This is the Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity -- July 21, 2013 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity                                                                                                                                                                                                     07/21/13

Under Obligation

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I couldn’t wait to become an adult. When I was a teen-ager, even a pre-teen, I thought that once I became an adult, everything would get better. There would be no one telling me what to do. I would no longer be under obligation to do my parent’s chores and listen to my parent’s lectures. I would be free to pursue adult things and enjoy life. Then, people would take me seriously. It is the standard childhood/teen-age fantasy, I suppose.

Then I grew up, or at least I grew old enough to be considered an adult. Sadly, nothing changed. I was in the Air Force, so I still had someone older than me bossing me around. I discovered that I was still under obligation, only this time to the military. I had to do their chores and listen to their endless and often mindless lectures. Then I got married, and I was under obligation to a wife, to do her chores and listen to her. Then I had children, and I found other obligations. Mind you, not every obligation is burdensome. Some are quite joyful, but they are obligations none-the-less. Life seems to come with multiple – and often enduring – obligations.

Our text addresses one of those obligations. This obligation is for Christians only. It is consequent to the Gospel. So, I invite you to consider this passage from Romans with me this morning, and our theme is drawn from the words of Paul in the first verse of our Epistle lesson, “Under Obligation”.

If our Epistle seems to begin in the middle of something, it does. The first words, “So then, brethren” clue us in that what is about to be stated rests on the things which have come before our text. What came before was the remarkable teaching that there is no longer any condemnation to those who are connected to Jesus Christ, and that since God has rescued us from sin, living according to the desires of the flesh leads again to death, but living from the Holy Spirit leads to life, and that since we are connected to Christ, and to His death by our Baptism, we will also rise in His resurrection to everlasting life, because the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Christ - dwells in us and that indwelling will procure our resurrection just as it did Christ’s.

Then comes the “So then”. “So then, brethren, we are under obligation.” Yes, even life in Christ comes with strings attached. We have an obligation as Christians. The obligation is not to our human nature and what just comes natural to man - what St. Paul calls, “the flesh”. He makes that point first. The flesh and its desires – what comes to us ‘just naturally’ – is not to be what guides our lives or our thinking. Our obligation is to the Spirit, to the One who will raise our bodies from the grave. Of course, that obligation only exists if you want Him to raise your bodies from the grave.

Christians – no less than other people – are always drawn to living according to the flesh. That means doing what comes natural, doing what we want and desire, doing what feels good and appeals to our sense of fun or pleasure or rights, as in, “I have my rights!” Frankly, living according to the flesh is doing anything without first thinking about what God says, or comparing our will to the will of God as expressed in Scripture. Living according to the flesh is to live in sin and to do so will cause you to die the eternal death of condemnation to hell.

Paul writes that we are under obligation, but not to the flesh and to the desires of the flesh, but instead our obligation is to the Holy Spirit, who has saved us. The obligation we have to the Spirit is to put to death the deeds of the body, because if you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Salvation, redemption, and forgiveness comes with the obligation to live in it and live from it. The Christian faith comes with strings attached – particularly, that you be a Christian.

I have always found the phrase, “putting to death the deeds of the body”, to be a particularly descriptive phrase. It says quite clearly what we are to do with those things which flow out of us, but not from our faith. We are to put them to death. That is, we are to end their existence and power in our lives.

The phrase also accurately describes of how it feels while we do it: it hurts! Resisting sin and temptation feels like we are cheating ourselves, missing out on something delightful and important, denying ourselves something we need and want so terribly much. It feels like we are dying, or putting something precious to death. We can start the fight against sin with a triumphant air, but if what we are facing is a real temptation for us we may well end up feeling empty, and like we have just denied ourselves true joy.

Of course, it is not always that way – but once is enough, and you never quite kill a lust or temptation. You can silence it, but it will come back now and then to see if you are ready to surrender to its fatal charms - and you may have to do the whole “putting to death” thing again. And you want to, because living deliberately in sin is the end of Christian faith, and robs the believer - someone who was once a believer - of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But those who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. You mark your true nature by following the Spirit and turning from sin, repenting, and living out the realities of the Spirit.

Unfortunately, the deeds of the body are not just open acts of wanton sin, but whatever does not flow from faith - for, as Paul teaches in chapter 14, whatever is not from faith is sin. That means that we not only need to stop our favorite sins, we also want to measure all of our lives by the standard of the Spirit - and of the Word of God. Your favorite pass-times may not be openly wicked, and yet they may stand between you and living out your faith. Your toys may be innocent, but, then again, they may be a distraction, or less appropriate stewardship. They may not be wrong in and of themselves, but perhaps they are out-of-proportion in your lives, claiming time and energy and resources that belong somewhere else in your life. I cannot tell, and I don’t mean to judge anyone – but if you don’t take the time in self-examination to see for yourself, can you say that you have put to death the deeds of the body? Remember, we are under obligation.

