Seventh Sunday after Trinity
July 25, 2004
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
There is a popular but
false opinion that says that freedom means that we are not under
anyone’s authority but our own. If
that were true we would be our own gods.
The Bible and history show us that human beings make bad gods.
It is not freedom to do as we choose as if we can make our own rules and set our own standards and determine for ourselves what is right and wrong. It may appear to be freedom at first, but it is the very worst kind of slavery. St. Paul described the Christians in Rome before they became Christians: “You presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness.” There is no freedom in that. When you do whatever you want you become a slave to what you want. You live to please yourself. You become a slave to your own pleasure. There is no such thing as a truly independent person. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. Everybody is going to be under the authority of somebody, whether the true God, or a false god.
The sin is not in the system. The sin is not in the establishment. The sin is not in the organization. The sin is in you and me.
That is why when we do whatever we want to do we sin.
And Jesus said it plainly when He said: “Whoever sins is a
slave to sin.”
Pick a sin: Getting drunk,
starting a fight, using filthy language, having sexual relations with
someone to whom you are not married, taking God’s name in vain,
cheating, stealing, lying. Why do people do these things?
Why do they set out to drink too much when they know that it’s
a sin? Why do they become
violent and start fights? Why
do they engage in intimacy that God says is unclean and immoral?
Why do they tell lies to gain what rightly belongs to the
neighbor? Why do they lie
about the neighbor? Do you
know why? Because they want to, that’s why. They do what they want to do, and what they want to do is
wrong. But they do it
anyway because they want to do it.
That is slavery.
It is the slavery of someone who doesn’t know God and doesn’t
know Christ and doesn’t know freedom and doesn’t know what life is
because he doesn’t have it. He
thinks he’s free, but he’s not.
He’s a slave to sin. The
fact that it is his own sin, his own sinful desires that enslave him, in
no way diminishes his slavery. It
just makes it more pathetic. He
thinks he’s free because he’s doing what he feels like doing but
he’s a fool because what he feels like doing is being a slave.
And he’s dead.
He thinks he’s alive. In
fact, he thinks he’s really living because he’s doing what he really
wants to do. But he’s
dead. “The wages of sin is death.”
Oh, he doesn’t know he’s dead and he probably won’t believe
it when he is told that he is dead, but he is dead.
Just as there are physical laws governing the universe, there are
spiritual laws governing life and death.
What goes up must come down.
That’s the law of gravity.
Sin pays off in death. That’s
a law too, and it cannot be repealed.
God spoke to Adam.
“In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
(Genesis 2:17) God spoke
through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel
18:4) St. Paul repeats the
same irreversible truth; “The wages of sin is death.”
Nothing and no one can change this.
Last week we saw that in our
baptism we died with Christ and we rose with him.
We saw how St. Paul refutes the notion that God’s grace is
license to sin. When the
Bible teaches that our good works don’t earn anything from God, it is
not teaching that our good works have no value.
They simply cannot have the value that Christ’s works have.
To say that we somehow earn or merit or win eternal life by what
we do is to insult Jesus. It
is to place our righteous deeds in the same category as his righteous
deeds. Now that is an outrageous thing to do! As if our sin-tainted works could compare with Christ’s
pure, holy, and spotless obedience!
No, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our
Our good deeds cannot help to
save us. The Bible says,
“For by grace you are saved, through faith, it is the gift of God, not
of works.” (Ephesians 2:8) Doing
good works does not help the one who does them.
Some say that doing good works strengthens faith.
That’s not true. God
strengthens our faith through His gospel and sacraments.
The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life.
He is the Author of our faith.
But the fact that our good deeds don’t help to gain us eternal
life does not mean that our sins do us no harm.
Sin attacks and ultimately destroys faith.
We Christians need to take this
seriously. To live
according to the flesh will kill you.
To live in sin without repentance will kill you.
Sin kills. Period.
It cannot be any other way.
If you are living in sin and do not repent you are killing
yourself. You are expelling
God from your life. The
wages of sin is death. You
cannot change that. You
cannot wish that away.
The wages of sin is death.
This is why we all die. If
we were not sinners we would not die.
Only sinners die. The
righteous never die. They
say that only the good die young. But
that’s not true. If they were good, they would never die.
Nobody good ever died. The
wages of sin is death. You
say that Jesus was good and Jesus died.
That is true. But
Jesus took our place and when He did, He took on Himself our sin.
The Bible says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for
us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) When
Jesus took our place, He became sin for us.
He suffered death for us. He
paid the wages of sin, and He paid it in full.
He purchased life by paying the wages of sin.
He won life by defeating death.
The wages had to be paid and Jesus was willing and able to make
the payment. He made the
payment for all sinners who have ever lived or who will ever live.
This is why the apostle says that the gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Only
Christ has fully paid sin’s wages.
He had to die to take the place of sinners.
He died as the sinner. He
died as the one to whom all sin was imputed or reckoned.
Without that holy death there could be no gift of eternal life.
The wages of sin is death. That
remains true. The wages of our sin was Christ’s death.
How God did it, I cannot
understand, but there on Calvary’s cross Jesus suffered eternal
damnation in the place of the whole human race.
Life and death faced each other and Life destroyed death by
paying the bitter wages of sin. God’s
gift of eternal life was earned. Jesus
earned it. God gives it freely but it wasn’t free. If you try to pay for it you insult the God who freely gives
it. Life cannot be earned
except by the one who never sinned.
You and I haven’t earned life.
We’ve earned death. In
Jesus is life and Jesus alone can give us eternal life.
He gives it. He
won’t sell it or let you negotiate for it or put it on layaway while
you make payments for it. He gives eternal life and the only way to receive eternal
life is to receive Jesus. Jesus
said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
Jesus earned eternal life for us on the cross. Jesus gives eternal life to us in our baptism.
We receive this eternal life by believing that Jesus gives it to
us. If you believe what the
words of the gospel and sacraments say to you then you have what those
words promise. If you do
not believe, you will receive what you have earned and that is death.
Not just physical death when you body fails, but also eternal
death in hell, what the Book of Revelation calls “the second death.”
Sin pays off in death. Only those who receive Christ have eternal life. The Bible makes it crystal clear how to receive Jesus and with him the eternal life that he gives. Peter preached a tough law sermon to the crowd on Pentecost who were cut to the heart. They asked Peter what they should do. He replied, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” When the terrified jailer at Philippi asked Peter how to be saved (Acts 16:30) Peter told him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Immediately he and his entire family were baptized.
So we live in our baptism,
daily dying and daily rising. Any
other life is slavery and not worth living.
The life of daily repentance seems at times so frustrating, and I
guess it is. The same old
sins, the same old temptations, the same old confessions to the same old
God. But this gracious God
is the living God who has life to give.
It is what Jesus called the abundant life.
Sin pays its wages but leaves us no rest or peace.
God’s gift is given to those who are tired of working for wages
and falling deeper and deeper into debt.
His gift is a life of freedom.
And despite the struggles of our sinful flesh against the Holy
Spirit, despite the frustrations of having to repent again and again of
the same old besetting sins, and despite our pathetic weaknesses and
painful failures, it is a life of joy. Deep down we have a rest and a peace in Jesus that nobody but
a Christian can ever know. St.
Augustine was on to something when he said in his famous prayer, “You
have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our souls are restless until they
find their rest in you.” That
rest, that peace for which our souls long can be found only in Christ.
As we sing in the hymn:
In Jesus I find rest and peace the world is full of sorrow
Rev. Rolf D. Preus