Sunday, August 07, 2022

The Big "IF"

 Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Sermon for the 8-SAT                 8/07/22

The Big "IF"

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last Sunday we talked about the freedom versus the bondage of the Christian.  St. Paul teaches that our freedom is an illusion and that we are slaves, either of sin and death or of righteousness and of God.  This Epistle lesson begins with that understanding, stated explicitly.  "So the, brethren, we are under obligation."  We are not free in the sense that we can do whatever we like and that sin or holiness does not matter.  We are under obligation!

Strangely, Paul doesn't complete the thought exactly.  He breaks off into a parallel thought and never quite returns to define our obligation, or to whom or what it is.  He proceeds instead to make a number of conditional statements - you know, the kind that begin with "if".  In five short verses, he uses the word "if" four times.  Three of the if's flow smoothly in the course of developing his point, and seem quite clear and natural, and then we come to the big "if".  Our attention is drawn to that big, uncomfortable conditional statement, and we want to look at it in context, this morning.  Our theme is "The Big ‘IF'."

We are under obligation, Paul says.  That is true, of course, only if we are Christians, only if we believe.  But IF we believe, then we are under obligation, and, although Paul doesn't say so explicitly, it seems pretty clear that we are under obligation to live by the Spirit, and so we are under obligation to be about the business of "putting to death the deeds of the body".  We have no obligation to the flesh.

It often feels like we do.  The desires of the flesh are so urgent and pressing and feel so important.  When you stop to discipline your body it is painful.  You feel like you are being denied something.  The yearning for what you know is not right is almost intolerable.  I think that is why Paul describes the process of disciplining yourself as putting to death the deeds of the body.  It feels like something is dying, or that not doing, or not saying, or not permitting yourself to dwell on something will almost kill you.  It hurts!

But, "If you are living according to the flesh, you must die."  That is one obligation; death for sin if one declines to live the life of righteousness - or you are obligated to live a holy life, a life guided by the Holy Spirit.  It sounds like the choice is yours, but it is only after the choice of God.  First, you must be one of His, which is His choice of grace.  He gives you the Holy Spirit and gives you the power to follow the life of holiness - and He gives you the will to do so.  Then and only then, do you have the choice of following Him.

But that is the choice that you must make and exercise.  We are under obligation.  Having all of the gifts of God, to fail to choose to follow Him is to turn away from Him and salvation, which you already possess by His gift and grace!  That choice is death.  Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me."  He also said, "I would that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."  

What has come so far sounds very much like the Law, like you must do certain works, or all is lost.  While he is encouraging a life consistent with having the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, he is not intending to suggest that we are facing the judgement of God if we do not perform certain works, or if we fail to live up to a particular state of holiness.  The Gospel tells us that all of our holiness is from God.  Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sin and then paid the penalty for our sin.  He died on the cross because that is what we have earned, and, the Gospel teaches us, we also receive what He has earned - namely the favor of God, perfect righteousness, and life everlasting.  It is ours, not on the basis of anything we have done or any righteousness of ours, but because Jesus made the exchange, and took what we had coming to us, and then bestowed on us what He has merited as a gift.

So, Paul turns quickly from the exhortation to following the Spirit and leading a life which is guided by the Holy Spirit, and which, therefore, includes putting to death the deeds of the body, to a gospel reminder that we are not to live our lives out of fear, but out of love for our Lord.  First he tells us that, "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God," then He reminds us, "you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba!  Father!'"

The spirit of slavery is the spirit of the Law.  It is the idea that we must do certain things, must establish a personal righteousness of a certain quality before we can hope to enter heaven.  It is the bondage of the Law and the fear is that monster of uncertainty that Luther described which always asks, "Have I done enough?  Have I believed enough or strongly enough?"  The fear is the fear that we haven't made it, and that we don't deserve it.

Which is true, we don't deserve it, but it is a gift of grace received through faith in Jesus Christ.  Our sins are forgiven.  Heaven is opened to us because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose triumphant from His grave on Easter morning.  The ‘Monster of Uncertainty' has been put to death by the Gospel, which tells us that our salvation does not depend on us.  We have not been called to fear or given a spirit of slavery, but the Spirit of Adoption by which we cry out to God the Father, "Daddy".  We received that Spirit in our Baptism, in which God adopted us.  And that is what the "Abba" means, it was the Aramaic word a child would cry out for ‘Pappa" or "Daddy", and Paul translated it with the next word - "Father".  Our trust in God is like that of a small child in their loving father.

