5th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 905, 847 tune 367, 650
Text – Romans 8:10
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
DEAD AND ALIVE
Are you able to remember the first time you visited a funeral home? I don’t know what age I was. I don’t remember who had died, but the mood in the room was unlike anything else I had experienced. There was something very different about the way people talked to one another, something unusual about the way people acted – the timid tones & hushed language.
In our culture, death brings a somber atmosphere. It’s like a cloud hanging over the entire room, suffocating any sort of lively or high-spirited behavior. Its power, its finality, its merciless advance into the life of another human being, touches every heart, leaving a trail of sorrow & grief in its wake.
“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” As St. Paul writes to the church at Rome, he’s telling them that they can be dead & alive at the same time. As children of God, you & I should be able to describe that experience. We live it every day we are here on earth, because Paul is not writing to the dead.
The Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to write to those who were alive & dead at the same time. That is the life of a child of God in this world. It may not sound all that appealing, because we are constantly being pulled in two directions at once. Yet, it is better than the alternative. Those who are not part of God’s kingdom are just & only dead.
St. Paul wrote about that in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “And you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body & the mind, & were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, …because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (2:1-5 ESV)
As Paul wrote it, that is one long, run on sentence, but it is clear that until God made us alive, we were dead, & only dead. As believers here on earth, we are dead & alive. On the Last Day, when we are raised from physical death, then we will be completely & only alive. In saving us, God moves us from being dead, to being dead & alive, to being only alive.
We don’t think in those terms on a day to day basis, so why does Paul write about this? How does it apply to the challenges you deal with in your life? We can go back to the opening illustration about funeral homes. If the person who died is a believer, there’s no need to be sad for them. Their soul is in paradise with God. Sin no longer torments them.
We may be sad because we miss them, but being dead & alive in paradise is a better deal than being dead & alive here on earth. Paul writes this to the church at Rome because a lot of the believers there were dying under persecution from the Roman government. When a believer endures physical death, Jesus guarantees that it’s not the end of them.
For us here on earth, being dead & alive is a way of describing the struggles we experience because of sin. There is nothing in all of creation that has been left untouched by the ravages of its corruption. Sin makes a mess of everything. In his previous chapter, Paul writes about his experience of that struggle with being dead & alive:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV) Concluding, Paul poses a question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24b ESV) He gives a resounding answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a ESV) As children of God that is our answer as well. We experience that struggle of knowing what to do & just not doing it. It’s frustrating & discouraging, but then we see how God works things out anyway.
Because of sin you & I are dead. The good that we want to do we don’t. The evil we do not want to do is what we keep on doing. And yet, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, you & I are alive. The heavenly Father has given us credit for all the good that Jesus has done. He never once failed to do the good that He wanted to do. You & I get the credit for it.
We are dead & alive because, after being brought to faith, we still struggle to believe. We struggle in believing everything that Jesus taught. We struggle in believing that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him. We struggle in believing that the blessings given to us by God will never run out. We struggle to give as God gives to us.
Those struggles are ways in which we experience the death that Adam & Eve brought into God’s creation. After the Fall into sin God put into effect His plan to rescue us from that death. We then experience being alive when any particular burden of guilt is lifted from our shoulders. Receiving forgiveness brings us life & salvation.
We also experience being alive as we realize that something good happening to us is too much of a coincidence to be just a coincidence. Every now & then, God just lines things up & makes it happen. Each of us has personal stories to tell revealing God’s custom designed blessing even in the brokenness of this world.
So, what does God want us to learn from Romans 8 this morning as He tells us that we are dead & alive? First, God wants us to know that He knows what our struggles, trials & sorrows are like as we live in a sinful world. Jesus lived in this world with far fewer conveniences than we can imagine. Jesus knows what hopelessness looks like. It’s a type of death, resulting from sin, that brings on depression & despair. St. Paul writes about being dead & alive so we understand that God knows what that death is like.
Second, God tells us we are dead & alive so we realize that He does not leave us in death. The Creator who brought us into being out of nothing has brought us back to life. He sustains us in that life & one day He will completely remove death from us. Jesus was raised from the dead in order to begin the new creation that will never die.
Right now, we are simultaneously 100% saint & 100% sinner & we are constantly torn between the two. Both words, dead & alive, are descriptive of believers here on earth. We experience the limitations of this body & flesh, yet, as such, we still have opportunities to be God’s hands & feet amongst His creation. We are dead & alive.
On the Last Day, when our bodies are raised from the dead, they will be raised as part of the new creation that will never die. Then, we will be completely & only alive – no more death, no more struggle, no more sorrow. Then, you & I will only do good, & we will never do evil. There will be nothing more of this dead & alive, nothing more of this saint & sinner.
We could say that, on the cross, Jesus killed death, & with His resurrection He re-created life. As we heard Jesus say in the Gospel reading, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25 ESV) And we live because the Holy Spirit is alive within us to direct & to strengthen our daily walk with God.
That walk may be one of struggle & sorrow. It may be a walk of pleasure & joy. The circumstances change, but Jesus is the same, yesterday, today & forever. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He knows how desperately we need His help. Jesus knows that, as sinners, we need a new identity. In baptism Christ gives us that new identity & makes us alive. When we die, there will be no more temptation & sin, no more doubts & struggles, but until the resurrection, our body will be suffering the effects of sin, whether we are buried or cremated, our flesh will still be dead. At the final resurrection, no more corruption at all. No more being dead & alive. No more timid tones & hushed language of the funeral home.
“…the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin & death.” (Romans 8:2 ESV) Whenever we are struggling in this world, that verse is a good antidote to bring to mind. Even when, or especially when, we’re at a funeral home & processing our grief, in Christ we are still & even then free from the law of sin & death.
In this life, because we are dead & alive, we will never finish learning that lesson, but on the day that Jesus calls us home, we can rest in the fact that Jesus aced the exam for us. Amen.
Hear the word that Christ has spoken, help the weak, the hungry feed; see the powers of darkness broken, sinners pardoned, captives freed: Christ the Savior, Christ the Servant, help us meet our neighbor’s need. Come, O living Christ, renew us, as of old in wind & flame; with the Spirit’s power endue us, servants of Your saving name: Christ the Savior, Christ the Servant, Christ whose kingdom we proclaim. Amen. LSB 847:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet