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Third Sunday of Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, March 7, 2021

Obedience Out of Love for God

Text: Romans 7:12–25

Many of you have read about the exchange between Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) as the House of Representatives debated H.R. 5 the “Equality Act.” Rep. Steube was quoting from the Bible and Rep. Nadler in frustration interrupted and declared, “what any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” This has caused quite a lot of protests from different religious groups around the country.

The “Equality Act” would change the fairly recent concept of “gender identity” and embed it into federal civil rights law. This would require that every American accept the biologically false ideas of transgender identities. Rep. Stuebe quoted the Bible to express the fact that millions of Americans reject the whole concept of transgender identities on religious grounds and believe that the “Equality Act” is an open rebellion against God and his word. God created human beings as male or female and there are no other options. Rep. Steube warned, “the gender confusion that exists in our culture today is a clear rejection of God’s good design… whenever a nation's laws no longer reflect the standards of God, that nation is in rebellion against him and will inevitably bear the consequences.”

In response to Rep. Nadler’s rejection of the authority and validity of the traditions of faith, whether it be Judaism, Christianity, or others, Steube pointed out that “In God We Trust” was etched in the wall right behind the speaker’s rostrum in the House of Representatives. He then reminded Rep. Nadler and all those who oppose the law of God, “To say that religion has no place in this Congress when our country was founded on Judeo- Christian beliefs, I certainly disagree with that.”

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, President of The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV, a coalition of more than 1500 traditional Jewish Rabbis), said,

The Founding Fathers required Congress to avoid infringing upon the free exercise of religion, meaning it must be sensitive to what every religious tradition describes as God’s will. It is especially true that Congress must remain cognizant of the set of foundational moral principles, including valuing peace, human life, and individual liberty and responsibility, that America calls Judeo-Christian ethics.

The “Equality Act” attacks the sacred teaching that marriage is to be a holy union between a man and woman, not same sex or a veritable combination of identities. The insanity behind all the tenants of this legislation is that it claims to bring equality among all systems of thought or belief—unless you don’t agree with their truth claims.

Tyler O’Neil of PJ Media quotes CJV Vice President Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, “Mr. Nadler has unmasked the true nature of the Equality Act. Far from valuing diverse opinions and beliefs, it tramples free exercise of religion and even demonizes free speech. Reading the Bible in public, per the Equality Act, could be called an exercise in bigotry and grounds for a ‘discrimination’ complaint. Without question, the true bigots here are those who support deliberate attacks upon the cherished beliefs of others.”

According to the Pew Research Center’s January 4, 2021 “Faith on the Hill” article,

Nearly nine-in-ten members of Congress identify as Christian (88%), compared with two-thirds of the general public (65%). Congress is both more heavily Protestant (55% vs. 43%) and more heavily Catholic (30% vs. 20%) than the US adult population overall.

So, with that in mind, two questions need to be answered by those who claim to be a Christian:

1. What do they think it means to be a Christian?

2. What place should the Word of God and his holy law be in the lives of those who claim to be a Christian?

Often people equate being a Christian with their family background. A barber that I used to go to when I actually had enough hair to warrant it, was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. He told me that he was a Christian but as we talked I saw that the claim had everything to do with where he lived and his family’s history, not his beliefs. Most people on the other side of town considered themselves Muslim. This dilemma is common around the world, where people's religious background is often more about their ethnicity than their religious beliefs.

This is certainly the case within the United States and even in the Northern Neck here in Virginia. The fact is that even within Christianity there is some disagreement about what it means to follow Christ and whether or not we should obey the law of God found in the Old Testament. Some feel that Christians are released from keeping the obligation of observing the moral law of God because they are not under the law but grace. It’s called “antinomianism” and one of the main reasons that it is unbiblical is that in His word there is a clear command for Christians to obey God’s moral law. This is the first thing we notice as we reflect on the proposals of the Equality Act proposed by this government. They do not reflect the heart and character of God seen through his holy law but clearly reflect the very opposite. 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

What is this law God commands us to obey? Well, we say it every week at the beginning of our service. It is the law of Christ based on the Ten Commandments:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Whereas it is true that we are not under the demands of the Old Testament law, we are under the compulsion of the law of Christ. The law of Christ is not a list of legal codes and ceremonies, but it is a law of love. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will strive to honor and obey him because he is the object of our desire. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we do so to honor the heart of God who wants us to reveal the good news of Christ to them through his word and through our love and service to them. Obeying the law of Christ is not a requirement to earn or maintain salvation, but it is how we are to demonstrate that we have been transformed by the power of the cross and are no longer living for our own glory but God’s.

