Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11
July 23, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with (Christ) by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (ESV) is an antidote to the blasphemous idea that we should abide in our sins. St. Paul is not writing to unbelievers. These are words for those who have received God’s grace and love it. He, who sends His only begotten Son to die as a Sacrifice for the sins of the world, and who freely bestows that forgiveness in mercy as a gift, demonstrates a power and wisdom that surpasses all understanding. In contrast to Simon the Pharisee, the woman who sinned much and was forgiven much, loved much. The more sins forgiven, the greater God’s glory. Should we then sin in boldness that grace may abound?
We might paraphrase St. Paul’s response to this hypothetical question as: “Don’t be stupid.” We have died to sin. To remain in it, to make light of it, to dismiss it, is to mock the payment made on our behalf and to despise the sufferings of the Christ. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? This is no small thing! In order to take our punishment for us He endured and suffered terrible shame and pain and then died a horrific, tortuous death. His death was the death of sin. Would you make that for naught and return to sin? To remain in sin is to deny the goodness and necessity of His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life – not in the old ways of sin.
Luther uses this passage as a proof text for what Baptism with water indicates. It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteous and purity forever.
Earlier in the Catechism, Luther has already taught us that Baptism “works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Baptism saves. By it God delivers the Holy Spirit, creates faith, and declares sinners righteous. Baptism justifies.
But Baptism is not done because justification is not an end in itself, nor is it a single moment in time. Justification is an extension of Christology (David P. Scaer, “Sanctification in the Lutheran Confessions,” CTQ, 1989) and Christ is eternal. “We receive (the) forgiveness of (our) sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us (AC.IV).
Baptism that justifies, that is that works the forgiveness of sins, is that which buries us and raises us with Christ. Even as justification is an extension of Christology, so also is sanctification. The newness of life in which we walk is born as we die with Christ in His crucifixion and are raised in His resurrection in order that the body of sin (in and over us) might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. This means not only that sin’s accusations are removed and we are declared righteous and innocent, but also that sin is no longer, even now on this side of glory, our master. We are not slaves to sin. We do not have to sin. We are free for good works in Christ for we have the Holy Spirit and He is the power to not only resist evil but also to do good, that is, to do works of compassion toward our neighbor, works of Christ. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Baptism sanctifies. It causes the believer to refrain from sin and it causes Christ to act through and in the believer for Christian Baptism is Baptism into Christ. We are united to His resurrection. We are made Temples of His Spirit. The newness of life is found in the Lord’s description in Matthew 5 when He explains that the desire of the Christian is to be, above all, reconciled to his neighbor. Here is godly love: to forgive, to be reconciled, to be at one with. To hate anyone for whom Christ died and whom Christ loves is to step outside of the faith and reject the essence of the Gospel. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you want to know what kind of a Christian you are do not consider how much you love your family, even the heathen love their families (Martin Luther, “Trinity 6” in Sermons of Martin Luther vol. 4, John Lenker). Consider instead how you feel about your enemies. Do you love your braggart boss, your cheating ex-husband, and those who have hurt your children? Do you desire their good and pray for them? Repent. The old man chafes and rebels at all times against the Law and hates to be like Christ, but you are like Christ for you are baptized. Thus you love the Law and want to keep it.
Your sins are forgiven. They are not counted against you. Nonetheless, when you examine your heart, when you consider, for example, how much or how deeply and sincerely you love your enemies, you discover that Satan is crouching at your door. Sin is a threat not simply to your sanctification, but also to your justification. Sin can take the place of the Holy Spirit. You can force Christ out by insisting that He leave. You can deny Him and proclaim your love of the darkness – as did Judas and King Saul. The Scriptures contain many warnings about this.
Again, our rebirth and renewal are complete in Christ, but they are not yet perfect in this world. So sin is a danger. It is not only distasteful, it is deadly. Our rebirth and renewal have only begun. Therefore we must be engaged with the spirit of our minds in continual battle against the flesh, that is, against the perverted nature and character which clings to us until death and which because of the Old Adam is still lodged in our understanding, will, and all human powers. None of us are free of this even though we are no longer slaves to sin. We are not yet perfect. We are forgiven but not yet complete. In order that we do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of our fallen imaginations in an arbitrary way of our own choosing which seems right to us, or begin to think that we need not serve God and neighbor because we are forgiven all our sins, and therefore conclude that the poor are of no concern to us, or that licentiousness is harmless, or that doctrine doesn’t really matter, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light our way (paraphrase FC. Ep. VI. 4).
Christians need the Law. They need its accusations and exposure that they know their need for God’s mercy. They need its threats to keep them from giving into temptation in outward ways and making things worse. And they need its light and guidance that they might enjoy even now the joy of knowing what is good and of being at one with God in will and deed.
Christ did not come to abolish the Law. He came to fulfill and uphold it. Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever relaxes even the smallest part of the any of the commandments and teaches, by word or deed, that others should do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, which is to say that they will not be in heaven.
Thanks be to God there is a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Theirs was only external. It looked real but was fake. Our is mainly internal and it often looks fake, but it is real. We desire that it be also external. We desire for the world to see the love of Christ in us that has made us His by grace. Our goal in this is not simply morality, though we certainly desire to be moral and in accord with God’s Law. But our goal is more fully to be in Christ and Christ in us.
Our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees not because we are moral or more moral, but because it is the righteousness of Christ which is given as a gift. Again: it is real even if it is mostly unseen. It is not earned or deserved, but that doesn’t not make it hypocrisy. It is ours by Divine declaration, by grace. He is allowed to give what He wants with what is His. He gives us a righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees for His own sake. It is continually bestowed in the daily drowning and raising, the daily dying and rebirth, through faith. Christ has suffered for us. For His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us as gifts.
God reckons this faith as righteousness in His sight. That is what makes it real and trustworthy. So also, at the same time and in the very same way, He bestows a newness of life upon us that we might live before God in righteousness and purity forever – not just in the future but starting already now.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.