"Serving in the Power of the Spirit"#84-44
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 2, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:How would Jesus have voted?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Romans 7:1-13
Our text for today is Romans 7:1-13. St. Paul says, "So my brothers and sisters, you also died to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who is raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the Law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the Law so that we serve in a new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
Christ has risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah. In today's reading from Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul said that because of Jesus Christ, we have died to that which held us captive so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit. I don't know if you feel like you're being held captive by anything, but I know of someone who did. I'll call him Bob Smith. Back in the late 80s, he graduated from an exclusive Ivy League university. While there, Bob had accumulated some debt. The money he owed seemed like a prison. Bob felt as if he was being held captive by his debt.
So, what did he do? He faked his death. Yes, he faked his death in order to get out of paying the money he owed. In a desperate move to be free, Bob had someone call the university to tell the officials there that he had died in an auto accident. Two years later, Bob did it again. He filed a false death certificate with his bank in order to escape his $23,000 government student loan. There was one problem. Contradictions were developing in the stories he was manufacturing. Bob was trying to escape his student debt captivity, but a fake death story wasn't working.
How are you held captive in your life? In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul says that our sin has become our master. It overcomes us. It enslaves us like an overwhelming student loan. Our own frailty and failures can leave us feeling trapped in impossibility. If Jesus didn't come to free us, we would be lost. You see that's what the message of forgiveness through Jesus-that's what it's all about.
Jesus paid a huge debt on your behalf. Every fault and failure you experience, every regret and reason for shame that plagues your life, every way you disappoint yourself, God, and others builds up a negative balance in your life. You can feel it. You can see it. You fall short of being whole and happy. You feel guilty and burdened and alienated from God. You injure your relationship with Him and with others.
This is not just about you. The world is broken, too. The system has been fouled up. Life is out of balance. The world is a chaotic mess. You see it every day. Both personally and globally, there is a huge imbalance. There's no way for you to pay that debt. None of us can. There's no way to free yourself from captivity to a fallen life or a fallen world. That's the reality that Paul wrestled with in this letter to Christians in the city of Rome.
Paul called captivity to sin serious business because when you're living apart from God, you aren't in charge of your own life, even though you think you are. When the world is out of sync with God's perfection, everything is a mess. Sin is in control and sin leads to death. So, I ask you again. Do you feel the captivity that holds you today? Be honest. Be honest.
As I thought about it this week, I thought of four ways you and I may be feeling held captive. Perhaps you can relate to these. First, there's physical suffering. Next, there's emotional turmoil. Third, there's personal failure and, finally, there's a broken past. Even by just mentioning these difficulties, you may already be able to feel the cold and controlling grip of how they hold you captive. Physical suffering-that can consume your life-it can drain hope from you. It can become a task master, gripping every aspect of your being-every thought, every moment of existence. It's a symptom of a broken world and a broken life.
The fact that Jesus came to heal the sick shows that physical suffering is not what God wants. It's not how He originally created us to be. But every struggle with cancer, every terrible illness, and every ache and pain cry out, "Captivity! Captivity!" to a life in need of restoration. You may be feeling it right now.
I also mentioned emotional turmoil. You may understand what it feels like to struggle with depression, sadness, and stress. Emotional turmoil makes you feel as if there's no way out-whether connected to a chemical imbalance or the impact of a crushed and broken heart. Emotional turmoil can take over your life. It can be like a cloud that envelopes you and enslaves you. If you ever been there, you know that only God's help can sustain you and set you free.
How about personal failure? Let's face it. We're not just victimized by a sin-broken world. Each one of us fouls up in so many ways too-whether it's a destructive temper, a spirit of negativity, being unkind to others, moral stumbling, or personal addictions. Your life can be out of control on a destructive path. Too many times our own weaknesses and selfishness-that holds us captive.
What about a broken past? Former wounds can hold on with a tight grip. Events of your childhood may have scarred you and may still hurt you today, deeply. Wounds from others may cause fear in your heart and interfere with the way you function and relate to others. It's easy to be held captive by the past.
You see, these are the kinds of impossible obstacles I'm talking about. These task masters can overwhelm you. They can crush you. Let me be honest with you. This is not the kind of life God wants you to have. He doesn't want you to be held captive by forces that drain life from you. But this is the misery of being held captive by sin. That's why God hates sin because it saps you of the life He wants you to have.