Antinomianism is not only wrong, but it is extremely dangerous because it takes our focus off the very law that was given to reveal the character and nature of God. God intends for his children to demonstrate who he is through the lives of those who profess to love and follow him. We are to do that by living according to the standard that the Ten Commandments teach us. Jesus Christ freed us from the burdensome commands of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws by fulfilling them through his perfect sacrifice upon the cross. That is not to be a license to sin, but a testimony to the power of grace to transform hearts. Through grace we are to strive to overcome sin and cultivate righteousness, depending on the Holy Spirit’s power and presence working to enable us. The fact that we are no longer under the burden of the demands of the Old Testament Law should result in our seeking to live our lives in obedience to the law of Christ.

1 John 2:3–6 says,

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

This morning we begin the third week of Lent which is the journey, or the “walk” where we are focusing on the cross and how our sin was the reason that Jesus went to the cross. We will focus on the purpose and function of the law of God as the way to restore our hearts and return to the joy of following God from lives of loving obedience.

Our focus will be on the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the function of the law in exposing sin. First let me say this, in our Epistle reading from Exodus 20:1–21 we read the 10 Commandments (literally words) given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. These laws were to be seen as the words of God to his people Israel. God was making a claim by right of creation and redemption. These covenant commands were given as a way for those whom he had delivered out of slavery to show their grateful loyalty. They were never designed as a way of salvation. They were meant to be covenant stipulations, those things that Israel had to do in order to reap the benefits of the covenant and avoid its penalties.

All the other 600+ laws were given as a way to live out obedience to the Ten Commandments. That’s why they are still an expression of God’s heart and a reflection of his moral character. They are also a recipe for a good life which was God’s intention for his people whom he loves.

The Psalmist was seeing the law for what it is as he sang a song of praise in celebration of its majesty. I love Psalm 19:7–11,

The law of the Lord is perfect, 
          reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
          making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
          rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
          enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
          enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
          and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, 
          even much fine gold,
sweeter also than honey 
          and drippings of the honeycomb.  
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
          in keeping them there is great reward.

It’s for this reason that Paul writes in Romans 7:12, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

Before Paul launches into an explanation of sin vs. the law, he establishes that the law is holy, righteous, and good, therefore whatever is contrary to the law and commandments of God must be seen as unholy, ungodly, and grievous to God.

In this section the Apostle shares his own struggle with sin and reflects on the law as the light which exposes his sin.

This section seems very dense and hard to understand but this morning I am asking God to allow us to see into our own struggles with sin through the lens of the Apostle Paul’s description of his frustrations and yet the purpose of striving against our own sins. Let’s read Romans 7:13–15,

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, “sold” as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.

Paul is pointing out that it was the sin within him that caused him to break the law, but it was the law that revealed to him that he was without hope within himself. The law was good and from the heart of God, but its function was to expose the deepest need of the human heart to be set free from slavery to sin.

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

This is one of the most deplorable results of sin. It injures us most by taking from us the capacity to know how much we are injured. It undermines the man’s constitution, and yet leads him to boast of unfailing health; it beggars him and tells him he is rich; it strips him and makes him glory in his fancied robes.

The law then was given to wake us up to the truth of our condition before God. Paul recognizes that in his earthly flesh he still struggles. Even though his desire is to keep the law of God out of devotion to God, there is still the war going on between his flesh and the Spirit within him.

Before he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul felt that he was righteous because he was keeping the outward demands of the law. In this passage, he had come to understand that the law was holy and served the function of exposing him as a sinner, but it had no power to save him. He admits that within himself he was powerless to overcome the struggle and only found frustration.

In verses 16–20 Paul continues describing the inward struggle within himself that every believer recognizes. I don’t need to read it again because it is simply the back-and-forth struggle between wanting to do the right thing, but time and again finding that the flesh has won again. As we pray in our confession of sin,

“Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word or deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself.”

How often I want to add the statement, “but I meant to.”

What Paul is describing isn’t a lack of desire, he wants to do what is right. His problem isn’t that he doesn’t know what to do, he knew the law as well as anyone. The problem that he was describing was a lack of power, and he acknowledges that even though the law was holy and taught what the commands are, it gives no power or ability to keep them and that is Paul’s point. For those who strive to keep the commands of God in their own strength, they will live a life of guilt and frustration.

