over us. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that has been made known to us through the Law. Yet we are all justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. God reckons us righteous by faith.
What then of the Law? The atonement has been made on our behalf. The payment for sins has made in full by Jesus Christ. Does the Law still accuse? Yes. We are righteous for Christ’s sake but we still abide in this rotting flesh. The good work begun in us, that which has been promised and given in Holy Baptism, is not yet complete. The Scriptures speak in many places about the fight and struggle of faith that Christians engage in until their very last breath. It is a struggle against sin. We fail in this struggle daily and must confess our sins anew.
The law is spiritual and we are of the flesh. We are sold under sin, and yet we are at the same time, by grace, the free children of God in whom the Spirit lives and works. This means that we are of two minds. We want to obey the Law and please God with our works, but sin dwells in us so that we break God’s law and do what we do not want to do. We find it, for example, very difficult to tell the full truth and not exaggerate, to concentrate the whole way through the Lord’s Prayer and not allow our minds to wander into day dreams, and to keep our thoughts pure and put the best construction on the actions and motives of others. We often cave easily to temptation and are willing allies of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh. We are also shamefully and dangerously quick to pretend as though these things are insignificant or not really our fault. Thus we need the Law’s continued accusations and its clear standards and in His mercy God gives it. When the Law thus acts, accusing us, by the Spirit’s prompting, because we are Christians and the Spirit is in us, we agree with it. That is the second part of our relationship to the Law. Even though it accuses us, we confess its goodness and its accuracy even as we rejoice that we have been made once again aware of our great need for grace and mercy.
In that accusation, the Law also instructs us. Even as it accuses us, while it accuses us, we, in faith, agree with it. It thereby shows us not merely God’s wrath, but it also shows us what is good, what we want. We want to tell the truth, pray the Lord’s prayer purely, and show genuine love to our neighbors.
This is because the Holy Spirit has been given to us and we live by faith. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of slavery who gives his children no power to resist sin. Rather He is the Spirit of adoption who has made us the sons of God by grace for the sake of freedom from sin.
That freedom is freedom from the guilt of the Law’s accusations. That doesn’t mean there aren’t accusations. We need to repent of our sins. They do real harm. On this side of glory, freedom from sin means that we are freed of the guilt of those accusations and its final consequence. Christ, Our Lord, has stood in our stead in the courtroom. Though He was innocent, He has been condemned not only by the Sanhedrin and Pilate, but also by His Father. He has suffered in our place, paid our penalty, and made Himself the propitiation for our sins. The Father has accepted this and the grave and death have lost their sting. The Lord Christ has answered for us. The Father declares us, who were guilty, to be innocent and righteous for Christ’s sake and this righteousness is given to us when we believe it.
Thus you are free from the Law, but you are not lawless. Nor do you hate the law. You love it. You gladly accept not only its accusations and respond piously to its threats, but you also love its instructions. You do this because you are baptized and you love God and the Law is God’s will. In Christ, you have been freed from sin’s slavery so that you would be able to hear God’s Word and believe it. You should run from anyone who tells you differently.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.