The obligation is to be God’s free child. Some of what I say may make you wonder how free it is, or what you have to do now, or if you have something to be worried about. I am sorry, but I cannot answer all of those questions for you. I can say, however, that God doesn’t intend it to be a cause of fear or worry. He says, “you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” God wants you walking in the Gospel, in faith, not in some slavish obedience to the Law. We are to be confident, and to know Him as your heavenly Father. He desires you to serve Him with your life because you want to. He wants your relationship with Him to be so close and familiar that you can call Him “Papa”, or “Daddy”, or whatever your home custom was for referring to your Father with affection as a little child. This isn’t about being frightened. But about being faithful and confident and walking as you know God would have you walk.

When we walk deliberately as Christians, the Holy Spirit also bears witness with us that we are God’s children. When you walk faithfully and deliberately as God’s own, you know who you are and that you are secure – and the Spirit of God Himself joins your spirit in bearing witness to God that you are His. How do you know? God’s Word tells you. Of course, then there is that witness of the Spirit.

That testimony is not all that silent and “spiritual” either. He bears witness here, at the altar of the Lord when He places the body of Christ given for you into your mouth, and the blood once shed for you passes through your lips. Here, in the Supper of our Lord, God proclaims loudly to the whole world that you belong to Him, that you are a treasured member of His family! It doesn’t seem loud to us, but that is because we are accustomed to the values and judgments of the world around us. But here, God gives the body and blood of Jesus to you under the bread and wine, to cleanse you, and strengthen and refresh you, and to bear witness publicly that you are His own, one for whom He sent His Son to die. Don’t assess the witness of the Spirit by the size of the crowd here. This is public, and anyone who wanted to know, and could bear the witness of the Spirit, could walk in here and see that you are numbered with the Holy Ones of God. Besides, there are those who see this witness that you do not observe. We talk about them every Sunday when we pray “with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven”. The Spirit is owning you as His own before all of creation.

And if you are His child, you are His heir. That means that you share in the inheritance of all that is God’s - glory, everlasting life, and . . . well, I don’t know how to describe all of it, nor has God given us an exhaustive list. You are heirs as beloved children, to be dealt with just like Jesus. Heaven and earth belong to you, and exist for your welfare and blessing, and eternal glory awaits. The Epistle today says that we are, “heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ”.

Of course, it continues with “if”. Remember, we are under obligation. We are fellow heirs with Christ if, indeed, we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Salvation is in connection with and in union with Christ. But Christ came to suffer, and if you are connected with Him and united to Him, you, too, will suffer. Remember how I described the “putting to death” as painful and difficult? That is part of, perhaps the beginning of the suffering with Christ. But there is more. There is the stigma of being a Christian, a Lutheran, a confessional Lutheran!

Now, do I mean to suggest that if you are not a confessional Lutheran, you are not a Christian? Yes, I do. There are many who do not know the name, or call themselves by it, but Christians all believe what we confess - Christ for the forgiveness of sins, salvation by grace through faith without any merit or deserving in me, and the abiding truth and power of the Word of God. All Christians are Lutherans, in the final analysis – they just don’t all know it by that name. On the other hand, not all who call themselves ‘Lutherans’ are Christians. Only those that believe and confess Christ in truth.

And the world doesn’t like that confession, and they don’t like people who look to them like Jesus, and act like Jesus. So they will make you suffer right along with Jesus. They will persecute you for no good reason. They will call you all sorts of names, and suggest that you are ignorant, superstitious, feeble-minded, or secretly evil and trying to seize control of them, or their world, or their money, or something. They will marginalize you, that is place you at the outer margins of acceptable society. They will exclude you where they can. At certain times and in the places where it can be done without too much risk on their part, they will even kill you - as happens even now to Christians in Islamic societies, like Egypt, or the Sudan, or Malaysia, or the Philippines, places where the Moslems are dominant.

Not all suffering for Christ is to death, but it can be - and I cannot tell you what you may have to face, but we are under obligation. If it comes, we must bear it faithfully, for to abandon Confessing Christ in order to keep your body comfortable - or even just to keep it alive - is to live according to the flesh – and if you are living according to the flesh, you must die. But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. And we are under obligation to the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, and put to death the deeds of the body. Suffering with Jesus is just part of that living according to the Spirit – which is another way of saying that it is part of faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant us strength, and His Spirit that we may be faithfully His own.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

Home Page | Sermon Archive