It could be that sometimes people who have “tried Jesus” give up because they find that the desires of the flesh seem stronger than the desires to deny the flesh. This is usually because they haven’t really come to Jesus in repentance and faith, acknowledging their absolute need for him, but have agreed to take him for a “test drive” to find out if he’s worth the trouble.

We do a great disservice if we invite people to come to Jesus by faith in repentance under the promise that everything will suddenly be rosy and wonderful. We’re inviting them to come to Jesus for eternal life with God instead of eternal judgment. That changes the picture somewhat.

In verse 20–23 Paul writes,

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

You may be asking yourself the question, “Is Paul denying his responsibility as a sinner?” The answer is “No.” He recognizes that as he sins, he is acting against his new nature as a “new man” in Christ. Christians should own up to their sins but realize that the impulse to sin does not come from who we really are in Christ Jesus but is a reminder of who we are without him. It is the enemy who would have us live in the torment of guilt and self-loathing or he would have us live in self-righteousness because we have refused to acknowledge that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

Every one of us understands this struggle to do good and the frustration of failure. C.S. Lewis wrote, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to do good.”

Some have thought that Paul was describing his struggle before he became a Christian. Others have pointed out that the mere fact that he was struggling clearly showed that he was a Christian. I don’t think it matters because the Apostle’s point here is that no one can overcome the struggle with sin by fighting in their own strength. The unregenerate man can never overcome this struggle because he lacks the power of the risen Savior. But the Christian, though he struggles, can be victorious as he/she submits to the power of Christ within.

Paul wants us to see the struggle with sin as part of the on-going battle of spiritual warfare that each of us must fight, but not in our own strength or righteousness. It’s the last section of our passage that points this out so effectively. Let’s read Romans 7:24–25,

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Two laws or driving forces, the flesh and the Spirit, operate within the believer. The regenerate self, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, loves God’s law and is devoted to it; but in this present existence, the powerful force of indwelling sin continues to operate, keeping the believer from fulfilling his or her desire for undiluted obedience. I have been at the place in my life many times where I basically cried out, “O wretched man, O worn out man, O guilty, frustrated, tired man!” I have struggled and repented of my sins to the point that I was just about ready to give up. It was then I realized that Jesus was willing to walk with me through the struggle and give me the power through his spirit to overcome.

I found that it was to be a life-long part of my journey. This is to be an intentional way of facing up to our weakness and to depend on the power of Christ within us. In 2 Corinthians 10:3–5, the Apostle gives us an insight into the struggle and the hope we can find there:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

God knows we can’t make it in our own strength and that’s why the Holy Spirit indwells every believer. He is the source of our strength.

It's wrong to think that the Apostles or early church fathers did not have to wrestle with sin, guilt, and frustration the same as we do—or should. It is tempting to come to this place in the passage hoping that Paul is now declaring that his struggle was done, and he had won the victory over sin in his life, but instead he is acknowledging that Jesus had won the battle over sin and death. When Paul describes “This body of death” some commentators believe that he is referring to the custom of ancient kings who tormented their prisoners by tying a corpse to their backs and making them walk around with it attached to them. Paul longed to be free from the wretched body of death clinging to him which was the sin that still was a part of his daily struggle.

He was calling us to focus on the fact that even though we struggle in this body, the day will come when we will be delivered from this body of death and will receive a glorious, resurrected body free from sin and corruption. It was then that he simply wrote, “Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It was a sigh of relief from the burden of our sinfulness. That is the hope of the Gospel and through that Paul was looking outside of himself and focusing on Jesus. Then he had a reason to thank and praise the God who had and would continue to come to his rescue. Jesus was his Lord, and it would only be through Jesus that he would have victory. Paul knew that he would continue to struggle, but if he kept his focus on Jesus, he would make it through to the end.

Paul wanted his readers to understand that the law is glorious and holy, but it can’t save us, only Jesus can. The law came as a teacher to show us how to live before God, but right up-front men found that they couldn’t perfectly keep it. We didn’t need a teacher; we needed a Savior. The law encourages us to live righteously as those who are disciplined and intentional but, though it motivates me, I can’t keep it without a Savior. The law came in and diagnosed my sin problem but had no way to provide a cure, only Jesus as Savior could do that.

So then, the law serves as a reminder of the standard that God would have us strive to live by, but it is the cross that is our focus of hope and surrender. It’s only through the power of the cross that we can be set free from the law of sin and death.

As we continue on the Lenten journey we should do so in recognition that without Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross we would stand condemned by the sin that ensnares us. It is through the cross that we are restored as the sons and daughters of God. “Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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