Your faith and confidence in God bears witness to your relationship to the Father, and so does the Holy Spirit as He dwells in you.  When doubts arise, you want to listen to that witness.  He will bring to mind the Word of God and remind you of the evidence of faith and sanctification in your life to show you the truth.  And He will keep you united to Christ, who is our Life and our Salvation.  And because of this union with Christ, you will not only have His protection and forgiveness now, you will be a co-heir.

Co-heir means that you will receive a share in everything Christ has from the Father.  Christ says He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  You get a share of that as a co-heir with Christ.  Christ receives all glory - and you are a co-heir in that!  Christ lives forever, and He has risen from the grave - and all of that and whatever Christ receives from the Father, you get a share in all of it.  It doesn't mean that you will become His equal, but He is giving to those who are His a share as fellow-heirs with Him.

Then comes the big "IF".  "If indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him."  This sharing with Christ is the meaning of "salvation", when we talk about "forgiveness of sins, life and salvation".  All three go together, but there is more to salvation than just unending life.  The blessings of God are rich, and abundant, and beyond fully expressing.  The Bible says that in eternal life – in heaven – there is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more sickness, and no more death.  Here, God tells us that we get something more than that - we share in all that Christ receives from the Father.  What that entails I cannot say with any precision, because the Bible doesn't say, but it is good!  And it is yours, IF . . .

If you suffer with Christ.  If you want to take part in this Gospel salvation, and you want to share in what Christ receives from the Father, then you will also share in all that He received - pains and sorrows and death included.  This isn't a new message or a big surprise.  Jesus told us that the world would hate us, and He told us why.  It hates God and it hates Him, so, if we are His, and like Him, we will also be hated.  He told us that they would persecute us.  He told us that they would lie about us.  He told us that the world would even kill us.  And He told us that if we wanted to be His disciples we would have to take up our cross and follow Him.

Being the child of God and co-heir with Jesus means that you are an enemy alien to this world.  You do not think the way the world around you does - and that fact should not surprise you.  You should not be acting like the world around you - for that is the behavior of the lost and condemned and the dying.  You are called to use this world like a tool, for God's purposes, but always aware that it is but a cheap and transitory thing.  You do this - not to curry favor or to impress someone – but because this is who you are, who you have been created to be by your baptism and by the Spirit's transforming work in you.  If it hasn't happened, then you are among the dying - and you must die.

IF you want to take part in all that Christ has and gives to His brothers and sisters, then you must take part in the unpleasant stuff as well.  It comes naturally to God's people.  If you try to avoid it, you come under the judgment of God - "He who would save his own life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for My sake, and for the Gospel's sake, shall keep it."  We cannot run from Christ, precisely at the point of conflict and pain, or we deny Him.

But if we endure - and that is the big "IF", and if we suffer whatever we are called on to suffer - we are His and "heirs of God", and co-heirs with Him.  You don't have to go out and look for the cross - it will find you.  You don't want to invent some pain of your own - Luther and the entire monastic movement tried that and it came up wanting.  You merely want to put to death the deeds of the body, and stand firmly and faithfully on the Word of God and the love of Christ.  Pain and trouble will come and find you.  The sufferings of Christ will find you as you show Christ to the world.  His enemies are still out there.  Just show them Jesus and you will find the pain.

Don't be surprised - although we are always surprised and disappointed by the pain and persecution and the betrayals.  Such things are coming as surely as Christ is the Son of God, and you are His disciple.  The suffering, whatever form it may take in your life, is part of the package.  Just trust God, endure patiently because you understand what is happening, and you believe God's promises - of help, of comfort, of a way of escape that you may be able to bear it, of resurrection from the grave and life everlasting.  Just as surely as Christ rose from the dead, so too, all those who are His and share in all of His things, including the cross, shall rise with Him.

The big question is, are you His?  That is the big "IF".  If we are His, "if indeed we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him."  From the perspective of faith, of course, it isn't really a big ‘if', is it?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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