Sermon 9th July 2023
Psalm 146, Romans 7:15 – 25a
A common misconception that a lot of us have, or had, is that when we became Christians the Good News was all about the future: eternal life after I die.
But for me, as I have studied the bible over the years, and in particular the teachings of Jesus and Paul, I’ve discovered that the gospel has power to help me in the present and even in my past: eternal life right now.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a stunning, complex explanation of the gospel. In chapter 7, as we heard read today, he explains how the power of the gospel helps us in the present but also that it is not a magic bullet – there is soul work for us to do to in order to live a life in all its fullness.
Paul shows us how to access this good news moment by moment and why dying to self is such a freeing way to live.
Paul explains what was lost on me for a long time in my early walk with Jesus: that is, we can simultaneously be free from the power of sin, yet stillstruggle with sin.
A word on sin. Sin is a word and a concept that has changed meaning over the centuries. In our current culture it is a word that’s meaning is often misunderstood.
We perhaps think of the 7 deadly sins or the big stuff like murder but when I speak of sin I speak of those things that get in the way of our relationship with God – those thoughts and activities that lead us down a self-interested, self- determined path – away from the love of God.
So Christ’s death has conquered sin’s power, but somehow sin still invites us in.
When Paul talks about sin in Romans, he is almost always talking about a noun, not a verb. In Romans, Paul describes sin as a condition you are in, not something you do.
There are two Greek words for sin: the noun hamartia, and the verb hamartano. In Romans, Paul uses the noun 46 times and the verb twice.
So for Paul, being set free from sin is more about a condition you are in rather than things you do. It is about being infected and then healed rather than doing wrong things. In fact, in Romans 1, the “bad things” we do are a symptom of the condition of sin, rather than the sin itself.
Why do I still sin when I have been set free from sin – I hear you ask?
Paul explains that it all comes down to where we offer our energy and our time. Paul is implying that sin gains power over us the more we engage in it.
But so does God, so it all comes down to where we give our energy and time.
I think Paul’s principle states: where we put our attention defines our spiritual growth.
If we make a habit of offering ourselves to sin, then sin becomes our master – it gains power and control over our lives – but if we habitually offer ourselves to God, his power takes over and frees us from sin’s grip. Whatever we give ourselves to is what has our attention and devotion.
I think this is why Paul said we can either be a slave to sin or a slave to God. Some might say, “If my only two choices involve being a slave to something, then forget it!”. But these thinkers fundamentally misunderstand the way the world works.
We are all a slave to something or someone.
As a result, whatever we give ourselves to becomes our master.
Some of our favourite stories show this to be true.
Take Gollum in the Lord of the Rings for example. He is slowly consumed by what he reaches for until he becomes less and less human.
Paul said we ought to proceed with extreme caution when offering ourselves to something or someone that does not have our best interests at heart – primarily, anything that isn’t God. As Paul puts rather bluntly later in the chapter in verse 23 “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”. Sin kills. God gives life.
I think for too many years we have mistakenly taught that God kills and God gives life. But that’s not what Paul taught.
Paul wasn’t saying that God punishes us when we sin, he was saying the sin punishes us when we sin.
The reason to not live in sin isn’t so much about disappointing God or angering God; the reason to avoid sin is to avoid sin’s price, which is always death.
Sometimes this can be literal but more often than not it destroys something we love – a relationship, our integrity, our ability to look someone in the eyes.
God is in the life-giving business; sin is always on the prowl to destroy and deceive.
Part of my human condition is that I need approval and acceptance. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but they can be if I go after them in the wrong places. However, if I step over this need to have them met in others and put myself in the arms of God, I find that in him they are already met.
My identity, my need to be okay, is found in the grace of Christ. I am freed from hunting for my worth outside the arms of God.
This is a daily dying to self. A surrender to God to meet my needs rather than looking for them in the people I serve and the people I love – none of whom can fully meet my need for approval or acceptance.
I see Romans as a fork in the road, and every day I get to choose which path I will take. Before, I blindly sought others for approval, validation and acceptance, now, by God’s grace he has shown me a better, more life-giving path.
Whatever we offer ourselves to will consume us.
The miracle of salvation isn’t that Jesus stops us from sinning or being tempted by sin, it is that Jesus changes what our hearts want and by grace we know where to go to find it.
Rev’d Kia Pakenham 9th July 2023