Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2011
“God Wants to Kill You” (Romans 7:1-13)
God wants to kill you. God wants you dead. Does that shock you, my friends? Well, let me put it this way: God has to kill you! God has to kill you, in order to make you alive. That’s the point of our Epistle reading today from Romans 7, and thus our theme this morning: “God Wants to Kill You.”
What in the world are you talking about, Henrickson? “God wants to kill you”? That doesn’t sound very nice. It’s not. In fact, in can be very painful. But it’s the most loving thing God can do for you. Kill the old you, enslaved to sin and bound for eternal death, and bring forth a new you, alive in the Spirit, bearing fruit for God, and heading for eternal life. That’s what God does, and you need it.
You’ve got to change masters, you need a new lord from the one you had before Christ and apart from Christ. At that time, before you came to life in Christ, your old master, the slave master that was driving you, was sin. That’s all you could do. The old fleshly nature, the sinful nature–the “Old Adam,” we call it–you could rise no higher than that. Flesh gives birth to flesh, and that’s that. You and I, like all the fallen sons of Adam, were born into slavery, slavery to sin.
Now you cannot reform the Old Adam, you can only make him a better sinner. The Old Adam can dress himself up, can make himself look like a respectable person, a moral person, a religious person even, but his basic nature doesn’t change. He just does more respectable sins. Or maybe he gets better at hiding the disreputable ones. But he’s still a sinner, still hates God and wants to disobey him. That’s who we are, each one of us, according to our old sinful nature.
Look, you can refine your sins, you can make them not look so bad or so obvious. You can try to suppress your sins, try to keep them down, keep them from popping up in unsightly, embarrassing ways. You can make yourself look better than those bad people, the really gross sinners. That’s what’s called being a Pharisee. The Pharisees were pretty good at that. But you cannot change your essential sinful nature. It will just show up in different ways. Pride, lust, gossip, and greed, for instance–the more secret or respectable sins–instead of, oh, outright adultery or stealing, like the bad people do. But pride, lust, gossip, and greed are just as surely the product of a sinful nature as are the showier sins.
No, you cannot reform the Old Adam, you can only kill him. Or should I say, God has to kill him, put him to death and start over with a new you. The Old Adam has to die, and a new person, clean and forgiven for Christ’s sake, made alive and energized by the Holy Spirit–a new creation, really–that’s what’s got to happen if you’re going to live, really live, I mean.
So how does God do this? The killing, the putting to death of the old sinful you? Here’s where the law comes in. God kills us with his law? Yes, he does. So is the law something bad? No, as we just sang, “The Law of God is good and wise.” His law is good and wise, but we’re not. That’s the problem. And we need God’s law to show us that, and then to put us to death, so that a new man may arise.
Paul writes in our text: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” You see, you need the law to let you know what sin is and that you are that sinner. Otherwise, you might delude yourself into thinking everything is alright. I’m OK, you’re OK–I’m not so sure about that guy down the street, and sometimes I wonder about you–but at least I know that I’m OK. I’m a pretty good person, and I don’t need any outside help. That’s how the natural man thinks.
But here comes God’s law. It tells us that anything short of loving the Lord God with everything that is in you, or anything short of loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself–the law tells us that that is sin. God’s law tells us that it is not just the final, outward act that is sin, such as murder, adultery, stealing, for example–the law tells us that anything that falls under those broad umbrellas, whether in thought, word, or deed–that all of it is sin in God’s sight. The lustful thought, the unkind word, the lack of love for God and his word and his house–these all reveal our nature as sinners just as much as if we were a homosexual or a murderer. Sin starts on the inside and works it way out, in a thousand different ways.
God’s law tells us that, so that we would know we need help, that we cannot rescue ourselves or justify ourselves. “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin,” Paul wrote earlier in Romans, and now he repeats the thought: “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” God’s law acts like a mirror, to show us what we really look like as sinners, and it is not a pretty sight.
But, just so we don’t miss the point, the law does even more. It even accelerates our sin, arouses it, makes it even more obvious. Paul continues: “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” You see, our screwed-up sinful nature is so screwed up that it wants to sin against God! When it finds out God wants us to live a certain way, it will do the exact opposite! It’s like a rebellious kid, is our Old Adam. God tells me I’m not supposed to covet? Well, I’ll show him! I’m gonna covet a whole lot more! So there!” Sin–the sin in you and me–sin hears God’s law, his commandments, and says, “No, I don’t want to serve God. I’d rather serve me, my desires, my pleasures!” And in so doing, we end up serving ourselves into death. “Our sinful passions, aroused by the law,” Paul says, “bear fruit for death.” For the penalty for breaking God’s law, any of it, is death.
Paul puts it this way: “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”
Dear friend, do you recognize yourself in the mirror of God’s law? That sinner staring back at you? Good! That’s what you need to see. A dead man, with no hope of saving himself. The law is doing its job.
Now God has another word for you, a life-giving word. It is the word of the gospel, which makes alive, which gives life. New life. Eternal life. Life in Christ. Life in the Spirit. You need a whole new you, if you’re going to live as God’s child. And God makes it happen. It happens only through the gospel, the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death is the death of death. His blood, shed on the cross, covers all of your sins. God’s own Son bore the brunt of our sins on his own back, a back whipped and striped, a body nailed to the cross. By his stripes, we are healed. Christ our Savior fulfilled God’s law for us, kept its intent perfectly as a man. And then, even though he is sinless, he took the full force of the judgment that the law pronounces upon sinners, dying in our place.
He did all this for you and for every other sinner who has ever lived, the not-so-bad ones and the really bad ones, it makes no difference. If you’re a sinner, you qualify. Come and get some forgiveness! It’s right here for you! There’s more than enough to go around. And it’s all free, pure gift.
So this is how God makes a new you. He kills you and makes you alive. It happened in your baptism, when you were joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection. Dead man goes in and under. New man comes up and out. New life in Christ, for you, the baptized child of God. This is how we live now, as new people in Christ. We’ve been set free from the old slavery to sin, and we rise now, new every day, empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit, to live as God’s children–which, it just so happens, coincides with the way that God’s law says we ought to live! Only now we’re doing it by the power of the Spirit, not on our own feeble strength, which will never cut it. “We serve in the new way of the Spirit,” our text says.
“My brothers,” Paul writes, “you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” This is our new life now. We belong to Christ our Lord, who has been raised from the dead. His resurrection life feeds our life as Christians. Now we bear fruit for God, good fruit, things like faith and worship and love, which may sound like abstract words, but they take shape in very real form in our daily lives. The new life shows up in how we forgive one another, when one Christian sins against another. We forgive, rather than take revenge. It shows up in our love for God, that we want to come to church as often as we can, we want to praise his name. It shows up when we discover we really do have the power to resist temptation and not go along with the wrongheaded ways of the world. This is the life the Spirit produces in us, as we are nurtured on Word and Sacrament, the means of grace.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: God wants to kill you! Yes, that may sound shocking, but it’s the best thing for you. God needs to kill you, in order to make you alive in Christ. You’ve been set free from your old slavery to sin and death, and now you are alive to serve God in the newness of the Spirit. Oh, your struggle with sin will continue your whole life long, but one day that struggle will come to end, when we rest from our labors, secure in the faith. And then, at Christ’s return, God will raise us up new and whole, with no more sin to beset us. It will be glorious!
Dear friends: God wants to make you alive! He wants to give you life! New life now, eternal life forever, life in Christ, and he does it through the gospel. Believe his promise and receive his gifts!