So, what's the answer? Right off the bat, it's not Bob Smith's strategy. Fakery and denial won't free you from sin's grip. Living with blinders on won't make the pain go away. Running from reality won't put your life back together now or for eternity. Bob Smith discovered that. You know, he tried to plot, like I said, and scheme his way out of overwhelming debt. He did his best to finesse his way out of his feeling of captivity. He thought he could run away from the brokenness and failings, but it didn't work.
Ten years after Smith submitted his fake death certificate. An inspector general took a closer look and saw something alarming. Smith's death certificate had the same number as another person who died in 1991. After doing some investigating, the inspector found that Bob Smith was very much alive. In fact, 10 years after his fake death, he now owned a boat, a couple of luxury cars, a condo, and three businesses. But suddenly the deception fell apart.
The authorities tracked Smith down. He lost his job, was banned from his occupational field, and was fined for his sham. He had to repay more than twice the amount he originally owed. You see, Smith couldn't fake his way out of his debt captivity. Avoidance and fakery make life worse. Bob Smith didn't need a life of denial; he needed a real solution to his captivity.
Here's the Bible's point: so do you and so do I. God does not want you to be a perpetual servant to what holds you captive. That's why He sent His Son. Romans 7 declares, you also have died to the Law through the body of Christ so that you may belong to another-to Him, who has been raised from the dead, in order that you may bear fruit. You may be alive for God. God didn't stage a fake death to get you off the hook of your captivity. God suffered a real death when Jesus died on the cross. He put sin to death. Your brokenness, your struggles, your failures, and your debilitating wounds were overcome when Jesus died. He took the weight of your brokenness and sin upon Himself as He suffered and died.
Jesus killed the power of chaos in your life by letting it kill Him. He satisfied your debt and the debt of the whole world by paying the price with His life. When Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished!" He was declaring the imbalance in your life and mine-the imbalance in this world, paid in full. Then, Jesus rose from the dead. In His resurrection He overcame everything that holds you captive. He brought true freedom to you and to me.
Instead of giving you a fake death, He takes on your real death and gives you His real resurrection life. Romans 7:6 says, "But now we are released from the Law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in a new way of the Spirit." Romans 6:4, says it even more clearly, "We were buried therefore with Jesus by baptism into death. In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. We too may walk in newness of life."
The solution to your captivity and mine is freedom-eternal freedom through Jesus Christ. What does that look like in the context of the powers that hold you captive-like physical suffering, emotional turmoil, personal failure, or a broken past? First, just look at the solution for your captivity to brokenness. In Romans 7 Paul says that now you belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that you may bear fruit for God.
This is in the context of Paul discussions about a new marriage. He's saying that you have a new relational beginning in your Savior Jesus Christ-not only to God but then to everyone else. You got a brand new life. Even in the face of physical and emotional suffering. It can transform the relationships you have, here and now, forever. In the mist of the turmoil of this life, God gives you precious gifts. They're the gifts of His Word of life, His sacraments of life. They're like wedding gifts.
You know, what do wedding gifts do? Well, let's say you receive some causal dinnerware: a blender, a few juicers, and maybe a couple of mystery items that you thought about re-gifting at a later date, but even those gifts added to your marriage experience. Gifts add dimension. They bring new possibilities. They serve as expressions of love. They provide for needs, and they lead a couple to move from "mine" to "ours."
God's gifts work the same way. When the slave drivers of cancer and illness, depression and sadness, and wounds from the past step in, God's Word of life and His blessing of eternal life add dimension. You're given a promise that there is more to your life than these struggles. God's gifts bring new possibilities. Now, you have prayer with the One who really loves you, who promises you life and salvation and can deliver what He says. Now, you have hope: His hope. Now you have community: His community. Now, you have the promise of restoration in heaven. By God's grace you now have the abiding presence of Jesus.
God's gifts bring His expression of love. You see, God loves you when you feel alone. His love fills the emptiness you feel. His love gives you a new life and puts the past behind you. God's gifts-they provide for your needs. He gives care, friendship, a dependable refuge, and a certain hope of eternal life. God's gift moves your life from mine to ours. You're not your own. You were bought with a price. Nothing can separate you from God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Like the Bible says, "For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God" and "we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works," to live life with Him, good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do.
You see, God's precious gifts free you from captivity. Now, you live and you serve in the power of the Spirit. You are not under the task master of sin and brokenness. Second, let's look at the solution for your captivity to your own failures and disobedience. God's Word makes clear that you belong to Him who has been raised from the dead, your Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that instead of the shame, the chaos, and the death brought on by disobedience, you have been given a new relationship with God. That's the solution and it's a relationship with God that is just like a good marriage. You know how it works.
