7th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 10) LSB #’s 686, 685, 653
Text – Romans 8:13
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
DEATH BY THE SPIRIT
People struggle with their Christian faith because they don’t understand why the Christian faith is such a struggle. The budget is always stressed to make ends meet. Brothers & sisters in Christ rub each other the wrong way. The sermons are too boring. The music is too dull. The room is too hot & the room is too cold.
Those are superficial struggles & Satan can do great damage with them, nevertheless, they are not his primary purpose. They are only means to an end – our eternal suffering in complete isolation from everything that is good. Church budgets, brothers & sisters in Christ, sermons, music & room temperature – all of them are external struggles.
Satan’s real desire is to drill down deep & tear asunder your very mind, body & soul. His ultimate longing is to torture us from within & turn us away from our Creator. The Apostle Paul writes of his personal experience in the 7th chapter of Romans, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24b ESV)
St. Paul is describing the struggle that goes on constantly within all of God’s children. The sinful nature of our physical birth & the saintly nature of our spiritual rebirth are at war with one another. Our mind, body & soul are the battlefield. King David wrote of this struggle in Psalm 51:
“For I know my transgressions, & my sin is ever before me… Create in me a clean heart, O God, & renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (51:3 & 10 ESV) In Paul’s words, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24b-25a ESV) It is so easy to simply read or hear those words. Living them out, as Satan tries to tear apart mind, body & soul, is an entirely different matter.
At Christmas, Gary’s family had posed for the quintessential family picture in the lobby of their church. At the time it seemed unremarkable. Months later, Gary realized it was the last photo where he was clasping his children’s shoulders with his own hands. Just a week after the picture session Gary was in full-blown septic shock with his organs shutting down.
After ten days of coma nightmares, Gary woke to see that his hands & legs were black. Two weeks later the decision was made to amputate them below the elbows & the knees. How would Gary respond? Would it be with despair or with hope? Would he trust in his Creator or deny Him? Our struggles may not be that severe, but the same questions face us each day?
Many of us believe our country is headed in the wrong direction on practically every issue. Do we respond with despair or with hope? Paul tells us what the result will be in each case, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 ESV)
Considering the direction of our nation, to despair is to live according to the flesh. If we choose that Paul says we will die. Yet, if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, if we put to death the choice of despair, then we will live. Noah was in our shoes thousands of years ago, yet, by the Spirit, he put to death the choice of despair & he lived.
Every other human being besides his family, chose to live according to the flesh & they died. The Spirit worked in Noah & in his family to put to death the deeds of the body – despair, worry & denial of their Creator. Eight people entered the Ark & all of them lived. Our struggles may not be that severe, yet the same questions face you & me multiple times each day?
That is the struggle of Christian faith in a fallen world. We cannot avoid the struggles or
the pain, if we are following Jesus. Satan will not allow it. He will attack. Do we allow the Spirit to put to death the deeds of our body that we may live? Our culture tells us to say “Yes,” to all of our base desires, to enjoy & even celebrate the deeds of the body. Those deeds are the dreams & the desires of our sinful nature. Those dreams & desires never lead us back to God.
Paul says, “Put them to death by the Spirit & you will live.” He illustrates this in further detail at Galatians 5:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies & things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” (5:19-23 ESV)
Putting to the death the deeds of the body, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is practicing self-control. Fifteen hundred years later, Martin Luther wrote that by contrition & repentance we are to drown the old Adam every day. That working in us, of the Holy Spirit, is good news. In fact, the struggles of the Christian life are evidence that we truly are alive.
If we are not experiencing struggle in this life, there’s a real question as to whose side we are on. Satan is always attacking the children of God. Not a moment goes by that we are not tempted to sin. If you are not experiencing that struggle then your conscience is dead, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die…” (Romans 8:13 ESV)
That’s why, as Romans 7 comes to a close, Paul is rejoicing in the fact that through Jesus Christ our Lord he has been delivered from this body of death! Even though Paul is still a sinner, he knows that he also has eternal life, & that Christ has won the war even if the struggles & the battles are not yet finished. There is, in our lives, still tremendous injustice in this world, but we are not, because of it, chained to despair or the denial of our Creator. You & I, along with Paul, have been delivered from this body of death that is still sinful every moment of every day. Though we do not do the good that we want to do, though we still do the evil that we do not want to do, that struggle is what Christ our Lord has delivered us from.
Our lives certainly don’t look like freedom from sin. They don’t look like pure joy & glory, yet Jesus says we are free. It takes the gift of faith to believe this, a gift that God freely gives us through Baptism & through our hearing the Word of God. Daily, the Spirit calls us back to that faith, to that trust in God’s promises.
We will fully experience the freedom of that reality only upon our arrival in heaven at the Last Day. Then, Satan’s efforts to tear asunder your very mind, body & soul will have been brought to an end. Until then, our struggles with sin are a sign that God’s Spirit is working in us, & through us, to do battle against the Devil & our own sinful nature.
St. Paul alludes to that as the Epistle reading from Romans concludes, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
Don’t believe the lies of Satan when he tempts you with thoughts that you must be doing something wrong in your Christian life because you still sin. Paul wrote of himself:
“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)
Numerous Christians actually teach that when Paul writes those words, he must be writing of unbelievers. They’re being tempted by Satan to think that no one who struggles so mightily with sin could be a child of God. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s those who don’t struggle with sin that are likely to not be children of God. Satan has no need to attack them. As Paul concludes the Epistle lesson, he writes to clarify:
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (8:16-17 ESV)
Doing battle against sin is a large part of that suffering which Paul writes of. Our doing battle against sin does not mean that we eliminate our sins. If it did, then Christ died for nothing, because His death was to pay for all the sins that we commit. However, our suffering, our struggles with sin, will come to end when we physically die.
When we are raised from the dead, then perfect glory will be ours. God will raise our bodies in some kind of glorified state & sin will be no more. With word of the amputations, as a child of God, Gary had a choice to make – to despair or to hope – to deny his Creator or to trust in Him still. Even in his severe struggles, Gary chose to bless the name of the Lord.
That’s a good example of death by the Spirit. Gary was, by the power of God’s Spirit, choosing to die to his selfish wants & to live in Christ Jesus. Living as a child of God is not possible without the power of the Holy Spirit, & Paul is, in this text, encouraging us to lean upon that Spirit completely in order to live the life of freedom that Jesus calls us to.
Every day you & I need the encouragement of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Our need for that power never ends in this life & our Savior never stops offering it. Amen.
Let us suffer here with Jesus & with patience bear our cross. Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is, there is no loss. Though today we sow no laughter, we shall reap celestial joy; all discomforts that annoy shall give way to mirth hereafter. Jesus, here I share Your woe; help me there Your joy to know. LSB 685:2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet