In 1865 after the Civil War, America officially banned slavery. In modern headlines every once in a while, you will read of a child held hostage by his own parents. Usually, the child is abused and neglected. One or both of the parents beat and starve the child. Some children have been chained like a dog, made to sleep in the garage or in a kennel. One child who survived such a tragic childhood has written about the abuse in a book titled, A Child Called …. His mother would give him only the leftovers from meals if he was good. When he went to school, he would steal food, only to return to the house after school and be forced to throw up. He was never allowed into the house except when he had to do chores. He was forced to sleep in the garage and was constantly abused both mentally and physically by his mother. He had no hope and no happiness. Can you imagine the joy in the childs life when he was finally set free?
I think you and I can. For we too have been freed from a horrible and hopeless situation. Today, we will consider how we have been... Set Free through Christ Jesus. We have been set free from the sinful mindset, and
set free to the Spirits mindset.
Down and out.¨ That perhaps is a pretty good description of how we were before Christ. The Apostle Paul makes a few references in these verses to our dreadful position. He paints a hopeless picture of what we were by nature. Paul shows us how and why we were condemned by God’s law.
First, he says we were powerless to obey the law (3). Because of our sinful nature, there was no way we were ever going to be able to keep Gods law. We were as powerless as a car without gas and a battery. We couldn’t move and no one else could jump start us because we had no fuel. We were without power.
Paul paints it in another way. He says we were spiritually dead and couldn’t lift a finger to keep God’s law. We were still alive, but not according to Gods standards of living. No, we lived only according to sinful nature. We had no hope of living according to God’s law. In fact, we didn’t even want to live according to God¡¦s law. Verse five says, those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires. One who rejects God, as our sinful nature does, lives only according to the evil desires of the sinful nature. Paul wrote about this earlier in the letter. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
If that were not bad enough, Paul goes into even further detail of our hopeless situation. He states that we were hostile to God by nature (7). We didn’t want to be reconciled to God because we hated him! We did everything to spite and anger him. Like Satan, we loved lies and hated the truth. Paul wrote earlier in the letter to the Romans that unbelievers as enemies of God suppress the truth by their wickedness. We, by nature, were just like that. We fought tenaciously against the mighty and powerful God who created us. If we were left to ourselves, we would never have come to love God and his ways. We were bent on sin and headed for eternal destruction.
Thankfully, Paul also tells us what we have gained through Christ. He wrote, For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. God sent his Son Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sin and set us free. God sent him to bear human flesh and undergo all the things we undergo hunger, weariness, temptation, loss, and even betrayal. God sent him to bear a human flesh so that he could be the sacrifice for our sins, just as the gospel lesson for today tells us: Jesus came to give his life as a ransom. By his innocent suffering and death, he freed us from the bondage to the sinful nature and its desires.
What are the results for you and me? There is no condemnation for us because of our sins, rebellion and hatred. Our slate is wiped clean. Christ has freed us from the law of sin and death which would have inevitably damned us. Why then do we still sin? We still have sinful nature, and still have sinful desires. Picture sinful nature as a chain and its desires as a pair of handcuffs. Christ unlocked us from the chain and handcuffs so that we are no longer bound to them nor bound to do what they want us to do.
Why then do we still sin? Well, we follow the desires of sinful nature; we put those handcuffs back on. Have you ever heard of such a stupid thing? Each time we have sinful thought, or do something sinful, that is what we are really doing. We are submitting to the sinful desires of our flesh! Each time you let those sinful thoughts linger, every time you bear a grudge against someone else or plot to get back at someone, you are putting those handcuffs back on and saying, Sinful nature, I’m all yours. Lead me to hell.
Every time you and I do that, the law of the Spirit calls us to repentance. By working sorrow and contrition in our hearts, the Holy Spirit turns us from our sinful desires to our true Lord and master, Jesus. Christ wipes our slate clean again and unlocks us once again from those sinful desires. We still have the sinful nature, and still have sinful desires, but they no longer have mastery over us.
Jesus doesn’t just leave us to fall once again into that desperate situation. He frees us from our sinful mindset and the desires of our sinful nature so that we are set free to the Spirits mindset.
Scripture really says that we are either bound to do what our sinful nature wants, or we follow what the Holy Spirit moves us to do.
Christ set us free so that we desire the things which the Spirit wants us to desire. In fact, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit controls us. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in you. How do we know if the Spirit lives in us? Just as he created faith in our hearts to receive the gospel message, so he works in our hearts to desire what he desires. We know that the Spirit lives in us when we desire what the Spirit desires.
He guides us when we read or hear the Word of God. He strengthens our faith through the Sacraments. When we read his Word and take the Lord¡¦s Supper, the Holy Spirit tells us the way to go and what to do. He doesn’t work so much like a compass or a map but more like a rudder on a ship. He steers us through His Word.
If we have the Holy Spirit living in us (9b), then Paul says we can also be confident that we belong to Christ. Because the Spirit lives in us, our spirit our new heart, is alive. No longer are we spiritually dead. We are alive because of Christ’s righteousness. Because we are alive through Christ, we live according to God’s law, the law of the life-giving Spirit.
No longer do we hate God’s law. Now we love it because Christ kept it for us, and because the Spirit enables us to keep it. The Apostle Paul wrote that Christ did this, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (4). Christ bore our punishment and set us free so that we might meet the requirements of the law. By the Spirit, we now do that which we were incapable of doing beforehand. We didn’t want to keep it before because we hated God. Now we do because the Spirit lives in us and motivates us to keep it. Remember the illustration of the car without the gas and battery? Through the Gospel the Holy Spirit powers us up, he gives us the gas and the battery and keeps us going. Now, we produce fruits of faith not to earn salvation, but to thank Christ for the salvation he has won for us.
It is a strange thing to think about, isn’t it? The Spirit lives in you and me, and every believer. Through the means of grace, the Word, and Sacraments, he leads us to live according to his desires. He sets our minds on what pleases God and how we can show our thanks and praise for the salvation which Christ secured for us. The Holy Spirit promises us that the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (6a). He assures us that we have peace with God and with one another. The Spirit also leads us to live in peace with the assurance that we will have true life and true peace when this life is over. We can be confident that we will have everlasting life and the peace which Christ won for us, because the Spirit lives in us and we belong to Christ.
Motivated by that confidence in Christ who has set us free, we find plenty of ways to express our praise. We see worship on Sundays and other times not as burdens but as opportunities. We don’t look at Bible study as stupid and boring, but as an opportunity to be growing in faith and letting the Holy Spirit lead us in that growth. We look at the Sacraments as precious gifts of God¡¦s grace for us, his people. It’s great to be set free through Christ to do what the Holy Spirit wants, isn’t it?
During Lent, we focus on what Christ has done for us; how he suffered the pangs of hell for our sins and died that we might live eternally. And rightly so. But it is also proper to keep in mind that Jesus also did this so that we might live for him. Christ Jesus set us free from our sinful mindset and sent the Spirit so that we might desire the things of God. Therefore, let us throw off our sinful nature daily and turn to do what Christ has freed us to do. Amen.
As you have received the seeds of faith and hope; go now into God’s world to scatter the seeds of reconciliation and peace, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.