Whether you are frequently aware of it or not, and for a variety of reasons that we won’t go into at this time, the United States has entered a new kind of war. Instead of a conflict that could be ended with signatures on the USS Missouri, the country faces hydra-headed foes, diverse enough to make a military victory difficult. Similarly, Paul describes sin as a persistent, powerful, dangerous enemy within. That leads to his wrenching question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and to the glorious response, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
It is difficult to be certain just whom Paul is describing in the latter part of Romans 7. Some have suggested he is thinking of himself before he came to Christ. Others take the “I” as personifying the people of Israel under the Law of Moses. With some caution, I agree with a view that has been held historically, that Paul is writing about his (and your) experience as a Christian. He truly wants to do good, v. 19. In language that echos Psalm 1, he delights in the Law of God in his inmost being, v. 21.
Yet, even as a believer, a believer this side of heaven, Paul and you are involved in a battle against sin. Although it is God’s Law that makes you aware of sin, Paul guards against any hint that it might be the source of sin. God’s Law, as Psalm 19 reminds you, is holy, good, and something in which you should delight. The Law in itself, however, cannot remove or even diminish the power of sin.
Sin is dangerous. Ever since the Fall, sin has been inextricably connected with death. Paul describes himself as having been killed by sin. Sin is rebellion against God, even when it occurs in your life as a believer. Be deadly serious about sin. Recognize that, though it is ultimately a defeated enemy since Christ’s death and resurrection, it is still dangerous. Obliviousness to sin is a symptom of complacency.
Paul does not write to discourage you. Just as he points you to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who brings you from death in sin to new life, so he points you as a Christian to Jesus Christ as your deliverer. Jesus, the God-man who entered this world to deliver you, the Messiah who offered his life in your place, is your risen, ascended Lord. Even in the sometimes discouraging conflict with sin he continues to give you the victory.
Are you becoming aware that you are dead in sin? You need Christ, crucified and risen. Are you a Christian, discouraged with how pervasive sin still is in your life? You need the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who comes to you, his covenant people, as you meet him in the Word and sacrament this Lord’s Day. Thanks be to God!
(Prepared for the message on the Lord’s Day, October 10, 2010)