One blessing of my work as a pastor is that I get to hear all kinds of love stories. When I counsel couples who wanted to get married, I was privileged to hear how they met, how they fell in love. In all that time, I never heard one couple say, "Yeah, now we have to be together. What a drag." No, they don't have to be together. They want to be together. They want to serve each other. They want to please each other, protect each other, help each other grow. They just want to.
That is the new relationship that God gives you with Him. He sent His Son Jesus to sit right next to you, to look into your eyes and say, "Will you be Mine? Now, that I've done all things well for you. Will you be Mine? The Bridegroom Christ asks you and me the bride, His church, "Will you let Me serve you, protect you, and help you?" The death of Jesus on the cross for you took your life back and it made it a base of operations for the Spirit of God. The ripple effects of disobedience are cast out. The foul spirit of darkness is forcibly removed, and life is the territory now of Jesus. He holds the deed. He holds the contract. You are a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Like the Bible says, the old is gone. Your new history begins today. You aren't captive to your failures. You not chained to your disobedience. You live and serve in the new way of the Spirit. You are free by grace through faith in the risen Son of God, who paid your debt in full.
The Fourth of July is coming up in a few days. Our listeners in the United States may be seeing fireworks sometime this week or in the next few days. If so, let those beautiful lights bursting in the night sky be a celebration of your freedom-your freedom in Jesus Christ, above all: God's gracious solution to everything that would try to hold you and me captive. Let those lights be a reminder of the power of the light of Christ and the life you get to live in Him by the power of His Spirit. Amen.
Action in Ministry for July 2, 2017
Guest: Dr. Daniel Dreisbach
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry. Your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Greg Seltz: And Mark this week our listeners in the United States will observe Independence Day. Although the United States is free from having an established national religion, there's an ongoing and energetic debate surrounding issues of religious freedom.
Mark Eischer: Today we're joined by Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, professor of justice, law, and criminology at American University. He's an expert in church-state relations and the role that religion played in the founding of the United States. He's also featured in our video resource titled, The Intersection of Church and State.
Pastor Seltz: Dr. Dreisbach, thanks for joining us today.
Daniel Dreisbach: Well, thanks for having me.
Mark Eischer: The American constitutional tradition, especially the Declaration of Independence, recognizes that we derive our rights from God, not from government. How is that concept different from what we might see in other parts of the world and what difference does it make?
Daniel Dreisbach: I think one of the great and vitally important features of the American political system is this idea that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. Our rights are God's gifts to us as human beings-not some benevolent grant of civil government or even the product of our Constitution. And because our rights come from an eternal, omnipotent God, they are fundamental inalienable rights that are placed beyond the reach of government and government officials.
Pastor Seltz: Yeah, and Dan, weren't the Founding Fathers also concerned about absolute power in the hands of sinners? And they were really about binding the government, then.
Daniel Dreisbach: Yes, I think that's absolutely right. They had read Genesis chapter 3. They understood the fall. They wrote and created a Constitution that reflected a biblical anthropology-this idea that man was a fallen creature. So wherever power was given to an individual, there was always a check on that exercise of power because man is not to be trusted because we are fallen creatures.
Mark Eischer: Now, many Christians fear a flip from religious freedom to an oppressive society that is persecuting people of faith. What can we do to help maintain religious freedom?
Daniel Dreisbach: Our Founding Fathers believed that effective citizens must be at least two things: first, educated and, second, virtuous. We have to be sufficiently educated that we can make well-informed decisions about how we're going to govern ourselves. That means we have to learn about how government works. We must have an understanding of what religious freedom means and how it manifests itself.
Second, we have to be virtuous. We must be a righteous people in our civic life. I'm drawn to the words of the prophet Micah who said we must pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Let me make one final point. James Madison once said we must take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. Sadly, religious liberty is under threat in our society today. I think we have to sound the alarm. We must stand in defense of religious liberty-that liberty that God has so graciously given to us.
Pastor Seltz: You know, this resource that we have, Dan. There is a clear distinction between church and state, but there's also a healthy intersection. That's what the resource is arguing all along. There has been healthy cooperation between church and state whether it's agencies, hospitals, charitable organizations, National Days of Prayer-what do you see as the future of that relationship?
