Beloved. The doctrine on which the Church stands or falls is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. Jesus did all the work necessary for our salvation. He fulfilled God’s holy Law for us. He suffered for our sins. He defeated our spiritual enemies of sin, death, devil and hell. He reconciled us sinners to the holy God; that’s what Easter proclaims to us. In Him we are forgiven our sins; nothing stands between us and God; we are now through faith in Jesus God’s dear children and heirs of heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. In Jesus, because of Jesus, we can be certain that things are right between us and God; we can be certain of our salvation.
If that is the case, why even bother about our sins? Aren’t our sins,then, insignificant? Why worry about examination of heart and life and about confession? Don’t our sins matter—after all, we can be certain of our salvation. If all our sins are forgiven in Jesus, does it really matter, then, if we sin? Won’t Jesus just forgiven that one too? Why should we strive to live a holy life?—after all, we can’t gain heaven by our holiness; no matter how much or how great the sin, God forgives that sin for Jesus’ sake.
You see, that is exactly the “problem” when the Gospel is preached in all its truth and purity. The thought easily arises in the mind, and is fanned and encouraged by the devil and the world around us: why not sin if it’s all forgiven anyway? Sin really is no big deal! That’s the situation St. Paul addressed already in his day. He wrote to these Roman Christians shortly before our text [Romans 5.20; 6.1,2]: But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. Notice what he says: he preaches the simple truth of the Gospel Jesus entrusted to His Church—no matter how great the sin, there is more than enough forgiveness for that sin. And then the thought easily arising in the sinful human mind: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? In other words, not only does sin not matter, the more we sin, the more grace God can show us. So what is St. Paul’s answer to that? Certainly not!
That is why we must be on guard lest any bit of this thinking affects us and then we no longer fight against sin and strive for holiness. The simple fact of the matter is that when we willfully sin and resist the Holy Spirit in us who wants to lead us and empowers us to fight against sin and temptation, we are grieving Him and expelling Him; and when He goes, so does faith and when faith is gone we no longer can cling to Jesus, His work, His holiness; faith can no longer receive the forgiveness of sins. Willful sin destroys faith.
The other thing that happens if we fall into the logic of What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?—is that the more we sin, the more sin Satan can dredge up to accuse us of and try to lead us into despair and away from God. Even if we strive to live our lives in accord with the holy Ten Commandments, even if we strive for a life of holiness, the fact remains: we are sinners and we will sin; we will easily be tempted and fall into sin.
And especially for the Christian, who is striving for holiness, the devil will come and dredge up our sin to torment our conscience and lead us to despair that that sin is too great to be forgiven; or he will come to us and torment us with the thought: you call yourself a Christian after you did such and such a sin? It may very well be the same sin over and over again that he does this with.
So what are we, who are striving for holiness, to do when we feel our sin or when Satan dredges up sin to remind and torment us with it or when our conscience is bothering us about a certain sin that we long ago confessed and received forgiveness for? The simple answer is to turn it around and use it for our spiritual good: to use it to lead us into humility and watchfulness; and then to arouse in us thankfulness for God’s grace.
When we are reminded of our sin, let us use it to lead us into humility and watchfulness. Look at what St. Paul writes in our text: Indeed, just as you offered your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness, resulting in more lawlessness, so now offer your members in the same way as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. He uses a very common image to these Christians to help them understand—the image of slavery. He talks about members, that is, the parts of their body that they offered as slaves to impurity and lawlessness. They offered their hands, eyes, ears, legs, minds, etc. to serve sin, in slavery to sin. Really, that’s all that they could do; that’s all that any person outside of Christ can do; that’s all we could before our conversion—offer ourselves as slaves to sin. And what does St. Paul ask these Christians in our text? So what kind of fruit did you have then? They were things of which you are now ashamed. Yes, the final result of those things is death. What does that slavery to sin get you in the end? –Death! Not just earthly, bodily death like all us sinners will experience, but eternal damnation in hell.
So when we feel our sin, when our conscience condemns us for our sin, when Satan dredges up our sin before us, let us use it for our spiritual good. Let us see and acknowledge our spiritual condition. But seeing it, let us flee from it and run all the more to Christ. Let us see in our sin precisely the thing we want to avoid. The thing is, when we feel our sin oppressing us in conscience, when we feel Satan’s attacks to lead us to despair, let us humble ourselves and run to our Lord in confession. Let us run to Him in humility and receive His forgiveness that He offers us fully and freely. We dare not try to explain away or rationalize away our sin. We dare not try to find acceptance for our sin. And certainly we dare not try to put a religious veneer on it: “Oh, God will forgive that one too. He is so kind and gracious.” When reminded of our sin, let us see our sin for what it really is—a slavery to sin that will ultimately lead to death. By the power of the Holy Spirit, not only will we then be led into the humility of confession, but we will be led to be watchful lest we fall into that slavery to sin, to impurity and lawlessness, resulting in more lawlessness. To be sure, there is a freedom in serving sin because when we are slaves to sin, then we are not bothered or worried how to live a godly life; we could and would ignore the will of God. We are free from righteousness. But is that the type of freedom we would want? A freedom that is really a slavery to sin and death?
