July 18, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God, in His mercy, has given us the 10 commandments for instruction and admonition. As His people, we embrace all of them. They are not only accusations that show us our need for a Savior. They are also a description of what is most lovely and good and which we desire to follow.
I understand why secularists and hedonists would dislike them. They do not want to be told what to do or to have their passions curtailed. But it is unacceptable that some Christians have also become embarrassed by them. We cannot be ashamed of God’s Word and remain long in the faith. We do not get to choose what parts we like and what we don’t like. We do not get to tell God how to be or what love is. There is pressure to compromise, to fit in with the culture. We do not want to be labelled and judged as bigots, fundamentalist extremists, or legalists like Ned Flanders. But we cannot distance ourselves from God’s Word and His concise and deliberate order for the world. We need the 10 commandments.
We need them as the Church has always needed them. Because we, like the people of Israel and like the Church throughout the ages, are prone to forget the Law and what is good. Our fallen flesh is clever in excuse making and pious sounding rationale and framing things that serve the flesh as though it were love. On this side of glory, we need constant reminders and calls to repentance. The gold standard of morality is the 10 commandments. They constantly demonstrate to us through accusation that we are not good enough to earn God’s favor.
Though we are baptized and have faith, we still sin. We fail to keep the commandments. We act in ways that are selfish, inwardly even when not outwardly. We do not love God above all else. We love ourselves but we do not love our neighbors as we ought. In accusing us, the Law shows us what is wrong with us, what is ugly and shameful. And it threatens us with punishment.
This is a necessary discomfort and embarrassment. For we dare not think that we are good enough, that our works can save us. The 10 commandments show us that we are in desperate need of a Savior.
At the same time, we are baptized. We have faith. We have a Savior. We belong to God in Christ. He has claimed us as His own. He counts as righteous for His sake. His Law not only accuses us. It also shows us what is good, what our heavenly Father and His order are like, what is beautiful and noble.
Baptizing with water 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 righteousness and purity forever. God has saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Rebirth is conversion. Renewal is sanctification. Baptism gives and sustains both by drowning and raising.
But like toddlers crying because they were told to not touch the stove, we chafe under the goodness of God’s Law. We don’t want to drown or die. We like our sins and evil desires. We don’t want to change or be corrected. So we try to talk our way out of it. We try to get the raising without the drowning, Easter without the cross. That is the road to Hell. Repent. You cannot serve God and your flesh. You cannot rule His Word by your sentiments and the current fashion. God’s Word is eternal. Not one jot or tittle passes away.
At the same time, there is more to the Law than drowning. God sets the Law before us also to show us His righteousness and holiness. The 10 commandments are an image of what and how He is, proclaiming not only what He wants us to be and how we have failed and for which we need forgiveness, but also showing us what we ourselves want to be. We love what our Father loves. We want what He wants. We want to be like Him. Without malice or greed or self-righteousness we want and desire to be free from every stain of sin and selfish action, radiant with His gifts and love. We want to be what His Law describes and promises.
To some degree, we are that already. He has declared it so. Though our sins were as scarlet, they are white as snow. Though we wandered off and disowned Him, He has sought us out and called us home. We were lost but are found, we were dead but are alive. Jesus has been sacrificed in our stead, paid the price of our sins, faced the accusations against us and swallowed all of His Father’s wrath in our place. He frees us by His grace so that we are not slaves to sin but are sons of God, holy and clean, when we believe it. We belong and He gives us a part of His Kingdom. He holds no grudge. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This great Gospel truth is no threat to the Law. It is not the opposite of the Law or a refuting of the Law or even superior to the Law. Sincere belief that God forgives us for Christ’s sake and that all of our sins have been washed away does not lead to lawlessness or shame in God’s prohibitions and demands. Rather faith in Christ’s grace and the forgiveness encourages us to avoid sin and do good works. So also the Holy Spirit who creates and sustains faith by His Word and Sacraments has made us His Temple and He not only prays for us but also inspires and motivates and enables us to resist sin and do good works.
We must be careful not to shame God whose Name is on us, to live unworthy of our calling, or to sadden God by our actions. We should in reverence, as sons, fear that our deeds would displease God and drive the Spirit from us. God’s mercy and love, if received as they are given, make us love God. If we love God, we love all that He says and gives, both Law and Gospel. We do not pit one against the other. We embracing God as our merciful Father in Christ, knowing that He only gives good gifts and that His Law is holy, noble, and beautiful.
Therefore we accept the justice of the Law’s accusations against us. It is good. We are not. We do not make excuses or dismiss the Law but we repent. We fear God’s wrath and punishments. But we also love and trust in Him and are bold to ask for mercy and we receive it. We receive it according to God’s promise. The Lord desires that all men turn and be saved. He has not died nor risen in vain. We live constantly in that reality, in that grace, meditating on His Word, coming before Him with sincere prayer, and relying upon what He gives in the Absolution and Holy Communion, trusting that we are forgiven.
And yet, at the same time, there are still two other responses in us to the Law besides fear of wrath. We are the sons of God who love and trust Him. We do not only fear punishment, we also fear that we would shame our Father. We want to please Him and are confident that in Christ we do. We see God’s own righteousness in the Law and we aspire to it. The Law’s goodness reminds us of God’s promised benefits, promises, and rewards. They call us to submit and obey and we do so voluntarily. For if we have died with Christ, then death has no dominion over us. We are alive to Christ Jesus.
We are not slaves to sin. We are free in Christ and belong to Him. We are privileged to bear His Name and His holiness and He, who does not lie, has promised to to be our God.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.