Daniel Dreisbach: I think our system again depends on having virtuous people playing their part in public life, in civic life, in politics, and all aspects of culture. Yes, we are hearing voices today that challenge the religious perspective in the marketplace of ideas, but that's contrary to constitutional principles. We must be engaged; we must be involved in the broader culture.
Mark Eischer: There's much more on this topic in our video resource titled, The Intersection of Church and State. In just a moment, we'll tell you how to access that for yourself. Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, great to talk with you today. Thank you so much for joining us.
Daniel Dreisbach: Well, thanks for having me.
Pastor Seltz: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ, for others.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 2, 2017
Topic: How would Jesus have voted?
Mark Eisher: How would Jesus have voted? That's our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eisher. A listener writes, "Political arguments are rampant these days. They even invade and sometimes divide the church. Would Jesus have identified with one of our modern political parties? If so, which one?"
Pastor Seltz: Mark, wow! You really want to get me in trouble today, where did we get that question?
Mark Eisher: I can't take credit. It's a real question from a listener who's distressed by all this ongoing political discord. How would you answer?
Pastor Seltz: Well, would Jesus be a Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Socialist, Capitalist ... let me answer it this way. Yes, and no. How's that for decisiveness?
Mark Eisher: Are you serious?
Pastor Seltz: Well actually, I am. You see, Jesus, He is a real person, fully human. Like Democrats, Republicans, people in every other group. Jesus, the person, is for everyone. The Bible says for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. So Jesus is the most-inclusive person in the universe. He died for all. He rose again for all. He cares for us all. That's the yes.
The body of Christ, the church, it transcends this world's organizations as Jesus embraces all people with His grace. So, He calls all of us to follow Him.
Mark Eisher: Isn't it true, though, that people would love to claim Jesus for their side or their cause.
Pastor Seltz: Yeah, they sure do. We even see that in the New Testament. The church leaders of that day, the Pharisee and teachers of the Law, they were convinced the Messiah would come and fulfill their religious and national agenda. They wanted a conqueror who would overthrow Rome. They wanted a leader who would pat them on the back for their holiness. So when they saw Jesus befriending people who were outsiders with obvious moral failures, they were actually incensed.
Mark Eischer: And Jesus was criticized as being the friend of sinners-people like tax collectors and prostitutes.
Pastor Seltz: Exactly, so we may want to stake a claim regarding Jesus in our points of view, but Jesus showed Himself to be the Son of God, who brought grace to the broken, the scorned, and the cast-aside. Now, listen, I'm not saying we have no foundational teaching about what is right and wrong. There is an unrepentant immorality in sin out there today. In fact, it's not only destroying our culture, it's driving Jesus out of many people's lives.
When it comes to trying to pigeon hole Jesus into a political ideology, the Bible says God's ways are much higher than ours. We don't define Him; He defines Himself and He calls all people to Himself in repentance and faith.
Mark Eisher: Now, you said yes and no. So, what's the other part?
Pastor Seltz: Jesus said it: "My kingdom's not of this world." So, ultimately all of this stuff that we take so seriously is passing away. Jesus set the parameters for these discussions. You know, when asked about paying taxes to Caesar. He said, "Render to Caesar, all that's Caesar and render to God, all that's God's." So, the point: Caesar's stuff important, but only for a time. God's stuff is most important of all.
Mark Eisher: How would you describe Jesus, and to what action does Jesus direct us as His followers?
Pastor Seltz: Remember what the ultimate work of Christ is all about. He lived a perfect life in our stead. He pleased His Father in heaven perfectly for us. He died on the cross for our sins. Then, miraculously rose from the dead, ascended into heaven. The point-He's in charge. So, even though the world is a chaotic place, even though we've become stumped by political arguments and serious issues at times, Jesus walks with us even then and renews our hope.
Mark Eischer: It's been said Jesus didn't come to make a sinful world a little bit better. He came to bring into being a new, perfect eternal kingdom for all who believe.
Pastor Seltz: Well said, even though political arguments have value and it's important to fight for what's right morally and ethically. In a world of confusion, Jesus is still the only answer for what really matters. He offers forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace through faith. It's important that followers of Christ do not become distracted or divisive, ultimately, when it becomes to political parties or issues because they're not the ultimate issue. Our calling is to love one another as He loves us. Be attentive to God's Word. Shine Christ's light into this world.
Mark Eischer: And Jesus cast the vote that matters most. We didn't choose him; He chose us.
Pastor Seltz: That's exactly right.
Mark Eischer: This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Hope of the World" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)