The simple fact of the matter is: we are either slaves to sin or slaves to holiness. We serve/ are slaves to only one master—it’s either God or Satan; righteousness or sin. Our lives now as Christians, born from above in the waters of holy baptism, are lives of slaves of righteousness. As slaves of righteousness, as ones with that new life, with the Holy Spirit leading us into holiness and strengthening us in the fight against sin, each time we are reminded of our sin—be it Satan dredging up sin to try to get us to despair or when we ourselves do it as we daily examine our heart and life in the light of the holy Ten Commandments—we see that by God’s grace we escaped the devil once, and so we want to make sure that we do not fall back into that snare. That’s the humility of confession; that’s the humility of relying on the Lord; that’s the watchfulness of trying to avoid sin, of now offer[ing] your members in the same way as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
And what is the result of our slavery either to God and righteousness or to sin and the devil? [The works of the slavery to sin] were things of which you are now ashamed. Yes, the final result of those things is death. But now, since you were set free from sin and have become slaves to God, you have your fruit resulting in sanctification—and the final result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the undeserved gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Why would we want to go back to a slavery to sin and death? So when we are reminded of our sin, let us remember where we as Christians came from—out of the slavery to sin and into righteousness. And so let us, yes recoil in horror at that sin, but in faith humbly confess it, receive from the Lord His forgiveness and by the power of the Holy Spirit be ever more vigilant against sin.
When our conscience is troubled over sin, when Satan dredges up past sin to torment us and try to get us to despair of our salvation, turn it around and use it for your spiritual good. Let it awaken us to a thankfulness of God’s grace. Let us always keep the cross of Christ before us and when past sin comes to torment us let us look to the cross of Christ and there see our forgiveness—that there is no sin greater than that sacrifice—and there see God’s grace. How can we not be thankful that the Lord came to us in that grace and brought us to faith, washed away our sin and brought us into His holy family, rescued us from slavery to sin and death? Lives devoted to sin/ slaves to sin and unrighteousness, yield what result? Yes, the final result of [the works of the slavery to sin] is death. But lives devoted to God/ being a slave to righteousness lead to holy and blessed results. But now, since you were set free from sin and have become slaves to God you have your fruit resulting in sanctification—and the final result is eternal life. And who is it that gets credit for us living lives of holiness? Who gets the credit for the final result—eternal life? God! Notice: You were set free from sin. It was done to us; we didn’t do it to ourselves. God set us free from sin. And also as it literally reads you…have been made a slave to God. We didn’t make ourselves slaves to God, slaves to righteousness. God made us His slaves. He did it in holy Baptism. God brought us into our new blessed position. And now, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit we live a life of holiness: [you] have become slaves to God you have your fruit resulting in sanctification—and the final result is eternal life. When we are reminded of our sin and feel it in our heart and conscience, let us remember the cross of Christ and that God’s grace rescued us from and has forgiven us our sin. When your sin bothers you, do not let it bring you into despair but let it remind you of God’s grace to you and all us sinners; let it lead you to thank the Lord for His grace which led Him to set us free from sin and to make us His slaves and slaves of righteousness.
It sounds odd but being a slave to God and righteousness is true freedom. Our Christian freedom is true freedom because we are freed from being slaves to our own will, which is corrupt and enslaved to sin and death. Now, as slaves to God, we are truly how we were created to be: so now offer your members in the same way as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Remember: our members are our body and all its parts. God created us to love and serve Him. How repulsive that the beautiful work of God—our body—was stained with sin and was a slave to the devil and unrighteousness! But now, claimed by our Lord in Baptism, we are beginning to use our bodies not to serve sin and devil but righteousness and the Lord. In baptism, we were baptized unto righteousness so that we die to sin and extinguish wicked passions. We now have the Holy Spirit in us; we are united with Jesus in His death and resurrection. As we have been freed from sin and made a slave of God in Holy Baptism we have been transformed. Each time we are reminded of sin, let us not get distraught or defensive over it. Instead, let us go back to our baptism and reclaim the gifts and blessings of Jesus that He gave us there—forgiveness of sin, life, salvation. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us again and anew offer your members in the same way as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification, as we live lives of humility and watchfulness against sin and full of thankfulness for God’s grace. INJ